Before Picard, before Kirk, before even Christopher Pike, the universe was tamed by Captain Jonathan Archer. For the fourth weekly Star Trek television series, Rick Berman and Brannon Braga imagined Starfleet's first interstellar, warp-five starship: the NX-01 or Enterprise (for the record, the year is 2151—100 years before the days of Captain Kirk's Enterprise). As Archer, the Paramount brass confidently seated Quantum Leap star Scott Bakula and surrounded him with a cast of not so unusual suspects, including a Vulcan and a Southern-accented buddy for the Cap'n.
Immediately, fans cast a skeptical eye on the series. After the lukewarm success of Star Trek: Voyager, many questioned the freshness of another starship exploration series (as opposed to the novel concept of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), some winced at the threat to continuity, while others lined up against the producers' cosmetic attempts to sex up Star Trek, from the casting of buxom Jolene Blalock as tightly-clad Vulcan first officer T'Pol to the theme sung penned by Diane Warren and crooned by Russell Watson to the initial exclusion of "Star Trek" from the show's title (rectified in season three).
The two-hour pilot "Broken Bow," directed by James L. Conway, effectively establishes the series' central concerns (at least until Season Three) and cast of characters. Star Trek: First Contact established that Vulcans made "first contact" with humans, including warp theorist Zefram Cochrane. Despite the reluctance of the over-protective Vulcan High Council, Enterprise gets its first mission: to escort an injured Klingon back to his territory. The Klingon was injured by the Suliban, a literally and genetically flexible alien race designed to be Enterprise's new and unique villains, a la "The Original Series"' Klingons, The Next Generation's Ferengi, Deep Space Nine's Dominion, and Voyager's Kazon and Vidiians. John Fleck plays Silik, the dastardly Suliban who frequently tangles with Archer.
Another set of able actors comprised the new Trek ensemble. Bakula's growly, energetic debut settles into laissez-faire stiffness at times during the first two seasons, but he's a comfortable and often engaging choice in the action-oriented "Captain Kirk" mode. Blalock certainly adds sex appeal, in part because of her smoldering supression of deep-running emotion. As Southern-fried chief engineer Commander Charles "Trip" Tucker, Connor Trinneer runs a gamut of credible athleticism, drama, and humor.
Trineer's frequent pairing with simpatico Brit Dominic Keating (as security chief Lieutenant Malcolm Reed) pays dividends over the following seasons. As on previous modern Treks, the producers took care to cast an experienced actor with a surplus of natural character and talent. Following in the footsteps of Brent Spiner, Rene Auberjonois, Robert Picardo, and others, John Billingsley (Out of Time) plays Denobulan Dr. Phlox as a man tickled by nearly everything he encounters.
The two characters to flounder, particularly in the early going, are Ensign Hoshi Sato (Linda Park) and Ensign Travis Mayweather (Anthony Montgomery). Despite Park's appealing presence, the writers lean heavily on one character trait for Hoshi: a scaredy-cat, borderline-inept demeanor. At least, the off-putting gimmick provides the young character with room to grow (a familiar tactic of weekly drama—see ER's Dr. Carter). Travis, the "boomer" with a history on cargo ships, lacks any character, a fault that owes much to the generic Montgomery's lack of charisma (as the episodes and seasons wear on, it's sadly apparent that no one wants to write for Montgomery).
Many Season One stories flounder through familiar-feeling alien-encounter and spatial-phenomena plots, but just as many episodes stand out for their creative energy. "The Andorian Incident" introduces the rich recurring character of blue-skinned Shran (genre vet Jeffrey Combs) and complicates the humans' relationship to the once-unassailable Vulcans (later in the season, "Shadows of P'Jem" makes an effective sequel episode). "Cold Front" kicks the "Temporal Cold War" plot, teased in the pilot, into gear.
Several episodes do a good job of establishing characters: "Dear Doctor"'s narration gimmick winningly fleshes out Phlox, "Silent Enemy" demonstrates Reed's importance while humorously exploring his reticence to share personal information. The standout "Shuttlepod One" bonds Reed and Tucker for life as the two face an expeditionary disaster. Dean Stockwell reunites with his Quantum Leap costar in "Detained" (a typical, though necessary, reminder that no people—not even those nasty Suliban—should be judged by their worst representatives); in "Fallen Hero," Fionnula Flanagan once again contributes a riveting guest turn (see Deep Space Nine's "Dax" and TNG's "Inheritance").
Enterprise walks a tightrope in its brushes with established alien races and worlds. "Acquisition"—though controversial in terms of continuity—has quite a bit of fun with the Ferengi. "Two Days and Two Nights," about shore leave on pleasure planet Risa, never takes off, though it's a nice try. "Fusion" exemplifies the series' tension of trying to do something new with old characters and situations: the business of renegade Vulcans who happily delve their own emotions is "fascinating," but the mind-rape conflict has been done to death with previous Vulcans and (repeatedly) Deanna Troi.
"Desert Crossing," with its exotic adventure and lusty guest turn by Clancy Brown, most conjures "The Original Series" of the '60s, the ever-present yardstick for kiss-kiss, zap-zap Enterprise. The season "resolved" with a humdinger of a cliffhanger: Archer and "Crewman Daniels" (Matt Winston) stranded in the wrong time (the 31st Century) with no way of returning home. Though Enterpise drew weak ratings on UPN, the series would soldier on to a second season...
Though I somehow expected the image of Enterprise to be sharper, the transfers are free of troublesome flaws, and fans can finally enjoy the series in its widescreen glory, sans commercials. Enterprise: The Complete First Season comes in a nifty outer shell that resembles a tricorder case. Inside, a clear slipcover houses a book with disc-trays for pages.
Paramount offers the most impressive bounty of extras on any Star Trek season set to date. The seven-disc set includes several firsts for Trek season sets: an audio commentary (Rick Berman and Brannon Braga on "Broken Bow"), three Michael and Denise Okuda text commentaries (as seen on the Trek film DVDs), deleted scenes, and even a nine-minute gag reel.
Disc seven hosts several featurettes. "Creating Enterprise" (11:26) gives a cursory examination of the launch of the new series. "O Captain! My Captain! A Profile of Scott Bakula" (9:30) sits down the cast to wax enthusiastic about their fearless leader (their repetitive praise isn't very revealing I'm afraid). "Cast Impressions: Season One" (12:25), a regular feature of Trek season sets, gives the best opportunity for candid commentary, while "Inside Shuttlepod One" (7:57) intitiates a new feature spotlighting the development of a single, standout episode.
"Star Trek Time Travel: Temporal Cold Wars and Beyond" (8:11) briefly addresses the series' ongoing story arc. "Enterprise Secrets" (2:00) takes is around the corner of the shiny sets, and "Admiral Forrest Takes Center Stage" (5:14) gleefully turns the spotlight on recurring actor Vaughn Armstrong, a Trek vet who recalls his previous roles and sings a howler of a song about the sexy females of Star Trek. Lastly, the set includes a "Borg Invasion Trailer" (:32) (flogging the Las Vegas Hilton attraction) and easter eggs for the, um, enterprising fan to, well, explore.
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