Since the mid-1990s, the sci-fi/fantasy TV fan set, of which I am proud member, has been showered by a vast degree of eclectic programming. Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, The X-Files, Buffy, The Vampire Slayer; an update on the classic 1970s TV favorite Battlestar: Galactica, Supernatural, Smallville, Arrow, and so many more.
Star Trek fans, in particular, were – overall – pleased with the various small screen sequels to the original series, beyond Star Trek: The Next Generation, including: Deep Space Nine and, to a lesser extent, Voyager and Enterprise.
Now that J.J. Abrams and company have recently reinvented the Trek universe for the big screen (to mixed reviews by both fans and professionals, the latter of which I also am a proud member), this is as good a time as any to specifically assess what a true science fiction weekly trek to the stars should aspire to be, encompass and embrace on TV – beyond and including Star Trek.
First of all, too, it should be made clear that there were originally massive legal issues with the original Battlestar: Galactica, as it was taken to task for its alleged resemblance to the first big screen edition of Star Wars, which debuted in 1977. Wars, of course, brought science fiction fun back to the big screen and was ultimately responsible for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which reignited Gene Roddenberry’s beloved franchise. What many do not remember, however, is that Roddenberry had originally slated Trek to return to the small screen with a concept he titled, Star Trek: Phase II, but taking in account(ing) Warner Bros. receipts for Wars, Paramount switched gears and decided to bring Trek back in the guise of a Motion Picture.
That said – the space cadet/academy/military of the sci-fi division of entertainment is a delicate and challenging nut to crack – but let’s try, shall we?
Certainly, many fanboys and girls fell hard for the new Battlestar: Galatica when it debuted in 2004, even though many other fanboys and girls felt assaulted by the dark, droney take on the original B:G.
But beyond this obvious choice of discussion let’s move betwixt dimensions with warp speed and land upon a gem in the space rock field continuum:
Stargate SG-1 which, like TV’s M*A*S*H (how’s THAT for a comparison?!), was based on a feature film (though with two completely two different casts).
The SG-1 TV characters were embodied by Richard Dean Anderson (as the flip, yet stoic and loyal Col. Jonathan Jack O’Neill), Michael Shanks (the inquisitive and brilliant Daniel Jackson), Amanda Tapping (the no-nonsense Dr. Samantha Carter), Christopher Judge (as the evasive but charming Teal’c), each of which were believable in unbelievable situations for seven years on the show (originally on Showtime, then in syndication, then on Syfy; then the Sci-Fi Channel).
We cared about them, because they cared about each other. We liked them, because they were likable. We laughed with them. We ached for them. We applauded and cheered them on. We wondered with anticipation to where their galactic-gateway-to-the-stars were to take them week after week – and what they were to do once they arrived there (wherever there was). Into which world would they tumble? Which civilization would they uncover? Align with? Fear?
Like the show itself, the SG-1 team remained unpredictable, but not exhaustive or obnoxious. They were appealing, because their exploits were adventures of the heart, played out for the entire universe to see, embrace and enjoy.
In short, Stargate SG-1 captured magnificently what other shows in the planet-to-planet genre have ultimately failed to do, even – and particularly – the many small (and big screen for that matter) incarnations of Star Trek, the initial screen template for which debuted way, way back in 1966.
SG-1 became everything The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and certainly Enterprise attempted to be, should have become, and simply never became. These Trek editions were created, partially, to right what many considered a central dysfunction of the original series: to expand upon character driven stories, of which only a handful were featured.
In the case of the continued Trek franchise, too many rights made a wrong. The new Treks overcompensated with too much character development, and neglected the marvel of creator Gene Roddenberry’s ethereal, original vision – to explore strange new worlds – to “trek” to the stars…undiscovered countries, and to exude charm and exhilarate the audience in the process.
The new Treks became L.A. Law In Space and Deep Space Blues. The characters talked and talked and talked and talked, but no one went anywhere with any legitimate sense of fancy, or imagination. Most of the Next Generation, Deep Space, and Voyager segments became, in effect, what used to be called “bottle shows,” with all the so-called adventure taking place on board the Enterprise, the space station, or any other number of starships.
In essence – where all the action wasn’t.
Can it be that the feature film Galaxy Quest, a Trek satire if there ever was one, is actually a better science fiction entry than any of the Star Trek big or small screen sequels put together? For, Quest certainly equaled in entertainment value any episode of the original Trek TV show.
What? This ending seems kinda abrupt? That’s cuz it isn’t the ending.
Stick with us, gang. We won’t let you down.
Coming tomorrow: Part 2