It's been a long road for Judge Patrick Bromley, getting from there to here.
Our reviews of Star Trek: Enterprise, Season One (published May 3rd, 2005), Star Trek: Enterprise, Season Two (published August 24th, 2005), Star Trek: Enterprise, Season Three (published October 19th, 2005), Star Trek: Enterprise, Season Four (published November 2nd, 2005), and Star Trek: Enterprise: Season Two (Blu-ray) (published September 2nd, 2013) are also available.
The final frontier has a new beginning.
The least-loved series of the five major shows in the long-running Star Trek franchise gets an HD upgrade courtesy of Paramount. Is it really as bad as the Trek fans have claimed all these years? Or will the new Blu-ray release afford the series a reevaluation and find it better than its reputation would suggest? And is it possible that the answer is "both?"
Facts of the Case
Taking place in the early days space travel (and roughly a decade before the formation of the United Federation of Planets), Star Trek: Enterprise focuses on the maiden voyage of the starship Enterprise. It's captained by Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula, Quantum Leap), with assistance from his science officer, the Vulcan T'Pol (Jolene Blalock, Slow Burn) and his engineer, Charles "Trip" Tucker (Connor Trinneer, Stargate Atlantis).
• "Broken Bow"
• "Fight or Flight"
• "Strange New World"
• "Terra Nova"
• "The Andorian Incident"
• "Breaking the Ice"
• "Fortunate Son"
• "Cold Front"
• "Silent Enemy"
• "Dear Doctor"
• "Sleeping Dogs"
• "Shadows of P'Jem"
• "Shuttlepod One"
• "Rogue Planet"
• "Vox Sola"
• "Fallen Hero"
• "Desert Crossing"
• "Two Days and Two Nights"
• "Shockwave, Part 1"
Though it was the last Star Trek series ever produced, the UPN series Enterprise (later Star Trek: Enterprise) has never gotten much love from Star Trek fans. Designed as a "prequel" to the other shows, it was immediately criticized for its disregard of continuity, its uneven storytelling, its more contemporary embrace of sexuality (which many—perhaps rightly—called pandering; it's hard to watch the shower scene in the pilot and not think the same thing) and even its theme song. It was the first property since Star Trek: The Original Series not to make it to seven seasons, instead getting canceled after just four years on the air. It is, in most circles, the least-loved of all the Star Treks.
Alas, Season One of Enterprise faces a lot of the same table setting issues that plague so many "prequel" properties. The show isn't content to just exist before the various Star Trek series with which we are all familiar; it has to draw direct attention to the fact that it's "first" in the timeline with obnoxious references. Take an episode like "Dear Doctor," for example; for most of its running time, it's a really solid episode, giving lots of screen time to Dr. Phlox and putting him in direct philosophical opposition with Archer. It raises the kinds of questions that good sci-fi can, and works because it's about the relationships between the characters and the ways that they bounce off one another. Great. I'm on board. But by the end of it, when Archer is explaining whether or not he's choosing to interfere with the fate of a dying alien race, he is given clumsy dialogue about how "Someday, there will be a law telling us what we can and can't do up here." (I am paraphrasing.) "Until that…directive is written, blah blah blah…" You already lost me, Archer, at "directive," because I am barfing. Those of us familiar with Star Trek recognize that this episode is dealing with the Prime Directive (which states that the Federation is not to interfere). We don't need it spelled out. We can probably even figure out that, since Enterprise takes place in the days long before TOS, there is not such thing as a Prime Directive yet. But the writers seem worried that we won't get it, so the characters come right out and say it.
That is a microcosm of a big part of what is wrong with Enterprise. It's not enough of the Star Trek we know and love to please the fans—mostly because of the retconning that's done to the mythology. But it's too much Star Trek for casual viewers, who are likely to be left cold not just by the plotting and characterization, but the entire universe—J.J. Abrams' Star Trek this isn't. It's a show that sets out to do something new and different but very quickly settles into formula familiar to fans of the franchise—and it isn't always able to do the formula as well as some of the other series. Season One finds Enterprise going through the same growing pains as most other Star Trek properties (it's pretty much the conventional wisdom that even Star Trek: The Next Generation took a season or two to find its footing; only The Original Series was awesome right out of the gate) as it attempts to establish its universe—for as much as this takes place in the Star Trek universe, it is a little more analog than digital—and, most of all, to find stories worth telling. This is where Enterprise can run into trouble. Some of its attempts to combine politics and science fiction are compelling; other times, the reach extends the grasp, particularly as it pertains to the "Temporal Cold War" that's mentioned more than once but not paid off (I believe it does in future seasons, but I can't say for sure).
One of the smartest things about this freshman season of Enterprise is the way that it plays out the early days of the relations between humans and Vulcans; though it begins with them working together much the same way they eventually would on The Original Series, Enterprise finds tension and mistrust in the early alliance between the two races. Though the identity of a running "big bad" is almost embarrassingly obvious, the Starfleet/Vulcan dynamic is fairly compelling—even if Season One is guilty of returning to that particular well a few times too many. It's a small but effective way that the series distinguishes itself from other Star Trek properties.
For as much as show creators Rick Berman and Brannon Braga said that they wanted this incarnation of Star Trek to be about the characters, the show doesn't boast the best ensemble. Scott Bakula is dependable and solid as the captain, and he's probably the best thing about the show. Connor Trinneer once struck me as generic and forgettable (when I would catch the occasional rerun on SyFy), but really grew on me in the course of Season One—he's a solid everyman, providing a likable and often very funny audience conduit. Jolene Blalock's casting as T'Pol could cynically be reduced to the show desperately trying to inject sex appeal (taking a page from Jeri Ryan's Seven of Nine on Star Trek: Voyager), and I still can't decide if her work on the show is flat and limited in range or just a really good portrayal of a Vulcan learning to live with humans. I think the character works, particularly because of how she is used in the course of the season. Of course, John Billingsley turns Dr. Phlox into one of the show's best characters. Everyone else is a little generic, though. When you consider how deep the roster of great characters was on The Next Generation, it's tough to get excited about episodes that center on Travis Mayweather or Malcolm Reed (though he grew on me). Enterprise devotes too many episodes early on to individual characters, which doesn't work because we haven't yet been given a chance to care about them; it would have been better to develop the ensemble, then break them off into their own stories.
The best episodes are the ones that devote their energy to the characters, though, which suggests that Enterprise was capable of clicking into place even in its first season. The previously mentioned "The Good Doctor" is one such episode. Another standout, "Shuttlepod One," works because it traps two characters (Trip and Reed) in close quarters and forces them to interact. The episode is great because it doesn't devote itself to them figuring their way out of a problem; it focuses on their very different attitudes towards their predicament. It's a terrific study of character, and when the show is able to use those different personalities and bounce them off one another, it's at its best. "Vox Sola" (written by Fred Dekker, who is a consulting producer on season one—which answers the question "Where has Fred Dekker been since Robocop 3? He was working at UPN.) is a good mix of plot and character, in which the Enterprise crew has to solve a problem but are thrown into some unique and possibly contentious combinations (Phlox and Reed, T'Pol and Hoshi) to do so.
Those who suggest that Enterprise was a worthless series or across-the-board bad are overlooking really good episodes like these. The trouble is that for every winner, there are four or five okay-to-mediocre episodes to slog through before the next good one (even Brannon Braga admits to as much in the new special features on the Blu-ray). There's usually at least something to like in even the weakest episode—a nice character moment, a well-written dialogue exchange, a good idea muddled by execution—but some of that may be because I'm just a sucker for Star Trek. I like spending time in Starfleet, even when it means working my way through 26 hours of Enterprise.
And, yes, let's talk about the theme song for a minute. It is not great—a drippy Diane Warren-sounding theme (because it was written by Diane Warren) sung by a Rod Stewart knock-off (turns out that's because the song is a reworking of a Rod Stewart song, "Faith of the Heart," from the movie Patch Adams. How's that for a pedigree?). I suspect a lot of fans didn't like it just because it was the first Star Trek theme that had lyrics. The fact that it's a lame song is almost incidental. While I don't care for the theme in practice, I like it in theory—it's clear that showrunners Rick Berman and Brannon Braga are at least trying to let the show carve out new space for itself. It's a bold choice, and it backfired, but I have to at least admire the effort. Besides, can anyone really sing the theme to Voyager from memory? They weren't all winners.
All 25 episodes of Enterprise: Season One are presented in 1.78:1 widescreen and in full 1080p HD, and look good but hardly revelatory. The episodes weren't remastered, and come from the earlier days of high definition television. Though colors are generally stable and skin tones accurate, there's a softness to the series overall that's not consistent with the best Blu-ray has to offer. The effects shots, in particular, feature a number of problems, though nothing so bad that it will ruin one's enjoyment of the show. If you already own Enterprise on DVD, the A/V upgrade probably isn't worth investing in these Blu-rays (though the special features might be; more on that in a bit). The lossless DTS-HD 5.1 audio track boasts a lot of activity, keeping the dialogue mostly clear in the front and center channels and kicking some ass in the action sequences. There's a lot to like in the audio offering, but, again, isn't alone worth an upgrade—especially for the price. Why do these Star Trek sets have to be so expensive? Because we'll pay it, that's why.
There are a boatload of special features spread across all six discs of Enterprise: Season One, many of which have been carried over from the original DVD release, but a few of which were produced especially for this HD release. For the full rundown of the special features that carried over (including commentaries, text commentaries, featurettes and deleted scenes), I'll refer you to former Judge Erick Harper's original review of the Season One DVD release. Let's focus on what's new to this HD edition: there are four new commentaries with key members of the cast and crew (including one for the 90-minute pilot, "Broken Bow"), a collection of new archival featurettes ("On the Set," "Cast Introduction," and presentations for the network and syndication, which offer a glimpse of how the show was sold in its infancy) and some new retrospective documentaries that look back and examine the show, warts and all. A three-part, 90-minute piece, "To Boldly Go: Launching Enterprise," features some archival behind-the-scenes footage intercut with new interviews with Braga, Berman and several members of the cast, and is very candid about the what was both good and bad about the show. If that's not enough for you, there's an hourlong interview with Berman and Braga in which the creators go into even greater detail about the experience of making the series. Though some Berman/Braga fatigue may set in by this point (they're all over the special features on this collection), the new documentaries do a great job of putting Enterprise in context and give the show some perspective. The roughly three hours of new bonus material found on the Blu-ray release almost make it worth the upgrade alone, but probably only for the diehard fans.
Enterprise: Season One is neither as bad as its reputation nor a misunderstood masterpiece. It's a show with some pretty deep problems that's capable of being very good in its best hours. Over the course of 26 hours, I grew to like this crew and became invested in their mission enough that I'm ready for Season Two to hit Blu-ray (it's already been announced). No, it's not perfect, but I'll take uneven Star Trek over no Star Trek at all.
Not perfect, but not guilty.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Review content copyright © 2013 Patrick Bromley; Site design and review layout copyright © 2013 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.