The Great “TV Land” Mystery

TV Land’s recent announcement that they will be adding Star Trek to their regular lineup is fantastic news. Things were never really the same for the original series once its reruns were yanked out of syndication and became exclusive to the Sci Fi channel in 1998.

Don’t get me wrong, Sci Fi did a great job showcasing the series. And I’m sure the deal made Paramount plenty of money at the time, too, but was it good for Star Trek?

Ultimately, I’d have to say no, because making the series exclusive to a single cable channel effectively limited the potential audience. For example, in the area I live, Sci Fi is not available as part of the regular cable package. It is only included in more expensive digital packages.

Earlier this year, the fledgling G4 network began airing Star Trek, after the Sci Fi contract presumably ended. While their Star Trek 2.0 may rightly be viewed as a travesty by some, G4 at least makes up for it by also showing uncut, non-2.0 versions of each episode.

The change this time around is that it seems G4 will continue airing classic Trek even after TV Land begins their broadcasts. If I’m not reading too much into this and it truly is the end of exclusive single-cable channel agreements for airing the original Star Trek, then I’m all for it.

Anything to get more people to actually see the show is a step in the right direction. It deserves to shine. It’s the one that started it all and still hasn’t been topped. Things are finally changing for the original Star Trek, which was hidden away and abused for far too long.

Though this is only speculation on my part, I would not be surprised if J.J. Abrams and Paramount break their relative silence on the details of the eleventh Star Trek movie on or about September 8, the show’s 40th anniversary.

Unlike some of his more recent predecessors, Abrams appears to have a genuine respect for the original Star Trek, which should make for an exciting new direction in the Trek movies.

I’m also happy to see that TV Land will air “The Man Trap” on the actual night of Star Trek‘s 40th anniversary. I can think of no better way to celebrate 40 years of Trek than to watch the first episode that ever aired. While not the first season’s best episode, it’s certainly a good representative.

A Programming Mystery

Looking over the rest of TV Land’s schedule for the September 8 special, though, something looks odd.

Up next after “The Man Trap” is “The Trouble With Tribbles.” Seems like a reasonable choice to represent the second season, since this David Gerrold episode is certainly a fan favorite.

Airing after “Tribbles,” though, is “Plato’s Stepchildren,” the third season entry.

Now, if it’s not already obvious from this site, I’ll come right out and tell you: I love Star Trek, especially the classic series and movies. And I strongly disagree with those who hate the third season. There’s plenty of good episodes there.

“Plato’s Stepchildren,” however, is not one of them.

There are only three, maybe four episodes of classic Trek that I loathe. In a 79 episode run, that’s a great record. “Plato’s Stepchildren” would make my very short “Worst Of” list.

In this episode, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down to a planet whose society supposedly embodies Greek ideals. They meet Alexander, a dwarf who acts as a jester in the court of a “philosopher king.”

Other than Alexander, the planet’s inhabitants all have strong telekinetic powers. They can move objects with their minds, as well as force people to do things against their will.

Kirk and Spock are made court jesters as well and are forced into a number of humiliating acts–including being made to imitate a horse. A true low point in the history of the series.

Resolving the Mystery

So, why in the world would TV Land choose to spotlight “Plato’s Stepchildren” in particular? As I mentioned, there are some good episodes in the third season. Even a couple of great ones. Why not “The Enterprise Incident”? Or “The Tholian Web”?

Why “Plato’s Stepchildren”? Well, there does appear to be a reason. I won’t go as far as to call it a “logical” one, but there is an explanation of sorts.

Yes, “Plato’s Stepchildren” was a bad episode, but it also has some historic value.

For, you see, “Plato’s Stepchildren” is the one where Kirk kisses Uhura.

Nearly 40 years later, this does not sound like a big deal. In fact, if you believe some idiots, Kirk must’ve kissed every woman on the ship at least twice by the time of this episode.

But “Plato’s Stepchildren” aired in 1968. William Shatner kissing Nichelle Nichols was the first kiss between white and black characters on American television. For 1968, it was a huge deal.

Apparently, then, choosing to air “Plato’s Stepchildren” on the big night is a well-intended, if somewhat misguided, attempt to showcase Star Trek‘s cultural significance.

With this line of thinking, I’m frankly surprised that “A Private Little War” wasn’t chosen to represent the second season. That was the episode that did what no contemporary show could do at the time: discuss the war in Vietnam.

The Importance of Being Uhura

As you’ll be constantly hearing over the upcoming anniversary weeks, one of Star Trek‘s main contributions was that, as a “science fiction” series set in the future, it could get away with social commentaries far beyond what other shows could achieve.

I know that’s the standard line, but I don’t completely buy it. To me, the whole social commentary angle is just something people like to bring up in order to justify Trek’s popularity–an attempt to make it something more than it actually was.

Yes, there’s certainly some truth to it. For me, Star Trek‘s most important social commentary, for its time period, occurred on nearly every episode. And that was simply showing Uhura as a member of Kirk’s senior staff and part of the bridge crew. She’s there, but in a matter-of-fact way.

No one on the crew mentions it or points it out. Why should they? It’s the 23rd century, people have long-since gotten over this sort of thing. They work together for a common good. Male, female, black, white, American, Russian, Asian, and yes, even Vulcans and humans.

With this, Star Trek shows us how incredible our world can be. We achieve so much more working together than apart.

Gene Roddenberry and Nichelle Nichols both had the courage to bring Uhura to life, and she is certainly an important part of Trek’s legacy.

But. . . .

A Bad Episode is a Bad Episode

Star Trek, like any other decent series, was at its best when it featured good storytelling. “Plato’s Stepchildren” is simply a poor episode. Uhura and Kirk are mere props of the Platonians. Despite its greater significance in the actual world, the kiss means nothing within the context of the episode.

Unlike its sequels, the first Star Trek series was not truly an ensemble piece. The show featured Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, and in that order. The others were simply supporting characters. There really aren’t any “Sulu episodes” or “Uhura episodes.” Beyond the big three, the other characters had moments. But that was about it.

Perhaps, if there had been more seasons, we would’ve finally gotten that Uhura episode. With what we have, though, I don’t think “Plato’s Stepchildren” is one to highlight her. I’d much rather see “Mirror, Mirror” for instance, which contains much stronger Uhura scenes. Not to mention being one of the best episodes of the entire series.

Making Peace In TV Land

Like I said at the beginning, though, I’m thrilled TV Land will be broadcasting Star Trek, especially on September 8. While I’m poking them here a bit, I certainly don’t intend to be too hard on them.

I plan to tune in for all three episodes that night. Yes, even for “Plato’s Stepchildren.”

Sure, I may cringe a bit at the horse routine but, in the end, I’ll just be happy that Star Trek is back. And that, despite our ongoing problems, perhaps the world is a little better now than it was 40 years ago.

That gives us some hope for our future. And that’s what Star Trek was all about.