I'VE LOST FAITH, FAITH OF THE HEART
by Michelle Erica Green
When Voyager went off the air, I truly believed that I had watched my last hour of Braga/Berman Star Trek. No matter who they cast on their much-hyped new series, no matter how interesting the characters or premise sounded in the press releases, no matter how many concessions they promised to make to demographics outside the boys they covet, I swore that I was finished putting up with their crap. Then Trek Nation (which is run by people I greatly respect and genuinely like) came and asked me to review Enterprise for them. And I sold out.
It made sense at the time. After all, Enterprise was a completely new show -- in fact, since it was set even before the original series, it came in with less baggage than DS9 and Voyager had carried from Next Gen. I wasn't a Quantum Leap fan but I liked what I had seen of Scott Bakula, and I figured my ignorance of his previous sci-fi forays might actually be an advantage because I'd have no preconceptions about him in a genre role. I liked the diversity of the cast, the fact that we would see a Vulcan female as a major player, the promises of Classic Trek villains and storylines. I didn't trust B&B to remain faithful to the original series' canon, but considering the inconsistencies between TOS and TNG on such issues as whether and where World War III was fought, I thought I could probably excuse that. I even liked the theme song. In fact, looking back over the first season, I can say that the progressive opening sequence is my favorite thing about Enterprise. It's the only thing about Enterprise that is truly progressive, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
I sold out for several reasons. The biggest was that I genuinely wanted to be wrong in my expectations about Berman, Braga and the new show. I've been a fan of Star Trek for my entire life. I want to love it; I want it to be good. It may sound absurd for me to say that my livelihood was a lesser concern, but it's the truth. After the collapse of Fandom.com, facing an increasingly difficult freelance market, I wasn't sure whether I'd be able to continue in entertainment journalism anyway. For many years, I had written about episodes purely for love, I had reviewed Trek books I bought myself, I had published a fan club newsletter that more than once required laying out hundreds of dollars from my own pocket. During Voyager's first weeks, when I was giddy with its potential -- more giddy than its own writers, apparently -- the show energized and inspired me. I completed a huge volume of writing and did a lot of thinking about some of the issues I'd been pondering since I left grad school. I made friends who shared my love of Kathryn Janeway, many of whom remain close to me to this day, more than seven years later.
It was an enormous privilege to report on Star Trek, to interview the people involved in its production and to interact with hundreds of fans. Getting paid to do so was a blessing I had never dreamed of before the opportunity presented itself in the form of a tiny classified ad in The Washington Post, seeking a reporter for Mania Magazine of AnotherUniverse.com with a journalism background and "expertise" in television science fiction. I walked into my interview armed with several issues of my fan club newsletter Now Voyager, some Deep Space Nine reviews I had written for Avery Brooks' fan club, and ten-year-old movie reviews I had written for my college newspaper. They hired me for $9 an hour. It's not enough to feed anyone (or even to pay for a babysitter for that hour) but imagine: I got paid for the time I spent watching Star Trek and Babylon 5 and The X-Files! I got paid to talk on the phone with Kate Mulgrew, Nana Visitor, Louise Fletcher, Peta Wilson, William Gibson, Hudson Leick, Rutger Hauer, Claudia Black. It wasn't a job, it was an adventure.
In some regards, that feeling has never changed. My affection for Hercules and Xena never waned no matter how many unpaid hours of overtime I put in, no matter how many calls to New Zealand I paid for out of my own pocket -- I felt privileged, from the first day of the job to the controversial final episodes, to have been able to interact with the fans and interview some of the players. I burned out on X-Files around the same time nearly everyone else did (near Mulder's departure), but I still enjoyed covering it, getting angry mail from Doggett's defenders, listening to people connected with the show try to unravel the increasingly implausible mytharc. I loved Relic Hunter and Dark Angel, two shows whose television runs lasted longer than Fandom.com's death throes; I kept watching both long after I needed to for "work." When editors from fan sites would ask me for articles, I was happy to contribute what I could. I did it for love, not money.
Reviewing Voyager, however, went from being a labor of love to excruciating torture. It was one thing to keep following X-Files as my feelings went from passion to confusion to nostalgia for the good old days; it was quite another to keep up with a series whose storylines and treatment of its main character offended me, while its producers issued press releases announcing that myself and everyone in related demographics (over 25, female, educated) weren't anyone they cared about anyway. When Fandom.com filed for bankruptcy, I sang "Ding dong, the witch is dead." I promised various readers that I would review Xena and X-Files to to the end of the season, but I was going to spare myself and everyone else any more ranting about Voyager. To my surprise, some of the very people who had written to me on a weekly basis slamming my comments and insulting my perspectives asked me to continue. Maybe they just wanted a foil for their own opinions. At any rate, with only seven episodes to go, I agreed to see the fourth Trek series through to the bitter end, so I could then be finished with Trek with no strings attached.
Thus it was with great ambivalence that I accepted Trek Nation's offer to review Enterprise, despite all the things I liked in the pre-premiere hype, and despite the fact that I really like Trek Nation's editors and respect many of the people who dominate the Trek BBS. I knew going in that no matter how much I told myself that I could keep an open mind, I already had prejudices and lingering bitterness from Voyager. I wasn't sure it would be fair to Trek Nation's fans, especially younger fans who carry none of my expectations from the original series and Deep Space Nine; some of Enterprise's biggest fans are too young to have watched Voyager's premiere. While I feel strongly that there should be older voices, female voices, minority voices, intellectual voices, controversial voices speaking out about the franchise and the issues it touches, I thought that perhaps I had already alienated some of the people most in need of hearing attitudes from outside their target young male demographic. A different writer who was less involved in reviewing the previous shows might have an easier time using humor, subtlety and cleverness to get commentary and criticism across.
Maybe I wanted to prove myself wrong. I know I wanted to love Enterprise in spite of myself. No one is sorrier than me to have to say that I don't. And I don't see how I ever could. As I said when it went on the air, Enterprise was never MY Star Trek. It's my young son's Star Trek, to the extent that it holds his interest, which isn't all that often -- he prefers Andromeda despite the oft-cheesy special effects and even though I think it's gotten too violent for him. My son's favorite things about Enterprise are Archer's dog, Tucker's cursing, the way the Suliban walk on the ceiling and the fact that the crew often ends up in their underwear (underwear itself being hilarious to elementary school boys too young to appreciate Jolene Blalock's boobs). The producers seem instinctively to understand this. Even the sex jokes are accessible to children. And the drama is at the level of Power Rangers episodes.
I don't have major issues and resentments with Enterprise as I did with Voyager. I don't feel that there was groundbreaking potential here that's been squandered. I don't feel that there was ever much potential here at all. What is this series about? A bunch of Boy Scouts on a high-stakes hunt for merit badges, taking along a couple of outsider girls and an older alien doctor-father figure? The attempts at deep themes have resulted in dialogue so clunky that it makes Shatner's most over-the-top speeches sound utterly profound. The attempts at political relevance have demonstrated that these producers are either very narrow-minded and jingoistic or that they believe their audience is, so they are pandering to that; in either case, it's very nearly the opposite of the ideology for which I first fell in love with Star Trek in the first place.
"But it's just the first season!", young fans have wailed to me, even as older, former fans of the franchise have complained that it's taken me far too long to be so critical. Yes, it is. And yes, Next Gen was trite and boring for nearly all of the first season, before it turned extraordinary in later years. But Next Gen had characters. It had try-harder spirit in place of a plot to sell officially licensed t-shirts. Moreover, even at its worst, it had a sense of scope that appealed to men and women, old and young, across many cultures and social values. The original Trek had those things well before its first season ended, as did Deep Space Nine and Voyager. I don't see them emerging on Enterprise; at best, I see recycling of some of what worked on the previous shows, and at worst, I see nothing worth watching.
A franchise must have new viewers to survive. The Trek writers would have to have been crazy to focus on appealing to the original series' audience, many of whom, like my parents, are in their 60s. Even Next Gen didn't make the mistake of trying to court only the diminishing numbers of old fans. But Next Gen went out of its way to appeal to women, to viewers in their 20s and 30s, to families...to the viewers with the real spending power, despite the much ballyhooed disposable incomes of young men.
So while I'm willing to concede that maybe I am too old for the franchise, it's not because my values have aged along with my chronological progression. It's because the franchise has become juvenile -- something the original series and Next Gen never were, despite significant numbers of young viewers. As insane as it would be to court exclusively aging Trekkies, it seems even more insane to depend on a fickle young male viewership, famed for the speed at which its members flick the channel-changer on the remote. It'll be interesting to see how many of them turn out to see the next movie, with its aging cast and a captain who went off the airwaves before some of them were born. Insurrection did most of its business off the aging Trek fans the studio dismisses, most of whom will probably turn out loyally to see Picard engaging one more time. What happens when those fans finally tune out?
Almost by definition, to keep its target audience tuning in, Enterprise HAS to be about nothing, so its five-minute fans can keep up as they tune in and out. And then what happens to long-term marketing, to conventions, to movies down the line -- will the rest of us stick with it out of loyalty, take the superficial entertainment for what it is, or change channels? In my case, I'd rather be watching Dawson's Creek on Wednesday nights at 8 (laugh all you want; Dawson's Creek has some of the most interesting young women on television). Afterwards I recommend that Trekkers watch West Wing -- which I avoided when it was on at the same time as Voyager, lest I should want to change channels away from my reviewing obligations. I consider it to be a flawed show, transparent in its ideologies and often condescending, yet still so many light-years ahead of the Trek franchise that it's been impossible to come up with anything nice to say about Enterprise's future when I've had West Wing's present on the screen.
Unlike Voyager, I don't hate Enterprise. When my son wants to watch it, even though he doesn't like it as much as Buffy which despite its young cast is a more mature show, I'm happy to watch with him. But he hasn't really grown into the Trek franchise, and I'm afraid that after being lifelong fans, my husband and I have grown out of it. Or maybe I mean grown up. But I really don't think our seniority is the problem so much as the immaturity that has taken possession of Star Trek.
I hope we'll be back. I hope Star Trek comes to mean something again more than a commercial product, and that people who truly care about ideas and ideals end up at the helm. But that will have to happen in a better future than we're seeing, either at Paramount or on the bridge of the starship whose name once embodied that future's promise.