I don’t like Captain Kirk. There, I said it.
But now, before you start pelting me with rotten fruit or your dog’s fresh feces, please allow to me explain. Maybe I should start with a clarification. You see, I don’t not like him, either. For as long as I’ve been alive, and approximately eighteen years before that, the legend of Kirk has survived, spawning new heroes and captains for generations of TV. There would most likely have been no Malcolm Reynolds or John Crichton. No Jack O’Neill, no Admiral Adama. There certainly wouldn’t have been a Jean-Luc Picard or a Janeway. He’s not Captain Kirk, he’s CAPTAIN KIRK. And, while we’re on the subject, I’d also like to say this. Without Star Trek, there would have been no Firefly, no Farscape, no Babylon 5 (who all built their shows as the anti-Trek). There would have been no Battlestar Galactica, no Stargate SG-1 or Atlantis or Universe. Think of a sci-fi TV show from 1967 and on, and it probably wouldn’t have existed. Maybe there wouldn’t have even been a Star Wars; the world will never know. Star Trek is the father of science fiction television as we know it today. Wait, scratch that. Make it grandfather.
But, back to Kirk. I feel I’ve been spoiled by Chris Pine. When I saw Star Trek two months ago, I had only seen one or two episodes in the Star Trek franchise ever, a couple TNG’s and a few Enterprises. None of it hooked me that much, at least not enough to watch more. Thus, when I watched J.J. Abrams’ interpretation, I was basically starting from scratch. While I was a tiny bit familiar with Picard, I knew virtually nothing about Kirk (although I had seen Wrath of Khan, which is a bit of a different Kirk, I think). From the moment he came on screen, I fell in love with Pine’s portrayal of James T. Kirk (and Zachary Quinto’s Spock, but we’ll get to Spock a little later). Seeing the new Star Trek movie, which I loved, made me want to visit the series which made it possible. Frankly, I wasn’t that impressed, and it’s all Shatner’s fault.
Okay, there I go again with the hyperbole. I don’t mean it; I hold no ill will against The Shatner, I simply have no attachment to him. I find him to be a joke as a character, a womanizing drama queen who wears tight pants and thinks he’s hot shit. I’ll admit that one of the main reasons I’ve had such a hard time getting into the series is that it’s so dated. The special effects, the slow pace, the plots: I’ve seen it all before, and I’ve seen it better. It’s important to care about television history, and there’s no question that Star Trek is a huge part of that, but it does feel like history and not entertainment. It’s hard to love a series when you’ve seen all the plots before and when you don’t love the lead characters. It seems to me, the original fun in this series would have been figuring it out, seeing what new crazy thing they come up with, being blown away. But with my 21st century eyes, it all looks pretty hokey to me. And that’s a shame for me, I guess. It’s not my fault, and it’s not the fault of the series, either.
There’s a very good reason I’ve seen all of these plots before: this is where they came from.”The Naked Time,” featuring a story in which the personalities of the crew of the Enterprise are effected by some outside force and everybody starts to act crazy, was one of the earliest episodes to be filmed, and is directly responsible for classic episodes from some of my favorite TV shows. Dollhouse, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Eureka, Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis, Farscape, The X-Files . . . all of these have at least one episode, if not more, that can trace its ancestry back to “The Naked Time.” It’s the same way with all of the stories in this first season. At the time, I can imagine that this was revolutionary, cool television. I kind of wish I would have watched it as a kid; you often get this sort of epic feeling from things you watch and read as a kid, and you have an ability to ignore the awful stuff (of which Star Trek has a lot, mostly due to budget and visual effects technology).
For every awesome thing there is about TOS (The Original Series), there’s something equally awful. For every character that I love (McCoy, Spock), there’s a character that I find to be awful (Uhura, various guest stars). For every great idea that the show represents (see the title of this post, which is a line of Spock’s from “The Squire of Gothos”), there is the ridiculous way that women are treated. Female “officers” are forced to wear skanky, useless outfits with skirts that leave nothing to the imagination, and whose jobs basically consist of being space secretaries. For an era of time that had supposedly transcended prejudice, the crew of the Enterprise sure does a good job of being hypocritical assholes. And don’t even get me started on Kirk having sex with everything that walks. I’ll admit there were some truly enjoyable episodes among these (“The City on the Edge of Forever,” “The Naked Time,” “The Corbomite Maneuver,” “Space Seed”), but for the most part I couldn’t just sit and watch. I always had to be doing something, or reading other people’s thoughts (UPDATE: Now that I’ve finished the whole series, I can safely say that I developed an affection for it, but that the best way to watch it was right before bed. The ambience of it is very soothing, and I can’t tell you how many times I fell asleep to it.) The Star Trek wiki Memory Alpha has tons of juicy details on each episode that kept it interesting for me, and Zach Handlen from the AV Club has been revisiting TOS for a while now. His reviews are always interesting as he loved the show as a kid and feels great affection for it. He feels the same way about Trek as I do about Lois & Clark. He is able to enjoy it as it is, acknowledging that it was far from perfect and loving it for its flaws. In his last review of Season One, he wrote something that I think sums everything up quite nicely:
“Here we are at the end of the first season, and before we finish the final two episodes, I thought it would be nice to take a moment to bask in it all. To savor things. To think about what we’ve learned. Don’t mess with strange aliens, because they could be godlike beings of unfathomable powers, or really pissed off mothers. (So, godlike beings all around, then.) Being a starship captain is a great way to pick up women; too bad you’ll leave all of them because your ship comes first. Monsters, no matter how silly, can be deadly, so make sure to have a cushion of at least three non-descript goons to stand between you and whatever danger lurks ahead. Spock knows everything. Also, time travel, even under the best of circumstances, is a pain in the ass.”
1967 was a time long before serialized television, character dramas, and procedurals began co-mingling in happy ways. In 1967, Bonanza and Bewitched and Gilligan’s Island were still on the air. Lost in Space was smack in the middle of its three year run, and Doctor Who was just getting started. The series actually declined in quality over time, mainly due to an ever shrinking budget and the constant looming threat of cancellation, but if I would have seen it at the time, I would have said that Star Trek: TOS had smart writing, ambition, and gumption. You’d have to have gumption in loads to air an episode like “Arena,” which contains what has to be the worst fight scene ever committed to celluloid, or to constantly make mess with time travel. Seriously, they never get it right. Time travel as a concept is ridiculous to begin with, but the way that TOS handles it in “Tomorrow is Yesterday” and “The City on the Edge of Forever” is completely illogical at times. For example, in “Tomorrow is Yesterday” the Enterprise accidentally picks up a man from the 1960s who they must send back to Earth somehow not remembering his encounter with people from the future. Instead of wiping his memory and putting him back, they beam him out of the ship as it travels faster than whatever (I forget, because it was dumb) and somehow, just because he’s gone back to the time before he saw the Enterprise and nothing more, he’s back in his own body, there’s only one of him, and he doesn’t remember a thing. THIS IS COMPLETELY ILLOGICAL. If their theory of time travel was that only consciousnesses could travel then I might buy this, but the Enterprise’s very presence in the 1960s negates this. I mean, WHAT WERE THEY THINKING.
But anyway, that’s what I have to say about the matter.