Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Life In Trek

Hi! Miss me?

It’s been a tumultuous six months or so for me, encompassing a move, a new job and a whackload of freelance projects, and this blog has seemed like something that’s easy enough to shrug off. But I’m finding myself wasting so much time on Twitter and various message boards that I might as well post my thoughts on stuff here instead. Plus, I’m trying to get more serious as a writer and attempting regular blog posts is a good way to discipline myself.

So anyway, let’s talk about Star Trek.


Star Trek: The Next Generation was the pop cultural equivalent of my first adolescent crush. I’d loved TV shows before that, in much the same way that you love people as a small child, largely because they are present and bringing you food. TNG was the first show that was “mine” properly speaking—the first pop cultural artifact that I actively sought out and became properly obsessed over.

And I do mean obsessed. I think my interest in the show coincided with it becoming syndicated for the first time, though I was too young to be sure about that. I think I started out somewhere in the second season, because I specifically remember seeing the first season for the first time and thinking how cheesy it looked and how much the show had evolved. I watched those first three seasons on a freaking loop—I taped them and rewatched them every day, and I absolutely had to be home to watch the syndicated rerun no matter how many times I’d seen the episode before. I bought all the spinoff novels (fortunately there weren’t too many of those to blow my money on) and most of the technical manuals, alien race guides, and eventually the TNG Companion became one of my proudest possessions. I wrote up elaborate encyclopedia-style listings of the various alien races, planets, and technology (thank God the internet wasn’t really a thing back then…though, wait, is the fact that I wrote these for my own amusement more or less sad than creating a Wiki?) It got so I could identify an episode by watching the first couple of seconds and…sigh, yes...hearing Picard recite the Stardate.

So yeah, pretty damn nerdy.

What’s weird about this is that I never really felt compelled to check out the original series. Part of that was that I don’t think it was airing in syndication on any of the channels I received at the time, or at least, nowhere that was convenient for me. My ten-year-old brain was wired kind of weirdly. I’d religiously plunk myself down in front of the TV right after school and watch cartoons, old sitcoms, and TNG, but I rarely felt compelled to watch in the evening.

Until, of course, I twigged to the fact that there were actual NEW EPISODES of TNG airing later in the evening (along with some other shows, like that “Simpsons” thing my VCR-obsessed family friend used to show me whenever I came over). I had discovered…Prime Time.

(Look, I’ve lived a very boring life, OK? Without exaggerated pomposity my autobiography’s going to be basically unreadable.)

Friday nights at 10, the night that TNG aired, became appointment television for me and my family—because I of course sucked them into it too. I’m always a little amazed at how my sisters, especially, picked up my pop cultural obsessions, for all that they acted like I was annoying them at the time; one of them can still remember albums worth of Weird Al lyrics, and the other owns an enormous prestige hardcover collection of Sandman and V For Vendetta. I’m contagious!

As for my parents, my dad likes anything tech-heavy, and my mom (a British ex-pat) likes watching theatrically trained Brit actors go at it. Of course my dad especially couldn’t help making snarky remarks through some of the show’s worst excesses, particularly the often stiff acting, but hey, family bonding is family bonding.

Oddly, it was around the time that Deep Space Nine spun off that I started to sour on Trek. Believe it or not, DS9 is the reason I’m delving into this whole subject, which is going to take up several blog posts—I’ve been working my way through it recently—but at the time, I found myself developing an aversion to it pretty fast, despite the slick production values. Part of it might be that I couldn’t interest the rest of my family in it, so I was watching it alone for season two. But another part of it was that that obsessive childhood brain of mine—man, this is really making me sound like I have OCD or something, isn’t it?—had fixated on what I thought were the “rules” of Trek, and DS9 was starting to break those rules. You can’t really blame me; this obsession with Trek was partly about me discovering how stories were told, visually and textually, and of course there’s no-one who gloms onto formulas like a student adrift in the vast, scary sea of creativity. But at the time it seemed like a betrayal. More on that anon.

Anyway, this was actually pretty small potatoes, if interesting in retrospect; the real issue was that the cracks were starting to show in TNG for me. The laziness of their treatment of aliens was a huge factor, for a start. I’m not just talking about the lameness of those infamous “bumpy forehead” designs (which were partly a budget issue, after all—even as a kid I understood these guys didn’t have George Lucas’s budget). It was the way the word “alien” never seemed to mean anything to the Trek writers. Aside from Klingons, Borg, and a handful of others, every alien species on this show spoke, acted, and emoted like a human being, and that’s just lame writing. It didn’t help that most of them appeared for a single episode and then vanished, never to be heard from again, which didn’t exactly help build a rich and detailed world. Likewise, the show’s continuity started to seem slapdash; I was interested in the “nodular” nature of TV storytelling at the time, but even then I thought it was a bit of a ripoff that so many major ideas could get sidelined and even abandoned. I mean are Trill people with weird foreheads or with dots down their necks I ASK YOU TREK PRODUCERS.

Ahem. I did mention that I was a nerd, right?

My list of problems with the show started to pile up until it was at least as large as the stuff I liked about it—something that’s become part of my makeup as a fan, unfortunately—but I kept watching all the way through to the finale, “All Good Things…” which I remember being really very good. And then that was that.

I think part of me knew it was in my best interests to make a clean break from Trek, and I even recall a vague sense of relief. Take this geeky burden from off me, Lord! Not that I hadn’t found new geek interests—I think The X-Files had grabbed most of my attention at the time, concurrent with Batman: The Animated Series--and those distracted me long enough to keep me from re-visiting TNG.

When I finally decided to start catching up on Trek a few years back, I made a conscious decision NOT to watch TNG, and in fact I don’t plan to ever revisit the show. I’m not the kind to wallow in nostalgia (ask me about Transformers sometime, and how my childhood love for them quickly became bemusement, leading into seething hatred thanks to the likes of Michael Bay) but Star Trek: The Next Generation seems to be the embodiment, for me, of a memory that the real thing will never be able to match.

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