In Not Guilty, we look at movies that the general consensus tells us that we should feel bad for liking, but that our hearts tell us we should embrace -- "guilty pleasures" we don't feel guilty about. This time around, we look at the show that supposedly "killed" Star Trek on Television: Enterprise.
Before J.J. Abrams rebooted Star Trek in 2009, we all knew what to blame for the death of the franchise -- Enterprise. Right? Wrong!
Enterprise debuted on the UPN on Sept. 26, 2001, and it bowed on May 13, 2005. During its tenure, the show was largely reviled. It was considered to be the worst Star Trek ever made. Some people blame it for the death of Trek on television. Heck, there are some who view Enterprise's finale as a retcon designed to suggest that nothing that happened during its four-season tenure is technically canon. In short: To this day, a lot of people still @#$%ing hate Enteprise.
But it's been a long road, getting from there to here. It's been a long time, but my time is finally near ... to defend Enterprise, I mean. I put it to you: Enterprise, while imperfect, is still good television. And, more importantly, Enterprise is good Trek.
But before we can talk about that, we have to look at some of the forces in play that doomed Enterprise right from the start. The reality is, Enterprise did crash and burn. There's no denying that much. But, to continue that analogy, it wasn't the crew's fault that the ship was destroyed -- most of the damage Enterprise suffered was external.
So, what are we talking about specifically? Here are a few of the biggest problems Enterprise had that have almost nothing to do with the show itself.
Star Trek: The Next Generation brought Trek back to TV in 1987. From that year until Enterprise got canceled in 2005, there was always at least one Star Trek TV show on the air.
Sound like a dream come true? Well, it was, at first. But with each successive Trek series, from TNG to Deep Space Nine through to the end of Voyager, a big chunk of the audience was slowly getting tired of the Trek mythos, the schtick, the bumpy-headed aliens, and all the very many tropes that Star Trek has been employing since its inception in the '60s.
Enterprise showrunner Branna Braga has been very clear on this point -- while he wanted to break from tradition, executives above him demanded that Enterprise be, effectively, more of the same. And that is the last thing a show should be when it's part of a pantheon of shows that have been on the air constantly for nearly 15 years straight.
In a vacuum, the idea of going back to see the first Enterprise, find out how the Federation came to be and witness all the challenges humans would face along the way is a great idea. But there was a phantom menace this idea was facing. Literally. I'm talking about The Phantom Menace.
Think about it: The Star Wars prequels were the most exciting thing in science fiction ever, right up until The Phantom Menace came out in 1999. From that moment onward, even the word "prequel" could make a sci-fi fan grind her teeth before spitting on the ground.
So when the powers-that-be announced that Star Trek was boldly going backward, whether fans meant to or not, the association was made. And when, a year after Enterprise started, Attack of the Clones came out and it became clear things weren't getting better, the fate of the word "prequel" was sealed.
No Star Trek show since the franchise returned in 1987 has ever gotten off to the best start. Fortunately for all shows preceding Enterprise, however, the Internet wasn't such a huge and all-encompassing thing when they first appeared. But by the time 2001 rolled around, there was a groundswell of people who dedicated a lot of time toward criticizing every second of every episode of certain TV shows in the form of blow-by-blow recaps.
Sadly, Enterprise was one of those shows. So, whereas TNG, DS9 and Voyager could more easily sweep some of their less-than-quality episodes under the rug and find their footing, Enterprise had nowhere to hide when it wasn't on the top of its game. This hyper-critical analysis was like a cloud of noise that had a profound impact on the ability of others to just enjoy Enterprise, and it also created the perception that the show was more reviled than it actually was.
Something other than Enterprise made its debut in 2001 -- Bittorrent! However you may feel about people illegally downloading digital copies of TV shows for free online, there can be no denying that, early on at least, it could have a profoundly negative impact on certain shows. The thing about bittorrenting is that it's part of geek culture, so, unsurprisingly, Enterprise (a geek show) was one of the most pirated shows from 2001-2005.
Unfortunately, there was no legal equivalent to torrenting. We have legal streaming now, sure, but not so long ago networks didn't seem like they had much interest in making their shows available online. The result? People were watching Enterprise, but that wasn't being reflected in the ratings because of a lot of the people who were watching the show were doing so illegally.
If you put all these problems together, they become insurmountable, even by the best of TV shows. So, if we're being fair, it's not telling the whole story to say Enterprise failed because you personally think it's bad. The reality is that a show's quality doesn't make nearly as much difference in its longevity as it should.
But let's move beyond that. Enterprise may be canceled, but it's easily available for viewing on a number of streaming services. What makes Enterprise worth watching? Lots of things.
A CREW OUT OF THEIR DEPTH
A lot of people point out that one of TNG's greatest flaws is that everyone is too perfect. No one has any real serious character flaws, and the show's lack of internal conflict could make it boring sometimes. That was never a problem with Enterprise. Capt. Archer and company didn't have a clue what they'd find out in the inky blackness of space -- and it showed. From week to week, especially in the first two seasons, a lot of focus was spent on the well-meaning crew of the Enterprise messing up repeatedly.
And, after years of a well-oiled Federation, that was kind of nice. It's not that Archer's crew are stupid, but they are limited in their knowledge of alien life. And that meant some genuine tension (and sometimes raucous laughter) when things went sideways.
And speaking of that crew ...
A MORE ENSEMBLE CAST
TNG set a precedent where it was common for each episode to focus primarily on one specific character. That formula worked very well, but it could sometimes create a slightly disjointed experience.
Enterprise is a much purer ensemble piece. While certain characters inevitably steal the limelight, there's always a lot of interplay among the cast as a whole. We see a lot of the cast just hanging around, talking about the experience of being the first Starfleet crew to go into deep space, and we also see them fighting or their lives together time and again.
That being said ...
Jolene Blalock is, to my mind, an incredible talent. While she would be the first to admit that she had doubts about the direction T'Pol took as a character (and how that related to Vulcans in general), she really just acted the heck out of that part. There may be no touching Leonard Nimoy's performance as Spock, but there are times when Blalock give him a run for his money.
T'Pol's character arc from beginning to end shows more growth than almost any other character in all of Trekdom.
NOTE: Finding the above picture of her was hard. Like, way harder than it should have been. Seriously, you guys, the Google Image results are just her making out with people and having a bare midriff for pages. The Internet is a dirty place.
But while we're singling people out...
CHARLES "TRIP" TUCKER III
Initially, when Trek came back in 1987, there was some desire to recreate the cavalier quality of James T. Kirk in a new character. William Riker was supposed to be that guy, but, boy howdy, did that not work out. And after that, no one else ever really managed to fill that niche even remotely.
Until Connor Trinneer took on the roll Cmdr. Tucker, that is. Trip is the closest to Kirk any other Trek character has ever come. He's brash, he's brilliant, he's a little more headstrong and certain of himself than he ought to be, but he's lion-hearted and good.
But characters aren't the show's only selling point
THE YEAR OF HELL
There was a two-part Voyager episode in which the crew endured some of the worst and most agonizing experiences any Trek cast had ever seen. What happened could have taken an entire season to flesh out, but after two episodes, the reset button was hit. It was a very good idea, executed well, but because it was Trek, it couldn't really stick.
But the notion of the Year of Hell must have sat in the back of Brannon Braga's mind, because the entirety of Enterprise's third season takes a very similar turn, minus hitting the reset button entirely in the end. Imagine a Starfleet ship in the most dangerous parts of space, struggling just to survive spatial anomalies (let alone constant alien threats), all in a vain and nearly impossible hope of trying to prevent the destruction of all life on Earth.
That's bold for Trek. Even though DS9 got pretty dark, it's hard to say whether it ever got as desperate as Enterprise did in its third year. And the risk was worth it. Despite feelings that Enterprise needed to keep to the status quo, it was this Trek-defying year that proved Enterprise could be something more than what came before it.
That's right. I'm defending the indefensible with great risk to my personal safety. But listen -- everyone insists they hate it, but let's be real -- when you watch Enterprise, you go through three phases with the opening.
Phase One: Oh, god, this @#$ing song!
Phase Two: I guess it's not that bad ...
Phase Three: CUZ I GOT FAITH!
You may want your friends to believe you have the burning rage for that song, but deep down, we both know you sang along with it.
There are a lot of things I could personally tell you I enjoy about Enterprise. Whether it's Archer's willingness to be the bad guy when he had to, Jeffrey Combs' entertaining recurring role as the Andorian commander, Shran, the fact that, for the first time in Trek history, a starship interior actually looked and felt like it could really be making its way through space, the insane "Mirror, Mirror" episodes, or a million other things I really dug about the show.
It isn't perfect. Jolene Blalock often complained (rightfully so) about some of the needless eye-candy scenes she had to endure. But she still had fun. And that's the enduring thing that I see even in the less popular moments of the show. Remember when Trip got pregnant? Remember how dumb people thought that was? Well, you probably forgot the part where a Klingon actually uttered the line "I can see my house from here!" See? Fun.
But in the end the point is this -- Enterprise is a good show. And it's certainly not guilty of destroying Star Trek.
And if you haven't watched it, or stopped partway through, you should give it a shot. Just get ready to be really angry about the last episode. But that's a conversation for another time.
What do you think? Is Enterprise better than it's remembered, or is it justly reviled? Let us know your thoughts in the comments, or tweet at us at @blastr!