"Star Trek: The Next Generation," Paramount's sumptuous sequel to the "Star Trek" series, is set 400 years in the future, but still extols quaint old '60s values. It's a lavishly outfitted retro rocket almost certain to beguile fans of the original show, though unlikely to replace it in their hearts of hearts.
One of its hopeful predictions about the distant future is that things will move more slowly. Very slowly. Like Mayberry on Mars. Activity aboard the new starship Enterprise creeps along at a pretty petty pace. At a reported production cost of $1.2 million an hour, the program is good looking and imaginative, but it probably does need to fire up its after-burners more often.
"Star Trek" is no Stress Test.
The new series does not appear on any network. It's being syndicated by Paramount to 170 stations, including Washington's Channel 20, which airs the two-hour premiere, "Encounter at Farpoint," at 8 tonight.
At first brush, the crew of the new Starship Enterprise doesn't seem as intriguingly colorful as the original bunch. One of the originals, DeForrest Kelley, who played medical officer "Bones" McCoy, hobbles by for a touching cameo, as a visitor to the new ship who has now reached the age of 137, but otherwise the next generation is on its own.
Gene Roddenberry, creator of the original NBC series (1966-'69), is executive producer of the new one, so no one can claim sinister Philistines have taken over. "Next Generation" seems true in tone and spirit to the first show. The special effects have been upgraded, but "Star Trek" continues to downplay hardware and emphasize humanist themes.
Indeed, in the first episode, humanity is put to yet another survival test by an effete intruder named Q who first materializes in Shakespearian garb spouting "thous" and "thees." He tells the crew, "Go back whenst thou camest." Later, he returns in a get-up that makes him look like Boy George. He puts the human race on trial for its barbarism and savagery.
Oh no, not that again!
The casting leaves room for complaint. Capt. Jean-Luc Picard (any relation to Jean-Luc Godard?), played by Patrick Stewart, is a grim bald crank who would make a better villain. Jonathan Frakes, as commander William Riker, verges on namby-pamby.
LeVar Burton is wasted in the role of Lt. Geordi LaForge and, worse, the writers make the character blind, so that Burton's expressive eyes are hidden behind googly high-tech goggles that supposedly supply LaVar's LaForge with sight.
Marina Sirtis, as half-Betazoid Counselor Deanna Troi, wanders around in a miniskirt picking up vibes from adversaries and friends. She can sense "strong emotions" at a distance with her highly developed sensibilities -- as what woman can't?
Instead of Leonard Nimoy's pointy-eared Vulcan, Mr. Spock, there's a reformed Klingon with a leafy forehead (played by a drowsy Michael Dorn) and an android named Data (Brent Spiner), who unfortunately resembles a San Francisco street mime.
The old Alexander Courage theme has been lushly reorchestrated and the series begins with the familiar narration: "Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise." When the captain opens his log this time, it's stardate 41153.7. The mandate is still to "boldly go" but now it's where "no one," as opposed to "no man," has gone before.
Crew uniforms still look like pj's. The new Enterprise is, says Paramount, "twice the length of the original Starship with approximately eight times the interior size." Inside, to tell the truth, it looks like a 24th-century Ramada Inn. And while the special effects are impressively picturesque, scenes inside the Enterprise fail to convey the sense of a vehicle in motion. You can get more of a futuristic buzz from the computer graphics used by CBS Sports.
"Star Trek" aims to fill the eye and engage the mind; it has a long way to boldly go at both. But the new beginning is not without its rejuvenating properties, and there's nothing else on the air quite like it.
'West 57th' No longer a subject that provokes furious and rancorous debate, "West 57th," the youthful CBS News magazine, can now be dispassionately assessed as a TV program. It is a very good one. The third season premiere, at 10 tonight on Channel 9, has three segments that are knock-outs and one that's a wash-out.
The first, on those aging and ballooning flower children Crosby, Stills and Nash, finds the three singers in a shockingly combative mood. Crosby and Nash appear mighty disenchanted with Stills, who they say is drinking heavily. Stills, bloated and bellicose, tells correspondent John Ferrugia, "I like to party" and "A lot of great writers drank, and some to excess."
A shot of the enormous David Crosby on his boat, clearing his head after months of heroin and cocaine addiction (and just over a year in prison on drug charges), is particularly pungent. The segment, produced by Vicki Samuels, is skillfully constructed and beautifully edited.
"Ninja," produced by Glen Silber and reported by Steve Kroft (new to the team) is about a dangerous new breed of motorcycle known by such commercial trademarks as "Honda Hurricane" and by such descriptive nicknames as "bullet bike" and "crotch rocket."
The bikes have a top speed of 150 mph and go from 0 to 60 in five seconds. Thrill-seeking kids have been getting injured and killed on them. One concedes the sport is "dangerous and sometimes stupid, but that's how we get our kicks," and another, searching for a broadcastable euphemism, declares, "It's like . . . having an encounter with a young lady; how's that?"
"Meat Packers" documents the self-destruction of a company town: Sioux Falls, S.D., where workers at the John Morrell meat packing plant complained and, finally, walked out over what they said were unsafe conditions. Reporter Meredith Vieira interviews injured ex-workers and a company lawyer, who says of seemingly doctored company records, "If we were trying to deceive the government, we would have done it better."
The segment, produced by Jane Stone, pulls back for sobering perspective; the sad case of Morrell and Sioux Falls is cited as reflecting the Reagan administration's zeal at relaxing safety rules and other regulations affecting big business. While the precise phrase is not used in the report, "an American tragedy" is what comes to mind.
Finally, "West 57th" at its worst, a second showbiz piece within a single program, this one a gushy, fawning love letter to Lily Tomlin and her writing partner Jane Wagner. It doesn't help that public TV just ran a documentary about these same mutually adoring partners in sisterhood. Still more adoration is provided by producer Pauline Canny and correspondent Jane Wallace, who gazes up at the team reverentially.
Not every report on "West 57th" has to be aggressive and investigative, but the show's fluffy puff pieces on such pop stars as Paul Simon, David Bowie and now Tomlin and Wagner would be much more at home on "Entertainment Tonight." In fact, the producers at "ET" might consider them too tame.
"West 57th" is wildly worthwhile nonetheless.
'Heimat' Nothing on television this weekend, or perhaps this year, is likely to approach the depth and scope of "Heimat," an eight-part, 16-hour German miniseries imported by PBS.
Artful, intimate, evocative and absorbing, the 1984 production, considered a kind of German "Roots," covers the years 1919 through 1982 in the life of a small, fictitious village called Schabbach. The two-hour premiere airs at 10 tonight on Channel 26.
"The Call of Far Away Places," as the opening chapter is titled, introduces many of the major characters, with returning soldier Paul Simon (Michael Lesch), still dazed by the war, and Marie Wiegand (Marita Breuer), daughter of the mayor, standing out. Although Paul is smitten with a dark-haired vision named Apollonia (Marlies Assmann), suspected by resident bigots of being a gypsy, she has a child by an occupying French soldier. Paul and Marie marry.
In its episodic structure, the earthiness of its vignettes, and the microcosmic village setting -- a provincial prison to those who yearn for the world outside -- "Heimat" recalls two of the greatest of Fellini's memory films, "Amarcord" and "I Vitelloni." Director Edgar Reitz, who cowrote the screenplay with Peter Steinbach, makes moving drama of ordinary, even minuscule events in the villagers' everyday lives.
Down the road, of course, is another great war, another dream of German conquest, and traumatic change for the village and much of the supposedly civilized world. There are portents in the first chapter, like the foretelling of an Aryan messiah in a saber-rattling speech at the unveiling of a memorial to German war dead. "Already we sense his shining presence in the distance," the orator emotes.
Later, hooligans smash the second-story window of a Jew who is also a "separatist." The naked body of a woman is found in the woods, an unsolved but ominous mystery. Young villagers, meanwhile, entertain the ridiculous notion that they have found gold in a country stream.
Paul is determined to construct a wireless, the first in the region, and with it he imports, all the way from Vienna, the crackly voice of opera star Leo Slezak, who sings Schubert's "The Linden Tree" to transfixed picnickers. Another intrusive 20th-century machine invades this once-isolated agrarian enclave when a pilot lands his airplane in a field and takes Paul on a fly-over.
Reitz alternates color and black-and-white footage (mostly the latter) in a random pattern that begins to make a curious narrative sense. "Heimat," which translates as "homeland" or "native place," is in German with English subtitles. Haunting and poignant, the film is radiant with insight into a time, a place, and a people.
'Leg Work' Perhaps there would be nothing so wrong with "Leg Work" if the prime-time landscape weren't already overrun with hordes and troups of fanciful crime fighters. Since it is, one more hapless contender seems disproportionately oppressive.
Margaret Colin, full of sass and vinegar, plays Claire McCarron, a fitfully fearless private eye who bops around New York in a Porsche 911. She's breezy and smart, and Colin makes her believably so.
Some of the dialogue by writer and executive producer Frank Abatemarco has punch: "A 'fair' insurance company? That's a contradiction in terms." And: "In California, everyone drives a Porsche." Before embarking on a car chase in a rented vehicle, McCarron makes sure she has signed up for the Collision Damage Waiver.
The man tailing her turns out to be a cop, likably played by Timothy Carhart. At her apartment, he discovers McCarron's domestic talents are limited to cooking coq au vin and baking oatmeal raisin cookies. They make cookies together. Very sweet.
But in the last analysis, not that this is, "Leg Work" is redundant and expendable. "Leg Work" needs work but one's inclination is to say it's not really worth the trouble.