"Enterprise," the latest saga in the "Star Trek" franchise, has been canceled. As a lifelong "Star Trek" fan - yes, I confess, it's true - I greeted the news with, well, a yawn. My first reaction was really just surprise that it hadn't been canceled already.
Truth be told, I haven't watched much of the latest "Trek" spinoff, which ends in May. Oh, I had eagerly awaited it; at the first rumor of a new "Star Trek" series, I scanned the Web for any hint of what this latest voyage entailed. A prequel to the original "Star Trek," "Enterprise" was going to be the story before the story. The crew of the S.S. Enterprise were true explorers, uncertain of space travel, with a communications officer prone to space sickness and a crew leery of this whole transporter business. (No confident cries of "Beam me up, Scotty!" for these guys.) Not only were they hesitant about space travel, they were hesitant about having a pointy-eared Vulcan as the ship's first officer. The stage was set to explore not only space, but also personal relationships and social dynamics.
So, what happened? Back in the 1960s, each episode of the original "Star Trek" started with Captain Kirk intoning the Enterprise's mission, "to boldly go where no man has gone before." Even though Captain Picard updated the lexicon for the '80s, changing "no man" to "no one," the mission remained the same. While the intro was dropped in subsequent voyages - the "Deep Space Nine" crew actually didn't go anywhere, they manned a space station, and the "Voyager" folks just wanted to go home - they still honored creator Gene Roddenberry's directive (as stated through Kirk). But with "Enterprise," not only is there nothing bold about it, but the series is going where several other science-fiction shows have gone before.
Part of the problem was the casting. I mean, whose bright idea was it to cast Scott Bakula as the captain? (I'm sorry, but Scott Bakula will always be the guy from "Quantum Leap" to me.) Though cast to appeal to the broadest swath of the public possible, this crew somehow lacked personality.
The original "Star Trek" had plenty of personality, even though the show doesn't hold up in these politically correct times. The captain, James T. Kirk, was a womanizer, and his engineer, Scotty, was a heavy drinker. But condemnation and praise are often painted with the same brush. "Star Trek" included a black woman as a senior bridge officer and also featured US television's first interracial kiss. When Kirk wasn't too busy chasing women, the crew was engaged in the unabashed joy of exploration and bringing the future's message of peace and stability to a chaotic universe. Rather than spending time in protracted wars, they avoided their arch-rivals the Klingons, who, by the way, looked suspiciously East Asian - don't forget, this was the height of Vietnam and the cold war.
After the original series was canceled in 1969, its popularity only increased in reruns. It was during this time that I started watching. No one ever told me that girls weren't supposed to like "Star Trek." Oh, it definitely added to the geekiness quotient, and in high school I endured a lot of teasing. While I never referred to myself as a Trekkie, I was often asked why I wasn't wearing my Vulcan ears. (For the record, I never had a pair, or a "Star Trek" uniform, or any other such paraphernalia, so there.)
After almost 20 years of cruising through the syndication galaxy, Roddenberry tested the waters with a new version, "The Next Generation," in 1987. Kirk's successor, the tall and worldly Jean-Luc Picard, was no womanizer and the Klingons were given a face lift to look more otherworldly. But there was still plenty of room for eccentricities. This cast featured a Pinocchio-like android who desperately wanted to be human, and an empath who read emotions - a seemingly handy addition to the crew - who, nevertheless had a penchant for stating the obvious. ("I sense hostility," she would be prone to say as an alien was threatening the ship.)
Quirkiness continued to be a mainstay of the various crews up until "Enterprise" hit the airwaves. But more than a lackluster cast and plot line - who are they fighting, again, and why? - the most important problem with this show is that it got off message. The beauty of the previous incarnations of "Star Trek" had been its exploration of society, relationships, and personal ethics and values through the lens of the exploration of space.
Much has been made of the fact that this will be the first time since 1987 that there hasn't been an original "Star Trek" on air. Well, so what? Day and night, somewhere, there is always a "Trek" episode airing in reruns.