The Weirdest Side of Trek
Star Trek: Very Short Treks
There's a lot of Star TrekOriginally conceived as "Wagon Train in Space", Star Trek was released during the height of the Hollywood Western film and TV boom. While the concept CBS originally asked for had a western vibe, it was the smart, intellectual stories set in a future utopia of science and exploration that proved vital to the series' long impact on popular culture. at this point. So much, in fact, that the series is able to mess around with its own continuity and say, "this is in, this out, and this is in but also out." DO you like a show or a movie but hate some others? Well, you can kind of just ignore most of what you don't like as there's so much else to watch that you never have to feel like you're missing out. Pick and choose and enjoy Trek your way. Some Trekkies might judge, but most of us would agree that you can make Star Trek be what you want.
Take Star Trek: The Animated Series (originally released just as Star Trek). This was the first franchise extension, a two season on Saturday mornings that revived The Original Series after it was canceled six years prior in 1969. Although not the most beloved series, it has its place in Trek history and most fans would consider it part of the franchise. But not Gene Roddenberry, who asked to have it removed because, over time, he came to hate it. If Gene could ignores official works he didn't like then why not the rest of us?
And hey, even now Paramount is going back and saying, "you know, why not celebrate The Animated Series?" For its 50th anniversary they've done just that, allowing creator Casper Kelly a chance to play with characters from across Trek history, putting them into the Animated Series style to tell humorous little episodes. All out of love for every corner of Star Trek imaginable. So let's celebrate together:
"Skin a Cat"
The U.S.S. Enterprise (the original one from The Original Series) is under attack by the Klingons. As Kirk tries to come up with a plan to defeat this foe, he inadvertently offends the feline crew-member on the bridge by saying, "there's more than one way to skin a cat," and in trying to back pedal on this he says more and more idioms that inadvertently offend other alien members on his crew. But in doing so, Kirk comes up with a novel solution that just might give his ship a chance to survive.
Of all the mini webisodes in this collection (five total), this one is most in line with the feel of The Animated Series. The setup feels like a normal episode of that show, and while the adventure quickly goes off the rails, and hard, it still feels like a love letter to that series. You can see the joy the creators had for that series, and joy they feel getting to play with it. And the weirdness of that series, with its strange, alien creatures that never showed up in another series, illustrates the strange narrative diversion that show became.
With that said, this is also a very silly, pretty dumb episode. The big issue with "Skin a Cat" is that it has one joke and it beats it over and over again. The idea that Kirk offends a crew member with an idiom and then does it again, and again, has some humor to it. Sure, it leads to a solution of the problem, but the episode goes on far too long to get there and it loses its humor in the process. This is a short that starts well, and ends well, but it lacks a middle that feels strong enough to carry the story. It's almost good... until it isn't.
In this episode Spock, aboard the Strange New Worlds version of the U.S.S. Enterprise entertains his co-workers with a "blooper reel" of events aboard the ship. Well, he tries to entertain, anyway, but all he manages to do is find horrific moments aboard the ship which he then thinks would be found humorous but really aren't. And then he ends the montage with a crotch-shot and everyone laughs. Humor!
So here's the issue: Spock not understanding humor, and getting things wrong, is a joke that's been beaten to death even before we get to this episode. Hell, it was also a plot line for Data in The Next Generation and that show explored it a bunch as well. TO put it bluntly, this is well-worn territory and "Holiday Party" doesn't find anything new to say about it. Instead it goes for lazy clips and bad attempts at humor. Sure, that's Spock's point here, but it doesn't work.
There's a version of this that could have worked, where Spock finds the most horrific, awful clips and shows those, eliciting nervous, dark laughs from the audience, but the clip doesn't do that. It feels weirdly like its pulling its punches and playing it safe, going for a limp version of its idea. And that just leads to a tired, bad episode.
This is easily the worst episode of the whole five-episode set, and considering some blunders in the other mini episodes, that's saying something. For this story, an alien race tests its first warp drive experiment, and when its successful the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise-D, led by William Riker, arrive on the scene. They're congratulatory right up until they realize that the alien race picks their nose as a sign of greeting. And they want to shake their unwashed hands. And they cook and serve food with those unwashed hands. And get snot everywhere. It's foul. Understandably the the Enterprise-D crew blows up the device and pretends the aliens aren't ready to join the Federation. Because, ew.
Look, I appreciate a bit of foul humor as much as the next male, but this episode goes too far. Like with the others we've already discussed above the episode has one joke and it beats it over and over again until all humor has been mined from it (like a finger far up a nose, picking it clean). There's a thread of a good idea somewhere in this mess (of boogers) but the episode doesn't know how to mine real humor from it, so it goes farther and farther until everyone watching wants to barf. That's not my idea of a good time.
"Holograms, All the Way Down"
So this one is just silly. Playing on the stupidity of the last episode of Star Trek: Enterprise, "These Are the Voyages...", wherein Riker and Troi watch a holodeck simulation of the original Enterprise (instead of, you know, letting the episode be about that crew), this episode plays that same holodeck simulation, and then lets it get interrupted by another crew-member stopping a similar of Will and Troi, and then that reveals itself to be a holodeck simulation that's stopped... and on and on... until the episode just ends. It's weird.
Here's the thing, though: I actually like this one. Yes, it's an episode with the same technical problem as all the rest -- it's one joke, done over and over again -- but at the same time it's actually poking fun at a worth subject. "These Are the Voyages..." is one of he worst episodes of Trek and it's right to be derided for all its worth. This episode taking a potshot at it feels so good, and that delightful moment is practically worth the price of admission alone.
But it is also amusing to see all the loops and whorls as one simulation crashed into another, and then another, and characters from across the franchise get caught up and fuck around over and over again. There's a manic energy to this short that "Holiday Party" and "Worst Contact" and that helps to save its one-note joke. It might not be a great episode of Trek overall, but in the confines of this little mini-season, it's top tier.
"Walk, Don't Run"
Finally, we come to a celebration of The Animated Series, with D'Vana Tendi aboard the deck of the U.S.S. Enterprise, hosting the original characters as she honors them. But then she says something wrong, all the characters get offended, and the problem spirals out of control. Oh, but wait, ,then we get a space jazz number and everything is fix. The power of music saves everyone!
So first, this episode has an issue because it uses the same joke as "Skin a Cat": someone says something wrong and all the crew members on the bridge get offended. We already saw that gag and it worked for a little bit the first time. Coming back to it a few minutes (or a few weeks, if you watched these as they aired) later doesn't make the joke any better. Yes, it's a call back, but when that's you only joke for half of a short episode, that's less a call back than a lack of creativity.
And then a musical number breaks out, thanks to Riker and Sulu, and suddenly things just get really weird. Not funny weird, and not good weird. Just weird. The song isn't great, and there's no real humor to be had. We just have to watch and wait. And then a couple of minutes later the song blissfully ends, but it's not a moment you really want to savor. When the best thing you can say is that the song, and the episode, ended, that's not really a great review.
When it debuted a few years back, Short Treks became the best new Trek content airing. We got two seasons of it, and it was fabulous, but then they didn't produce any more. Years later we get these and they hardly feel up to the standard of Short Treks. But hey, maybe it's unfair to judge them that way. They're supposed to be their own thing.
Well, they still suck. There's one amusing episode, one okay effort, and three duds. I appreciate the big swings, and I like they someone wanted to celebrate the old Animated Series. For me that show is in continuity and I won't hear otherwise. But this hardly feels like the best effort that could have been had to celebrate that show. It's fleetingly amusing, but just mostly bad. Sorry, guys.