Everybody knows "Live long and prosper." And even most non-nerds are down with "Prime Directive" references. But here's the truly alien concept that people still can't quite grasp: Enough.
As in restraint. As in not milking a good thing until it's just too sad to watch. Johnny Carson was one of the few advanced life forms in showbiz to grok Enough and make a graceful exit.
But not "Star Trek." When its sixth series, "Star Trek: Enterprise" dematerializes on May 13, it'll be after four seasons so unremarkable and unoriginal that they might as well have been hidden by a Romulan cloaking device.
And not the fans. Hardcore Trekkies are addicts so hooked that they'll keep going back for more, no matter how many times the product has been stepped on. Try copping the same buzz from "Enterprise" that you got from the original '60s series, or even some of the better episodes of "Star Trek: The Next Generation." And talk about needing an intervention: A number of the truly desperate ones raised more than $100,000 Earth dollars (with a pledge of $3 million more from anonymous investors) to give to Paramount to stop the studio's mercy-killing of the low-rated series.
True: It is the end of an era, the first time since 1987 there'll be no "Star Trek" in production. By the time we say farewell to Capt. Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula), the hot Vulcan chick with the implants (Jolene Blalock) and the rest of the forgettable crew, there will have been more than 700 hours of "Star Trek" over those six TV incarnations.
The legendary original series — named TV Guide's No. 1 all-time cult show — ran from 1966 to 1969.
Don't forget the seldom-mentioned 1973 animated series — with prehistoric-looking animation that makes the work of "Saturday Night Live's" Robert Smigel look refined. But respectable half-hour stories were unshackled by the live-action predecessor's low budget. Paramount keeps stonewalling me about why this one remains missing on DVD.
Then came "Next Generation" (1987-1994): Hugely popular, it changed the landscape of syndicated TV. But despite Patrick Stewart and a handful of watchable stories, it was just politically correct Social Work in Space without the thrills or atmosphere of the original. The Holodeck was the cheapest plot device in all of recorded history; the android Data was a transparent riff on Spock; and I'd like to see what Kirk would have done with the laughable ship empath, Troi.
"Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" (1993-1999) took place on and around a space station. Yawn.
"Star Trek: Voyager" (1995-2001) starred the enormous bun of a female captain (Kate Mulgrew) on a ship lost in even deeper space, but that kept running into familiar stuff.
"Enterprise" started off promisingly in 2001. But it quickly revealed that creatively, the franchise had gotten more bankrupt than the Gamesters of Triskelion after betting against Kirk in a death match.
Example: One weekend afternoon long after I had given up on the show, I read the digital cable description blurb that said that "Enterprise's" upcoming episode, "Twilight," from the third season, had been voted the fan-favorite. What the!? Archer lives out many years of his life on a backwoods planet and then finally returns to his own "present" on the ship as if no time had passed. Hey! That's just a duller version of a good "Next Generation" episode called "The Inner Light" — in which Picard lives out his life on a backwoods ... you get the picture.
And in a two-parter near the series finale, Archer and crew visit the evil alternate universe of the original series' "Mirror, Mirror" episode. Ugh. After so many visits from spinoff series visitors, the Mirror universe should recruit some of the Minutemen guarding the Texas border.
As those 700-plus episodes kept cranking out like space-sausage, they just kept getting cheaper — and lazier-looking. How many times can you stick colored foam-rubber on some poor actor's head — a guy who still has a mouth, two eyes, arms and legs — and call him an alien?
This was excusable in the original series. Take the crackerjack episode "Arena," in which an advanced race pits Kirk in mortal combat with a lizardlike Gorn. Well, in mid-'60s TV, nobody was going to reproduce the globlike adversary from Fredric Brown's short story, so they stuck a guy in a rubber suit and called it a day.
Now step into the Guardian of Forever and travel three decades or so into the future: That otherwise normal-looking chick with the crinkly thing on the bridge of her nose? Alien.
Producer Rick Berman, who took over the reins from "Trek's" late creator Gene Roddenberry, has admitted they may have dipped into the well one too many times. They emptied the well, sopped up the floor with a sponge and sucked every molecule of moisture from between the rocks in the walls.
"Enterprise" was set a century or so before the time of Capt. Kirk and Mr. Spock, when humans are just beginning to use the fabled warp drive for interstellar travel ("to explore strange new worlds," as Kirk would say) and encounter aliens (i.e., the "new life and new civilizations"). And yet Capt. Archer's ship looks like a much sweeter ride than Kirk's, which is a century more advanced. I've never been the kind of nut to point out that the seam on Uhura's stocking appears in a different place when she steps off the turbolift in Episode 37 than when she gets on; but the ship thing is just one of the numerous continuity glitches that revealed Berman's lack of concern for the material and the fans.
Throw in "Enterprise's" excruciating theme ballad, "Faith of the Heart" — originally from "Patch Adams"! — and I'm surprised he didn't get impaled with "I Grok Spock" pins.
Berman has never understood what made the original such a classic, and Paramount's release of all three seasons on DVD last fall was a refreshing reminder of just how much style it had — not to mention a depressing reminder of how diluted the bloodline has become. It had a filmed, warmer look than its sterile-looking descendants; the rousing music of Alexander Courage and others; a charismatic, hammy hero in William Shatner's Kirk; the best loyal sidekick of all time in Spock; and memorably defined characters making up the crew. Not to mention thrilling Western-like adventure stories with thinly veiled critiques of Vietnam-era events.
As for "Enterprise" ... well, Archer's dog is cute.
So it's too late for a graceful death. A permanent one? Fat chance. There's still money to be made. This is just a time-out.
Another feature film is in the early stages of development, even though the last one, "Star Trek: Nemesis," imploded at the box office. And executives are reportedly kicking around ideas for another series sometime down the line.
So here are our pitches for the next one:
• Bakula had been likable as the star of cult hit "Quantum Leap," but he made a boring starship captain. I think a post- "Starsky & Hutch" David Soul would have made a righteous captain. Who's got the testosterone to do it today? Maybe Kiefer Sutherland ("24") or Timothy Olyphant (Sheriff Bullock from "Deadwood").
• Throw the wealth of Croesus in front of director-writer Nicholas Meyer, who worked on the three best feature films, "The Wrath of Khan," "The Voyage Home" and "The Undiscovered Country." Beg for his help.
• "CSI: Federation." Hey, after Miami and New York, it was only a matter of time. "Law and Order: Starfleet Court-Martial" would also rule.
• Commit heresy. Ditch the commandments of Roddenberry. His vision of utter harmony among humans put a stranglehold on writers. A little human strife among crew members would liven up any ship.
• Take a page from David E. Kelly. He switched gears from the serious legal drama of "The Practice" to the comedy of "Boston Legal" (which, incidentally, is the vanguard of the Shatner Renaissance). And then make ... wait for it ... cult film god Bruce Campbell ("The Evil Dead") the captain.
• "Trek" movie producer Harve Bennett once told me his idea for an "Academy Years" movie with a young Kirk and Spock. Starfleet Academy was co-ed, right? Make it more like "The O.C.," with plenty of naughtiness — and you've got a hit with the young people.
Mark Rahner: 206-464-8259 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Got an idea for a new "Star Trek" spinoff? E-mail us your pitch, in one paragraph, by Monday, May 9; we'll print a selection in honor of the last episode of "Star Trek: Enterprise."