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TV Reviews: 'Enterprise' steers new good adventure

Wednesday, September 26, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

After suffering through too many poorly written, dramatically empty episodes of "Star Trek: Voyager," I was dreading the launch of UPN's "Enterprise" precisely because it came from "Voyager" executive producers Rick Berman and Brannon Braga.

Maybe it's the diminished expectations or maybe they've actually come up with something decent, but tonight's two-hour "Enterprise" premiere (at 8 on WNPA) is surprisingly satisfying.

 
 
"Enterprise"

When: 8 tonight on UPN.

Starring: Scott Bakula, Jolene Blalock

   
 

Don't get me wrong, there's some definite cheesiness here, particularly the scene of icy Vulcan T'Pol (Jolene Blalock) and Southern fried engineer Charles "Trip" Tucker III (Connor Trinneer) stripping to their space skivvies and rubbing one another with some sort of oil because they were "exposed to spores."

Yeah, right. It looks more like a soft-core space sex film.

That scene and T'Pol's form-fitting costume (something "Voyager's" Seven of Nine left behind?) are as pandering as this pilot gets. Otherwise, it's an excellent adventure viewers will likely find themselves caught up in.

Set 100 years before the time of the original series and prior to the creation of the United Federation of Planets, "Enterprise" follows the adventure of the first Starfleet warp vessel to bear the Enterprise name.

Capt. Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) has long dreamed of taking command of a ship. In flashbacks, viewers see a young Archer with his father, who helped build Enterprise but died before the ship's maiden voyage.

That first flight comes after humans first meet a Klingon when one of the bumpy-headed warriors crash-lands on Earth. It's not our first alien encounter. Set in the "Star Trek" time line after the events of the movie "Star Trek: First Contact," humans and Vulcans have an uneasy alliance made fragile by the unwillingness of the Vulcans to share their knowledge.

Archer's no fan of these green-blooded allies, and he's distrusting of T'Pol. Archer's dog doesn't seem to like her either.

Other crew members include the perpetually perky alien Dr. Phlox (John Billingsley); Ensign Travis Mayweather (Anthony Montgomery), who grew up on space freighters; communications officer Ensign Hoshi Sato (Linda Park); and Lt. Malcolm Reed (Dominic Keating), who has yet to exhibit much personality.

They're all filled with awe for their new ship and its mission, marveling at the new phaser pistols and terrified of having their molecules scrambled in the transporter (just approved for use by humans).

This is a less politically correct "Trek" than recent incarnations. Though T'Pol exhibits all signs of being a tough woman, Hoshi is easily spooked by vibrations in the ship and cowers behind Archer during a mission to an alien planet.

The crew's task in its inaugural voyage: Get the Klingon back to his home planet while avoiding the Suliban, a never-before-seen alien species that's intent on keeping the Klingons down.

The story of the Suliban resonates far more now than it would have a month ago. It's explained that the Suliban are "soldiers fighting a temporal cold war ... taking orders from the distant future." Those orders come from an unknown humanoid, who's sort of an interstellar Osama bin Laden, directing his terrorist minions of the past in an effort to control the future.

Bakula, who already has a following among sci-fi fans for his role on "Quantum Leap," easily slips into the captain's chair. His Archer is the most "regular guy" captain in "Trek" history, an explorer at heart who's quick to get tough when necessary.

The biggest question surrounding "Enterprise" is whether or not the series will sustain its premise. "Voyager" began with plenty of room for drama between Starfleet officers and the renegade Maquis, but that conflict was quickly abandoned.

The awe and wonder of the "Enterprise" crew and the primitive nature of its technology can all contribute to making this new "Star Trek" different. But how long before the writers slip into old habits and hit the reset button at the end of one too many episodes, negating everything that's come before? They did that all the time on "Voyager," even in the series finale. One can only hope there's a prime directive against such unimaginative plot turns on "Enterprise."

'Law & Order'

Cast defections matter little to this locomotive of a legal drama that barrels through them all with nary a ratings slip. With cast members so utterly dispensable, it's not surprising "Law & Order" fails to give any introduction to its newest character. Viewers have to strain to catch her name.

 
 
"Law & Order"

When: 10 tonight on NBC.

Starring: Sam Waterston, Elisabeth Rohm

   
 

Instead, new assistant district attorney Serena Southerlyn (Elisabeth Rohm) is just there, joining Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) in prosecuting a couple (including Melissa Leo, formerly of "Homicide: Life on the Street") who allowed their dog to viciously attack and kill a jogger in a New York park.

There's little to glean of Southerlyn's character, though she seems less likely to call for the death penalty than the hard-core prosecutor played by Angie Harmon in recent seasons.

Not that it matters. "Law & Order" is all about the plot and tonight's "Who Let the Dogs Out" delivers all the expected twists and turns. My only quibble: A bit of courtroom theatricality near the end seems more suited to "The Practice."


You can reach Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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