Monday, January 09, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Star Trek: Season 1 (1966-67) ***½

NR, 30 50-min. episodes
Creator: Gene Roddenberry
Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Majel Barrett, Grace Lee Whitney, Ricardo Montalban, Roger C. Carmel, Mark Leonard, Charles Macaulay, Diana Muldaur, Richard Derr, Lev Mailer

Despite it’s limitations in production values and it’s hokey delivery at times, “Star Trek” was television ahead of its time. The first season of what was a very strange mix of a military procedural, flower power values, and fairly well advanced science fiction themes is a revelation of the times in which it was made. The late 60s were an incredible period of change for this country and all of it is right there on the little screen in a show that probably very few people took seriously at the time.

There’s everything from advanced astrophysics to racial commentary to war philosophy to Shakespearian tragedy to be found in the first season of this iconic series. The sets looked like they were made out of Styrofoam and cardboard (they were), but the ideas were straight from modern philosophy and sociology. The many gadgets and gizmos used by the crew of the Enterprise might have looked cheap—Dr. McCoy using a Windex spray bottle to close wounds is my favorite—but many of them predicted technological advancements that were thirty and forty years off in the future. The majority of our population everyday uses many “Star Trek” style technologies.

What struck me most about watching these old television episodes, most of which I haven’t seen for thirty years myself, is how good the acting was. William Shatner gained a reputation as an overacting mug artist during his long career, and he does overact as Kirk. He had to in order to sell many of the high concept ideas on space show for network television. However, it’s easy to overlook much of the fine work he does here with sometimes-terrible dialogue. Although, the dialogue was often bad, the overall writing was quite good.

Leonard Nimoy also deserves high praise for some of the work he does here, although it isn’t as dynamic as Shatner’s. He’s fully committed to what must’ve seemed to mainstream audiences a most absurd character, an alien with no capacity for human emotion. He sticks with his character parameters and never wavers, except with some of the scripts that required him to gain emotions to contrast his normal state. Spock is an incredible study in human psychology.

It is easy to look at the original “Star Trek” episodes today and laugh. But, if you look closer, you will find a much deeper and more intelligent television show than we are used to even today.

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