This is how busy I am lately: I haven’t seen the new Star Trek movie, five days after it opened. But I have enjoyed watching the old show undergo a cultural rehabilitation after all these decades as a somewhat embarassing pleasure:
In its narrative ambition, its talky, theatrical density, its high-minded moral tone and its nerdy philosophizing, that episode captures a great deal about what made “Star Trek” such a potent cultural force. I guess that’s why it’s included, along with three other episodes, on “The Best of Star Trek: The Original Series,” a new DVD/Blu-ray release presumably meant to lure viewers of J.J. Abrams’ hit film back to the source material. No “Star Trek” fan could possibly be happy with such a mini-collection — where, I ask, is “Mirror, Mirror”? “The Doomsday Machine”? “The Devil in the Dark”? — but I enjoyed watching this tremendously.
Watching “Star Trek” in 1970s syndication was such an important part of my childhood and adolescence — I’ve seen every episode at least five or six times, and some many more than that — that I’m not capable of assessing the show’s uneven, low-budget craftsmanship with any degree of detachment. For me, “Star Trek” and the Rolling Stones, as much as they might appear to be polar opposites — one supremely American and the other English, one Apollonian and optimistic, the other Dionysian and pessimistic — were the cultural phenomena that made the pre-punk-rock early ’70s tolerable. A person interested in those things was, prima facie, not interested in Donny Osmond or “Happy Days,” had conceivably read a book not required by teachers and furthermore could plausibly have access to decent weed.