Thursday, April 30, 2009

Nerd Alert

Full disclosure: sometime around 1993 or 1994, I won a Star Trek trivia contest at a convention, the prize being a free ticket to the next convention. So yeah, I'm an old-school Star Trek nerd of a pretty high order - not such a high order that I ever got dressed up as a Borg or went to Klingon language camp. But high enough that I do indeed know at least a couple of Klingon words (Qapla'!)

This is all to say that the new J.J. Abrams Star Trek movie has me feeling apprehensive. The Star Trek franchise is certainly in need of reinvention; Star Trek: Voyager and Enterprise increasingly leaned on the same episodic formulas of The Next Generation, and on references back to the older series - the most popular Enterprise episodes are loaded with references to aliens and storylines from the original shows, signs of a franchise miring itself in the past rather than looking to the future (ironically). But at the same time, I don't know that J.J. Abrams is the guy for the job of reinvention in any manner other than financial - he seems to be more interested in melodramatic plot twists, sex, and flash rather than the humanistic, progressiveness that was the true achievement of the shows at their best.

So anyway, I'm hoping for the best in the new movie but girding myself for the worst. In the meantime I've been catching up on a bunch of episodes from the original series, and here's my extremely nerdy list of my ten favorite original Star Trek episodes:

10. "What Are Little Girls Made Of?": Something of a sentimental favorite, but there's something that I find appealingly Lovecraftian about this episode, in which Kirk contends with a group of androids out to replace humanity with their own superior forms. Featuring Ted Cassidy, Lurch from The Addams Family, as the most ancient android.

9. "The Trouble with Tribbles": Something of an obligatory pick, but it holds up really well - a simple plot elaborated with great dialogue and energy.

8. "Mirror, Mirror": One of the siller story ideas of the whole series (and that's saying something) but played with such confidence that it's entered pop culture - a goatee is forever shorthand for an evil twin.

7. "Where No Man Has Gone Before": The series pilot has a different, colder tone than the series would eventually adopt, but this one also established one of the series' primary theses - that all of mankind's scientific advancements are meaningless without hanging on to our shared humanity - key to the post-Hiroshima age.

6. "The Enterprise Incident": A perverse spy thriller of an episode inspired by the Pueblo incident.

5. "Journey to Babel": A crowded, exciting episode with great intrigue, plus Andorians and Tellarites (remember, nerd here).

4. "Balance of Terror": A suspenseful submarine-esque thriller, joined with the humanistic observation that even the enemy has their reasons.

3. "Amok Time": One of the best Spock episodes features the perfect irony of the coldly logical Vulcan turning into a lustful raging maniac.

2. "The City on the Edge of Forever": Written by Harlan Ellison (if I write that he won't sue me), this one has a literary quality unique to the series, forcing Kirk into a classic dilemma between duty and romance.

1. "The Devil in the Dark": I pick this as the best original series episode because not only is it a terrific, well-crafted narrative, but it's also a perfect distillation of the ideals of the series, that the universe is a big place and that anthropocentrism can get in the way of truth and progress. Not to mention that the Horta, a living rock creature, is a pretty cool idea.

My runners-up:
"The Enemy Within"
"The Naked Time"
"The Galileo Seven"
"Space Seed"
"The Doomsday Machine"
"The Ultimate Computer"
"Spectre of the Gun"
"The Tholian Web"
"All Our Yesterdays"

And my picks for the five worst episodes:
"The Alternative Factor"
"Return to Tomorrow"
"The Omega Glory"
"And the Children Shall Lead"
"Requiem for Methuselah"

(and the one terrible episode that's so bad, it comes back around to become entertaining again: "Spock's Brain")


Anonymous said...

Is there a Klingon word for loneliness? Ah, yes, "G'arr D'ak!"

Jeff McMahon said...

Can I help you with something?

Also, thanks for reminding me that anonymous posters are useless cowards.

Sam Juliano said...

Wonderful post here.

You have chosen a most excellent Star Trek classic as your #1 episode, and one that boasts some of the series's most memorable one-liners. Your campy and appealing #10 pick is 'Lovecraftian.' I aquite agree with you there. AMOK TIME, CITY ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER, JOURNEY TO BABEL, WHERE NO MAN HAS GONE BEFORE, all masterful. I am surprised at the absence of the two-part THE MENAGERIE, but I understand we won't line up on every choice. That one was perhaps the most emotional of the Treks.
Your runner-ups are distinguished as well. My own 'worst' Trek is SPOCK'S BRAIN, but i can't argue with teh dire choices you named.

Great capsules reviews too!

Sam Juliano said...

Ah ha!

I missed your final disclaimer on SPOCK'S BRAIN. Fair enough!

John M said...

"...sometime around 1993 or 1994, I won a Star Trek trivia contest at a convention, the prize being a free ticket to the next convention."

Pretty sure this is the funniest thing I've read all week.

And then I read the first two comments here.

Nice job, right under the wire.

Jeff McMahon said...

John, it's true. The Star Trek Conventions in Denver (StarFest in Spring, StarCon in Fall) cost something like $50 for entrance fees, and that was a shit-ton of money when I was 17, so I was happy to get one for free.

Sam, I've never been especially fond of "The Menagerie". Its status as an episode pieced together from the remnants of "The Cage" means that it doesn't do much for me. Maybe if I had seen it in its original run, before I knew of "The Cage"'s existence I'd feel differently.

Sam Juliano said...

Yeah Jeff, I know some others who agree with you on that Menagerie/The Cage crossover. That is admittedly the problem.

It looks like the initial reviews for the new STAR TREK movie have been spectacular. I never would have believed this, but I'll be sprinting to the theatre with my kids on Friday!

Vincent Caramela said...

I like the list and I also appreciate the summaries for each episode.

Of course The City on the Edge of Forever is a classic but after rewatching season one I found myself really liking The Corbomite Manuever and, for some reason, Arena will always be a classic to me.

Also, I can't wait for the other seasons to come out on Blu so I can finally watch Spock's Brain.

Keep up the good work, Jeff.