I never got it when it started, I never got it throughout the 1980s when they made the first series of “Star Trek” movies (starting in 1979), I never got it when they made the spinoff shows, and I don’t get it now.
Will somebody please tell me: What exactly is the appeal of “Star Trek”?
Except for Mr. Spock comically arching an eyebrow and declaring of unexplained phenomena that they were “highly illogical,” I never found any of the other characters on the show to be the least bit interesting, starting with William Shatner as Capt. Kirk.
I must have been a precocious kid (one destined to become a TV critic, I suppose), but even back in the 1960s, I was turned off by Shatner’s histrionics, even if I didn’t quite know how to articulate what they were. As a young child, I was unfamiliar with phrases such as “chewing the scenery” or the description of a performer as "a ham actor." I would learn all that later.
Cut to the present day and we’re coming up on the 50th anniversary next month of the premiere of the original “Star Trek” (star date Sept. 8, 1966) and the popularity of this franchise seems stronger than ever.
This summer, hardly a day goes by when some “Star Trek”-related news announcement doesn’t suddenly appear in my email inbox. This Sunday (Aug. 14), for example, there’s a two-hour special on “Star Trek’s” 50th anniversary on the History Channel. Next month, there’s another special on Smithsonian Channel, owned in part by CBS.
This summer saw the release of “Star Trek: Beyond,” the 13th theatrical feature film. And CBS is making a new “Star Trek” series called “Star Trek: Discovery” that will be available exclusively (except for the first episode) on its pay-streaming service, CBS All Access, starting in January. Discovery is the name of the new starship that will be featured on the show. If you haven’t yet heard about this new “Star Trek” show, then you need to get out from beneath that rock you’ve been living under.
In response to all of it, I have to ask: Why? Feel free to leave an explanation at the bottom of this blog post.
It’s not that I don’t “get” space-travel science fiction. The original series was about exploring “strange new worlds,” as the famous introduction went. That’s easy enough to understand.
However, every time I ever watched “Star Trek” or any of its TV progeny such as “Star Trek: The Next Generation” or “Star Trek: Voyager,” I never seemed to see anything more imaginative than a bunch of cheesy aliens with bumpy foreheads menacing the “Star Trek” space travelers. Of course, in the interest of full disclosure, I freely admit right here and now that I have no imagination whatsoever.
“Star Trek” is often credited with inspiring the inventors of the future. More than one “Star Trek” special has included the story of one of the inventors of the mobile phone, for example, who says he based the idea on the communication devices the crew members of the Enterprise used to talk to each other on the original 1960s series.
Smithsonian’s “Star Trek” special ballyhoos this same theme. “Two-hour special to take in-depth look at far reaching influence that original ‘Star Trek’ series has had on science and technology,” a subhead on the Smithsonian press release informs us.
Really? Which episode did that? “The Trouble With Tribbles”?
Someone who possesses no imagination and a whole lot o’ skepticism (that would be me) finds it pretty easy to poke holes in the “Star Trek” mystique. To me, the original series was about on par with a dozen other fanciful but run-of-the-mill series churned out by the Hollywood TV sausage factory of the 1960s. There were some exceptions. “Get Smart” was a standout among the decade’s comedy shows. And in terms of style and panache, “Mission: Impossible” was light years ahead of “Star Trek.” (“Star Trek” and “Mission: Impossible” were both Desilu productions.)
And yet here we are. It’s 2016 and we’re awash in “Star Trek” projects all aimed at an audience of receptive nerds, er, fans. What’s the explanation for the longevity of this brand of aged cheese? I plan to pose this question to the next bumpy-headed alien I run into.