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And Now For Something Completely Different...III

A better approach would be to move toward a darker, character-based drama set within Roddenberry’s technology-driven socialist utopia, revealing its seedy criminal underbelly, its bureaucratic corruption, its backroom dealings with alien governments, its moral tradeoffs and human follies. ~Peter Suderman

Via Ross Douthat

I grew up as something of a Trekkie, or at least as a regular fan, and it wasn't until some much better sci-fi shows started to be produced in the '90s that I fully realised how boring and tiresome Star Trek could be.

The only thing Next Generation ever had going for it was the Borg, and they even managed to screw that up pretty badly when they began to routinely defeat the allegedly invincible, unstoppable enemy. DS9 was partly Ron Moore's show, and he already added some of the greater "realism" that his Galactica remake has in droves, but unlike the interesting religious dimension of BSG they somehow managed to make the religious dimension of DS9 really hard to take. Probably because religion has never had much of a place in Star Trek and it was a poor fit with a universe where Roddenberry had envisioned that we had all outgrown that sort of thing. In the end, they tried to make every other episode into Fort Apache in space with endless wars with ever more numerous opponents and consequently next to nothing related to the characters.

Along came Babylon-5 and Firefly, both of which far surpass anything Star Trek will ever hope to make in terms of either an epic or gritty, realistic sci-fi series. For those who missed it (which would include most of America), Enterprise was the failed attempt to go back to the beginning and show the wild, early days before the Federation came into existence; it had its moments, but it was just never very compelling--not even by Trek series standards.

B-5 still suffered from the treacly, "let's all get along" sort of political morality that was beaten into your head in every Trek episode, but it had more than enough in terms of well-developed characters and story to make up for any of these flaws. I was not one of the early Firefly enthusiasts (I have to admit I found the pilot episode rather dull), but Serenity reminded me of its better elements. It would be too much to call the main characters of that story neo-Confederates in space, but they are a lot closer to it than I thought I would ever see on screen.

Right now, BSG has cornered the market on gritty "realism" in sci-fi, and it would be basically impossible to make a comparable Trek series that was also suitably family-friendly. For grittiness, it is hard to beat a show premised on nuclear genocide. As for Star Trek, the last feature film was simply terrible, as was the one before it, and no one would ever mistake any of the Trek films (except Wrath of Khan) for a genuinely compelling movie. It might be best to just let the franchise fade away with a modicum of dignity and try to be a bit more clever and inventive with the next sci-fi idea.

Daniel Larison | May 02, 2006



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