Tuesday, August 10, 2010

30 Day TV Challenge - Day 5: "There's coffee in that nebula."

5. A show you hate.
Again, I bet you're really surprised.
There's no getting around it, kids: Star Trek: Voyager was a wretched, wretched television show. They made 168 episodes of this thing, and out of them maybe -- maybe -- ten are what I would call "good." This is not a show that started well and went off the rails; it wasn't marred by executive meddling; it didn't lose a powerful creative voice midway through its run and suffered from the vacancy. It set up all its dominoes from the start, gave itself lots of fascinating directions to move and a whole galaxy to explore, and then chose wrong for every single decision. For seven years.

The premise is pretty solid -- a Federation ship gets blasted across the galaxy by a Mysterious Godlike Being*, then has to make the long, 70000 light year trip home alone. A thousand possibilities! Think of the endless universe they had to work with: they bragged that the completely new setting would allow them to really shake things up, leave behind all those tired villains everyone was bored with. (Which they really did leave behind for, um, seven whole episodes.) The unexplored Delta Quadrant would let the franchise return to its roots, a show about exploration and testing the limits of humanity. So why did everyone seem so bored? The characters, I mean, not just the audience? And why did it all feel so...the same?

Interesting concepts are introduced, then either abandoned or botched completely. The tension between the Federation officers and the Maquis freedom fighters, forced to work and live side-by-side? I think it came up three times. The idea that the ship had limited resources to use and had to make do with what they had? The only one who seemed to bring that up was Neelix, the ship's resident annoying goofball, and it was only a handful.

But hey, that's fine -- you want to write boring, fallow characters, that's your business. But Rick Berman and Brannon Braga (the show's creators and creative voices) took it a step further and gutted Star Trek**. The Borg, the Maquis, the Q -- classic Trek creations that made their way to Voyager, and all of them marred beyond recognition. Which shouldn't surprise anyone: Braga made no bones about this indifference toward the franchise's continuity, and pretty did whatever he wanted. Why he wanted to do this, no one knows.

The show is infamous for its most well-worn storytelling device, the dread Reset Button ending. I know how quickly I got tired of the "We have to go back in time to save the ship from being destroyed" story line, but thought it was a crutch they developed in later seasons; I was mildly surprised to do some research and discover this was the crux of the third episode of the series. But when presented with Star Trek's most obvious chance to do some real, deep character work, to actually tell a coherent story with characters who changed and grew, they did the opposite: sitcom writing in space. A problem popped up, they solved it in 44 minutes, and everything went back exactly as it was -- very often, literally exactly as it was, thanks to time travel.

I watched...so many episodes of Voyager. I'm a Trekkie die hard, no question. And I was waiting for it to be good. Because, hey, Next Gen struggled at the beginning, didn't it? Surely Voyager will improve! But no. It never did. In fact, it got worse. And by the time it finally limped to its half-assed, laughable conclusion, Star Trek had been dealt a grievous wound. I'm not sure it will ever really recover.

*Which was just laziness. The original Trek started with Mysterious Godlike Beings; Next Gen started with Mysterious Godlike Beings; DS9 started with Mysterious Godlike Beings. Voyager couldn't get out of its goddamn pitch meeting without being a boring retread.
**They would later create Enterprise, a show so vapid and dull that it's actually difficult to hate. I guess after gutting the corpse, they wanted to piss on its grave. (Braga, incidentally, would also destroy the 24 series. So it's not just Trek he hates.)


  1. Anonymous11:04 PM

    Voyager was a show that I recognized was bad, but that I somehow was still fond of. I forgave a lot of flaws. The infinite shuttles/photon torpedoes, the lack of meaningful conflict between characters, the lack of lasting consequences to decisions, etc.

    But the Reset Button thing was something I could absolutely never forgive. It's even worse than "it was all a dream" as a way to end a story, because at least when it's a dream, some character remembers the dream. When time travel is involved, often no one but the poor viewer even remembers what just happened.

    "Year of Hell" parts I and II made me madder than anything else in all of Star Trek. Not only was there a Reset Button, and not only did it undo an entire two-part episode, but it undid one of the greatest two-parters in Trek history up until that point (a weak field to be sure, but still). If the people in charge had had any balls at all, they would have allowed "Year of Hell" to stand and faced the consequences in future episodes. How cool would that have been?


    1. Anonymous10:38 AM

      They can replicate torpedoes and shuttles can be rebuilt

  2. Oh, you and I agree a hundred percent on "Year of Hell," as you know. It's even worse, of course, because they actually *foreshadowed* the Year of Hell in an earlier episode...one which, naturally hit the reset button at the end and erased itself.

    And I wouldn't have made a big deal out of the finite resources thing, either, except *they* did, when they were hyping the show. And then it arrives, and, wow, it's nothing but stories about energy beings possessing the crew.