the Last Word in
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Created by Rick Berman and Brannon Braga
review by Daniel G. Jennings
Since Enterprise won't be seen in Britain until February; I imagine that viewers on the other side of the Atlantic are wondering what the new Trek franchise is like. Since I'm a long time Star Trek fan and I've watched the few episodes broadcast, so far, in my hometown of Denver, I'll share a few of my thoughts and impressions of the series with British fans.
Basically, Enterprise is a dismal failure. It's supposed to be an interesting new take on the Trek universe; instead it is a pointless and very boring mess that is a throwback to the bad old days of science fiction TV. Enterprise is supposed to be a retro series - recapturing the spirit of the original Star Trek, as it chronicles the first mission of the first starship to leave our Solar system and explore the galaxy in the 22nd century. This might be a compelling and exciting show, instead it's just boring and stupid and devoid of anything resembling entertainment or excitement.
As a series, Enterprise fails because the scripts are a boring mess of TV clichés and recycled plots, none of which are the least bit interesting, exciting, entertaining or compelling. None of the new characters gives the audience any real reason to care about them, and in the end all but even the most dedicated Trek fan will want to do is change the channel. The special effects are great - the best seen on American TV so far - but the stories and characters are so weak that even the best effects can't make up for them.
Enterprise stars the very good American actor, Scott Bakula, (who played time-traveller Dr Sam Beckett in Quantum Leap) as Captain Archer, the commander of the first starship, which is called Enterprise. Bakula is hopelessly miscast in the role, he plays a sort of bungling everyman who couldn't command a rowboat and couldn't lead a troop of boy scouts across the road. Bakula's character is a totally unappealing mix of naive and fumbling fool and macho moron. Archer is a complete idiot, with no obvious military experience or ability, yet he is commander. One would imagine that West Point, Sandhurst and Annapolis might still be in business in the 22nd century and putting out competent military officers, but this doesn't appear to be the case in the Trek universe.
The rest of the characters played by unknown actors are equally unappealing. There's a Vulcan science officer (sound familiar?) a token black, a token Asian, a token Englishman and an alien doctor. None of these characters is the least bit appealing or interesting and the interaction between them produces no real drama or tension. To make matters worse the human characters are naive and idealistic to the point of obnoxiousness, doing nothing to make us want them to succeed. Nor do the show's stories produce anything resembling entertainment. This Enterprise just bungles around the galaxy getting into one mess after another. The stories of the shows are so forgettable that I won't relay them all here - but they include such uninteresting plots as a male crewman getting pregnant with an alien female's baby. The ship's crew are so inept and naive that they need the Vulcans to help them get out of even the simplest jam, and none of the aliens they encounter are the least bit interesting or compelling.
The major problem with Enterprise is that its producers seem to be afraid to take risks, to do anything new or different. Scared to inject anything that looks like drama, or tension or conflict into their series. Scared to try and imagine what future technologies will be like and the consequences they could have. There is no really wild or radical new technology like a holo-suite or holo-deck here, nothing like Data or Star Trek: Voyager's Doctor to challenge our fundamental assumptions. This Trek is supposed to be safe and comfortable, so it fails miserably. There's no political intrigue, or attempts to raise serious issues or ask big questions. In its own way, Enterprise is more conservative than the original Star Trek, and that's very disappointing. Good SF TV, like good science fiction in general, succeeds because it challenges us and asks bold questions about our basic assumptions, then tries to answer them. The original Star Trek did that, so did Star Trek: The Next Generation - at its best, but this doesn't happen on Enterprise. Instead, all that happens is that tired plots and genre clichés get recycled. The Enterprise crew meet an alien race, makes friends, yada yada yada.
This timidity can be seen in the new Enterprise's crew, where the commander and his top officers are white Americans, with a token Englishman thrown in. The one black and the one Asian are confined to supporting roles. The Asian is communications officer. The black is the navigator (the chauffeur), so the racism is obvious and frightening. Neither the black nor the Asian is in a position of authority or importance. No attempts are made to put any real foreigners besides the token Englishman on the new Enterprise. There's no way this crew could represent Earth, or a future Earth. To make matters worse the entire human crew is amateurish and stupid, and none of them question the commands of the bungling captain, or try to justify why they're there. The new Enterprise crew fumbles around the galaxy in awe, like groupies sneaking into a rock star's hotel suite. None of them is serious or adult.
Instead we get an old and very inaccurate and offensive stereotype of Americans repackaged for a new century where Americans are shown as idealistic, inexperienced and unable to deal with complexity or sophistication of any form. None of the crewmembers are cynical, hard-bitten, tough, competent, sarcastic or pragmatic - traits real Americans often exude. The new Enterprise crew are a pack of idiots nobody will like or care about.
Enterprise lacks all of the traits that made the great science fiction shows of the past work so well. There's none of the dramatic tension, conflict, or melodrama that made Star Trek: Deep Space Nine or Babylon 5 work, none of the rich, interesting and complex characters of the kind seen on DS9 and TNG. None of those shows' intelligent and thought provoking plots that tackled serious issues, none of the dark edgy drama of The X-Files, or the biting satire of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys or Xena: Warrior Princess. Just a boring attempt to resurrect the 'golly gee whiz, isn't space beautiful' kind of science fiction plots that gave SF a bad name in the first place.
Enterprise is so bad that I hope it will fail to attract an audience and get cancelled. Perhaps then the Trek producers will return to the drawing board and come up with something exciting, interesting, entertaining, compelling and thought-provoking like Star Trek is supposed to be.
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