Nasa / Space

Sci-fi rant: When did Star Trek jump the shark?

An entertainment franchise is said to have "jumped the shark" when, in an effort to maintain or recapture past glory, it pulls such a blatantly ham-fisted stunt that it actually expedites its own demise. Sci-fi is a breeding ground for such atrocities, but here is the Trivia Geek's take on when the Star Trek franchise went off the rails. Brace for impact.

enterprise-autodestruct.jpgI recently came across Something Awful's list of The 22 Most Awful Moments in Science Fiction. Now, I like me some Something Awful. They bring the funny. But this list is a bit padded, and wanders off into some crazy territory that most SF fans don't care about. (Seriously, who is bent out of shape that President Reagan's pie-in-the-sky Strategic Defense Initiative got nicknamed" Star Wars?" Like that is the worst fate to befall the franchise.) So, instead, I've trimmed and rearranged the list to my liking, and as your beneficent Geekend dictator, ye shall like it as well. Now, these rants are long, so they'll each earn their own belabored blog entry. The series starts off with a subject near and dear to my heart:

Q: When did Star Trek jump the shark? A: Star Trek: First Contact

star_trek_first_contact_ver1.jpgMost Trekkers would count First Contact as the last good Trek movie, and at first blush I'm inclined to agree with them, even if the film rather significantly retconned Zefram Cochrane's history (He was originally from Alpha Centauri, not Montana) and paved the way for the four-year punch-to-the-brain that was Enterprise.

In the plus column, we had a big screen showdown with the Borg, a new movie-worthy starship Enterprise, actual gunfights, Worf back with his real crew, and even a little rock & roll, all set on some their-past-our-future Earth. It was like all five of the good ideas from the entire NextGen era of Trek fan fiction made their way into one really decent script.

But then there was the Borg Queen, and that ruined everything.

borgqueen1.jpgThe Borg were originally defined as genderless, faceless, nameless, all-consuming man-machine hybrids with which you could not negotiate, could not overpower, and only by sheer luck and creative individuality could you ever hope to defeat--temporarily. That is until First Contact, for which the producers needed a conventional villain for the "dumb audience," so we get Alice Krige gothed up in H.R. Giger fetish gear going all creepy-vampy on Data and retconning Locutus of Borg from a terrifying perversion of our beloved Captain Picard into a spurned cyborg concubine that Miss Borgy needed to acquire some V'ger-esque spark of humanity.

The Borg Queen single-handedly diminished the Borg from a personification of everyone's secret fear of the dehumanizing power of technology and conformity run amok into two-bit techno-zombie henchmen of everyone's un-fondly remembered codependent ex-girlfriend. (It's worth noting that in First Contact, the Borg assimilate you vampire-bite style, rather than through the slow, tortuous process seen in "The Best of Both Worlds." These are B-movie monsters now, not powerfully terrifying metaphors for identity-stripping monoculture.)

jeriryan.jpgBy the time Voyager comes along, the uber-scary Borg are getting pwned by giant preying mantis aliens, outwitted on a weekly basis, and then eventually domesticated into vapid plot-device-sprouting eye candy in the form of Seven of Nine. The Borg aren't a force of nature anymore, they're cube-dwelling morons working for an easily duped pasty-faced dictator who has devolved into unknowing self-parody. In other words, the Borg are Dunder-Mifflin, minus Jim and Pam.

Thus, Star Trek jumped the shark with First Contact, and everything that followed--Voyager's second through seventh seasons, the complete series of Enterprise, to say nothing of Star Trek: Insurrection and Nemesis--has been an exercise in rapidly diminishing returns. Maybe J. J. Abrams can turn Star Trek around, but to do so he's resorting to a near-reboot of the entire franchise. Sadly, it's probably come to that.

Anybody care to disagree?

About

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger -- amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

297 comments
1001001001
1001001001

I think that every time Star Trek has gone to the big screen, something has been lost of it's quality as a story telling medium. It becomes, basically, an amusement park ride first and foremost. The producers are afriad, I think, to back anything that won't get the maximum possible audience (at least as they conceive it), so they add the fun-park stuff to make it bling. Problem is, they alienate the real fan-base every time they do that, and the attraction to the Star Trek genre diminishes. Look what happened to firefly -- Fox couldn't go for the bling (the story was too strong to allow it), they lost interest (because they couldn't wring out the viewers with the amusement park, gawker's reflex response), and the fan base has been in mourning ever since. The Firefly fanbase would have grown mighty if they'd continued, and they would have had their own new century version of Star Trek. But, they don't have that kind of vision, apparantly. Producers of these movies need to stick to basic good storytelling. That's what earns Oscars (generally). Everyone likes a good story. So what's their problem? Why are they afraid to tell a good story and let the "special effects" simply help tell the story, instead of BEING THE STORY? The first Star Wars did this with its effects, which was one reason it was such a success. It was "Wow," yes, but the effects were helping to tell the story and were not sitting on the story like a sumo wrestler twisting the titilation quotient of the viewer to squeeze out enough interest for a guaranteed bottom line. We need our story tellers to trust the power of a good story again. This is the lesson to be learned from all these flash-in-the-pan "blockbusters." Wow may sell short-term, but once the wow is over, it's over. Wow me once, then you better wow me again. When does it all end? Going for "wow" guarantees either a total failure immediately, or just a temporary fix that needs a bigger and bigger re-fix but which eventually peaks and then diminishes to nothing. And everyone's disappointed because a good thing was raped and pillaged until there wasn't anything left of it. Look what happened to Matrix. Matrix 3 was beat and throttled by the Wow factor until the great story we started with was nearly starved out of existence. Star Trek is a marvelous story medium. We need more good stories in that world. That's what will reboot the franchise.

tbostwick
tbostwick

Most of your points are well taken, as ST deviated far from script, with DS9 and Voyager, etc... With the new Trek movie, I'm happy to say not only my wife and I are back on the 'Trekkie' band-wagon, but so are my kids. This, for them, was like watching Star Wars for the 1st time now so many years ago. The characters are true and excellent matches for those from the beloved TV show, and as long as the scripts and story-lines hold true to form as in this film, ST will live on another 40 years+

russ_it
russ_it

Yes, putting a humanoid like personification and attitude on a singular borg leader was a calculated risk which was less than satisfing, even if not immediately obvious at the time. I dissagree on the pan of Voyager's 2nd through end of series; the characters and plots throughout included some of the best examples of Roddenberry's fundamental objectives in the Star Trek franchise. Every TV version had its high points certainly; EVEN ENTERPRIZE!

RAnthony
RAnthony

J.J. Abrams getting his hands on the next Star Trek film could well rank in the top ten most awful moments in SciFi, but that remains to be seen. Paramount (a subsidiary of Viacom, which is really all that needs to be said on the subject) owning the rights to Star Trek definitely ranks in the top five. -RAnthony http://ranthonysteele.blogspot.com/

purpleboy53
purpleboy53

I think the Borg are now selling land in Arkansas.

artoftransformation
artoftransformation

Exactly: StarTrek First Contact: "paved the way for the four-year punch-to-the-brain that was Enterprise." Exactly

artoftransformation
artoftransformation

Exactly! StarTrek First Contact: "paved the way for the four-year punch-to-the-brain that was Enterprise." Exactly!

vrnair
vrnair

There were many good story lines they could have pursued to keep the series or the movies going; all you need is look at the past stories ! They should also have brought a closure to "Generations";original fans never liked what happened to Captain Kirk and how they left it. I think the present folks are trying to make Star Trek more reality based? They forget that it is Science "Fiction" not Fact !! Same thing happening with StarGate; they seem to lose terack of the original theme that got these franchises off to a great start and fan following. Maybe they will open their eyes "some day" before it is too late. Ram :-))

hran/tech
hran/tech

Yes, I think First Contact is one of the WORST ST movies! But you criticize Insurrection? Go back and watch it again. The cinematography is fantastic. The sound and score are great. The visuals are wonderful. I think Insurrection is one of the best, if not THE best of the series. I agree that Nemesis was probably the cause of the movie series to end (it sucked). The best TOS movie was Wrath Of Kahn. The best Next Generation movie HAS to be Insurrection, if nothing else, because of its quality.

Ralph S.
Ralph S.

PLEASE !!!! it is Entertainment, not fact or for that matter reality.

smjr1920
smjr1920

Very provocative, instructive, and humorous analysis. I liked First Contact a lot, but your post reminds us to critique even the most valued for flaws, or for its potential to produce flaws in the future...

Fr0stb1t3
Fr0stb1t3

I agree but, if they hadn't changed how things were it would have just been a Dukes of Hazzard.... but in space.

jefftucker
jefftucker

One has to realize in the world of entertainment and advertising that film / TV show makers have to make their wares appreciable to the many, not the few (pun not totally intended). After all the original series was canceled remember. So the uniforms with the high heels and tight well defined areas are part of what makes non-fans watch, advertisers sell, and producers make money. To a true trek fan all the shows seemed to me were good at least. Some episodes were less good than others yet all kept my attention. Some had me on the edge of my seat. So lest not forget if more Trekies spent money we would not be in this predicament.

30bob1
30bob1

Why are so many of the 157 responders trying to deep fry what was a good 40 year series? After all, it was rousing good fiction depicting a future that possibly could exist. Sure there were a few turkey episodes, but that did not kill an entire series. I personally liked all of the ST spin-offs. I did not try to analyse whatever was going, but enjoyed the moment. I, however, tried to watch "Enterprise" but could not get too interested. I don't know why every TV show has to be analysed to death when it was made for enjoyment. I really applaud the writers for keeping such a long series at mostly interesting. Just try to watch some of the mindless current genres and then compare them to ST. ST comes off as much superior. KEN

vsok2
vsok2

Space Station, anti-matter, talking computers..Star Trek is almost here now. We don't have to wait until the 24th century

levelwraith
levelwraith

The actual jump the shark event was in "Generations" when the morons at the helm of the franchise decided it was a good idea to kill Capt. Kirk. Blatant shark jumping.

jbb1
jbb1

Star Trek jumped the shark as it left the womb. It was the US equivalent of the awful Doctor Who, with minutely better production values. The world would be a better place without both series. It's stupifying that hack work like this gathers such a following.

BALTHOR
BALTHOR

Star Trek was a shining moment in our weekly Television programming.You're the only one complaining about Star Trek.Everybody else liked it.

Process Analyst
Process Analyst

Well, we can go back to Star Trek: TNG and wonder why Lt Worf was never repremanded for the woeful state of shuttle bay security. How many times did we hear the words "unscheduled shuttle launch" on ST:TNG? You'd think Worf, as head of security would have fixed that gap by at least season two. But he did look good stepping into the turbo lift. A woman's perspective. ;) There were lots of gaps in those shows, but, hey, wasn't it just for fun? I mean, after all, it turned out Jeri Ryan is not just a Barbie Doll, she is one potent actress.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

One of the relatively recent trends that stops me from watching a show is multiple story lines that span the entire season. I'm not willing to commit myself to the box at the same time each week. Once I miss one, I feel lost the following week. Now I don't bother starting something I know will sprawl across several months. It's not an attention span issue; this approach was used by Marvel decades ago, and I've chewed through many multi-book fictional series. I think it's the expectation that I make a commitment that turns me off. Classic Trek and NG had the occasional two-parter, or occasional recurring character a la Harry Mudd or Q. No problem. For Trek, the multi-show continued story started showing up around the second season of DS9. Once the war started I had trouble keeping up because I wasn't watching every week. Then Voyager and Enterprise came along with plots that leaned heavily on this device. I think the first U.S. show I saw that used this concept was Twin Peaks. Unfortunately, it failed to come to a resolution, leaving me disappointed. This is probably why I've never bothered with Heroes, Lost, etc. that use multi-season, not just multi-show, stories, and why I gave up after Enterprise's first season. Apparently it's just me, since many shows using this format are thriving.

e.macdonald
e.macdonald

Rumors of Star Trek's death are greatly exaggerated. This enduring franchise of over 40 years is the brightest example of SciFi at its best. The characters are unique and the stories are more than plausible. If the studio suits don't get it, and mainstream finds its 5 second attention span fix some where else, or it polls less than robust against the standard fare, there is a strong base of fans who believe there is still room for more for the next generation of Star Trek stories, TV and films - reruns can only take you so far.

alieninvader
alieninvader

Toilet.. Seat.. Enterprise (I never did warm to Star Trek Voyager)

jkienzle
jkienzle

I liked the original, I liked the Next Generation better, and all current movies. I did lose interest in DS9 and never really watched any of the others. I own the entire STNG series and all the Star Trek movies and watch them all the time. Great stuff.

Antagonist
Antagonist

I am so sick and tired of people bashing Voyager. Am I the only person who loved that show? It is a star trek show like all the rest and often had good and bad episodes like any of the others. It was entertainment, people. I for one loved it and won't apologize for loving it either. I mean really, who didn't love looking at 7 of 9 every week? Oh wait...it must be geeks more interested in the authenticity of a fictional universe than a hot chick. HA!

darealnic
darealnic

I think Enterprise put the final nail in the coffin for folks who can't get enough of Trek. I liked Voyager... I see it as kind of like an arcade game, rather than an 1st person epic adventure video game. You have to admit that it was entertaining... if not deep. But, after the constant action seen in Voyager, then having to go back to Warp 4 and pre-photon torpedo tech was like getting stuck in the mud with a flat tire. Plus having to fill in all of the historical gaps from the hundred of plots from other Trek shows to satisfy Trekkies must have been like pulling teeth for writers. CONCLUSION: Face it... Star Trek revolves around technology. Enterprise was asking us to give up our Blackberries and go back to using a rotary dial phone... and be satisfied. And trying to rewrite history for an audienece of nerds like us who've grown up on Star Trek was just asking for trouble.

GNX
GNX

I ran into Seven of Nine and resistance was futile.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I notice you didn't say anything about the plot. Incidentally, the worst movie is #5, The Final Frontier, with Spock's brother and God. I'd rather watch Miri AND Spock's Brain, on two different sets at the same time. Bonk, bonk; what is brain?

sdcphoneguy
sdcphoneguy

What Jay was trying to get across was that maintaining a good believable story (yes even in sci-fi) is what keeps a series going. When you start changing your characters in order to fit a wider audience, you are doomed to failure.

adrians
adrians

Bring back James T Kirk (Shatner) and Spock (Nimoy) IMO they never got better than the original series (although the first 4 movies where good)

GrizzledGeezer
GrizzledGeezer

or vice-versa ... really doesn't understand either show. "Doctor Who" was originally intended as an educational program to teach children about history. But the popularity of the Daleks pushed the program in the direction of sci-fi melodrama. "Star Trek", on the other hand, was intended to be a drama. Some of the early episodes are excellent stories, suffering in our current view only because the quality of dramatic writing on TV has improved so drastically in the past 20 years. I haven't watched much of the current "Doctor Who", because the first episode was disappointing. I've seen bits and pieces here and there, and the writers seem to be making progress in moving the stories in the direction of legitimate drama. But The Doctor was traditionally a "cosmic Mary Worth" (as David Gerrold put it), arriving in the nick of time to fix somebody else's problems. The best thing about "Doctor Who" was the clever stories. One did not watch the show because it was good drama. By the way, I note that The Doctor has recovered his Sonic Screwdriver. This is a good thing, because it makes it easy for him to get out of tight spots, and thus keeps such situations from becoming the story's focus. Drama is not about getting people into and out of trouble. I was never wowed by "Voyager", but the "Death Wish" episode was a high point, one of the best series episodes of any long-running show I've ever seen.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Man, that feels good. I'm going to start saying that to every troll I encounter. It's like a little old Southern lady saying, "Well, bless your heart!". She's not really interested in your welfare, but she's too polite to tell you to consume feces.

GrizzledGeezer
GrizzledGeezer

...is that Harlan actually has talent. Both get twisted out of shape when anyone pens a work even remotely resembling one of theirs (qv, "Beast from 20,000 Fathoms", "Terminator"). In this case, however, Ellison appears to be in the right. If he retained the rights to the basic "City" story and its original characters (Guardian included), Paramount has no right to use them without his permission.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

It's his default state; he's spring-loaded in the "Irritated" position. His fiction should be required SF reading; everything he says outside of published fiction should be ignored. I'm trying to remember who described him as, "A Solar Fart in the Galactic Wind".

alieninvader
alieninvader

...well, you just have to live here. It's North Bend WA, and you can still get damn good coffee and cherry pie at Twede's cafe. This time of year, it's rainy and getting dark and the show captured the atmosphere.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

that they'd have an arc going an entire season, only to wipe it out with some 'temporal anomoly'. (Translation, the writers painted themselves into a corner and need a 'deus ex machina' to get out)

pyromosh
pyromosh

Star Trek always had it's mix of outstanding episodes that make you want to watch (Darmok, Inner Light, In the Pale Moonlight, The Sound of Her Voice, Yesterday's Enterprise) and episodes that make you cringe and not want to tell people you like Star Trek (The episode with the green flying Troi, the episode where the crew de-evolves, the episode where Janeway and Chakotay turn into future-lizards, the episode where Wesley Crusher is sentenced to death for crushing sapplings, The episode where Rumpelstiltskin and Buck Bokai come to DS9, The episode where Voyager finds a pickup truck (yes a truck) floating in space, etc. etc. etc.) The thing is, I would argue that if the ratio of good to bad is 4:1 on TNG and DS9 (and I do think DS9 and TNG are just as good as each other) then Voyager inverts that ratio. TNG had a Darmok, Best of Both Worlds, Relics, and The Wounded for every Sub Rosa (where Dr. Crusher finds a haunted lantern) DS9 had a Siege of AR558, The Visitor, The Ship, and You Are Cordially Invited... for every Melora (preachy episode where we learn handicapped people can do anything able bodied people can!). Voyager on the other hand had a Tuvix, The Q and the Grey, The Killing Game (When you incorporate Nazis, you jump the shark by default), and Elogium for every The Year of Hell. Voyager... was Gilligan's Island in space. (Nelix was Gilligan). As far as a Seven of Nine as a character, the only saving grace she had was that anyone was better than the Kes Character. The Borg are cold, calculating, efficient and logical. And the one they capture is going to be running around in spandex and high heels 24x7? Can we say shameless ploy for ratings? The only interesting character in the whole of the series is the Doctor, and it has issues as well. Remember, Data is a marvel that's not been replicated. Federation science has no idea how to replicate his sentience. And it happens by accident for a medical hologram? Tough to swallow, but Picardo's performance makes it worth swallowing. I've seen every episode of each series (except TOS) in order. Voyager and Enterprise are just kind of painful more often than entertaining. I will admit though that if you can't watch all the episodes in order, DS9 can be the same way. It's not for casual viewers because of the large plot arcs.

tagullett
tagullett

Voyager had one of the best intro sequences of any of the shows. However, the show lost me when the Captain asked Chakotay to help her find a 'spirit guide'. Oh puhleeeeeze!!! Then, the critter turns out to be...a little gecko. A metaphor for the show at that point.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

They brought in 2 of 44D and STILL couldn't save it. Robert Beltran went an entire season without a single line of dialogue that did not specifically advance the plot. Poor writing, cheap endings, constant temporal anomolies that negated the entire previous season, and a cast of characters that ranged from dull to wooden

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"it must be geeks more interested in the authenticity of a fictional universe than a hot chick" I can get hot chicks all over the tube. Consistently authentic fictional universes are much harder to come by; intelligent ones even more rare.

rkendsley
rkendsley

Do you still have your eye sight?

iggy186
iggy186

I find it mildly amusing that Jerri Ryan is now on a show called Shark.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

Jeri Ryan is a good actress but was wasted on that show.

seanferd
seanferd

He may, however, have a good arguement. I suppose it all depends on what you think of the rights of the owners of IP. I won't even make a guess as to who has legal claims to what.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

The entire previous season was just a dream. No, wait, that wasn't Voyager, was it?

Antagonist
Antagonist

You probably think that was a good comeback don't you? I rest my case...

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

But he doesn't care about the setting, canon, or mythos; he just wants his "Piece of the Action".

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

It's Friday and I took some literary license. Stuff me with quadrotriticale and drop me in a storage compartment full of tribbles.

Porgery
Porgery

I just watched the whole series over again recently, and I don't recall any temporal anomalies that wiped out major arcs. There were anomalies that wiped out the events of a single episode, of course - the infernal reset button - and the worst offender of that variety was the Year of Hell episode where the Voyager crew went through, well, hell for a year, and then the whole thing was wiped out at the end by altering the timeline. But that was just a two-part special episode, not a whole season. As far as I know, that's the worst reset button in all of Star Trek. It hardly compares to the Bobby Ewing debacle.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

and yet you didn't hesitate to tear into DS9 earlier. Unless you're a transporter accident, you can't have it both ways.