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Star Trek is now at its lowest point since the cancellation of the Original Series

Star Trek is now at its lowest point since the cancellation of the Original Series. In some ways Star Trek is even worse off today since it has a fraction of the fan base Star Trek had back then still left.

Two years ago there were two great white hopes that were going to save the franchise, Enterprise and Nemesis. Both have failed. Enterprise is not gaining viewers but losing them, it’s staying alive but it isn’t doing anything besides surviving. Nemesis was a disaster of colossal proportions that will likely bury the film end of the franchise for the foreseeable future, if not forever.

Both of these disasters had creative and marketing components. Enterprise kicked off after two Star Trek series that alienated most Star Trek fans and left a shrinking demographic as well as a perception that the franchise was just a money machine cranking out low quality material with the brand name on them.

By the time Enterprise came around the pilot’s ratings testify that a lot fewer people and critics were willing to give it a chance. Where during the TOS era, Star Trek had the aura of a daring and promising show canceled before its time, by the time Enterprise premiered the situation had long since reversed itself and now had the aura of a soulless franchise that nobody but geeks and nerds still liked and that should have been put to sleep years ago.

Star Trek has accumulated a lot of ill will over the years from SciFi fans from its own fans and from mainstream viewers. Enterprise’s shaky first season and lack of engrossing material has not helped either. Now Enterprise is yet another dwindling SciFi series dismissed by everyone and propping up a shaky network which itself exists only through corporate stupidity.

Enterprise has gone where DS9 and Voyager have already been. Not only has Enterprise not revived Star Trek, but it’s yet another nail in the coffin of its decline.

Nemesis did have quality problems, mainly due to footage being cut in
a way that damaged the movie’s ability to tell the story, nevertheless
it was and is the best TNG film ever made. It is also the last because
it should have been the first. It should have been the movie that
energized the transition of the TNG franchise to the big screen.
Instead the franchise went with a disastrous attempt to have Kirk hand
over the baton. The next two movies were just as bad in terms of
quality, they had promising elements but they were amateurishly
scripted, amateurishly directed and were more TV productions, than
film productions. And by the time Nemesis was announced, Star Trek
films had come to be viewed the same way that Star Trek TV series had
come to be viewed, as soulless cash cows for a franchise that had gone
on too long.

Paramount misread the situation disastrously when the quality of the
movie and the positive test screening responses led them to schedule
it as their high profile December release where tough competition
prevented it from gaining the publicity and the screens it needed
while gaining the ire of overworked critics trying to protect their
favorite films like Two Towers and Gangs of New York from competition
and regurgitating the popular view of the franchise by critically
savaging Nemesis. And released a mere 5 days before the 800 pound
gorilla that is the Peter Jackson version of LOTR, it was demographic
suicide. Since studio executives rarely take responsibility for their
stupid decisions, Nemesis and Star Trek itself will likely be blamed
instead. And that will almost certainly end the film franchise unless
they actually recognize that the problem with Nemesis was not a
creative failure, as a scheduling failure. But that’s not likely,
nevertheless official Paramount statements on Nemesis should be
watched carefully for indications of the party line the studio will
take.

But with Nemesis bombing and Enterprise dying the same slow death as
every Berman created series, Star Trek is now in real trouble. It has
lost its film franchise and its grip on the TV franchise is only as
secure as its sinking ratings and Paramount’s continuing commitment to
UPN. Neither is all that stable and all that certain 5 years from now.

That leaves us right back where the franchise was between TOS’s
cancellation and STTMP’s premiere, with Star Trek novels which seem to
be the only part of the franchise doing really well, with Star Trek
fandom itself and the fan collaborations, artwork, fanfic,
conventions, discussions and activity that kept Star Trek alive
originally.

Obviously Star Trek’s fandom has shrunk and much of the more committed
fanbase is aging. By the time Enterprise goes off the air, they will
be increasingly less of a factor in any calculations. And in a
franchise whose younger audience has become increasingly disconnected
from the franchise’s roots and now increasingly consists of fragmented
fanbases for the different spin offs, keeping Star Trek alive will be
more difficult. Star Trek’s active fanbase has shrunk. There are much
fewer people who have seen the latest series and many don’t even think
that Star Trek should survive or that there is any point to keeping it
alive.

Many are pinning their hopes on a revitalization of Star Trek. Some
are calling for the removal of Rick Berman, but there is no real
reason to believe that this would improve things. Rick Berman may
indeed move on if he takes the fall for Nemesis and Enterprise, but
statistically speaking, his replacement is likely to be worse, not
better. And in any case revitalizing Star Trek may at this point be
near impossible as the case of Nemesis showed. Star Trek has a bad
reputation, it can’t be changed now by simply putting a good product
out there because neither viewers nor critics will give it a chance.
Even were a talented showrunner placed in charge of Enterprise today
and the show became one of the best series on television, most scifi
fans, let alone critics and mainstream viewers would continue to
ignore it or comment on repeat all the usual cliches about the
franchise.

Still others have proposed taking Star Trek off the air for a while to
build interest again, but in Hollywood that makes something an
irrelevant property. Star Trek today exists for two reasons, because
it’s a franchise that Viacom can market and exploit in different ways
and because it props up UPN. If UPN goes and Star Trek has been gone
from the air for half a decade or so, it will never come back on the
air because attention will have shifted to other properties and Star
Trek will not be revived simply to prop up the merchandising licenses.

So what is to be done? Not much. Star Trek will still remain on TV
through some lucky factors. Star Trek fandom will maintain some of the
franchise’s presence and merchandising sales. Beyond that, all good
things must end. TV shows don’t last forever. There was a time when
Star Trek seemed like it might be special, like it might be the
exception. That time is past. Star Trek in its various incarnations
has gone on longer and done more than any other SF show out there. Its
best stuff has sunk into popular culture, it has inspired kids to
become scientists and astronauts. It’s become a part of history. But
history is the record of things past and keeping Star Trek alive may
now have become impossible. Ultimately Kirk had to face his own
mortality and the time to do so the same may have come for Star Trek
itself.

Of course things seemed pretty hopeless back when Star Trek was first
canceled. There were three networks and Star Trek was an expensive
show to do. The actors, the writers and the producers went on their
way to other jobs sure that the whole thing was over. It wasn’t though
but the set of events that brought Star Trek back on the air were not
predictable back then and the set of events that might revive Star
Trek may not be predictable now. For now Star Trek is still hanging on
and who knows what tomorrow will still bring. It might take careful
watching to spot the Vulcan mind meld and Genesis plot devices that
can create life from lifelessness and cheat death one more time.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Zero Hour

Synopsis: Archer tackles the weapon, T’Pol tackles the Spheres and Enterprise tackles a rewrite of Planet of the Apes

Review: Zero Hour most obviously refers to the countdown to the Weapon’s attack on Earth. Of course it’s also a sly reference to the final twist of the episode which plunges an already teetering storyline into sheer lunacy.

star trek enterprise zero hour For the most part Zero Hour’s strongest scenes are those that rest on the tension leading up to the actual attack on the Weapon. Archer exploiting Hoshi to carry out his mission pushes his character further into the wolfish ruthlessly desperate mode he’s been in all season. Dr. Phlox facing death also makes for a touching if somewhat overly sentimental scene.

After that the episode begins its steep decline into cliche and then incoherence. First we have T’Pol and Trip’s attack on the Sphere which leads to some really bad skin for the crew. Undoubtedly TPTB thought that the idea of having everyone on the ship turn into a walking commercial for skin care products would be dramatic but instead if just makes what should have been a tense situation look silly as you wonder if Lubiderm isn’t paying Enterprise for product placement.

And indeed the entire Sphere attack storyline is mostly pointless. Enterprise’s Xindi arc would have been stronger if this attack had been accomplished episodes ago leaving Archer in command of Enterprise to pursue the weapon. It would have been appropriate and fitting as a conclusion to an arc that had Enterprise leaving earth to pursue the Weapon and returning home battered but unbowed to destroy it. Instead the audience’s attention is split between Archer’s pursuit of the weapon which is the compelling story and the sphere attack which isn’t.

Unlike the Weapon, the Spheres aren’t going anywhere so it’s not clear why T’Pol is so desperate to destroy them even at the risk of destroying Enterprise and killing the crew. Yes the anomalies will expand but all life in the Expanse, let alone Vulcan, as T’Pol seems to suggest is a long way from being threatened. The addition of the Sphere Builder’s attack is cliched and looks silly all the more so in the rose colored haze. Additionally the Sphere seems to call up Braga and Berman’s worst instincts giving us tons of technobabble solutions from Phlox’s magic anomaly resisting formula whose effectiveness he can apparently calculate to the second to the deflector pulse to the weapons frequencies. Watching T’Pol do her best Janeway impression as she nearly killed the crew to do something utterly pointless; really brought nostalgic tears for Voyager to my eyes.

The plot then only becomes more awkward as once the Weapon is destroyed the focus shifts away earth and to Enterprise sitting and waiting for Archer in the Expanse. And so we get an absurd scene in which Degra’s ship heads to the Expanse to meet up with Enterprise to tell Enterprise Archer is dead at which point they all head back over to Earth. Instead of the Acquatics simply delivering Enterprise to earth directly to meet Degra’s ship. Sometimes I complain about time being trimmed from Enterprise’s episodes and then I look at a complete inability to grasp the use of time on the part of the Enterprise producers and wonder why I even bother?

The attack on the Weapon itself is a bit too strongly suggestive of Insurrection or for that matter Generations, First Contact and Nemesis; all star trek enterprise zero hourof which involved fights between our heroes and the villains over a launch sequence or a set of controls. But what Rick Berman lacks in originality, Allan Kroeker does his best to make up for in some decent action sequences. The effectiveness of the various fights range between clumsy to suspenseful and Archer’s final coup de grace to Commander Dolim is not original but quite effective. The bloodstains on the wall and on Archer’s face are particularly effective touches.

Shran’s appearance might be a bit dubious plotwise but he is a great character and Coombs is a great actor so that the only regret is that putting his name in the opening credits killed any surprise at his appearance. Coombs of course rules every second of his screentime and his lines make for some of the coolest moments in the episode. It also is a good reference point to the revelation of a future Federation in which Andorians and humans work side by side.

All of this would have made for a decent enough episode. Not the greatest Star Trek episode of all time or anything near it but adequate enough. There is a clear decline between the writing quality of Countdown and Zero Hour. Brannon Braga and Rick Berman’s writing is simply not up to the task and once again we see heaps of Voyager style technobabble thrown in and the kind of amateurish plot awkwardness that characterized Voyager episodes. But Braga is unfortunately not satisfied with that.

As the second season finale set up the third season, the third season finale is apparently meant to set up the fourth. Of course the situation becomes all the more desperate since Enterprise’s ratings are doing quite poorly and the series has become increasingly unwanted by UPN which instead favors top quality programming like ‘America’s Top Bulimic.’ This makes it crucial for the Enterprise season finale to have a hook that will pull viewers back in. And so we get Braga’s Planet of the Apes style ending to the episode.

Of course the problem with the ending is that it’s silly. Not only does it seriously resemble Voyager episodes like Future’s End and The Killing Game spliced together but it completely defuses the conclusion of the entire season’s arc and its payoff in favor of a gimmicky conclusion that the audience is likely to treat the same way it did the similar ending of the remake of Planet of the Apes.

Storytelling requires continuity. It requires an understanding of the emotional journey and the parts of the narrative that make a story whole. Zero Hour is yet another demonstration that Rick Berman and Brannon Braga understand nothing of the kind. Zero Hour’s ending screams of unoriginality and desperation. Not to mention contempt for the same viewers who sat through a season of the Xindi arc expecting more of a payoff than Archer waking up in the Twilight Zone.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Precious Cargo

Summary: Trip stumbles on a scheme to kidnap an alien monarch-to-be and escapes with her into the overgrown depths of an overused plot.

In doing my reviews I often try to list past precedents for episodes but “Precious Cargo”‘s plot is so old and has been used so many times, as recently as Madonna’s latest flop, that there’s simply no point in such an overview. Indeed the entire uptight rich girl meets working class guy where they end up isolated on a tropical island and struggling to survive before acting on their attraction to each other is such a hoary cliche that it ought to have spider webs around it and moss growing on its underside. In fanfic, plot devices that rely on two characters getting together under such circumstances are strictly bottom of the barrel and writing guidelines warn against them. Apparently the same writing guidelines though don’t apply to Enterprise executive producers Rick Berman and Brannon Braga who came up with this story.

Not that any of this is sufficient grounds for criticizing the episode. Just because a plot has been done a hundred thousand times before doesn’t mean that something interesting can’t be done with it on the one hundred thousandth and first try. Great Enterprise episodes like “Shuttlepod One” and “Dead Stop,” for example, relied on formulas that are just as overused and predate Western civilization. The real question is whether this time around something interesting is being done with the plot, whether there’s a twist ending or at least some growth for the characters or a sense that the preceding hour has not been a waste of time.

“Precious Cargo,” though, doesn’t bother with any of that but unspools the same plot at its most cliched. First, two aliens arrive on board Enterprise in Westmore’s patented evil alien makeup. As if that wasn’t subtle enough, they twitch, leer and lie insincerely. They do everything but carry signs reading ‘We’re evil.’ For anyone expecting twists and turns that might challenge our expectations or create any ripples in the viewing experience, there are none. It’s all just one long forty-minute flat line. From the moment we see the woman inside the stasis pod, the rest of the episode is as predictable as it gets. With the right co-star, Connor Trineer’s usual routine might at least have been a little entertaining but Padma Lakshmi’s line delivery is hopelessly flat and artificial and between the two of them there is about as much chemistry as there was between Paris and Torres.

What few good moments “Precious Cargo” has surprisingly come from a story involving Archer and T’Pol trying to coerce information out of

star trek enterprise Precious Cargo

I give it two weeks

one of the kidnappers. Not only is it is a nice routine reminiscent of a Kirk and Spock moment, but it’s only the part of the episode that has any life to it. David Livingston does his best with this episode from a stylish opening that has Trip playing the harmonica while the alien ship arrives to the scenes in the cramped escape pod. But the flaws in the episode are not his fault and probably not even the fault of David Goodman who produced the actual teleplay. After all, there’s a limited amount of originality that anyone can bring to a story like this. Rick Berman and Brannon Braga need to trust the writers they’ve hired enough to come up with their own stories, otherwise the entire process of bringing in new blood will have been a waste of time if the new writers are kept on to write the same stories that were being turned out ten and fifteen years ago. Seeing Berman and Braga’s name on so many episodes leads us to the conclusion that either Enterprise’s writers can’t come up with suitable episode ideas at story meetings or that they’re not being allowed to.

It’s hard to say whether “Precious Cargo” is the result of UPN programming chief Dawn Ostroff’s threat to make Enterprise ‘sexier’ but if so it can be considered a dismal failure in that department. It also flops as a comedy because Lakshmi doesn’t have the timing or the line delivery to keep pace with Trineer and aside from the cliched situational friction, there’s not much that’s funny here besides Archer and T’Pol’s interrogation scene. As action and suspense it never gets off the ground. The aliens have a Warp 2 ship and they’re basically slightly brighter versions of Pakleds and never manage to present any real threat or challenge. The result is a hybrid episode that fails in all three departments. While “Cargo” is never actually as awful as “Vox Sola” or “A Night in Sickbay,” it’s simply mediocre at a time when Enterprise needs most to attract a regular audience and can’t afford to suffer from more lazy writing and recycled plots. Enterprise might be able to afford to do such episodes in its sixth or seventh season, but not in its second when it still has a chance of maintaining and extending its audience.

Next week: Aliens try to take over Enterprise. Again.

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