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New Series, New Stars, Tired 'Trek'

HOWARD ROSENBERG

September 30, 1987|HOWARD ROSENBERG

Stardate 9-30-87: I'm on a perilous mission. It's all right. I'm not nervous. I've set my word processor on stun.

Not true. I am nervous. You're bound to be when writing about the old "Star Trek," the new "Star Trek" and all the "Star Treks" in between.

The pressure is on. Mix up your Klingons and your Organians or confuse your Medusans with your Romulans and you've had it. Write \o7 laser \f7 when you mean \o7 phaser \f7 and you're history. Why?

The Trekkies are reading.

You know, the Trekkies, those singularly focused Trekamaniacs who live their lives in large part for "Star Trek" minutiae. No detail is too small. They hold conventions. They buy "Star Trek" trivia books and all sorts of Trekaphanalia. They know everything about "Star Trek," from the background of its creator, Gene Roddenberry (born El Paso, Tex., Aug. 19, 1921; father, a cavalry officer stationed at Fort Bliss, Tex.) to details of Roddenberry's first outline for the series (dated March 11, 1964).

I hope that's correct. One slip and the Trekkies will bite your head off faster than the Gorn. (The Gorn did bite, didn't they? Or was that the Mugatu? It could have been the Horta--you can certainly bite if you can burrow through stone. Or take the Morgs and Eymorgs--please!)

Enough of this name-dropping. Here's the word on "Star Trek: The Next Generation": duller than Droxine (Spock's girlfriend; you know, the daughter of Plasus, who oppressed the Troglytes?).

It debuts as a two-hour movie at 8 tonight on KCOP Channel 13 (which also airs the original Paramount series), thereafter to be an hour at 5 p.m. Sundays, starting Oct. 11. Roddenberry (who majored in engineering at UCLA, survived a plane crash and was once a policeman) is the executive producer.

At long last, after years of syndication, an animated kids version and four theatrical movies, comes this new "Star Trek" series updating the remarkable TV phenomenon that evolved into a giant hit only \o7 after\f7 cancellation by NBC. It took time for the romance of exploration to take hold.

Here's the new scoop. It's the 24th Century, almost a century after Kirk, Spock & Co. A newer, bigger, galaxy-class USS Enterprise that can separate in two parts is still boldly going where no one has gone before, but with a different captain and crew peering at weird and threatening things through that enormous space window.

Now in charge is Capt. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), a stern, unsmiling man of great courage, wisdom and baldness. His first officer is the handsome Commander William Riker (Jonathan Frakes). Also on board are that know-it-all android Lt. Commander Data (Brent Spiner); blind Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton), who gains sight through an apparatus resembling designer sunglasses; a female doctor and her son and a mind-probing, half-human Betazoid, among many others. Even more amazing is the existence on the command staff of a Klingon--one of those savage, warlike creatures that once terrorized the galaxy and gave Kirk and Spock so much trouble (I hope I have that right).

Well, the new crew members have got one heck of a challenging assignment. They're cruising along, minding their own business, boldly going you know where, when the nasty "Q" Being gets in their way.

To make an excruciatingly long story short, Picard and the Enterprise gang are put on trial for all the crimes of the human race (including TV yarns like this, probably). The crew must prove its worthiness to merit mercy from the "Q" Being, who turns out to be a real snot.

Trekkies probably want William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and the rest of the original cast to continue forever, and they are a tough act to follow. However, there are lots of intriguing characters aboard the new Enterprise, including a vaguely familiar 137-year-old admiral who doesn't look a day older than 120.

The new cast is fine (Stewart is a very interesting actor) and the story, although not very deep, inspired or mind-melding, has a nice payoff. But getting there takes much too long.

The tone is somehow wrong. Hardware, not humans, gets the major emphasis, in fact, and the plot seems almost like an appendage to the ship. That because you've seen it all before: An alien force threatens the Enterprise . . . the crew is put through a test . . . after a close call, there's success. . . . The adventure continues.

Although handsome, this is a slow, thudding two hours badly in need of energizing, more watchable only than "Star Trek: The Motion Picture," first and worst of the four theatrical films.

Perhaps "The Next Generation" will be more appealing once the regular series starts and the evil Ferrengis are on the scene to threaten the crew. As for me--honestly, I've never met a Ferrengi I didn't like.

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