Monday, January 14, 2013

Star Trek Adventures Part 1: Original Series

So everyone, let's rap for a moment.

I've been a nerd pretty much forever, from comic books to video games to miniatures and pen and papers. Through my nerd travels I have befriended many fellow nerds, and through them I have come to know a great deal about Star Trek. I knew all the crew, their stories, their positions and a lot of the other bits an pieces about the universe. Here's the thing though. I never...really watched the show. Yeah I have caught an episode here or there from the original series or TNG and I watched the movies, I even watched the original pilot "The Cage" with a pretty lady who told me it was the best nerd pick up line to offer to watch "The Cage" with them (maybe she was trying to pick up on me....! HINDSIGHT! IT BURNS!) Still, throughout all these years, I have never really taken the pilgrimage, never boldly gone where nobody has gone before. So, at the tender age of 24, I have begun my journey, and I am happy to report that the first leg is done. Star Trek, the original series, has been viewed in its entirety, and I am going to talk about it. 

So prior to this, my exposure has been watching the original movie like 3 times (which became increasingly difficult to manage stone sober the older I got. Holy crap does that movie hang around. Who knew you could get so much screen time out of Leonard Nimoy talking about penetrating alien orifice's) "Wrath of Khan" a shit zillion times (and it still, to this day, almost breaks down my manly visage of stoic badassness and causes tears to well up when Spock goes down) the whale one a couple times and "Search for Spock"once. Beyond that, not really much of the series proper. Boy, the movies didn't really prepare me for what I came across. Lets start with by talking about the conceptions people tend to have going in to the show and how they stack up with reality.

1) Serious Sci-Fi
Oooh boy. So I can't speak for the science of the time because I'm tainted by the science of the now but man, this show doesn't have much to do with science. Apart from the odd episode about a silicon life form and some playing around with ideas in physics, it would be a stretch to classify this show as anything beyond Science fantasy (the old distinction usually used for discussions of Star Wars vs. Star Trek, being applied to the former). Really what this show is, in so far as an intellectual exersize is concerned, is a baby philosophy romp mixed with the stoned musings of a sociology major. In essence, the episodes can be divided into the following two categories.

a) High concept: These episodes are the big brain questions and thought experiments that probably had just a touch of psychedelic influence. Questions like whether or not "Eden" is obtainable, and if it is at what cost (like would you want to live happy for the rest of your life if you came about that state by being sprayed in the face by some crazy plant?) questions about sexuality, gender issues, race, the appropriate use of power and its corrupting force. These episodes tend to be the most...dated, mostly because of the often repetitive nature of the subject matter (there are about four episodes dealing with perfect civilizations and our inability to obtain them) and also due to the really REALLY heavy handed nature of the moral messages.

Like why are these dudes fighting, they are almost identical?
Cause bro, one is black on the right side of his face and the other on the left!
Pfft, why would that make them hate each other? Something so small as color making two guys hate...
Mind blown
b) What if...: These are the big bong hit episodes that tend to be the more entertaining. What would happen if there was a planet who's only social influence was a book about mobsters in Chicago in the 30s? What would happen if they ran into an alien that was actually Apollo, IE the old gods WERE ALIENS! (History Channel, fyi, Star Trek did it first...and better). What if...
Space Rome
Space Hitler
Space Rome again except this time the are all telepathic and make a midget ride Kirk around while he acts like a horse

Space Abraham Lincoln Vs. Space Ghengis Khan

Personal Favorite
And like five time travel what would happen episodes. These generally don't have much in the way of messages, just playing around with some fun concepts. These are the episodes that are the most enjoyable and, as it turns out, some of the more memorable. People I talk to tend to remember the Tribbles episode (what if the most innocent, cute, harmless things turned out to be hardcore dangerous?) that one where the brains are betting on captured alien death matches (10,000 quatludes on the new comer!) and of course, everyone remembers Kirk Vs. Gorn, also known as THE BEST FIGHT SCENE EVER!

So yeah, in the end, not a whole lot of science. More thought experiments there to make a statement about modern society or just to play around with some totally far out concepts man. Like mind blowing.
Oh and I almost forgot. This guy:

Fabulous space criminal, ladies man, and generally great guy. I love his episodes. Thus

c) Mudd episodes, aka, pure awesome.

2) Kirk and space babes
So a lot of people go in to Star Trek thinking, "Man, I can't wait to see Kirk make it with all the weird alien chicks!"
Doesn't happen that much actually. At least not till mid-way in the second season. After that, not two episodes go by that Kirk doesn't use his Captain's charm to get out of some situation.

3) Crazy costumes and bad special effects
Oh yeah. Like all over the place. Check it.

Some people wear uniforms for martial combat. Some wear socks
and tights.

Nightmare Fuel
4) Everyones favorite crew palling around and solving problems! You know, Chekov, Sulu, Uhura, Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Scotty!
So honestly, based purely on the show, the admiration of Chekov, Sulu, and Uhura escapes me. Yes they all represented huge leaps forward in furthering both the acceptance of race and other cultures on television, and deserve due credit for that, but as characters they just never did much. Like Uhura sings this song once, Sulu gets shirtless and chases people with a sword and Chekov makes some Russian jokes (and gets some ladies of his own) but ultimately they just are not featured that much and when they are they are generally dealing with the minutia of the ship. I mean, the total amount of dialogue each has combined wouldn't even come close to the run time of a full episode. Really, the show is about three bros and sometimes a fourth and their trips through space and friendship. Which brings me to my next point.

Why its popular:

So despite the fact that I do indeed love me some Star Trek and enjoyed this journey back to the franchises beginning, I have to admit, if I was a TV exec back then, I would have cancelled the show too. The third season, while featuring a few iconic episodes, just goes over the silly line, the bad line, and the forced lame-o moral message line too often. I mean I love seeing space Abraham Lincoln referring to Uhura as a "Negress" and then stealthing around in the brush during a battle, the former being cringeworthy historical intrigue (like watching almost any cartoon made before 1950, especially Disney) and the latter just being awesome. However, its also really really silly, just like the aforementioned two toned face guys episode, and by the end of it, I was glad it was over. However, there was something there in its short three season run the resonates to this day, something so awesome that it spawned six movies and millions of super hard core fans. For me, its because of our main characters. Its the relationship between Kirk, Spock, McCoy and sometimes Scotty and the way they approach situations that makes the show interesting and have lasting appeal. It's an amazing bromance space opera, and as such it lends itself to the kind of deep seated attachment that begets strong fan-bases .
Now I'm sure there are other reasons, such as the actual sci-finess of the show and its forward thinking sociological messages that people in the 60's may have actually thought was awesome. For me, its the bromance that remains, and will probably last for generations to come.

Would I recommend it?

Difficult to say. I had a hell of a time watching this show. But DAMN is it campy. So, here's how this breaks down. If you are a fan of...
Studying media history
Campy Sci-fi
Old school Bromance
William Shatner and his face

Then you should watch the show. If you are not a fan of the above, then maybe give the original series a pass, read about the important plot points on the Star Trek wiki and start with TNG and the movies.

Live long and prosper Lazer readers! 

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