“Star Trek: Enterprise…has been cancelled.” Okay, you were supposed to be hearing the voice of the Wildfire central computer from The Andromeda Strain as you read that line. If you didn’t, your nerd index is insufficient to continue reading this site, so…oh, who am I kidding.
Yes, today the news hit the airwaves—even as far away as England—that the fifth series in the almost forty-year-old Star Trek franchise has been axed. In a joint statement from UPN and Paramount announcing the cancellation, Enterprise’s final episode was said to be scheduled for May 13th. UPN president Les Moonves, who in the past has publicly voiced his lack of support for the entire Trek franchise, was instrumental in making the decision. The fact that Paramount was co-author of the release indicates that the show will not be shopped around in syndication to other networks, and that yes, it—and Trek as a whole—really is gone for good.
As I told my friend Pooch earlier today, if I had recieved this news a year ago—during Enterprise’s third season—I would have been upset. I thought the third season took the show in a new, improved direction. But in season four, now that the banality has returned in full force—as well as a whole screwload of continuity problems and rapings of the classic TOS canon—I realize that what season three actually did was not fix Enterprise’s many problems, but cover them up with a decent over-arching story, plenty of action and a lot of anger and violence. Underneath, it was still the same cast of characters who have basically zero interaction with each other and are all about as likable as pet rocks.
I’ve never really “taken” to ENT’s fourth season, but after starting to watch Ron Moore’s new Battlestar Galactica series, I really started to notice that ENT is inferior television. And in a time when the network channels are filled to the brim with crap reality shows and other low-rent dreck, labeling a high-budget drama like Enterprise as “inferior television” is saying a lot.
The problem is that everything feels hollow, and nothing feels like it matters. The characters are either dull and lifeless, or filled with an artificially-instilled sense of anger that doesn’t become them. Some of the casting choices, like the interminably poor Jolene Blalock, just make me want to retch. And the characters who are great actors and could really have something to contribute, like Phlox, rarely get to do anything except act within these narrow little roles that shunt their characters into corners of safe and expected behavior. No risks are taken. And what’s with Captain Archer? He’s a total prick! Kirk was cool in a macho type of way. The character of Archer takes that machismo and turns itself into a stubborn, pompous ass.
What it call comes down to, in the end, is the writing. The writing is the worst part about Enterprise—because without good writing, all the budget and casting in the world doesn’t matter. It’s the same tired excuses for storylines every week, with very little that truly matters from one episode to the next, no long-lasting consequences and never any major shake-ups or departures from the status quo (with season three being the only one that attempted to make an exception). The creators play around at “big decisions” like T’Pol getting married, but it always most affects some previously-unknown perimeter characters and we never see any consequences of these decisions. In the case of T’Pol’s marriage, a few episodes ago her husband came up to the ship and said, “I’ve decided to release you from our marriage, since I know this is never what you wanted and yada yada, and you just did it to please your mom, but she died last week so I’m cutting you loose. Bye!” And we never see him nor hear about it again! So even in the creators’ feeble attempt to induce character development, it proves to be too much for them so they just undo it all a few episodes later! This doesn’t remind me of the trappings of traditional Trek, it reminds me of 21st century Hollywood.
At first I was pretty surprised—amazed, really—that the cancellation news was getting so much attention. It made the front page of the Detroit Free Press (even though the headline seems to be gone now, interestingly enough—perhaps some nerd in their web department giving his favorite show an unauthorized sendoff?), the websites of national cable news networks, and other unlikely outlets. But then I realized that the big story isn’t the cancellation of this feeble series whose ratings have never been more than a drop in the already-rusty UPN bucket, but that this will mark the first time since 1987 that there has not been a new Star Trek series on TV.
In a way, that part of the story saddens me. Yes, I’ve been an unabashed Trek fanatic for the better part of my life, since I was about 4 or 5 years old, I’d imagine. Even the series that I didn’t like much when they were on (DS9, VOY) I have since gone back and really started getting into, particularly Deep Space 9. DS9, like the new Battlestar Galactica, really makes you see how awful ENT is. It’s so full of rich character development and huge story arcs that span entire seasons (the Dominion War). It’s awesome. I’m just sorry I missed it during the nineties. I remember watching the last 20 minutes or so of the DS9 series finale the night it aired; I was still in college at the time. Even though I’d never been into the series, it was like attending a funeral for a distant relative you never knew well—I felt obligated to go there, to watch it, to see if I could glean some sense of what it was about even if it was already gone.
But in a way, for all that sentimentality, I agree with UPN president Les Moonves. The Trek of today is not the franchise it once was, and it deserves to be put to sleep, at least for a while. Although I like Voyager, many complain of how lightweight it is compared to DS9. And even I would have to admit that the last couple of VOY seasons, culminating in the horrendous “easy way out” series finale, were the beginning of the end for Trek. Reset button plots, throwaway episodes, using time travel as the fallback prop every time the writers worked themselves into a difficult position…it got tiresome, and became pedestrian. And now Enterprise…there is nothing more pedestrian than its scripts.
So I think I’ll enjoy this break from Trek. I’ll use it to watch some more richly-developed and scripted shows, like Battlestar and Six Feet Under. As I move further away from the “mass consumption” tactics of network TV, I’ll get a taste of what real television is like. And when Trek returns to the airwaves—as I’m sure it will, one day in the future—I’ll return to that place and see what it has become. I hope this hiatus gives The Powers That Be a chance to reflect upon where their franchise has gone, how far down the toilet it’s been flushed, and make some fundamental changes before even thinking about bringing it back.
But in the meantime, as one poster on the Trek BBS said: “Battlestar Galactica—rocking the free world.”