I’ve been watching a lot of Star Trek recently with my girlfriend. No, not the new action packed movies that star Chris Pine and Simon Pegg and some other actresses and actors I can’t remember off the top of my head. I’m not watching Enterprise, Voyager, or Deep Space Nine, I’m not even sure if I’ve actually watched a full episode of any of those knock offs. It’s not The Next Generation, which does kick major ass with Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard. My eyeballs are getting stuffed with the sweet old school, super colorful, groundbreaking original series created by Gene Roddenberry, featuring the all start cast of William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, and James Doohan.
The original Star Trek television serial is one of those shows I believe everyone should watch at least once. The acting is sometimes terrible, the special effects were amazing for it’s time and budget, it deals with themes that are still valid today, and the fight scenes are incredibly cheesy and poorly shot. This may not sound like much of a pitch, but I promise you, it’s definitely entertaining. The show has had such an influence on our culture that watching all 79 episodes is a history lesson on a number of television tropes that are still popular today.
Star Trek start airing in 1966, a time when the two most powerful countries on the planet were toying with the idea of mutual self destruction. The United States and the USSR were locked in a cold war, and both nations were stockpiling nuclear arms. The idea of Star Trek was to show a future where humanity has succeeded at achieving peace on Earth, and was now traveling the stars with other alien nations, with a crew made up of various ethnicity working together for a common goal. It was the first television series to feature a black woman, Nichelle Nichols, in a prominent role. It featured the first on-screen interracial kiss. On the bridge Walter Koenig played Chekov, a man with a heavy Russian accent.
Star Trek took the world as it was, when black people were fighting for civil liberties and two nations teetered on the brink of war, and showed us there was light at the end of the tunnel. That people were better, and could be better, if we worked together. Many of the episodes had plots that revolved around war, racism, tolerance and working towards peaceful resolutions. Asking questions came well before shooting.
The series was grounded in science. The researchers for the program were phenomenal, and many of the devices that were branded as futuristic are used today. The communicators are the best example, today we call them cellphones. The warp engines were based on the physics being studied at the time, the medical tricorder that was often used by Dr. McCoy are slowly becoming a reality, and Star Trek at it’s core is about space exploration. With government agencies like NASA and private enterprises like SpaceX, it looks like space exploration is becoming popular once again. Sure, the show featured time travel and parallel universes, but Star Trek still tended to focus on hard science fiction ideas.
William Shatner, as Captain James Tiberius Kirk, is a damn treat to watch. He’s not a particularly great actor by any stretch, but he’s a character unto himself. His speech pattern is strange, his presence is enormous, and he eats up the scene in every shot he’s in. Every time he’s in front of the camera, I’m pretty much glued to the screen. William Shatner is the best when he’s playing William Shatner (although apparently he’s a accomplished stage actor, which is a different beast all together).
The reason I’ve decided to talk about star Trek is, firstly, I’m watching a ton of it right now. That is something that is going on in Mr. Charlton’s life at the moment. Secondly, it was a vehicle used to talk about a lot of moral and social issues at the time, and it can still apply to the issues our society faces today. The coolest thing about Star Trek is Gene Roddenberry ideal future landscape, where humanity has overcome it’s differences to explore the stars. The show was about scientific discovery, locating and documenting new phenomenon, and how rationality and logic would prevail over ignorance and fear.
So, if you’re in the mood for low budget, cheesy, thought provoking science fiction, with weird choreographed fight scenes and bizarre acting, you can’t go wrong with Star Trek – The Original Series. Definitely one of my guiltier pleasures.
The Illustrious Mr. Charlton
p.s. My girlfriend actually will sit down and watch it with me, and I believe that’s a testament regarding the shows entertainment value.
p.s.s. Start with ‘The Arena’. Classic.