It’s time for space to be the final frontier again.
Repeatedly you’ll hear television fans sing the praises long and loudly about brilliant shows like The Wire and Battlestar Galactica, and rightfully so. But while we like to think the current TV renaissance we’re all celebrating is a recent rebirth, I have a theory that it actually began long ago in a far-off time period known as the early 90s. The actual birthplace? A broken down, formerly Cadassian space station formerly known as Terok Nor. But once the Federation took over it became known as…
Deep Space 9.
For those unfamiliar, DS9 followed the adventures of an extremely a-typical group of Star Trekkers. Instead of the standard crew aboard your run-of-the-mill Constitution Class, DS9 had a handful of Federation folk, a terrorist or two, a talking blob of goo, a tailor who may have also been an intergalactic James Bond, and the best bartender in the Alpha Quadrant. Things rarely went to warp in this show, but that didn’t mean it didn’t go places.
Aside from its location, DS9 was a rapid departure from the others bushels of Roddenberrys because of one key factor: story presentation. While TNG flirted with ongoing storylines, for the most part it was a new adventure every episode. After it grew its beard, DS9 decided to take a chance at the Tongo table and commit to storylines that spanned entire seasons, and even a few that lasted until the final episode.
We take it for granted these days, but overarching storylines was a bit of a novelty back when. Shows here and there would make use of it, sure, but few were as high-profile as a Star Trek series. And that’s forgetting that DS9 was bucking the trend of its highly-regarded and fan-crazed predecessors. This was the trek through the stars that really sought out new life and new civilizations.
And it had balls.
Feminism. Race. Classism. PTSD. These are just a handful of the topics DS9 delved into. While adventures on the Holodeck are always fun (and don’t worry, DS9 had plenty of ‘em), it’s these episodes that really made the show stand out.
Take the episode “Far Beyond the Stars”. Directed by Avery Brooks, the actor who played DS9’s Captain Benjamin Sisko, experiences a “vision” where he’s suddenly Benny Russell, science-fiction writer in 1950s America. Benny writes for a sci-fi pulp magazine, and following turning in a story about a space station in the future, finds himself at odds with his publisher over the piece. The problem? The captain of the space station is black, which, Benny is told, is “not believable.” Where the episode goes from there is fascinating, heartbreaking, and refreshing from the so much schlock that gets bandied about as “science-fiction”.
I’ve shown “Far Beyond the Stars” to a number of non-Sci-Fi/Star Trek friends and they’ve all agreed it was brilliant, thought-provoking, and incredibly brave. Personally, I believe it’s the finest piece of American science-fiction television.
And it’s not alone.
But if progress isn’t your aim, Deep Space Nine still has something for you. Thirsty for the most brutal war the Federation fought? Wait’ll you get a load of the Dominion. Always thought Star Trek needed a lot more baseball? Imagine an all-Vulcan New York Yankees. Think Q deserves to be punched in the face? So does Sisko.
And don’t worry, the Star Trek label ain’t there just for show. Tribbles, the Mirror Universe, the Eugenics Wars and more Trek main-stays all feature prominently at some point or another. This show does what you hope all descendants do: honors its past while taking steps towards its future. “Trials and Tribble-lations.” ‘Nuff said.
Earlier I mentioned how I believe our modern televised masterpieces have roots leading back to DS9, and I stand by it. Ronald D. Moore, creator of the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica, was one of the series’ main writers, and it showed. The program drew critical acclaim, snagged some Emmys, and was praised by several minority communities for its portrayal of minority communities, an honor not usually bestowed on science-fiction.
Essentially, the show took chances, but that’s obvious. What I don’t think is quite so apparent, is that the show took its biggest chance of all when it decided it would trust us: the audience. Star Trek fans were not expecting was DS9 gave us. They could have easily followed the formula and given us another creature-of-the-week, warp core-shenanigans show and not have risked losing viewership, but instead they trusted us to be mature and responsible enough to handle the sometimes very heavy subject matter that Deep Space 9 explored.
Shows these days know we’re willing to walk with them, but DS9 came out in a time when TV was more entertainment than art, but decided to shake its fist at the world and give us something new. And what an intergalactic gift it was. This show deserves more applause than it’s been given. It deserves to be rediscovered. It deserves to be celebrated as much as Mad Men, The Sopranos, The West Wing, and others.
So, TV friends, please stop recommending Breaking Bad and Freaks and Geeks. Don’t worry, your friends will find them. Instead, pin on your pips, cook some popcorn in the replicator, and start suggesting Star Trek’s most underrated series…
…starting with season 3…
…and then watch Babylon 5 because they also did all of this very well at the same time…
…for real, Babylon 5 is also great.
Adam Esquenazi Douglas is a playwright who was born in Texas, grew up in Arkansas, was raised by a Jewish man and a Cuban woman, and, somehow, he doesn’t have an accent. His plays have been produced across the United States from Los Angeles to New York City, as well as in Canada and Japan.
He is co-host of two podcasts, The JimmyJew Podcast Extravaganza and Schmame Over Level 2, which can be found at http://jimmyjew.libsyn.com/ and http://schmameoverlevel2.libsyn.com/ respectively, as well as on iTunes. He is a contributing writer to www.GamersSchmamers.com.
He currently lives in Brooklyn where he drinks far too much coffee.