One possible reason for my near-complete lack of athletic ability might be how I spent numerous afternoons after school.
Instead of playing a sport, I watched reruns of “Star Trek,” which arguably has had the biggest impact of any late-1960s three-season TV series in the history of television.
This comes up because Leonard Nimoy, who played Mr. Spock, died Friday. The only surviving cast members are now William Shatner, who played Capt. Kirk; Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt. Uhura; George Takei, who played Lt. Sulu; Walter Koenig, who played Ensign Chekov in the last two seasons; and Grace Lee Whitney, who played Yeoman Rand in the first season.
From those three seasons — and the mostly regrettable third season took place only because of a huge letter-writing campaign by viewers — came six movies, one animated series, four spinoff series (one of which resulted in three movies of its own), an entire universe of fan fiction, and now two movies that “reimagine” the original series.
“Star Trek” was the right concept — creator Gene Roddenberry described it as “‘Wagon Train’ to the stars,” and I suppose you’ll have to consult YouTube to see what that meant — at the right time. The 1960s were a tension-fraught decade, with the Cold War and its proxy Vietnam War, battles over civil rights, and questions about the correct roles of men and women just starting to be asked. In the midst of all of that came a TV series that suggested that mankind would not merely survive past the ills of the day, but thrive and even reach the stars, as we were starting to escape Earth orbit with the Gemini and Apollo missions.
The format of “Star Trek” allowed its writers to explore those themes and others by transporting them to a 23rd-century setting. Beyond that were entertaining stories. My two favorites are the first-season “Balance of Terror,” a tense retelling of the World War II submarine movie “The Enemy Below,” and “The Doomsday Machine,” where another captain sees his ship destroyed, and destroys himself trying to enact revenge through the Enterprise.
I have watched every episode multiple times, including the bad episodes. Spock sang, if that’s what you want to call it, in “Plato’s Stepchildren.” Spock lost his brain in “Spock’s Brain,” which included perhaps the dumbest dialogue in the history of sound: “Brain and brain! What is brain?” Then again, Kirk switched bodies with an ex-girlfriend in the last episode of the series, which premiered on my fourth birthday.
(And readers know, of course, that Platteville’s own John Fiedler played a most unlikely looking Jack the Ripper in one episode, in between stints as the voice of Winnie the Pooh’s friend Piglet.)
The quality of the best episodes today overcomes your realization that you’re watching 50-year-old TV, with special effects that were state-of-the-art at the time but now can be easily duplicated on a computer with any kind of graphics program. William Shatner gets criticized for overacting, which is a criticism easily refuted by anyone who actually watches any 1960s TV drama or action/adventure show, where everyone acted like they were on a theater stage instead of a sound stage. It also overcomes a few dubious franchise features, particularly the supposed economic system that is vaguely socialist, which must be easy when you have unlimited sources of energy.
The central relationship of “Star Trek,” of course, is the relationship between Shatner’s Kirk and Nimoy’s Spock. (According to Facebook tests, my personality matches Kirk. Also Darth Vader.) I’m not sure what direction Shatner and Nimoy were given, but it’s impossible to imagine anyone else in those roles if you’ve seen a few episodes of the series.
Kirk might be the quintessential leader, someone who generates (generated? Will generate? Time can be confusing in science fiction) undying loyalty among his subordinates because he demonstrates undying loyalty to his ship and crew.
Spock, meanwhile, seems to know everything, or at least can reason out anything. He is close enough to Kirk to point out when Kirk is making mistakes. He has the cool head when Kirk lets his emotions take over. And yet Spock doesn’t want to be Kirk, or have Kirk’s job. If Kirk is the ultimate leader, Spock might be the ultimate sidekick.
I am not a reflexive hater of the two “reimagined” movies as some Star Trek fans are. (Many fans are not happy with the movies’ ignoring the “canon,” the history as written, of the e original series.) Chris Pine can’t really duplicate Shatner’s Kirk, though Zachary Quinto’s Spock is somewhat closer to Nimoy. (To have both Nimoy and Quinto in the first movie as, well, Spock and Spock was a nice touch.)
The traditional Vulcan farewell is “Live long and prosper.” Spock would find that closing of this column ... logical.