87th Precinct Meets The Wire

McNulty and Bunk

Source: HBO

When I began writing Holland Bay,I thought about it as 87th Precinct meets The Wire. I had envisioned the detectives of Holland Bay to be like those of the 87th Precinct in that each subsequent book would feature a different detective. When I first described this to another writer at a Bouchercon, he asked me who my Carella was. I said I looked at them all equally. So he said, “Well, there has to be a first among equals.”

But McBain’s detectives, while not exactly perfect, are not also paragons of dysfunction. Carella is tempted by the fruit of a couple of others, but does not stray. Bert Kling has woman troubles. Meyer Meyer must deal with his baldness and his odd name. My detectives are dysfunctional as hell.

But McBain wrote about cops as the everyman. Even the seedier ones like Andy Parker (whom most of us would like to shove under an express train to Calm’s Point) and Fat Ollie Weeks (the 87th’s own bigoted uncle) are humans with flaws and struggles. But McBain also writes about the job of the 87th as a mission. They are the thin blue line in Isola.

87th Precinct

“87th Precinct Complete” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:87th_Precinct_Complete.jpg#/media/File:87th_Precinct_Complete.jpg

But my approach resembled something more recent: The Wire. On David Simon’s masterpiece of a TV series, not all the gang bangers are villains and not all the cops are good guys. In fact sometimes they’re neither. If Steve Carella is the man every other man wants to be, Jimmy McNulty is what happens when they fail. As smart and dedicated as Carella, he lacks political skill and responds to the stress of his job by drinking to dangerous excess and cheating on the women in his life, including his mistress in season 1. Stringer Bell is a shrewd, manipulative criminal not above murder to further his own ends, but you can’t help but rooting for him. Bell is going to college and running Baltimore’s drug operation like a business, right down to branding the dope and holding business meetings with corner boys.

The main difference is the approach of the creators. Simon admits The Wire, along with Homicide: Life on the Streets and Oz, are angry shows about the decline of the American dream. Quite often the criminals depicted (many of whose real-life inspirations appeared on the show) are actually the ones living the dream only to be killed or jailed when someone lower down the food chain takes them out. Like McBain’s bulls, the cops of the Baltimore PD are flawed, but their flaws sometimes consume them. The cheat on their spouses, drink excessively, lie to their coworkers, and openly try to sabotage the brass, many of whom are barely qualified to carry a badge, let alone run a police department. McBain’s crew is world-weary but conscientious.

It’s this blend that went into Holland Bay. I hope you soon get the chance to see what I did with it.

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You Are Not Victims. Get Over It.

There’s a growing debate in social media these days about geek culture and whether or not it is under siege. It’s risen to new heights of hysteria as one gaming critic received death threats and had to leave her home temporarily for the safety of her family. What’s going on?

Well, for a certain subset of geek culture, the move to the mainstream threatens their very identity. And therein lies the flaw. The culture itself is not under threat. If anything, it’s growing, changing, becoming more interesting and more relevant. ComicCon is covered the way rock concerts and fashion shows were once on MTV. It’s hip to be seen with Chris Pine or Peter Dinklage or Hugh Jackman. It’s cool to dress up as your favorite Game of Thrones character or Batman at a large gathering. Suddenly, the public gets the whole Halloween all year vibe of geek culture. Cosplay is in. Video games are in. Scifi/fantasy/horror are in. Wil Wheaton, who spent years taking flack for playing one of the least liked characters on a Star Trek series is rapidly becoming the next Jon Stewart. Welcome to the new age, my friends.

So why the hate?

When I first got into IT back in the nineties, computers were becoming mainstream, and there was a certain degree of this sort of angst around it by people who hunkered down and did arcane things with the pre-Netscape Internet, with distant Unix boxes, and with cryptic command-line operating systems. Now PC’s and even Linux boxes started to look like Macs. “Oh, noze,” they cried. “Everyone can do this now. We’re not special anymore!”

Since I got into the technology realm in the mid-1990’s, I had no stake in the “old ways.” If someone told me to quit using a mouse and use the DOS prompt on a PC, I looked at them like they were stupid. They certainly were telling me stupid things. But the mouse represented change, and not the cool kind of change like big hard drives and high-speed Internet brought. Those icky muggles now knew how to do magic. Ew!

Eventually, that went away, and to some degree, the novelty for the non-technically inclined went away as well. I used to have a rule that, if you graduated high school after me, you had damn well better know where the Start button was, what it could do, and, oh, you also forfeited the right to complain when I said “Reboot” sometime around the Y2K changeover. The old guard looked at these things as secrets of a mystic art. I looked at it (admittedly being an arrogant ass in the process) as a benchmark one needs to function in the modern era. We got more than three channels on the TV, Corky. Better master that remote or no HBO for you.

So it is with geekdom. One columnist complained that too many hot chicks were wearing costumes at conventions without earning their geek cred. Said columnist got his ass handed to him by John Scalzi, whose initiation into geekery happened roughly at the same time as mine did (even though John is younger.) As creator of the Old Man’s War series, a noted expert on all things scifi, a Heinlein scholar, creative consultant for one of the Stargate series, and probably the most popular SF author today, Scalzi made two declarations that, I’m sorry, but are not open for debate: 1.) Anyone who wants to be a geek is a geek. No exceptions; 2.) there is no king of the geeks (though Wil Wheaton could make a case) nor any rules for initiation. It is not a closed society. It is not a mystic cult.

And therein is the parallel to the technology sector in the 1990’s. Long time geeks don’t like all this change!

Man up, buttercup. When you go mainstream, you have to open the gates. Otherwise, you’re no better than those idiots in pretentious literary circles sniffing their own farts and sneering at anything that doesn’t sound like Hemingway or Faulkner and whining if their work does something horrifying like sell over 10,000 copies. (I’m looking at YOU, Franzen, you self-absorbed pretentious hack!) You are no longer the outsiders. Isn’t that what you’ve been pining for? Acceptance? Respect? A little bon ami for whatever franchise it is that you love?

Well, here’s the second part I alluded to earlier. There’s a culture of victimhood in geekery. Not every geek has thought this way. I did cosplay back in the 1990’s when it was “grownups in silly costumes.” And it was fun. It let me blow off steam. It gave me (Surprise!) social skills. But there were plenty of folks in that then-smaller community that felt slighted by the mainstream. They felt hurt to be ridiculed, and much of it was carry-over from adolescence and childhood, when a love of Star Trek or Star Wars replaced the mandatory love of the NFL. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were supposed to be your gods, not Captain Kirk and Han Solo.

And I get that. I was not the most athletic child. I sucked at baseball. (A few dozen men who played Little League with me are reading this and going, “No! Really?” One star pitcher reminds me of it on my birthday every year as a joke.) I found solace in Star Trek, in the monster movies on Saturday afternoons, in repeated viewings of Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back on HBO when we first had it. I loved this stuff. I wanted to make up my own.

And then, as a young adult, I fell in with the Trekkies. Often ridiculed, most of them didn’t care. We had a blast together, and it was about more than the television show. I drifted into the Klingon fan groups because, frankly, they threw better parties and were better draws for charity events. Plus, you haven’t lived until you and several of your friends barge into a Denny’s dressed as alien berserkers and growl at the manager, “We demand finger food! Bring us pudding!”

But there’s that obsessive component of which the victim mentality plays into. Fandom began to suck up all my time. The politics of the clubs started intruding on other aspects of my life. I was going broke trying to pay for all the gear it took to be a Klingon, and, alarmingly, I had little time to actually watch the show we all claimed to love. One day, I posted my farewell on a local Fidonet bulletin board, took my costume (which a few fanatics insisted I call a “uniform”), and dumped it in the Salvation Army clothing bin, latex forehead and all.

I have never taken so much flack for a decision in my life. When someone called or emailed me, hurt that I’d turned my back on the group, I said, “I’m in debt. I need to go to school and learn some skills. And I need to have time to myself that’s not devoted to a television show you guys won’t give me time to watch.”

“But that’s not fair!”

No, working sixty hours a week at three jobs for two years so I could catch up on my debts was not fair. Driving cars that were expensive rolling death traps bought for less than I now pay on my mortgage each month wasn’t fair. Having no social life beyond the group wasn’t fair. Even the most fanatical churches acknowledge you have a life beyond the sanctuary (unless it’s a cult.) All this did was bolster my decision to leave. Too many people made it central to their lives, and I, having been vetted and approved to join the sacred congregation, was a traitor.

Some of those people I still called friend afterward. One of them is an online member of my current writer’s group. But the mentality is still there across all franchises and formats, from gaming to movies to comic books and beyond. A small group of hardcore fans feels threatened that they’re suddenly not special anymore. And that victimhood of being outsiders is a huge component of that core belief.

All I have to say, having been in that world and having fond memories of most of it is…

The only threat to geek culture are the hardcore fanatics who can’t stand change. If you want to know what’s threatening your culture?

Go look in the mirror.

 

A Modest Proposal: Star Trek: The HBO Series

2009 Star Trek cast

Source: Paramount Pictures

As JJ Abrams takes on Star Wars, nothing but Star Wars, it’s clear there’s only one Abrams-driven Star Trek left. Paramount has decided it wants a movie for the fiftieth anniversary of Trek‘s debut. But after that…?

Let’s be honest. As good as JJ Abrams is, he didn’t think of the future of Trek, just how to get fannies into theater seats. But the technology is too omnipotent. A couple of devices used to drive both movies’ plots – transwarp beaming and Khan’s blood – don’t bode well for long-term story-telling.

So let me suggest that, once Pine, Pegg, Quinto, et. al. take their last bow in 2016, that Paramount reboot the series once again, this time for HBO.

HBO Original Series logo

Source: HBO

Or SyFy or Showtime or FX or… You know. Star Trek is ripe for the kind of storytelling that made Breaking Bad, The Wire, Battlestar Galactica, and even Deadwood hits. It’s time to start over, give the thing an arc based on its original run, and take it places. While completely revamping it like BG is a horrible idea (Galactica was always kind of an unfinished idea in its original incarnation anyway), it would be an opportune time to toss out some of the cliches that have grown up around it. A cable series would also allow writers to explore aspects of the crew’s story that are only hinted at or played around with in novels and fanfic. Is there really a sexual undertone to Kirk and Spock’s relationship? Why is McCoy so neurotic? What’s the real story behind Khan? Klingons: Ridges or no ridges? (I know Enterprise answered that, but this would be a reboot.) I’d also love to see an end to all the time travel nonsense.

Fans, of course, would have to come along for the ride. It’s been fifty years. Time to give up pelting the writers over trivial inconsistencies that would simply be ignored in real life. It’s not Doctor Who, where the very nature of The Doctor demands inconsistency. Besides, back when I indulged in cosplay, this sort of nitpicking sucked all the joy out being a fan. One idiot told me I could never write fanfic involving Harry Mudd, the lovable rogue who gave Kirk and company migraines in the original series. When I asked why, he said that Roger Carmel, the actor who played Mudd, was dead. Yeah, I’m pretty sure Ron Moore and Brannon Braga were going to show up on my doorstep with a bunch of red ink. Rick Berman would shake his fist thusly at a pizza delivery driver from Cincinnati no one had ever heard of. That kind of lunacy.

But it’s also time to bring Trek back to its original story. The altered timeline with a Kirk who is something of a cross between Han Solo and Stifler from American Pie works for the Abrams movies. Now, let’s get back to why people even care about him in the first place. You can’t duplicate Shatner (which is why Kirk’s character was selected to be the epicenter of the altered timeline), but you can build on what he did previously. And it’s not that you need to ignore the latest movies. Why should you? They’re fun. (OK, I do still cringe whenever I see Spock bellow “Khaaaaaaaannnnnn!!!!“)

It’s something to think about. Besides, Trek is a story about explorers. Exploration is better suited for TV. Movies are for high action and epic battles.

Which is why Abrams needs to do Star Wars.

 

 

Keep Calm And Call The Doctor

tardis_xmas

Source: BBC

As the world prepares for the debut of the Twelfth Doctor (actually, Thirteenth. John Hurt sort of snuck in there and fought in the Time War), I’ve been getting into Dr. Who, going all the way back to the beginning. This past weekend, I watched a chopped up copy of the very first episode, “An Unearthly Child.” (I could have watched it all, but YouTube keeps yanking the middle part. Damn you, BBC. Damn you for enforcing your copyright!) I also watched the first part of “Tomb of the Cybermen” on BBC America. So I got to see the first two Doctors, William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton. I also watched part of the Dr. Who television movie last week, the webisode “Night of the Doctor,” and the absolutely brilliant “Day of the Doctor,” which manages to feature all thirteen incarnations of The Doctor (and never mind that the first three actors and one’s replacement are all dead.)

I’m hooked. For a kid who was suckled, weened, and stoned on Star Trek, Dr. Who is the perfect nerdgasm for middle age. Here’s a character who is the same person across fifty years. If the actor leaves, as William Hartnell did in 1966, The Doctor just regenerates into a new incarnation. Change the actor and the personality and carry on. Plus, The Doctor is a time traveler. So you can have the old actors come back to let different incarnations of The Doctor meet each other. “Day of the Doctor” did this and introduced not just one (John Hurt’s tragic War Doctor), but two new incarnations (Peter Capaldi’s fleeting appearance as The Doctor’s future self.)

I did watch Dr. Who as a kid, only seeing a few episodes. So naturally, I thought that Tom Baker was the original Doctor. I also remember seeing a couple of movies on Superhost featuring Peter Cushing as a human scientist named “Dr. Who.” Those are discounted by Whovians, since it essentially is a reworking of the original concept. I remember seeing a later episode with (I think) Peter Davidson as The Doctor and wondering what happened to Tom Baker. Then I learned about regeneration and how The Doctor (who is never really named) changes looks and personality every time he regenerates.

But my real discovery of The Doctor came in 2005, when SyFy started running the revived series featuring Christopher Eccleston. He was a bit of culture shock. Most of The Doctors I’d seen had taken their cues from Patrick Troughton, the Second Doctor (and a favorite of most of the currently living actors, particularly the outgoing Matt Smith.) This Doctor wore a leather jacket, had a short haircut, and a Scottish accent. He wasn’t as whimsical as Troughton or Baker or even McGann. He had the mischief the character had developed over the decades, but there was something dark about him. I also witnessed his regeneration into the Tenth (and my favorite) Doctor, played by David Tennant. His first words (later echoed by Matt Smith in his first moments as The Eleventh Doctor) was “I wanted to be ginger!” (Smith, after a brief moment of terror when he thinks he’s changed genders, says, “Damn. Still not ginger!”)

franzliszt

Maybe he was Franz Liszt. Ever see the two of them together?

So my image of The Doctor is Baker, McGann, Eccleston, Tennant, and Smith. So how was it watching that first episode? William Hartnell was an elderly man with the hair of Franz Liszt. He was mysterious, gruff, and, let’s be honest, a bit of an asshole. Mind you, that’s my only experience with The First Doctor. And he is so unlike the later incarnations, more like Hurt’s War Doctor or Jon Pertwee’s angry, exiled Third Doctor than the whimsically dressed Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor or any of the newer Doctors. Mind you, the writers and producers had no clue their creation would last fifty years and be played by fourteen actors. They barely knew what “TARDIS” meant. But it was fun, and a bit creepy, watching the beginning of this journey. By the end of episode 1, you still have no idea who this Doctor person is, what his nature is, or what it is he does.

But Patrick Troughton, more than any other actor, is responsible for the Doctor’s look and feel across all the remaining incarnations. If he has an equivalent in American television, it’s Detective Columbo, a sharp mind disguised in the persona of a bumbling idiot. Later actors would use the distracted mannerisms in varying degrees, the dry egotistical humor, and the “Gotcha!” when it becomes clear that The Doctor has outsmarted his enemies.

We have yet to see much more than a glimpse of the Twelfth Doctor, but already many are speculating on the Thirteenth (now that the twelve regeneration limit has been quietly “debunked” (ie – The producers realized this is probably going to go beyond sixty years and thirteen incarnations). My picks? Eddie Izzard would make an excellent older Doctor, with his own personality, sense of humor, and long association with the Monty Python troupe. Harry Potter star Rupert Grint would give the Doctor his fondest wish: to be a ginger. Grint’s Ron Weasly coupled with the dark genius that is The Doctor would create a Doctor in the best tradition of Troughton. With the call for a Doctor who is black or female, producers would do well to look at Idris Elba (The Wire, Luther) when Capaldi decides to call it a Doctor. Elba is English and would bring an intensity to the character that’s been somewhat missing (John Hurt an exception) since Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor. A female Doctor? I honestly don’t know enough about British television or film to make an educated guess. I’ve suggested (in jest) that Emma Watson might be good as it would be a huge shift in the character (and hilarious if you have Eccleston, Tennant, or Smith’s Doctor run into her), changing not only the gender, but making him (her?) incredibly young. Plus I can see Watson having fun with her Doctor. However, a better choice might be (and was considered) Absolutely Fabulous star Joanna Lumley. Lumley, back when the thirteen-Doctor limit was still in place, starred in a parody of the show The Curse of the Fatal Death, in which Rowan “Blackadder” Atkinson (another one considered for the role) appeared as the Ninth Doctor, but kept meeting with repeated mishaps. Lumley, in the end, appeared as the Thirteenth Doctor, whom his (her?) nemesis, The Master, found rather attractive and rode with her in the TARDIS off into the sunset.

But we still have a few years of Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor to see. Capaldi is older and looks somewhat like Tom Baker in his Doctor days. Should be fun.

Palladia

Palladia_HDRemember when MTV and VH1 showed videos? Every time Weird Al came out with a new album, we’d be treated to AlTV, with the MTV jingle played on an accordion. Flip on the TV, you could see Head Bangers Ball, Alternative Nation, or Yo! MTV Raps. And of course, those classic Spring Break runs in the late eighties and nineties. MTV really meant “Music Television.” VH1 was its mellower little brother. The only glamor shows were House of Style, and while MTV treated us to Liquid Television and Aeon Flux for cartoons, Beavis & Butthead still poked fun at videos. It was a music show in disguise.

And then the music disappeared. MTV and VH1 became reality television. After all, if you wanted videos, you had YouTube. Right?

Well, sorta. If you wanted new music or music you didn’t normally listen to, there was no outlet on television. Radio had become pathetic with its corporate behemoth owners and limited playlists. Half the time I watched saw the Grammy lists, I had no clue who anyone was. New music had become American Idol. And American Idol had become embarrassing to admit watching.

Then I stumbled onto Palladia. It was one of the cable company’s Hi-Def offerings. What were they showing? Rock festivals. Hip hop festivals. Later With Jools Holland. Live from Daryl’s House. I saw new music. Live. I saw bands I never heard of. I started making it my weekend ritual to DVR as much Palladia as possible.

It’s hard to see new music live when you live in a town like Cincinnati that supports only wedding bands. There’s iTunes, but you have to hunt for new bands and hope you stumble onto something. Pandora helps, but again, you’re somewhat limited by the format.

I’m enjoying Palladia as long as the format remains the same. Hopefully, MTV Networks won’t decide to squeeze it dry by changing it to yet another reality show channel, the way MTV and VH1 have become, or like Disney has done to History and A&E. If they do, the last video Palladia should play is Bruce Springsteen’s “57 Channels and Nothing On.” Until then, I eagerly await new shows live from Daryl’s house.

Star Trek: Oh, Captain, My Captain

With the new Star Trek set to debut in North America this weekend, I decided to take a look at all the Trek captains… Well, the main ones, not the one-offs we’ve seen over the years. I’m not going to rank them. If you thought ranking the shows or the movies would get me a lot of static (It did), ranking the captains would likely have a horde of angry cosplay Trekkies on my front lawn with torches and pitchforks. I can’t have that. We just redid the landscaping.

In addition to the captains for each series, I’m including a couple that deserve mention, one of whom is… Well, he deserves to be on the list since his was an honorary Trek movie.

pike primeChristopher Pike (Jeffrey Hunter/Bruce Greenwood)

Even though I’m counting William Shatner’s and Chris Pine’s Kirks separately, I’m combining the pilot Captain Pike with the one from the current movie series because we really did not get to see enough of him to form an opinion.

Hunter and Greenwood’s Pikes do mesh rather nicely. Both are rather no-nonsense captains impatient with fumbling subordinates, but at the same time, admiring to ability to “look before you leap.” It’s likely Greenwood watched the original Star Trek pilot, “The Cage” (later subsumed into a two-part episode, “The Menagerie”) for queues. So what makes them so seamless?

pike tooBoth Captains Pike are the prototype for the later Captains Kirk. In “The Cage,” Pike leaves his first officer, whom we only know as Number One, on the bridge while he goes down to the surface of Talos IV to check out the wrecked SS Columbia. And of course, like Kirk after him, he bags the blonde babe as he gets into trouble. In 2009’s Star Trek, while not the lothario Kirk is, Pike goes to face down an angry Nero while leaving an insubordinate Kirk to second a bewildered Spock in command of the Enterprise.

But in both Pikes, we see the beginnings of another captain, Jean-Luc Picard. Hunter’s Pike is quick to turn off the rage once he understands his captors predicament and offer a helping hand. This is not an option for the doomed aliens, but they reward Pike after he is rendered invalid by offering him an illusory life with Vina to make his final days more comfortable. In the two new Treks, Pike is the father Jim Kirk was deprived of when the Kelvin was destroyed. It’s Pike who recognizes what Kirk is capable of, and probably no surprise that he and “Spock Prime” unwittingly conspire to put the alternate Kirk and Spock together in a way that will bend the new timeline back toward the original.

It’s too bad we never got to see what the original cast could have done with a series. I especially would have liked to see how Majel Barrett’s “Number One” dealt with serving under a captain she had feelings for. But had Jeffrey Hunter said yes to returning for the second pilot and the series, we never would have had…

kirkJames T. Kirk – Original timeline (William Shatner)

Christopher Pike might have been the template for every captain that followed him. (I see a lot of Pike in Kathryn Janeway, actually. Maybe Kate Mulgrew should have played “Christina Pike.”) Kirk, however, set the standard by how every succeeding captain would be created – both in similarities and differences.

Kirk is what every man wants to be: decisive, strong, smooth with the ladies, charismatic. But he’s also headstrong, rash, and a bit arrogant. What makes Shatner’s Kirk so compelling is that he knows this and occasionally (especially in the movies) beats himself up over it. What makes Kirk a great leader is that he relies on his inner circle to open up his blind spots. He leans heavily on the logical Spock and his grouchy moral compass, McCoy, with Scotty sometimes cutting through the bullshit to zero in on a problem and to bear the brunt of his demands. But even Sulu and Uhura, two underlings who aren’t quite as high in the Enterprise‘s pecking order, have his attention. Only someone like Uhura could snap back at Kirk in front of the crew when he gets a bit overbearing. Anyone else would likely have been reassigned to toilet cleaning duty in the enlistees’ quarters for that.

What defines Kirk, though, in both the original continuity and the new movies, is his inability to believe in the no-win scenario. He hates the concept so much that, after two attempts, he simply cheats the Academy’s Kobayashi Maru test, shrugs, and says, “Of course, I did. The test is bullshit.” In this continuity, that excuse gets him a commendation for original thinking, since that, not winning, was the actual aim of the test. (Thought I seriously doubt anyone could try that gambit again.)

spockSpock – Original timeline (Leonard Nimoy)

Sure, Spock commanded the Enterprise for only one movie, but that served an important purpose. The Enterprise is a training vessel. And after all these years seconding and second-guessing Kirk, he probably knows more about commanding a starship than Kirk does. Kirk can do it better than most people, but he can’t really teach it. Spock, a lifelong student of human nature from the outside, can.

In the show’s original run, Spock’s turns in the command chair often infuriated the crew despite the fact that, like Kirk, they would follow him to the gates of hell. They would grumble and protest that the coldly logical Vulcan just didn’t get it, but they would also assume that he seldom did anything without some compelling reason, especially since the younger Spock had an infuriating habit of not sharing everything he was thinking. The older Spock, on the other hand, knows people, knows his crewmates, knows Kirk, and most importantly, knows himself better. When Spock is again put in command of the Enterprise in Star Trek VI, logic still guides his every move, but he has learned enough tricks watching Kirk, McCoy, and Scotty, and learned to trust Uhura and Chekov’s judgment enough, that he manages to out-Kirk Kirk in the process of rescuing the Enterprise‘s true captain and taking down those who framed him.

Spock really is captain material. It just takes him into late middle age to figure out how to be himself.

picardJean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart)

One of the tricks to reinventing Star Trek is to make it different to what came before. When Gene Roddenberry resurrected the series with a new crew and ship, he had to create a captain who was as un-Kirklike as possible without disrespecting the original. So Roddenberry simply flipped the Kirk and Spock roles, making First Officer Wil Riker the cocky, charming officer to a cool, logical captain. So Roddenberry created Jean Luc Picard, a reserved, calculating man with “the soul of a poet.” Whereas Kirk is clearly an earthy Iowa farmboy prone to jumping feet first into a situation, Picard is thoughtful, level-headed, and patient. Of course, we meet Picard when he is about sixty years old (Stewart was in his forties when he took the role), so he’s had time to evolve from a Kirk-like swashbuckler to an elder statesman.

And it’s not that Picard is incapable of looking before he leaps. He’s just had about twenty years more than Kirk to add nuance to that. There are those who say that one would want Picard in command most of the time, but Kirk in an emergency. That sounds about right.

suluHikaru Sulu – Original timeline (George Takei)

Oh, my. They finally gave Sulu a ship, and a big ship they gave him, the Excelsior. We only got to see Sulu in one movie, Star Trek VI, but George Takei made the most of it. He is very much the protege of James T. Kirk: Disciplined, but more than willing to break rules when the stakes are high.

They later revisited the events of ST VI in an episode of Voyager, using the same set and cast members to depict Kirk’s last hurrah from the point-of-view of the Excelsior‘s crew. Between the two, we could see Sulu as an older, wiser officer who stood on his own. It would have been nice to see Takei in a television movie or two showcasing the character.

siskoBenjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks)

Benjamin Sisko is an angry man. His wife was killed by the Borg at Wolf 359. He is unceremoniously yanked from his quiet post close to Earth to deal with the equally angry Bajorans and the ever-scheming Cardassians. To add insult to injury, a group of aliens inside a wormhole decide that he is the Emissary of the Prophets, their linear reality mouthpiece to the Bajorans. So, in addition to being a reluctant station commander, an informal diplomat, and an unwilling religious figure, Sisko also has to be a single dad.

During the first couple of seasons of Deep Space Nine, producers worked hard to not only make Sisko not Picard, the strained themselves silly not making him Hawk, Brooks’ previous role on Spenser for Hire. Pretty stupid idea. DS9 finally found its legs when they let Brooks be himself playing Sisko (including shaving his head and speaking in lower tones) and admitting that Deep Space 9 was a dystopian version of Trek set in a rehash of World War II. Which is good. Sisko is very much a wartime captain. He’s not boldly going.  He’s boldly trying to keep civilization from collapsing. Instead of Horatio Hornblower (Kirk) or Lord Nelson (Picard), he’s more like a crankier version of Eisenhower, having to balance competing egos, agendas, and even enemies to keep the whole works from coming apart.

janewayKathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew)

The best thing to happen to Voyager was Genevieve Bujold stomping off the set of the show’s pilot. I saw a clip of her first turn as “Jean” Janeway. I know Bujold can act. I’ve seen her do it. She didn’t do it here. It took executive producer about five seconds to pick up the phone and tell Kate Mulgrew’s agent “Oops. Should have hired your client.”

Mulgrew gave Janeway (now named “Kathryn”) what every starship captain needs most: gravitas. That might have been lacking in Kirk in the 2009 movie, but that was by design. The kid hadn’t even graduated Starfleet Academy yet before taking command of the Enterprise. (“I hope you know what you’re doing, Captain.” “Yeah. Me, too.”) But Pike, Shatner’s Kirk, Picard, Sulu, and Sisko all had it.

And I seriously doubt any of those men would envy Janeway’s job. She is 90 years from home. Half her crew is composed of renegades she was sent to arrest. She’s menaced on all sides by space-faring tribes at war with each other, the Borg, and even another Starfleet vessel that met the same fate not long before Voyager ended up on that side of the galaxy.

Janeway maintains a Kirk-like presence on the bridge, perfectly willing to make the snap decision in a crisis. It helps that her first officer (and originally, the leader of the fugitives she went after) is an otherwise exemplary military officer more concerned with the good of the crew than his own agenda. But Janeway also shows the cracks. Kirk, Picard, et. al. could always duck into a shore leave bar, Ten Forward, or Quark’s to forget about the burden of command. Janeway’s got nowhere to go but the holodeck.

As I said before, she has the most in common with Christopher Pike, only we got seven seasons of Janeway, not to mention a cameo in Nemesis, a bright spot in an otherwise horrible film.

peter-quincy-taggartPeter Quincy Taggart (Jason Nesmith as played by Tim Allen)

OK, Galaxy Quest is not Star Trek. And yet it is, a sort of playful This Is Spinal Tap for the scifi set.

Tim Allen’s portrayal of washed-up actor Jason Nesmith does poke gentle fun at Shatner (who good naturedly gives back as good as he got.) But I’m pretty sure both Shatner and Allen could point to a hundred other actors they’ve known who ended up like Nesmith without alien intervention or a transformation to a more comedic persona to save their careers.

But Galaxy Quest respects the very franchise it parodies. And watching the cast fall into their old roles while trying to “do it for real” hints that this might have been a really good entry into the Star Trek franchise. Plus how can you go wrong with Ripley from Alien as a hot, busty blonde who is nonetheless smarter than her captain?

I suspect Taggart in a series would be every bit as cocky and over-the-top as Kirk. It’s too bad we’ll never get to see it. Could be fun.

archerJonathan Archer (Scott Bakula)

Jonathan Archer is the most like us. Maybe that’s because he’s the first captain who lives in a world that looks so much like ours. The Klingon at the beginning of the pilot even crashes on a farm that’s clearly in California’s Imperial Valley (doubling for Oklahoma). This is the beginning of Star Trek, and Archer has to not only set an example for future Starfleet captains, he has to make up the rules as he goes along. It doesn’t help that the rather self-important Vulcans have put one of their own on his bridge to keep an eye on these primitive humans. (Earth people can be such children.)

Whereas the other captains have larger-than-life personas, largely out of necessity, Archer is an everyman. He’s amazed to be going out into space and doing it at a blazing speed of Warp 4. And he does this with a ship that has balky technology, has to endure condescension from Vulcans, and deal with the paranoia of the Andorians. Kirk, Picard, Sisko, and Janeway all have a century or two of history where Earth is the dominant world in the Federation. Archer has grown up in a world that can barely spell “aliens,” let alone deal with  them. His default position is to offer the hand of friendship. After all, it’s a cold, dark universe out there. You need all the friends you can get.

Kirk tooJames T. Kirk – Altered timeline (Chris Pine)

This Kirk is a completely different Kirk from the original. After all, Shatner’s Kirk got to know his father, who lived to see him take command of the Enterprise. This Kirk was denied that only sixty seconds into the start of his life. And boy, is he pissed off about that. He grows up a rebellious, hell-raising youth, “the only genius-level offender in the Midwest.” Hey, it’s good to have goals. But Christopher Pike sees a lot of the late George Kirk in him. “Your father was captain of a starship for twelve minutes. He saved 800 lives, including your mother’s. And yours. I dare you to do better.”

Well, let’s see. A life of bar brawls in some backwater Iowa town? Or maybe doing something with your life. It takes Kirk only a few hours to make up his mind. Only he needs a little tempering. “Four years? I’ll do it in three.” Maybe so, but that bravado nearly gets him court-martialed, does get him kicked off the Enterprise, and damn near gets him killed. He’s not the Kirk we used to know, and maybe he never will be. But he knows what he’s supposed to become, even if he has to get his ass kicked a few times on the way there. At least this Kirk can roll with the punches, and like the original Kirk, loathes the concept of a no-win scenario. Spoilers and clips from Star Trek Into Darkness suggest he’s almost there.

All photos from Paramount, except for Tim Allen as Peter Quincy Taggert (Source: Dreamworks)