Six months ago I made an effort to go back and watch Voyager (since I never got into it), and posted my initial thoughts on the series. As it turned out, I found the whole thing far too tedious and boring to watch; I couldn’t finish Season 2 and had to drop it before my tear ducts dried out.
I don’t know if watching Voyager actually caused me actual brain damage, because I subsequently watched the Star Trek Animated series and found that to be more entertaining. -_-
In the past few weeks I’ve started watching the much-maligned Enterprise instead. I paid the show almost no attention back in 2001-2005 when it first aired, but I do remember hearing lots of complaints about it. Right off the bat, the theme music wasn’t right — isn’t that a Rod Steward soft rock song? What’s it doing on a Star Trek show? There was a fan petition in 2001 to slash it, to no avail.
Me though? Personally I really like it. The song is uplifting. The lyrics are appropriate for the show’s theme. There is something about it that matches the idea of mankind taking their first steps towards interstellar travel. I can’t grasp the hate and ire it drew from Trekkies. I guess that can be attributed to the fact that people don’t like change.
That said, I dislike the “update” they gave it starting in Season 3 with the guitar riff.
Right now I just started Season 3 with the Xindi arc, and I have to say I am enjoying Enterprise far, far more than I have Voyager. Set in the 22nd Century on the first Warp 5 ship, not a huge amount of time separates us and the show’s version of the future; the costumes and set designs, the characters’ mannerisms all feel more grounded in realism – everything looks and feels viable. The Enterprise’s crew don’t look much out of place for a NASA shuttle crew, and it definitely gives the show a sense of wonder as they take their first flight into the galaxy.
The little touches are intriguing as well: Technologically backwards, the Enterprise sports grapplers instead of a tractor beam, hull polarization rather than shields, physical torpedoes rather than photons, and a prototype transporter that everyone is reluctant to use. It makes things much more challenging for the crew when they didn’t have all the handy tech, and some interesting stories can be told around these limitations.
The premise is intriguing enough, but the show isn’t perfect. Let me get the bad stuff out of the way:
- The worst offense of the show, I think, is it retroactively rewrote Star Trek history at a whim. For instance, this Enterprise should not have made first contact with the Borg, even if these Borg were leftovers from the First Contact movie: it’s ridiculous this sort of information isn’t recorded, so Picard and friends wouldn’t be blindsided. Same goes for the Ferengi, to a lesser extent.
- The “forehead alien syndrome” plagues every Star Trek series, but especially Voyager and Enterprise as these two shows have a lot of first contact stories. Against a backdrop of going to new places and meeting new species, Enterprise is particularly disappointing when they repeatedly run into forehead aliens. It just undermines the wonderment of the show’s premise.
- Personally, I actually didn’t like the Temporal Cold War as a theme throughout the series. The idea of Archer knowing the future goes completely against the concept of exploring the unknown. Because Enterprise was a prequel to the other Trek series and the audience knew everything will otherwise turn out alright for the galaxy, I can understand why the writers tried to up the ante by introducing a timeline-altering scheme — I just think it’s detrimental to the feel of the show.
So all in all, not too much bad. Now as for the cast:
- Captain Archer: I like Archer. He’s relatable, and an approachable boss. Sure, he doesn’t have the confidence of Kirk or Patrick, and he’s often second-guessing himself and as the show went on, looks more and more frustrated with the situations he finds himself in. Sometimes I feel bad for the guy because he’s just doing the best he can, and often that’s not good enough.
- T’Pol: I also like T’Pol. She’s the Spock analog, with quite a bit of emphasis on her inner struggles between loyalty to Archer and obedience to the Vulcan High Command. Through her we get to see the early Vulcans (and they are bastards!) and their relationship with Earth. Jolene Blalok played T’Pol perfectly too.
- Trip: I have two opinions of this guy. On one hand, his maverick Texan cowboy accent/mentality brings a strong realistic NASA image to the show. On the other hand, I don’t find the character particularly intriguing. There are far too many episodes dedicated to him, but otherwise I’m pretty neutral about Trip. The death of his sister in the finale of Season 2 gives him an interesting twist, as he struggles to cope with that tragedy.
- Reed: So, uhm, a soft-spoken, short British tactical officer? Interesting character concept on paper, but he feels very bland in practice. And unlike Trip, Reed is so by the books so he’s even less interesting. His rivalry with the MACO contingent in Season 3 gives him a new angle to explore though.
- Mayweather: Since we’re talking about bland characters… here’s Mayweather, the token black guy. >.> And he definitely feels token – up to this point in Season 2, there has been only one episode centered around Mayweather, and one that didn’t make the character much more interesting.
- Phlox: Phlox is fun. He’s charming and he’s an engaging personality. Phlox is Enterprise’s Neelix, except that he’s actually smart and a useful member of the crew. :p Billingsley plays the character convincingly, even though at first glance I wondered why they would put an alien doctor in charge of a ship full of humans. Just seems like a risky thing for your chief medical officer to be a different series than all his patients.
- Hoshi: No, it’s not because the obvious affinity I feel for Hoshi’s ethnicity, but everything else. First, she’s a communications officer who was actually important on humanity’s first interstellar trip, and she was given far more to do than Uhura ever did. Second, Hoshi was particularly interesting because she was the one character who didn’t want to be on the ship. Sure, that gradually changed (character growth!) but it offered a very different perspective than everyone else. Linda Park did a great job playing up her awkwardness, and I love every scene where Hoshi is under pressure to do a proper alien translation. Even though she’s a supporting character, Hoshi is definitely my favorite.
That said, one of the main problems with the show is ironically that, for the most, part, the crew acts and behaves much like a real-life ship’s crew (especially Archer, Trip, Reed and Mayweather). They follow a chain-of-command and they follow orders, which unfortunately makes for rather rigid and uninteresting character interactions. No fault of the actors here, but part of what makes Trek tick is the character interactions: Kirk-Spock-McCoy is a prime example. There just aren’t many strong personalities on the bridge of the NX-01.
So why did Enterprise got cancelled after only 4 seasons, and is considered a failed Star Trek series? I think Trek fans more familiar with the franchise can answer this better than I can. But based on what I’ve seen so far, I would pick Enterprise over Voyager any day of the week; looking at the timeline of the franchise, Enterprise started up immediately following the end of Voyager, with DS9 ending along with the horrible Insurrection movie just the a couple of years before. One can argue the market was super-saturated with Star Trek at that point (franchise fatigue); if I had been watching Voyager for the last few years, I would’ve lost interest in the franchise too. :p
Overall, I think the show was a casualty of its unfortunate timing. The premise was intriguing, the cast was average-to-good, the production quality was there, and if it happened at a different time, Enterprise probably would’ve been far more successful.