Star Trek Was Bad TV? BAH!

Orson Scott Card inexplicably disses Star Trek in the LA Times:

“The original “Star Trek,” created by Gene Roddenberry, was, with a few exceptions, bad in every way that a science fiction television show could be bad. Nimoy was the only charismatic actor in the cast and, ironically, he played the only character not allowed to register emotion.

This was in the days before series characters were allowed to grow and change, before episodic television was allowed to have a through line. So it didn’t matter which episode you might be watching, from which year — the characters were exactly the same.

As science fiction, the series was trapped in the 1930s — a throwback to spaceship adventure stories with little regard for science or deeper ideas. It was sci-fi as seen by Hollywood: all spectacle, no substance.

Which was a shame, because science fiction writing was incredibly fertile at the time, with writers like Harlan Ellison and Ursula LeGuin, Robert Silverberg and Larry Niven, Brian W. Aldiss and Michael Moorcock, Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov, and Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke creating so many different kinds of excellent science fiction that no one reader could keep track of it all.

Little of this seeped into the original “Star Trek.” The later spinoffs were much better performed, but the content continued to be stuck in Roddenberry’s rut. So why did the Trekkies throw themselves into this poorly imagined, weakly written, badly acted television series with such commitment and dedication? Why did it last so long?

Here’s what I think: Most people weren’t reading all that brilliant science fiction. Most people weren’t reading at all. So when they saw “Star Trek,” primitive as it was, it was their first glimpse of science fiction. It was grade school for those who had let the whole science fiction revolution pass them by.”

Star Trek? It was “primitive,” it was “bad in every way that a science fiction television show could be bad.” Which is why there were 5 Star Trek series, 9 movies, an animated series, countless books, and popular Star Trek conventions. If that’s what failure looks like for a Sci-Fi TV show, then every Sci-Fi writer out there, Orson Scott Card included, probably go to bed every night and wake up every morning hoping to “fail” so completely.

Moreover, may I add that Card is waaayyyyy off base with his criticism of the characters being “exactly the same” over time. That’s not a bug, it’s a feature if you have good characters. In fact, most good Sci-Fi and Fantasy shows have non-changing characters and formulaic plots. Some of my faves have been:

Star Trek: The crew runs into danger of some sort, usually aliens. They defeat the danger, save the day and move on.

X-Files: Mulder & Scully run across some monster, alien, or weird conspiracy. They figure it out, but there’s no proof they can show to the world.

Highlander: Duncan MacLeod is confronted by some highlander from his past. After a few flashbacks, Duncan cuts off his head.

Hercules and/or Xena Hercules and/or Xena run into some bad guys, Gods playing games with mortals, or monsters causing trouble. They whoop them and go on their merry way.

In fact, you want to know what killed most of those shows? X-Files, Xena, & Highlander at least? They broke the formula and tried to get more creative. Big mistake.

Also, you want to know why Star Trek: Enterprise never really took off? In my opinion, they weren’t formulaic ENOUGH. The extensive, long running story line involving aliens who were attacking earth was a pain to keep up with if you didn’t regularly watch the show. On the other hand, in the original Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation, you could tune into an episode of Star Trek and be entertained and understand what was going on without having seen the previous five episodes. Star Trek: Enterprise really wasn’t that kind of show and it suffered for it.

Last but not least, the whole idea that Sci-Fi & Fantasy has advanced past Star Trek is silly. Even if there is an admittedly fantastic show like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” out there where you have characters who grow and change over time, it doesn’t mean that’s the only thing that will work from this point on. Just take a look at the #1 show on television, CSI, where the characters don’t grow or change anymore over time than James Kirk or Spock ever did. If it works for CSI, it’ll work for Star Trek…if and when, they decide to do a 6th series.

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