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Guilty Pleasures

October 17th, 2002 - 1:44 am

We watch Enterprise, without fail, every time a new episode airs. And sometimes even the reruns.

I’m no sci-fi geek. On the Next Generation show, I had sophomoric thoughts every time someone said “tachyon emissions.” The show could be good, but I eventually lost interest — they weren’t allowed to do anything. Find a strange, new world, then ignore it because of the Prime Directive.

Enterprise is an entirely new animal. Well, except that it’s just like Classic Star Trek. Only better, thanks to improved production values and Jolene Blalock’s sickbay-enhanced chest.

Aside from the fun and the sex, the new show does stuff. That bald guy from Next Generation was a fine actor working with good writers and an amazing character. But he was still just a diplomat commanding a ship with a lounge for bridge. The sense of wonder was gone. Been there, done that, negotiated a deal with the Ferrenghis over it.

If you haven’t watched, the premise of Enterprise is seductively simple. 150 years before the original show takes place, Earth has just commissioned its first starship able to travel fast enough to explore deep into space. There’s no Federation of Planets, no bureaucracy, and only occasional contact with home. Captain Jonathan Archer isn’t a dimplomat from France, he’s an American explorer with a small chip on his shoulder and more than a little daring.

My favorite is his chief engineer, Trip Tucker, but not just because his character is so likeable. Not only is the ship new and untested, but so is much of the technology — all the fun gadgets taken for granted in the “later” shows. In a memorable episode from the first season, Trip, thinking with his other brain, got himself impregnated by an alien, ah, female.

The next best character is Blalock’s Sub-Commander T’Pol. Forget, if you can for a moment, her tight little body in that tight little uniform. Blalock has created the best Vulcan since Spock. Voyager’s Tuvok was a classic Vulcan, but often lacking that sense of — humanity — that Nimoy brought to Spock. Blalock has it in spades. She’s viciously funny, as in last night’s episode, where she caused my bride and I to cackle. Just because of the way she paused before saying the word “friction.”

And unlike Nimoy, she didn’t even have to raise an eyebrow.

Archer, Tucker, T’Pol. They make the show.

Original Trek worked because of the Holy Trinity of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. Next Generation tried to copy the chemistry with Picard, Riker, and Troy — but it just didn’t work. There wasn’t any, well, friction. Everyone on STNG got along — which doesn’t compare well to the never-ending donnybrook between McCoy and Spock, or Kirk and anyone who gave him grief.

The new troika copies that old formula, and copies it well. Archer doesn’t trust the Vulcans — who held back his father’s work on improving warp drive — but is forced to work with one as his second-in-command. T’Pol, the Vulcan, is torn between loyalty to her species and her (often grudging) respect for her new captain and crew. Trip doesn’t like T’Pol’s haughtiness, but would really, truly like to show her his, um, plasma injector. Which goes double for Archer.

The other characters are weaker.

Communications officers Hoshi Sato isn’t just milquetoast, she also doesn’t want to be in space — and it shows.

The weapons guy is Brit Malcolm Reed. He’s not easy to get to know, and he gives the feeling that you don’t want to know badly enough to make it worth the effort.

Doctor Phlox reminds me too much of why Next Generation got tiresome, and we’re only getting started on the second season. On the other hand, he’s good for a bit of wisdom or comic relief, so his character isn’t a total waste.

Completely wasted, so far, is helmsman Travis Mayweather. He should be an interesting guy — he’s a “boomer,” raised on slow-moving old trade ships, a guy as happy in space as a fish in water. But he’s had little to do other than look constipated while navigating a Romulan minefield.

But the show? It’s adventurous. It’s fun. It’s not above showing me some barely-dressed women with great abs, or showing my bride well-built guys taking their shirts off. Characters rub each other the wrong way, the ship doesn’t always work as advertised, and there’s a great sense of American can-do spirit despite all the hardships.

It’s a good show. And if it stays true to itself, it’s only going to get better.

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