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Discovering Star Trek

Odd as it may sound, I remember where I was for every first episode of a new Star Trek TV series (well, most of them). It is unclear why they are so clearly emblazoned in my mind, like they were some sort of national event, but there you go. I was reminded of this minor bit of mental trivia while watching the premiere of the latest show in the franchise, Star Trek Discovery. More on that later.

As a kid, I was first introduced to Star Trek (the original series) by my parents, who allowed me to stay up late on Sunday evenings and watch it with them after the Channel 3/WCIA News. It was in reruns, of course (I'm old, but not that old). I don't remember what the first episode was I ever saw, but overall it was an enjoyable experience watching them.

It is difficult to convey how big of a deal it was in 1987 when Star Trek: The Next Generation launched in syndication. On the heels of the massively popular 1986 movie Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (the one with the whales), the time was right for a new iteration of Gene Roddenberry's vision of mankind's future in the stars. I watched the premiere episode, Encounter at Farpoint, with my parents in the living room of our brick house on West John St. It was so much more modern looking than the original series, and I was curious about the android, Data. Oh, and it was pretty sweet when they separated the saucer section! That first episode, though a bit clunky if we're honest, left quite the impression.

In January 1993, I was spending a lot of time with a high school classmate named Kyle, the first person I ever loved, in a romantic sense. The night episode one of Deep Space Nine premiered, I was at Kyle's house, watching it with his whole family. We watched as Commander Sisko wearily survived a space battle. Then, a giddy fan moment as Captain Picard makes a brief appearance. All in all, Emissary was one of the better premiere episodes of a Star Trek show.

I didn't watch the launch of Voyager. In fact, I didn't watch much Voyager at all. By the time it debuted in January 1995, The Next Generation was off the air, and Deep Space Nine was growing into a darker vision of the outer space world by the week, turning me off from watching. So, I skipped Voyager. No great loss.

By the time Enterprise made its debut, in September 2001, there were no more first-run Star Trek shows on television, and it had been three years since there'd been a Next Generation movie. It was time to step-up and be a devoted Star Trek fan. So, I watched the premiere, Broken Bow, on the couch of the apartment I'd moved into with Ashley. It was a perfunctory bit of television, and the viewing experience was somewhat muted. Ashley wasn't really into Star Trek, I wasn't sure what to make of them doing a prequel show (set decades before the events of the original series), and the attacks of September 11th had only just happened a few weeks earlier.

Eventually, I stopped watching Enterprise, as apparently most people did, as it stumbled toward a somewhat rushed conclusion after four seasons, with the final episode heavily featuring Commander Riker and Deanna Troi from The Next Generation. And, just like that, Star Trek was done. At least for awhile. The lack of forward-thinking would continue with the franchise, at it relaunched its cinematic arm with a reboot of the Kirk/Spock era, with 2009's movie -- simply titled Star Trek -- becoming a pretty big hit with audiences. Two subsequent films have seen diminishing returns.

Fast forward to last night. We now have a new Star Trek series upon. Discovery's premiere episode was, at least for me, a somewhat lackluster affair. I felt dismay over its dark tone, overly-talky dialogue, and abundant use of lens flare. As it stands, Discovery has a lot riding on it. In a cold sense, it needs to make CBS money. In a nostalgic sense, it needs to be a quality return-to-form of a 51-year-old beloved franchise. I'm not sure if it will accomplish either goal, simply based on the first episode. I watched it alone while sitting on the couch (Ashley went and took a bath, so it was just me and the pets, who of course couldn't care less).

CBS obviously thinks that Star Trek Discovery will be a draw. It aired the first episode on its regular broadcast channel, but moved episode two -- and all subsequent episodes -- to its online streaming subscription service, CBS All Access. With a household that is already subscribed to three types of streaming services, I'm not sure I want to fork over more money to yet another one, just for one TV show. Perhaps many others will. If so, I hope it's worth their money.

As for me, I miss the simpler days, when Star Trek was on a channel, and you watched it. Heck, The Next Generation, being syndicated, happened to air on a local station that I could get without cable. Many a day I'd be up in my room (which had a TV and a Nintendo connected to it, but no cable), and get the rabbit ears just right so that I could watch the latest episode of Next Generation. Ah, the good old days.


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