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Overthinking It

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The other day, I was reading through a thread on Twitter.  (Note: Do NOT try this a home, unless you are a trained Twitter observer, as I am.)  The thread started out with a discussion on the Senate health care bill, which led to varying opinions on the sexual habits of porcupines and eventually concluded with a discussion on everything wrong with the holodeck on Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Now that’s some serious twittering there, and I could think of a thousand different directions to go with that, but really three points stick out above the rest.  1) I think porcupine sex could be a fascinating topic, and one which I intend to explore further once I get that plum job as a journalist for National Geographic.  Or maybe Playboy.  Whichever one can pay me the most.  2) The holodeck really is a lazy plot device on TNG and episodes involving it were rarely any good, although that episode where we found out that Lt. Barkley was using the holodeck exactly the same way every nerd I know would be using it was pretty cute.  3) I really need to quit overthinking things.

I bring this up because I went to my high school reunion last weekend and it was for real, too, not some program I cooked up for the holodeck.  A couple of months ago, I wrote a blog post in which I posited I might not go to the reunion.  It wasn’t that my fellow alums are bad people or my past experiences at reunions were bad experiences.  It was just that most people look back on their high school experiences nostalgically (Surprise!) and my memories mostly involved hiding in plain sight, an activity I continue to engage in at social gatherings to this day.  I had doubts that I would have any fun.  So, I agonized over it for months and then I started getting texts from former classmates, gently asking if I was going to come.  They meant well, but I’m not sure it helped.  I waited until the last week before sending in my check.

As it happens, the reunion was a lot of fun.  I give much credit to the organizers.  Early on, they made the decision to have the reunion at an outdoor venue, a highly risky proposition in Kansas in June.  But the weather was perfect and there’s something about being outside that gave the event a more mellow feel.  It was easy to simply hang out, enjoy the encroaching dusk, and just be yourself.  I’ve never had anything but admiration for the great majority of my classmates, who are, on the whole really good people, so it was easy to get into a good rhythm socially.  So all of that overthinking was a waste of time and energy that would have been better spent working the kinks out of my “Destination: Tahiti” holodeck program, which is woefully behind schedule (I think my wife may be sabotaging it when I’m not home).

In the aftermath, I’ve been thinking a lot about overthinking.  We all do it from time to time, unless you’re a sociopath.  I believe they call that phenomenon is “paralysis by analysis.”  Sometimes, overthinking is a good thing.  If we’re deciding to launch nuclear weapons, I want my leaders to overthink that decision a lot.  Most of the time, it just gets in the way.  If you’re a Christian like I am, it could be getting in the way of what God really wants for you in this life.  I believe they call that phenomenon “lack of faith.”

This week, I had a brief e-mail exchange with a classmate of mine about a television program we’d both seen.  It’s an enjoyable program, but one that strains credulity from time to time (I wrote about it a while back). She said that her method for dealing with that situation is GWI (Go With It).  As long as it’s enjoyable and harmless, then it shouldn’t be that hard to ignore the plot holes for a while.  GWI seems like pretty good advice for most situations, even beyond the television world.  Perhaps not for nuclear war.  Most situations aren’t nuclear war.

I could go on in this deeply philosophical vein, but I’m scheduled for some holodeck time, this time with the “Woodlands” program.  National Geographic just called and I’ve got a lot to learn about porcupines.

Boldy Going into Oblivion

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This past week, CBS announced that they are going to take another shot at reviving the Star Trek universe with a new series.  The network will use the new Star Trek to try to break into the lucrative streaming video market that Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon have used to make a killing financially.  I wish I could say I have mixed feelings about this venture, but that would imply that when I look into my crystal ball, I can seem some positives coming out of this.  This just reeks of being a terrible idea.  Couldn’t the creative folks in Hollywood come with something original (e.g., Breaking Bad or The Wire) or, failing that, maybe go steal some ideas from contemporary writers (e.g., Game of Thrones or Longmire)?  Instead, they’ve decided to drag this decaying carcass of a story line out for another resurrection.  I can’t wait.  The rumors are that they are going to use the series to look at contemporary cultural issues through the lens of science fiction.  They’d try that every now and again in all of the previous series.  Almost all of those particular shows were awful (although there were exceptions).  Maybe this will work out and be great.  Oh, who am I kidding?  This is going to be brutal.

Over the years, I’ve done a little reading on other people’s opinions about Star Trek and if there is one hard rule for writing about this topic, it is that you must at some point lay down your own cred on the subject.  No getting around it, I am a fan of Star Trek.  I’ve seen every episode of TOS (or, The Original Series for you sad people that are not fans) at least six times and I’ve probably seen some of the episodes over a dozen times.  I’m probably up to about twenty times now with The Trouble with Tribbles and The Doomsday Machine.  I’ve followed Star Trek through five different television series and what seems like about a dozen movies (oh, wait, it turns out it’s exactly a dozen).  While this may be a bit obsessive, you just can’t put a value on all the important and enriching things I’ve learned through the years as a result of my fandom.  For instance the average person out there has no idea what a quatloo is or what really happened to Zefram Cochrane.  Such knowledge certainly gives me a leg up on the rest of humanity, but over the years I’ve learned to mask my superiority with false humility.

That being said, I’m not a FAN of Star Trek, which is a little like saying I’m only borderline psychotic.  I’ve never been to a Star Trek convention.  I don’t have any boxed DVD sets of any of the series, nor do I have any plans of purchasing one for as long as I can hold off senility.  I’ve never dressed up in a Star Trek costume or even as a Star Trek alien (My current supervisor at work once dressed up as Lursa the Klingon for a Halloween party in college.  It took two hours to do the makeup). Years before William Shatner told his fans to “Get a life,” I’d pretty much gotten a life.  I was thrilled in 1987 when the Star Trek: The Next Generation came out, but I’ve probably not seen any of those episodes more than three times and that number goes down with each succeeding series.  I missed almost every episode of the last two seasons of Enterprise because it was starting to become, at least for me, boring and repetitive.

Not being completely Obsessive-Compulsive about Star Trek doesn’t mean that it didn’t influence my life or that I don’t have a lot of wonderful, Star Trek-based memories.  TOS was great fun and my first real immersion into science fiction.  In hindsight, the acting wasn’t always great and the special effects weren’t particularly special even for the 1960’s.  But, man, the concept captured the imagination and the writing was often outstanding.  And NBC, the network that was airing the show, hated it.  They spent the entire three years it was on the air trying to find some way to cancel it, finally succeeding in 1969.  In truth, by that point the show had probably run its course as that last season wasn’t very good, but it left millions of fans, mostly teenagers and younger, desperately starving for more.

It would be almost twenty years before television would take a shot at trying to sate that desire and the results were, at first, completely unsatisfactory.  That first season of TNG was varying shades of awful.  It was indicative of how desperate people of my generation were for good science fiction in general and Star Trek in particular that most of us stuck with it through the first season.  Not everybody did.  By the end of the season, the ratings were tanking.  The story I’ve heard is that Gene Roddenberry, the creative force behind the original Star Trek, had decided over the years that TOS had gotten too violent, too interested in the frequent run-ins with the Klingons and Romulans.  The first season of TNG reflected his philosophy, but in the process he also drained a good portion of the conflict from the story.  As any good storyteller will tell you, conflict is crucial to a good story.  You have to have opposing forces or philosophies, usually of relatively equal strength, butting heads to determine which is superior or, at least, whether they can coexist in some meaningful way.  TNG initially had conflict, but it was conflict devoid of any real power or meaning to the viewer and as storytelling, it stunk.  By season two, Roddenberry was sacked and the storytelling got better in a big hurry.  TNG lasted seven seasons.  Seasons two through six were very good.  Season seven was pretty hit-and-miss, indicating that maybe the writers were losing interest.

There followed Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.  I confess that I am pretty unique among Star Trek fans in that I really liked DS9.  I thought Avery Brooks made a great captain.  I also thought that the frenemy relationship between Quark and Odo worked really well.  DS9 also ran for seven seasons and was followed by Star Trek: Voyager and that’s when the Star Trek universe finally fell off a cliff.  The premise of having a crew who’s members don’t particularly like each other having to work together to return home after being thrown into an entirely different sector of the universe, seemed like a good one.  Unlike the previous series, the writing was mediocre and characters were all portrayed as insufferable whiners.  In looking up information about the series, I was shocked to see that it too lasted for seven years.  In dog years that’s almost 50, which is what it seemed like at times.

The last series, Star Trek: Enterprise, was set some 100 years before TOS.  It never really worked for me.  Scott Bakula is a good actor and I’m not just saying that because he went to the University of Kansas.  But he was pretty badly miscast as Captain Archer.  Some of the rest of the cast was pretty good, especially Jolene Blalock as T’Pol.  I just couldn’t get attached to it and, as I mentioned, I mostly gave up after the first two season.  It’s my understanding that it improved a lot by season four, although it ruined most of that by featuring the worst series finale in human history at the end of that season.  In 2005, the Star Trek universe finally went dark for the first time in 18 years.

I’m not going into the movies at all.  Like every long-running cinematic series from Bond to Rocky, some of the movies are very good, some just blah, and some are gut-wrenchingly awful.  My opinion about individual movies probably won’t agree with yours.

And now CBS is going to jump into the fray, apparently sometime in 2017.  One can’t form much of an opinion based on press releases, but at this point, it would seem that CBS doesn’t yet have a premise or a setting or a script or a cast or even a good idea of what Stardate they will be using.  Apart from that, this project really seems to be rolling!  Perhaps, this was simply the brainchild of some CBS exec high on marijuana (for medicinal purposes only, I’m sure) who will get fired after the network ratings tank later this year.  I suspect that there’s a pretty good chance it will never happen.

Probably not good enough.

Mitch Teemley

The Power of Story

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