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  • Sam Darling

In praise of Star Trek

There are certain TV shows that became a part of my core personality when I was a kid and watching my eldest totally glom on to Brooklyn Nine-nine this past year made me think about those shows that shaped me. I wonder if we are attracted to them because they already reflect our inner selves? Or do they do more than that and actually work to shape us the way a mentor might?

Social media was passing around a thing asking people to list their top five shows to indicate their personality and it prompted me to think about mine: MASH, Star Trek: TNG, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Northern Exposure, and something British but I haven’t decided which one.

But listing the shows made me realize that I haven’t watched any Next Generation episode since they first aired. Yet the episodes made such lasting impressions on me that to this day I remember them clearly and can even head off a panic attack by putting on some Enterprise background noise. I am clearly not the only one if the 24-hour channel is any indication.

I have yet to find another television series that explores mature concepts of philosophy in a family-friendly format. I’ve started forcing my girls to watch some of these episodes.  It’s prompted interesting discussions. They seem to enjoy the show and interrupt less often than when I usually try to foist something on them. Ann of Green Gables (’80s series) didn’t even hold their attention so completely.

Back when I first watched the series I remember being irritated by Dr. Crusher and Counselor Troy. I realize now that I like them a lot more because I’ve learned to disregard the beauty pageant levels of hair and make-up. Apparently, as a kid this was enough of a surface presentation for me to stop taking them as seriously as their male counterparts. Internal bias is interesting.

I’m grateful that the show had a large budget and filmed directly to 35mm so that even rebroadcast on our current hi-def screens it looks surprisingly modern. The decor not so much, but at least the kids don’t complain that the show looks cheap. And our current screen fidelity means certain things like stunt doubles or the noodles used instead of maggots in episode Conspiracy are now plainly visible. I enjoy spotting moments where the film is overexposed for the lighting or the Steadicam got bumped during a tracking shot.

EDIT:  friend wrote to tell me this and I am sharing so as to give credit where it is due! “As for how good TNG still looks, that’s a direct result of the painstaking remastering process that was done on HD several years back–in which the entire edited-on-video(!) series had to be re-edited, and all effects redone from scratch, using the original 35mm raw footage. It was so laborious and expensive that the subsequent repackaging on Blu-ray made far too little money for Paramount/CBS to justify doing the same for the remaining ST shows, and it’s probably the biggest reason the same hasn’t been done for the long-neglected Babylon 5 (which is in even worse shape than TNG was).”

There was a time in my twenties when I worked for a producer who would eventually become the head of the Scott Bakula iteration and I almost got to work on that show. I had a surreal holiday party experience where I skated with Bakula and his daughter on an artificial rink at Paramount. Or late one night wandering the backlot and stopping to watch Michael Dorn have his forehead make-up applied. These were the fangirl moments that made the long hours and insanity of Los Angeles worthwhile.

It saddens me that few shows still address the deeper probing topics that TNG and other Star Trek shows tried to examine. The closest we seem to reach now is BBC’s Black Mirror, but that lacks the optimism and spirit of adventure that I look for in TNG. And I think it would freak out the kids.

And then the revamped Star Trek movies are widely regarded as a warmed-over rehash of any generic “adventure” movie that bears little resemblance to the concepts of the original Star Trek vision.

But  my original question remains. Did I love it because it reflected a core part of my personality that thrives on civic engagement and civility in the face of crisis? Or did it teach me to be that kind of person?  Was it this guy who taught us how to be a boss?

(Interestingly, these days I am reading his distaste for children as a character flaw instead of as an endearing quirk. But that’s because I know how to be a Boss with two kids and a cat hanging off my elbows. He’s not good at multitasking.)

I don’t know. I don’t know if it reflected me or shaped me. I don’t know.

The show does support my observation of a uniquely human tendency that runs across all cultures where we decorate our interior spaces with images of what’s happening immediately outside. You don’t find photos of a Vermont winter in an adobe in Santa Fe, you find more images of adobes.

So of course you will have pictures of bleak planets and space stations to decorate your quarters on a spaceship. Because humans will be humans even three hundred years from now.

Urgh, that early ’90s decor in mauve is nauseating.

And just to tie it all together, I’d like to one day perform in a Klingon opera. This is fabulous, honest! Have a listen. It’s all the dissonance and belting you could ever want.

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