Star Trek: The Original Series
"An Introduction to Reviewing TOS"
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
September 17, 1998
I wonder: How many times have I said it when people ask me?
"No, I have no intention of going back to review The Original Series or The Next Generation."
I'm not even sure. Many times.
But now, here I am, reviewing TOS. (I still have no plans for reviewing the 180-some episodes of TNG, but the lesson to be learned here is to never say never.) The reason why I'm doing TOS is pretty simple: because it's something that I can do relatively easily right now. The Sci-Fi Channel cable network is airing all of the episodes in order (see my comments below about this project), giving me a chance to see them again and in a new light.
Because of where I live and what the TV stations in my area carry, I haven't seen these episodes for about 10 years. Ten years ago I was 12.
So, for me, seeing these episodes again is really only seeing them for the second time, in a mindset that is bound to be radically different from when I originally saw them. In a sense, I'm the perfect target audience for this rebroadcast project. I'm the kid who now gets to see them as an adult.
A lot of these episodes are surprisingly fresh in my mind. After watching them over the past two weeks, it's funny to realize how easily scenes and lines so vividly snap back into my memory as I see them. I can remember watching some of these shows on a battery-operated 3-inch TV in my dark, quiet bedroom—so that I wouldn't get caught staying up after my bedtime. I apologize for being nostalgic for what was only a mere 10 years in the past. Hell ... no, I don't apologize—a big part of the experience in watching these episodes is in opening yourself up to the nostalgia factor.
Now the question is: Just how can I review these three-decade-old shows? The answer: As best I can. Like when I went back to review seasons one and two of DS9 a little more than a year ago, I've opted to review TOS in a "capsule review" format, which means I'll provide a few sentences of plot summary, followed by a few more sentences of general analysis. I'm going to try to avoid saying what's been said a million times about these shows, but I understand that may be very difficult, if not impossible; a lot has been written about these episodes in the last 32 years. Whatever I say here is mostly for me, and anyone else who cares what this one fan thinks. I'll try to keep my thoughts as original and as true to my own feelings as possible.
The Original Series was, of course, a product of its time: often bold and sometimes brash, which generally cannot be said about the cautious, conservative, and politically correct 1990s. It was also a pioneer for television science fiction considered as serious drama, whereas now you can find sci-fi aimed at mature audiences almost anywhere and everywhere.
Since I'm a product of the 1980s and 1990s, my take on some of these shows is bound to differ from opinions held 30 years ago, and those opinions still held by people today who may have been watching when the series originally aired, or even those who were watching 20 years ago when the series was in reruns. I will always keep that in mind as I'm writing. But I will also be remembering that the best science fiction and character stories are those that withstand the passage of time and remain relevant and entertaining, even after three decades.
Thumbs up to the Sci-Fi Channel
Turning to the project itself, I find the "Sci-Fi Channel Special Edition" of Star Trek: The Original Series to be very worthwhile. With all the new TV Trek that's been in production for the past 11 years, TOS has, at least from where I stand, essentially stepped back to make way for the newer projects, even if in an unconscious way. The Special Edition is for me exceptional timing, and it offers benefits that should make this revisit worthwhile for all sorts of Trekkers.
First of all is the touted "digitally remastered" benefit—a true benefit if I've ever seen one. These episodes look and sound great. The color is brighter and sharper, and noise and film grain has been substantially reduced as compared to what you could find in typical syndication or even on the videocassette releases. It's truly is like watching the episode as it originally was filmed and intended—except probably on a bigger and better TV set.
The episodes are also uncut, unlike in syndication where snips would be made to fit the episode into an hour with extra commercial breaks. The Sci-Fi Channel achieves the uncut status by airing the episodes in a 90-minute format. This has its pros and cons. On the pro side, this does allow us to see the entire uncut episode, along with supplemental commentary (which I'll discuss momentarily). On the con side: 90 minutes is a long time to watch 45 or 50 minutes of actual episode, and there are so many commercial breaks during the Sci-Fi Channel broadcasts that it seems we only go about five minutes from one break to the next. My recommendation is that you tape an episode and watch it later so you can bypass the commercials; it's much less painful that way. Of course, the problem is that doing so really eats into your tapes—and if you're saving them, you're going to be mowing through tapes like crazy. (Still, it's cheaper than buying the videocassette collection.)
The episodes are all hosted by William Shatner, who discusses story themes and behind-the-scenes trivia, and offers anecdotes, all of which can be fun even if not always inspired. There are also brief segments held during the breaks called "Star Trek Insights," where cast members, guest stars, and crew members talk about the episodes they worked on. Sometimes these "insights" are worth hearing about, and sometimes they're not. (You can tell they're hurting for something relevant to say when Grace Lee Whitney talks about hairstyles, costumes, and makeup more than once in a single show.) True, it's all slanted in favor of making Star Trek look good and important (you won't find anything approaching negativity or animosity here, which of course leaves out some pieces of the behind-the-scenes story), but that's not really the point, is it? This is about making the series look good.
Most of all, this project is worthwhile because it offers a national market for airing TOS in the order they were originally shown on NBC. This allows people who want to talk about the shows in national or international circles (like out here on the Internet) to maintain common ground with everyone else who is watching. It is, after all, the reason I'm doing this in the first place.