Where no one has blogged before

Lately I’ve been watching reruns of Star Trek: The Next Generation on G4. Why a channel ostensibly devoted to videogames is running three hours of Star Trek each weeknight is beyond me, but I’ll take it.

Watching the show has reminded me just how much of a Star Trek fan (aka geek) I was as a kid. I never watched the original show, but my father was a huge fan of it, so when TNG came around, he got me watching it. And thus was born an adolescent love that lasted for many years.

I watched the show pretty religiously until around the sixth season, when my burgeoning social life in elementary and high school drew my interests in other directions. But from 1988 to 1992, I was really into Star Trek. This was expressed primarily in my reading many of the tie-in novels, especially those written by Peter David. (If I ever make it as a writer, I’ll owe a debt to David’s Star Trek novels.) I also played Star Trek during recess with a childhood friend, Chris, who vaguely resembled a blond Spock and was given to using two taped-together batteries as a phaser. I was usually the commanding officer (I continually promoted myself over time until I became the “Starfleet Commander”) whereas Chris was always my second banana. While I was always fighting some enemy ship or setting the self-destruct on our own vessel, Chris was happy to pretend we were on an alien planet examining some exotic life-form. The most amusing thing I recall from those days (if anything can be more amusing than the entire situation) was that my “character” eventually developed the ability to morph into the Alien (from the Alien movies) at will, much like the Incredible Hulk.

Eventually, Chris moved away and I lost interest in Star Trek, though I did catch the last episode of TNG, and I always made sure to see the films when they came out.

As a kid, I enjoyed a lot of the more superficial aspects of ST:TNG: the starships, the weird aliens, the Borg, Data, and whatnot. But watching it now—especially in the current political environment—I’m drawn in by how incredibly optimistic the show is. Everyone on the show is so understanding, so respectful of one another. There’s not much shouting and hardly any conflict among the main characters. Realistic? Hard to say. Four centuries is a long time to try and get it right. But realistic or not, it’s certainly optimistic.

TNG took a lot of flack for its optimism in later years. Ronald D. Moore, the man behind the revamped Battlestar Galactica, cut his teeth on the various Star Trek shows, and judging from BSG, I have to wonder whether he felt smothered by the feel-good nature of TNG. Certainly when he got his hands on Deep Space Nine he set to work darkening the tone and creating conflict among the characters.

I’ve long stated that American pop culture seems to have a nostalgia cycle of about twenty years, and if that’s true, TNG nostalgia should be coming up pretty soon. And watching the reruns on G4, I think it might happen. That optimism is immensely refreshing, and a stark contrast to BSG, which tends to augment our cultural anxiety through its paranoid and depressing storylines. More than any other Star Trek series (including the original), TNG emphasized the potential of the human species to grow and evolve, to move beyond our petty conflicts and respect one another. It was about exploration of both the galaxy and—to use a hoary expression—the human condition.

It’s interesting that TNG aired just before the boom of the mid-to-late nineties. Then, during the boom, the other Star Trek shows—Deep Space Nine in particular—became darker and more action-oriented. Like TNG, they were just slightly ahead of the cultural milieu.

Given the near-self-destruction of the Star Wars franchise, I think Star Trek has the potential for a good nostalgic boost and renewed cultural cache. It’s a great time to rediscover the show; it’s been out of the public eye for some time, and the recent films have been box office failures with storylines that were quite different in style and tone than the television series anyway. Yes, TNG is a bit stiff at times—fans of the original series sometimes referred to it as a “talk show in space”—but the ideas are still interesting and the characters are like old, familiar friends.

My father was a very big fan of the original series, and to this day it’s a little weird for me to watch it because he picked up so many of Shatner’s mannerisms (no, not the odd speech patterns—mostly facial expressions, particularly the wry humorous ones). While I don’t seem to have picked up any of Captain Picard’s mannerisms (unfortunately, mine seem to have come entirely from a youthful fondness for the early work of Jim Carrey), I certainly looked up the man, and would happily share a drink with him any day—no doubt a stiff, British drink (despite his ostensible French heritage), followed by slightly awkward conversation and eventually an unspoken, respectful, but obvious dismissal from the good captain, who has determined I am an odd fellow and would probably have ended up in the blue uniform instead of red.

  1. A stiff, British drink? I’d think it would be over a cup of Earl Grey.

    I remember when TNG started up. I was in high school and watched the first season, but soon lost interest. I was initially attracted to it because it wasn’t the campy fake looking original series. I found my way back to it in 1990 as sophmore in college. I was an engineering student — I guess that means a gold uni for me — and so were all my friends (we were the cool, non-dorky ones… right) and we would religiously watch every new episode every week, along with any repeats that we could grab in the dorm floor TV lounge. From then on, I watched each season. I was there mostly for the sci-fi stuff, the ships and the Borg were what always interested me most. I could care less for the characters, other than Picard and Worf.

    I could never get into DS9, but I tried to watch in spurts. Voyager was slightly better in my opinion. Probably mostly for Jeri Ryan, just cuz she was Borg. šŸ˜‰ I tried out Enterprise for most of the first year, but I didn’t pick it back up for season 2. I do think that the difference between that show and TNG really pointed out the evolution of the human race more than anything else. Comparing their vision of that period to TNG, really made a difference.

    When I think Utopia, I tend to think of the Star Trek universe first. I look at where we were in the real world when Roddenberry started and where we are now and haven’t seen that much improvement. The Cold War has ended, but we still fight amongst ourselves, just not that large scale. We are still intolerant of other races and religions, but it’s getting smaller.

    Could we get there? I’m not so sure we still won’t wipe ourselve sout, intentionally or unintentionally, before it can happen. Don’t things seem to be back to getting worse again?

  2. J_Stone left a comment on April 13, 2006 at 11:39 pm

    Heh. I actually started drinking Earl Grey (though not often) because of Capt. Picard. I wandered into a teahouse at some point, and having no idea what to order (I was fifteen, and knew squat about tea), went with the Captain’s old stand-by. Turned out I like it.

    I too, was and still am, a huge TNG fan. Spike shows reruns on weekday afternoons, after showing DS9 reruns (which I also love).

    I agree the optomisim of TNG is kind of refreshing at times, though I occasionally get tired of Picard talking about how wonderfully evolved humanity is. Many of my favorite episodes are somewhat grim for TNG (Best of Both Worlds, “the Four lights”–or whatever that episode was actually called, Damn near any episode involving Worf, who is my hero.), though in contrast to the new BSG, those episodes are still positively light-hearted.

    And honestly, part of my love for DS9 comes from the fact that it ISN’T TNG. It went in an entirely different direction, and it worked wonderfully. It’s probably my favorite Star Trek show, though TNG does wrestle with it a lot.

    Nothing after that ever grabbed me.

    End of ramble…jeebus.

  3. The “stiff British drink” comment was a slight jest at the expense of Patrick Stewart, who’s about as French as Tom Baker.

    I did watch DS9 for a season or two, but TNG was, and is, the Star Trek show for me. I guess I’d have to say Picard was my favorite character, followed by Data and then Worf.

    I agree the darker episodes of TNG–such as “Best of Both Worlds” and “Chain of Command” (four lights)–were often the best ones, but they wouldn’t have been as good without the “utopian” backdrop. Throw an episode like that in BSG and it’s just another bad day on the Galactica.

    As for the utopia of Star Trek, again, I find it interesting that Trek veteran Ronald D. Moore went on to create BSG…it’s certainly not a particularly optimistic view of humanity’s future. It seems predicated on a pessimistic view of the Vinge Singularity. But the fact is, despite all the pharmaceutical ads aimed at aging baby boomers, people are healthier, living longer, and more secure than they were a hundred years ago. Will that last as our resources dwindle? I like to think so–hopefully some companies will focus on alternative fuel sources while the oil companies wheeze out their last.

    But that’s neither here nor there…I think we need science fiction like Star Trek to give us hope for the future. And ST certainly did a good job at that.

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