We're well into the fourth season of ENTERPRISE, a season under the guidance of new show runner Manny Coto. Nine episodes in, how does ENTERPRISE's bold, new direction stack up against the legacy of the TREKs that came before, not to mention other SF giants such as BABYLON 5 and FARSCAPE?
Well, it's definitely better...but I'm not sure better will be good enough.
Coto said all along in interviews that one of his main goals with this season was to include more connections to established TREK continuity. Already this season we've seen a three-part de facto prequel to "Space Seed" and WRATH OF KHAN. This arc of episodes filled in many of the blanks about what role genetic engineering plays in the TREK universe, as well as exposing less-than-utopic Earther prejudice against these "Augments." We've seen guest appearances from the green Orion slave girls for the first time since the Original Series, and gotten a look at the male of the species for the first time ever. The most recent arc has focused on how the duplicitous Vulcans of ENTERPRISE's era became the more centered and logical greenbloods we've come to know and love (still no explanation as to why a Vulcan science officer assigned to an Earther starship would wear a skintight catsuit, but I quibble). Rumored upcoming episodes hint at an introduction to the man who invented transporter technology, the first human encounters with Romulans, and possibly even an explanation to the long-standing continuity problem of Klingon foreheads (aside from Worf's terse response in DS9 that "We don't speak of it.").
This is exactly what a prequel series should be doing--filling in the gaps; expanding or even challenging what we think we know about the era that preceded Kirk, Picard, and the rest; showing us firsthand the events we've heard referenced over thirty-some-odd years, four previous series, and ten films. It's great to learn more about the aftermath of the oft-referenced Eugenics Wars, and the Vulcan arc in particular had put a fascinating spin on the Vulcans, so long established as the Federation's staunchest allies. However, for all Coto and company have accomplished in trying to strengthen the ties between ENTERPRISE and the series that follow (or precede, depending on your point of view) it, the show still threatens to fall prey to the same trap that George Lucas has in recent years. Let's call it Boba Fett Syndrome, where you drop a wholly extraneous character or reference into the scene for no reason other than that you can. So far the references to Khan and (indirectly) to Data and the appearance of a young T'Pau have all made sense within the story, but the writers should tread carefully, lest we wind up with the TREK equivalent of Boba Fett closing up a completely unnecessary Jabba the Hutt scene by actually stopping and staring into the camera (George and company might as well have scrolled text across the bottom of the screen reading, "Look everybody, it's Boba Fett! Action figure available now at your local Toys 'R' Us!"). Working within established continuity and making sly nods to what is to come is well and good, but not at the expense of carving out new stories that stand on their own, and forming characters as memorable as those that have come before.
And in that area, ENTERPRISE still has a long way to go. As I said, I only watched a few episodes of the first season before bailing out, but I have the same problem now that I did then: none of these characters are particularly interesting. Archer is still, as near as I can tell, a two-dimensional Kirk wannabe, a problem only aggravated by the fact that Bakula just still doesn't seem comfortable in the role, even four seasons in. T'Pol shows a little more development than her T and A casting would require, but she's still no Spock. As for the rest of the crew, I could neither name nor differentiate between them except via handy labels such as "Southern Guy." When your guest roles are by far more interesting than your leads, you're in deep trouble. One of the primary reasons TREK has survived and thrived was the dynamic characters created in the Original Series, especially the triumvirate of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. ENTERPRISE doesn't even have an Uhura, as near as I can tell.
Coto and his writing staff have steered their vessel into more interesting waters than it has traveled for some time, but given the basement-level ratings this season, I have a sinking feeling that it will be too little, too late. Which is a shame, because this kind of new vision is exactly the jumpstart a stagnating franchise so desperately needs. As it is, the only place STAR TREK seems to be boldly going is into the gloom of obscurity and irrelevance.
Keep your head and hands inside the television, folks...
MONDAY, DECEMBER 6
FEAR FACTOR (7 PM CST, NBC) It's a Christmas episode, so I'm guessing the contestants will have to eat a live elf or navigate a pen of reindeer in heat.
DAZED AND CONFUSED (7 PM CST, Oxygen) I'm a little dazed and confused as to why this is airing on Oxygen, but there you are.
NEW UFO REVELATIONS: THE GRAY'S AGENDA (7 PM CST, History Channel) I always knew that Colonel Wilma Deering was up to something.
MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF CLEOPATRA (8 PM CST, Discovery Channel) Was it really suicide by snakebite? A team of forensics and archeology experts try and find out.
LAS VEGAS (8 PM CST, NBC) "My Beautiful Launderette." Tonight's episode is chock full of money laundering and rodeo cowboys. Sounds like a helluva party.
FLOPS 101: LESSONS FROM THE BIZ (8 PM CST, Trio) Learn from the mistakes of others, or else just revel in the failure of others.
100 MOST MEMORABLE TV MOMENTS (9 PM CST, TV Land) Airing this on TV Land is sort of like when Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" was recently named the greatest pop song in history...by Rolling Stone magazine.
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 7
NCIS (7 PM CST, CBS) "Forced Entry." After a woman on a military base shoots an attempted rapist, Gibbs' team discovers a mysterious connection between victim and assailant.
12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS EVE (7 PM CST, USA) It's a yuletide GROUNDHOG DAY starring that guy from WINGS that wasn't THE FUGITIVE. Ho ho ho.
SUICIDE KINGS (7 PM CST, FX) I'm quite fond of this dark little tale of a group of rich kids who kidnap an ex-mobster to help them recover an abducted relative. Worth watching for the "busket" scene alone.
MUMMY AUTOPSY (8 PM CST, Discovery Channel) Jaws will drop when an autopsy of a pair of 3,500-year-old mummies reveals that they were killed by Dr. Ray Palmer (this concludes today's IDENTITY CRISIS reference).
HOUSE (8 PM CST, Fox) "Maternity." Two
HIGH SCHOOL REUNION (8 PM CST, WB) Further proof that all those obnoxious people you hated in high school will be just as obnoxious years later, and maybe a little pathetic to boot.
SO FUNNY IT HURT: BUSTER KEATON AND MGM (8 PM CST, TCM) Anyone who is currently thinking "Buster who?" needs to watch this.
SCRUBS (8:30 PM CST, NBC) "My Best Moment." Why this isn't an out-of-the-ballpark hit headlining NBC's Thursday night slot, I'll never know. I mean, I realize they've got the sitcom juggernaut that is JOEY and all...
LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT (9 PM CST, NBC) "Haunted." Fin must track down a junkie girl from a case he worked as an undercover cop.
NYPD BLUE (9 PM CST, ABC) "The Dead Donald." Not Trump. He's on NBC.
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 8
CLAY AIKEN CHRISTMAS (7 PM CST, NBC) Clay sings the Christmas standards, accompanied by his good friends Famine, Pestilence, and Death.
LOST (7 PM CST, ABC) "All The Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues." Locke teams up with Boone and Jack with Kate as they head into the jungle to search for Claire and Charlie. Guest-starring Tom Cruise's cousin (seriously).
THE WIZARD OF OZ (7 PM CST, TNT) Cue up your Pink Floyd.
PROOF POSITIVE: EVIDENCE OF THE PARANORMAL (7 PM CST, Sci-Fi) Tonight we've got lake monsters and ghosts and spontaneous human combustion.
THE WEST WING (8 PM CST, NBC) "In The Room." Penn and Teller turn up at Zoey's White House birthday party, and presumably no mention at all is made of Reebo and Zooty.
GHOST HUNTERS (8 PM CST, Sci-Fi) I wonder if these guys use Tobin's Spirit Guide?
LAW & ORDER (9 PM CST, NBC) "Fixed." A recently released ex-con is on the receiving end of a hit-and-run.
FILMFAKERS (9 PM CST, AMC) "Holly Holliday." It's a cheese-tacular Christmas special, FILMFAKERS style.
DRAWN TOGETHER (9:30 PM CST, Comedy Central) "Dirty Pranking Number 2." Spanky instructs Clara in the art of pranking.
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 9
THE O.C. (7 PM CST, Fox) "The SnO.C." The kids prepare for something called the "SnO.C. Winter Ball." Don't ask me what it stands for, 'cause I just don't know.
PHAROH'S REVENGE: EGYPT'S LOST TREASURE (8 PM CST, Discovery Channel) Discovery's on a big Egypt kick lately, aren't they?
LIFE AS WE KNOW IT (8 PM CST, ABC) "With A Kiss, I Die." Ben continues his attempts to dump Miss Young. Hey, teacher, leave that kid alone.
CSI: CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION (8 PM CST, CBS) "No Humans Involved." Sara investigates the death of a five-year-old who starved to death and was found near a dumpster.
ER (8:59 PM CST, NBC) "'Twas the Night." Abby tries to help a dialysis patient whose doctor doesn't want to be disturbed during the holidays. Who says the Christmas spirit isn't alive and well?
WITHOUT A TRACE (9 PM CST, CBS) "Malone v. Malone." Martin Landau guests as Jack's dad, and Jack suffers through a deposition in his custody battle for his daughters.
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 10
JOAN OF ARCADIA (7 PM CST, CBS) "Dive." God tells Joan to do something that scares her, so she joins the swim team. Really? That's the scariest thing she could come up with?
STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE (7 PM CST, UPN) "Borderland."
SWIMMING WITH SHARKS (8 PM CST, Flix) This satirical look at Hollywood is way, WAY darker than the wacky box art would have you believe.
FAMILY GUY (8 PM CST, Fox) "A Very Special Family Guy Freakin' Christmas." Get in the holiday spirit and celebrate this show's impending return with this ep and the never-before-aired-on-Fox ep "When You Wish Upon a Weinstein" at 8:30.
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 11
WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY: NAUGHTY OR NICE (7 PM CST, ABC) George Lopez stars as a mean-spirited Chicago sports-radio DJ who no doubt learns a lesson of some sort in some uncomfortably saccharine manner.
CITIZEN KANE (7 PM CST, TCM) Rosebud is the sled. Merry Christmas.
3 (8 PM CST, ESPN) Because when I think ESPN, I think movies. Nonetheless, finally released from the prison he was condemned to for starring in BATTLEFIELD EARTH, Barry Pepper stars as NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt.
SINGLE SANTA SEEKS MRS. CLAUS (8 PM CST, Hallmark) Continuing the holiday theme of dredging up faded celebrities to star in crappy made-for-TV-movies, this offers the one-two punch of Steve Gutenberg and Crystal Bernard.
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (8 PM CST, Sci-Fi) The flick that turned poor old Jim Phelps evil.
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 12
MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE (6:30 PM CST, Fox) "Kitty's Back." Lois feuds with runaway wife Kitty and Francis returns to torment Dewey.
THE SIMPSONS (7 PM CST, Fox) "Fat Man and Little Boy." Bart makes a killing selling novelty T-shirts and Homer provides plutonium for Lisa's science project.
NATIONAL LAMPOON'S CHRISTMAS VACATION (7 PM CST, NBC) Hallelujah, holy s&*%! Where's the Tylenol?
SNOW (7 PM CST, ABC Family) Just don't drink the yellow variety.
MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (7 PM CST, TCM) Nothing to sarcastic to say about this one. If you've never seen it, do so now.
ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT (7:30 PM CST, Fox) "Sad Sack."
MY BIG FAT OBNOXIOUS BOSS (8 PM CST, Fox) The B.F.O.B. forces the contestants to sit in a sweat lodge in full business attire, then makes them run an obstacle course while he fires paintballs at them. This would be funnier if they were all former Enron execs, but we'll take what we can get.
DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES (8 PM CST, ABC) "Suspicious Minds." The housewives stage a clumsy publicity stunt during the NFL pregame. Oh wait...
BOSTON LEGAL (9 PM CST, ABC) "A Greater Good." Denny Crane.
This concludes our broadcast day. See you next week!
TV Wasteland is our weekly Television column. Absolutely no harm was done to Timothy Hutton during the making of this column.