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I am – Hercules!!

Things are looking up for “Enterprise.”

The new Entertainment Weekly gives it a B+ and says it could appeal to Trekkies and non-fans of the franchise alike.

“Roj Blake,” a new Coax spy who loves "Dr. Who" and "Farscape" but couldn't be much bothered with "Deep Space Nine," caught a screening of the pilot on the Paramount lot. He says he's not so sure about anyone else, but the Trek fans will enjoy the latest series. Here's Roj:

I recently got to see a rough version of “Enterprise”. The word Enterprise, in the proper context, used to mean something very special to a lot of different people. I’m not certain if that’s still the case – but it must be, because there are still legions of fans out in the world eagerly looking forward to this stuff. If there’s once thing I’ve noticed about die-hard fans of certain pieces of pop culture, it’s that many of them are very forgiving about their obsessions. I’ve certainly got my share; I love Doctor Who and will defend it ad infinitum ‘til I’m dragged away clawing and screaming like a lunatic. That’s fan devotion for you.

There are two ways to view “Enterprise”: critically, from a distance, or subjectively, as a fan. I like Trek. I find some of it immensely amusing, but a lot of it to be pretty goofy and unengaging. Because of TOS and NG, I will always have a soft spot for it no matter how bad it may get. To put it in perspective, I’ve seen all the movies, but I could count the number of “DS9” and “Voyager” eps I’ve viewed on two hands. I’d like to try and review this pilot from both perspectives.

From a critical standpoint, despite the efforts to take Star Trek in a new direction, this 90-minute story is so very much more of the same BUT if you enjoyed that kind of thing, and you’re a fan, then you’re probably really gonna dig this show. So we can dispense with Trek bashing for the moment – this show is ultimately made for one audience: the built-in audience that already exists. Now there’s some kind of flim-flam going on that Berman and Braga want to reach a “wider” audience than the previous series’, which is unlikely to ever happen; just by removing those two words from the title of the show doesn’t make it any less Star Trek. That would require some work…

A quick rundown of what this pilot is all about in the event that a few people don’t know: Earth, some 100 years after the events of First Contact. Mankind has been actively involved in relations with the Vulcans, only the Vulcans have acted more like intergalactic babysitters for our planet – making sure we don’t move too quickly. Fast-forward – a Klingon, Klaang (Tommy “Tiny” Lister), ends up in bad shape and stranded on Earth. It’s up to Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) to quickly assemble a crew and be the first batch of humans to fly Warp 5 and traverse the galaxy to take Klaang back to his home world, against the wishes of the Vulcans. Along the way, a creepy race called the Suliban infiltrates the Enterprise and kidnap Klaang. T’Pol (Jolene Blalock), the Vulcan sub commander protests and tells Archer to give up as he’s lost the cargo…of course, she forgets she’s talking to the first captain of an Enterprise…

What I found most interesting about this pilot was that the Suliban, a shadowy organization engaged in a “temporal cold war”, are very loosely based on the Taliban. They wanted a shadowy, covert organization and used the Taliban as the basis. No lie, Brannon’s admitted it, too. How’s that for timing? I have to wonder if Berman and Braga will end up carrying this out into some kind of parable as the series progresses. Do I give them too much credit? Maybe. After all of their talk of wanting to take Trek into new directions, Berman and Braga for the most part, give us what they’ve given us all along. It’d be nice to see them tackle some current issues in a way that perhaps isn’t so thinly veiled.

I’m a huge Farscape fan, and I’d swear B and B have been taking notes. Witness: an undercurrent of a relationship between Archer and T’Pol, a human and an alien with repressed emotions; sexy alien dancers at an intergalactic tittie bar; gratuitous sex -talk between characters; an even more gratuitous scene between T’Pol and Tucker in which they wipe some kind of “decontaminant” all over one another’s nearly naked bodies (by the way, although it only features two actors, there are actually four stars of this scene…you do the math…it must have been awfully cold in there); another gratuitous kissing scene where one character must “know” another through a lip-lock; a far less rigid group of central characters; more bizarre aliens and fewer alien “headpieces” and who knows what else I might’ve missed – I have to admit, I kind of mentally tuned out in the final twenty or so minutes. To the Scapers out there, I didn’t say they took good notes. Braga says that Farscape is “a lot of fun – wacky-doodle sci-fi” - whatever that means. I don’t imagine he pays much attention to the competition that wins the Saturn Award.

But I digress – on with the plusses. Jolene Blalock is a hottie; that’s why she was cast. As a Vulcan, the acting requirements put upon her are not all that heavy. Lucky for her and us. The rest of the cast is enjoyable – we don’t get to know them all that well over the course of 90 minutes. It usually takes Trek about a season with its characters, to accomplish what most shows do in a few episodes. In particular, Dr, Phlox (John Billingsley – who got hit over the head with a frying pan on Six Feet Under) was the standout for me. He didn’t have a whole lot of screen time, but made very good use of what he did have. Chief Engineer Charlie “Trip” Tucker (Connor Trinneer) makes a worthwhile impression, with probably the third most amount of screen time, after Blalock and Bakula. Yes, Bakula. What can I say? It’s Scott Bakula. He does exactly what you’d expect. If you’ve watched a handful of Quantum Leap’s, you know what this guy is going to deliver – no more, no less.

The Suliban are pretty effective as Trek villains go. They squeeze and ooze like Tooms from The X-Files. The true highlight of this tale is probably to be found in this race. It’s also worth mentioning that the version I saw was rough, and many of the effects were absent altogether. There was one scene when all the characters were on deck looking at the screen, which was temporarily green with the printed words “Image of swirling red planet here”. Maybe this hampered my enjoyment of the show. I’ll certainly watch the broadcast version on Wednesday to get the full effect…pun intended.

Oh, and I’ve got to make mention of the atrocious Rod Stewart theme song, which I’m told is to be changed to something called “Faith of the Heart” by a British artist named Russell Watson. Am I so far behind on my pop stars that I should know who this is?

Conclusion: You like Star Trek? You’ll like “Enterprise”. Never cared about Trek? This is unlikely to convert you. But hey, what do I know? I like Doctor Who.

Sign me Roj Blake

Update! Our old pal "Viacom Girl" made the same screening. Here are a few representative excerpts from the longish note she just sent in:

Overall, the response to the first two-hour "Enterprise" was good. The introductory song and opening credits that were the subject of some initial fan discord actually seemed to work, especially in light of world events and the newfound resurgence of unabashed patriotism.

The best thing "Enterprise" has going for it is the cast … These actors spark, are often funny and have actual chemistry ... but most of the praise should be heaped upon Scott Bakula, who commands both the ship and show as a true star should. Everyone will like Scott Bakula in this, including those who may not have liked him before …

There was some restlessness during the second hour of the show, in particular the final half hour ... which becomes convoluted … This is made more discernible since the first hour plays like traditional action adventure …

Read Herc’s spoiler-happy review of the “Enterprise” pilot script here.

The two-hour “Enterprise” premiere airs 8 p.m. Wednesday on UPN.

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