Monday, August 8, 2011

'Star Trek: Voyager' Season One (1995)

Starring Kate Mulgrew, Robert Beltran and Robert Picardo
Created by Rick Berman, Michael Piller and Jeri Taylor
Based upon 'Star Trek' created by Gene Roddenberry

The seeds for "Star Trek: Voyager" were laid throughout the last season of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and the first two seasons of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine."  The introduction of the Cardassian border struggles and the Maquis resistance group laid the foundations for a new 'Star Trek' series to launch the United Paramount Network, or UPN.

A Maquis vessel commanded by a man named Chakotay (Robert Beltran) is lost in the Badlands near Deep Space Nine after an attack on a Cardassian ship under the command of Gul Evek (Richard Poe).  Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) of the Federation starship Voyager is assigned to enter the Badlands to find them, since her security chief, Lt. Tuvok (Tim Russ) was undercover aboard Chakotay's ship when it disappeared.

To do so, she enlists the help of a former Starfleet officer now incarcerated in a penal settlement, Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeil) who once served with Chakotay as a Maquis before being arrested.  Voyager enters the Badlands in search of the Maquis, but finds itself suddenly transported 75,000 light years across the galaxy to the unknown regions of the Delta Quadrant by an alien entity known as the Caretaker.  The Caretaker kidnaps members of the crew and conducts medical experiments on them, and then transports Ensign Harry Kim (Garrett Wang) and Maquis engineer B'Elanna Torres (Roxanne Dawson) to the nearby world populated by the Ocampa.

In her attempts to rescue them, Janeway forms an alliance with Chakotay and an alien junk dealer named Neelix (Ethan Phillips).  But doing so, they rescue a young Ocampa named Kes (Jennifer Lien) and run afoul of an alien race known as the Kazon.  To protect the Ocampa from the jealous Kazon, Janeway is forced to destroy the Caretaker's space station rather than let the advanced technology aboard fall into the hands of the Kazon.  Now, stranded 75,000 years from home, the Maquis and Starfleet crews must band together for their long, dangerous journey.

Over the course of the first season they'll encounter strange new life forms, bizarre space anomalies, time travel, and more.  But low on supplies, conflict running high amongst the mixed crews, and in an area of space populated by aliens intent on getting their hands on Federation's advanced replicator and transporter technologies, Voyager faces a long and dangerous journey home.

The real problem with "Star Trek: Voyager" isn't that it's bad... it's that it's not very good, either.  While the pilot episode is fine, and rather entertaining, the subsequent episodes rarely live up to it.  Few of the episodes are outright bad, and many of them are based on interesting premises.  Rarely, however, are any of the episodes anything resembling gripping drama.

Part of the issue is the cast.  With the exception of Robert Picardo as the ship's Emergency Medical Hologram, none of the cast is really anything exceptional.  Whether it's a lack of range on their parts, or by direction, the characters are all fairly basic and flat, rarely able to command attention.  But then, they're also rarely given material to do so.  So much of the dialogue is technical in nature that the humanity is barely able to break through.  The cast and characters of "Voyager" can't match the iconic characters of the original series or the "Next Generation," nor the subtlety and theatricality of "Deep Space Nine." 

"Voyager" succeeds in being entertaining only on a surface level, then, as a display of technical proficiency and sci-fi weirdness.  Episodes like "Eye of the Needle," in which the crew manages to make contact with a Romulan scientist only to discover that he lives in the past, or "State of Flux" where Chakotay uncovers a traitor among the crew are a lot of fun and show the potential for the show to be on the level of its predecessors. 

The series is a fine example of a production crew that has become very good at their jobs and very familiar with the universe they're playing in.  But after having produced over 200 hours of stories in the same universe, working with the same people over and over,  that sense of familiarity has become more a complacency.  The show's premise, while seemingly mobile or transient in nature, actually cries out for long-term, arc-based storytelling.  Instead, the producers of the show take the easy way out whenever possible, eschewing any chance of dealing with the consequences of any particular episode.  Lip-service is paid to the idea that Voyager is low on power and supplies, but at the beginning of every episode, everything is ship-shape and hunky-dory for the characters.  Complaining about Neelix's cooking and talking about the scarcity of "replicator rations" is not the same as having the crew actually low on food and supplies. 

The first season of "Star Trek: Voyager" wouldn't be so disappointing if the show didn't have some really interesting ideas behind it.  But the execution of those ideas is so basic, it's frustrating.  There's decent entertainment here, but nothing more.