TV Show ReviewsJosh Reviews The Center Seat: 55 Years of Star Trek

Josh Reviews The Center Seat: 55 Years of Star Trek

The Center Seat: 55 Years of Star Trek is a ten-episode documentary series exploring the vast history of Star Trek!  The series is overseen by Brian Volk-Weiss, the creator of the documentary series The Toys That Made Us and The Movies That Made Us

I’m a huge Trek fan, so of course I was intrigued by this series when I read about it.  I’m always up for a new documentary exploring the rich history of Star Trek, and I liked the idea that this would be a multi-episode series, providing the real time needed to delve into Trek’s lengthy 55 year history.  On the other hand, I didn’t love Mr. Volk-Weiss’ series The Movies That Made Us.  I felt that series had a super-goofy tone that I found annoying and disrespectful to the movies being chronicled.  I worried that The Center Seat would take that same approach.

I’m pleased to report that I quite enjoyed this ten-episode series!  There wasn’t too much new information for an uber-fan like me, but it was fun to go on the ride of this journey through the franchise’s long history.  Is was cool to see how in-depth this look back at the vast Trek franchise was.  I quite enjoyed seeing all of the new interview footage with so many major players from throughout Trek’s history and all the different movies and TV shows.  I particularly enjoyed hearing from David Gerrold and the late D.C. Fontana (two of the most important writers on the Original Series), Harold Livingston (the screenwriter of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, who hilariously recounts his famously vicious feud with Gene Roddenberry), Nicholas Meyer (writer/director of Star Trek II and IV and writer of Star Trek IV), Robert Salin (the producer of Star Trek II, who was a critical yet often unheralded player in that movie’s success), Rick Berman (who oversaw almost twenty years of modern Trek TV shows and movies, from The Next Generation through Enterprise), Ronald D. Moore (an important writer on TNG and DS9), Brannon Braga (an important writer on TNG who would go on to run Voyager), Jeri Taylor (the brilliant TNG writer who would go on to co-create Voyager and who is seldom interviewed), and so many more.  The series boasts decent participation from the main actors from across the Trek series.  Many of the biggest stars are missing (no William Shatner, to Patrick Stewart, no Avery Brooks, no Scott Bakula), but we still get to hear from a LOT of the main cast-members from all of the shows, including Leonard Nimoy, Walter Koenig, Jonathan Frakes, Will Wheaton, Denise Crosby, Nana Visitor, Cirroc Lofton, Kate Mulgrew, Jeri Ryan, Robert Beltran, Robert Picardo, and more.  I particularly enjoyed the interviews with many of the Enterprise cast-members, such as John Billingsley, Connor Trinneer, Dominic Keating, and Anthony Montgomery.  The episodes also boast some impressive deep-cut interviews with supporting players such as James Cromwell, Whoopi Goldberg, Christopher Lloyd, Kirstie Alley, Robin Curtis, Andrew Robinson, Penny Johnson Jerald, Rick Worthy, Sarah Silverman, Vaughn Armstrong, Ike Eisenmann, W. Morgan Sheppard, Gregory Itzin, Matt McCoy, Scott Macdonald, Chase Masterson, and so many more!

The biggest negative of this series is how difficult it is to actually watch it!  Four episodes were shown on the History Channel, so I was able to DVR them (and I suspect they’re available On Demand).  But to watch the other six episodes, I had to pay to subscribe to The History Vault streaming service.  That was annoying.  I guess I can understand that new streaming services want to create content that you want to watch.  But then, when I paid to get access to the History Vault, I found that I couldn’t also watch the four episodes that were airing on the History Channel!  I had to switch devices to do that.  Very annoying!!!  (In the end, I paid the $5 for one month of the History Vault to watch the episodes that were exclusive there, and then I canceled it once I’d seen them.)

The series still has a somewhat goofier tone than I’d like, but it’s nowhere near the level of what drove me crazy in The Movies That Made Us.  The series is narrated by Gates McFadden (who played Dr. Crusher on TNG).  She’s terrific, and her dignified approach keeps things mostly level and not too wacky.

The ten-episode length allows the series to shine a spotlight on areas of the Trek franchise that often don’t get much mainstream attention.  I was pleased that each of the Berman-era Trek shows received their own spotlight episode, including Next Gen, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise.  I was delighted that the usually-ignored Star Trek: The Animated Series got its own spotlight episode!!  That was fantastic and a highlight of the series for me.  I also loved that the aborted Star Trek: Phase II TV project from the seventies (which eventually morphed into the first Trek movie, 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture) also go a spotlight!

Despite the series’ depth, there is so much Trek history to cover that many of the episodes still had a somewhat superficial feel.  For instance, while the TNG spotlight episode spends some time exploring the series’ turbulent first few years, the documentary Chaos on the Bridge did a better, far more thorough job of exploring the chaotic launch of TNG.  And how could the 45-ish minute TNG episode of The Center Seat possibly compare to the extraordinary documentaries on the TNG blu-ray release, overseen by Roger Lay and Robert Meyer Burnett??  Those miraculous documentaries contained almost two hours of behind the scenes stories for each season of TNG!!  So one episode of this show, that covers the entire TNG series, of course felt superficial in comparison.  Same goes for Enterprise — I loved that that show got its own spotlight episode, but the incredible documentaries on the blu-rays were far more comprehensive (again, almost two full hours for each season)… and the DS9 documentary What We Left Behind was, again, far more comprehensive than the DS9 spotlight episode here (as much as I enjoyed it!).

The series had a habit of picking moments of controversy to spotlight.  On the one hand, that was fun, and I can understand why this show would want to zero in on those sorts of juicy tidbits.  On the other hand, when you’re devoting multiple minutes of each episode to those sorts of behind-the-scenes moments of drama, it resulted in many of the episodes feeling a little unbalanced to me.  For instance, the DS9 episode’s focus on the show’s ratings trouble and other production-related drama (how many of the main cast were upset when Worf was brought in to try to juice up the ratings, Terry Farrell’s ignominious departure at the end of season six) results in the episode’s missing what made DS9 so great and special, in my opinion.

Many episodes also chose to spotlight a single significant episode: “The City on Edge of Forever” in the Original Series episode, “Yesterday’s Enterprise” in the TNG episode, “In the Pale Moonlight” in the DS9 episode, etc.  That was fun. and I enjoyed seeing those deep-dive segments that explored those episodes.  But here too, when so much time was devoted to one particular episode, it often resulted in the overall documentary episode feeling unbalanced and choppy.  It was weird to me, for example, that the TNG episode spent so much time on “Yesterday’s Enterprise” but then mostly skipped over “The Best of Both Worlds”… or that the Dominion War arc barely got a mention in the DS9 episode.

There were also a handful of mistakes that this Trek fan caught.  The TNG uniforms changed to the better-looking two-piece outfits (instead of the jumpsuits) in season three, not season two as stated.  In one episode they discuss the Battle of Wolf 359 but, instead of showing a clip from “The Best of Both Worlds”, they show a clip from the Borg battle in Earth orbit in the TNG movie First Contact.  Oops!

But, overall, I quite enjoyed this series!!  It was a very fun trip back down memory lane through the history of Trek.  (I am perfectly content that the series did not cover the J.J. Abrams movies or the  horrible current Trek shows being overseen by Alex Kurtzman.)  I read that Mr. Volk-Weiss & co. might be working on additional episodes — that would be great!

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