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Star Trek: Enterprise

Entry updated 3 April 2020. Tagged: TV.

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US tv series (2001-2005), titled simply Enterprise in seasons 1-2. Created by Rick Berman and Brannon Braga, based on Star Trek (1966-1969) created by Gene Roddenberry. Producers include Berman, Braga, Merri D Howard and Peter Lauritson. Directors include David Livingston, Allan Kroeker, Michael Vejar, Roxann Dawson, David Straiton, LeVar Burton, and Robert Duncan McNeill. Writers include Berman, Braga, Mike Sussman, Chris Black, Manny Coto, André Bormanis, and Phyllis Strong. Cast includes Scott Bakula as Captain Jonathan Archer, Jolene Blalock as Subcommander T'Pol, Connor Trinneer as Commander Charles "Trip" Tucker III, John Billingsley as Doctor Phlox, Dominic Keating as Lt. Malcolm Reed, Linda Park as Ensign Hoshi Sato, and Anthony Montgomery as Ensign Travis Mayweather. 98 one-hour episodes.

This late Star Trek spinoff series jettisoned much of the franchise's distinguishing characteristics in an attempt to seem cool and relevant, and reclaim Trek's position at the centre of the field. It succeeded only in hammering what seemed to many, after its cancellation in 2005, to be the final nail in the franchise's coffin. Capitalizing on the popularity of the Star Trek: The Next Generation film Star Trek: First Contact (1996), whose Time Travel plot took the characters to a twenty-first century in which humans are not yet the Next Generation's civilized, peace-loving race leading the galaxy towards an era of diplomacy and prosperity, Enterprise is set 90 years after that film's ending, on an Earth which has discovered warp drive and healed many of its internal rifts, but is still unknown on the galactic stage. The Enterprise, the first Earth ship capable of traveling at warp 5, is dispatched on a mission of discovery and exploration, captained by Jonathan Archer and accompanied by the Vulcan officer T'Pol, whose government, having shepherded humanity since the events of First Contact, remains unconvinced of our potential.

Enterprise made much of eschewing the stylistic conventions of previous Trek series – the characters' behaviour is more informal and relaxed, and their speech patterns and leisure clothing are essentially those of twenty-first century Americans – but its plotting quickly settled into the familiar Star Trek groove, with one unfortunate twist – the uncharted space in which the Enterprise traveled had already been explored by the time of Kirk. Enterprise's writers were thus forced to either retread familiar ground or introduce new alien settings in such a way that it would be believable that they had never been heard from in the later-set series, with limited success in both cases. The prequel concept proved a challenge in other respects as well: in order to tie Enterprise to the rest of the Star Trek franchise, the show posited a "temporal Cold War": an attempt to defeat the Federation by preventing its creation (see Changewar). However, as the show would not allow its characters to learn the future that their endeavours were leading up to, stories that advanced the Cold War plot inevitably minimized their agency, making them the puppets of time agents (see Time Police) and other unknown forces. In its third season, Enterprise attempted to address the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon by positing a devastating Alien attack on Earth, in whose wake the Enterprise is dispatched to discover the responsible parties and prevent any further attacks – or, as some of its crew hope, exact retribution. Though lauded by some fans for addressing the recent national trauma, the resulting plot arc is poorly handled: an uninteresting story that squanders its 9/11 associations when it reveals that the aliens who attacked Earth were manipulated into doing so by lies from one of the actors in the temporal Cold War.

The series does little with a good half of its cast – Reed, Hoshi, and particularly Mayweather get few stories or even sub-plots dedicated to them. The actors, however, might very well have considered themselves lucky when they saw how the writers' favourites fared. Bakula, so charming and charismatic in his previous starring role on Quantum Leap (1989-1993) and later as a recurring character on Chuck, can do nothing with the stiff, self-important Archer, whose inadequacy only becomes more glaring the more Enterprise tries to position him as a man whose gravitas and strength of character equal those of Kirk and Picard. Blalock had the misfortune of playing a Vulcan in latter-day Trek. From one of the Federation's most highly-regarded species, the Vulcans under Brannon and Braga were reconfigured as elitist, manipulative liars deliberately holding humanity back from achieving its full potential and jealous of our ability to feel emotion. T'Pol's character arc over the course of the show consisted mainly of rejecting Vulcan philosophy (and, following in the footsteps of Star Trek: Voyager's Seven of Nine, wearing skintight or revealing clothing). Only Trinneer, whose engineer character grows from callow youth into maturity over the course of the series, and veteran character actor Billingsley, as the ship's even-tempered alien doctor, emerge from the show unscathed.

Enterprise was cancelled at the end of its fourth season, the only modern Trek series not to run for seven seasons. That cancellation marked what seemed at the time the effective death of Star Trek as a television franchise, and indeed twelve long years passed before its revival with Star Trek: Discovery (2017-current) and then Star Trek: Picard (2020-current). The commercial (though not critical) success of the 2009 feature film, which reboots the Star Trek universe by positing an alternate timeline in which Kirk's and Spock's first meeting occurs when they are academy cadets (and recasts the franchise's tone as that of a joky, mindless action movie openly dismissive of Roddenberry's Utopian aims), may have made it all the more unlikely that Trek would return to television; certainly not until the devout recasting of the series celebrated in Picard. [AN]

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