Oh, Star Trek. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways: Original Series, Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise. Plus the novels and comics and movies. I’ve been on a mission lately to submerge myself in Trek, and it’s becoming all-consuming. I’ve got OCD. I’ve got to see them all. Preferably in order. Earth-chronological, not stardate-chronological. Ahem. Anyway. Remember forever and a weekend ago, in my very first post, when I said I was buying Star Trek DVDs? Oh, those fateful DVDs. That’s what started all of this. But there’s a good reason.
I am a child of the 1980s and 90s, right? Therefore I’m a Next Generation fan by default. My dad and my sister were sort of geeky, in their own ways, so we watched when it was on, when we weren’t talking about books or music or playing endless, mind-numbing, torturous games of Monopoly. But I never watched the Original Series. Remember that my childhood was during an era of television that was pre-interwebs or DVD. If it wasn’t on in reruns or out on VHS, you didn’t get to see it. Period. My crime of omission was a crime of lack of opportunity, really.
So in an effort to rectify this hideous gap in my geekdom, I bought those DVDs of season one and decided to have a Star Trek marathon over Christmas while all my housemates were gone home. And I’ll admit I was perhaps a little heavy on the egg nog on the first watch-through, so I had to rewatch them. (Yes, I spent Christmas alone, drinking and watching Star Trek. It’s pitiful and we don’t need to comment on it.) I’m in the process of watching them a third time now. And simultaneously gorging myself on TNG on Netflix while I wait for my TOS seasons two and three to show up in the mail.
Also, this is probably a good point to say: I freely admit that I have nothing new and exciting to add to the age-old Star Trek conversation. I’m finding the old show super interesting, but I’m not going to break any new ground here, say anything that hasn’t already been said. I humbly bow to those Trekkers who came before me and discussed every nuance and detail and minute piece of trivia. I’ll get there, maybe, someday. And I’ll keep you guys posted as I go through all the different series. I’m betting it’ll take me another year. We shall see.
What I’m finding really interesting about Star Trek: TOS is that it was so ahead of its time, while still being very much a product of its time. In 1966 they had a cast that included both an African-American woman and an Asian. Not to mention the fact that they stuck a Russian character on prime time during the cold war. That alone is pretty astounding. And I know that the goal was to depict a sort of semi-utopian galactic future, but still, ballsy. Go, Roddenberry. (And don’t send me hatemail for being racist. I’m not. 60s tv is about as whitewashed as it gets. Every show looks like Friends. That’s history. Look it up.) Conceptually it’s pretty far out, too. Think about the other shows about space from the 1960s. They were all basically just sitcoms in an offbeat setting, right? Or pulp-style adventure stories. Or The Outer Limits (which I also love dearly for its weirdness). Star Trek was innovative because you got to know the insular community of characters, became absorbed in their lives and not just in their shenanigans. It’s a little claustrophobic, actually, the way that the ship is this sealed, safe place floating through deadly, frozen space, danger lurking around every corner.
The effects and makeup are super cheesy, and the acting is hammy hammy hammy, but that’s the way every show was back then. It’s an affront to our modern sensibilities, what with our CGI and our realism and whatnot. But in the 60s every actor seemed to be acting, whereas now we appreciate more those actors who appear to not be acting. Like wearing a lot of makeup so you look like you’re not wearing makeup. Sort of. It’s just a quirk of the time period. And you get used to it pretty quickly. Because the writing is so good and the stories are exciting, you forget that the acting is…what? Not bad. Just different.
I will say, though, as a person who grew up with TNG, that TOS seems to take itself very seriously. There are a few moments of humor between characters, but when you compare the general tone of the two, TNG just comes across as more light-hearted. Maybe it’s Patrick Stewart’s accent or something. I don’t know. I’m not saying that one approach is better than the other, I’m just saying that the difference is striking. Kirk and Spock and McCoy are pretty stoic. That may be a result of the writing. The guys in TOS were on a new and scary mission, while the crew on TNG had the Federation and all its accompanying history already behind them for quite some time. That way of life was their paradigm, while in TOS they were just building that paradigm.
Am I getting too meta? I feel like I’m getting too meta. Overthinking this maybe a little.
Also there are too many acronyms in this conversation.
Anyway. That’s the thing that makes this whole immersion experiment hard. I’ve got spoilers, you know? I know what happens. I’m making backwards comparisons. Not that that ruins my enjoyment of the old show, but it makes it hard to look at it for what it is, for what it was supposed to be. Also, I don’t watch a lot of old stuff. I do like The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone. Alfred Hitchcock Presents is fucking great. But I don’t really watch old movies very often or enjoy many old tv shows outside of scifi or mystery. Especially those horribly cheesy comedies. It’s probably just a preference thing, a genetic predisposition or whatever you want to call it. I just don’t find that old slapsticky stuff funny, so I skip it. It’s all so goddamn wholesome, too. Towns were never that clean. Families were never that happy all the fucking time. The world was never that perfect. The story doesn’t always end well. It’s all a big fat lie. Maybe that’s why I like scifi. It’s ok to lie. The lie is the point. The lie is essential. Take realism and shove it, then kick back and see what happens.