So I’m minding my own business on Sunday morning, just checking Twitter while putting on a pot of coffee, when I come across this incendiary tweet from Bethany Mandel, who is usually reliable source of wisdom, impeccable taste, and good temperament:
Let’s just say it’s fortunate that the coffee was still brewing at that point, because if I had been in the middle of taking a swig then the resulting spit-take would’ve ended up all over my iPad. How could such a well-informed person have such an ill-informed opinion? I thought. Everybody knows that on Star Trek, there’s only one Mack Daddy—and that happens to be one James Tiberius Kirk! Bethany’s ratio on that particular tweet seemed to bear out my opinion, so I just let it go, figuring that there were already enough Defenders of the Shat in her timeline and that I didn’t need to pile on with yet another GIF of Kirk imploring, “Risk...risk is our business!” to prove just how awesome he really is.
But then our very own Steve Berman had to toss in his own endorsement of this heresy:
Et tu, Stevie? Now I know how hurt Spock must’ve felt that time Kirk called him an elf with a hyperactive thyroid in “This Side of Paradise.” Which, by the way, is yet more proof of Kirk’s awesomeness—could you ever even imagine Picard saying that?
Still, as any halfway dedcent writer will tell you, sometimes the best ideas spring from the worst heartbreak—and, since I was getting sick of writing about Alexandria Evita Whatshername (and because Erick lets us publish without asking permission first), I turned Steve’s throwing down of the Trekkian gauntlet into the inspiration for this post. After all, you can’t make Absolut Citron without squeezing a few lemons, right?
So what is it that gives Kirk from the original series the edge over Jean-Luc Picard from Next Generation? To me, it’s kind of like comparing Frank Sinatra to Tony Bennett: Both are amazing, awesome talents, but in the end there can be only one who has the swagger, the cocksure confidence, the moxie to be Chairman of the Board—and that’s Kirk. Picard, to be sure, is the guy you would want to talk the Edo out of executing Wesley Crusher for stepping on somebody’s greenhouse stash, but there’s no question that Kirk is the guy who would have your back in a bar fight. Picard asks the food synthesizer politely for a cup of Earl Grey, hot. Kirk, on the other hand, barges into Dr. McCoy’s sickbay and demands a bottle of Saurian brandy, now! There really is no comparison.
Of course, when I pointed out just a little bit of this on Twitter, Steve countered:
Okay, you got me there, pal! However...
I happened upon a late-night repeat of the TNG episode “The Royale“ not too long ago, and lemme tell ya—it hasn’t aged well. I got the same impression from other episodes as well, back when I tried to show them to my kids on Netflix. They were huge fans of the original and animated series (yeah, yeah—I’m pretty sure Walter Koenig was stoned when he wrote “The Infinite Vulcan,” but by and large the show wasn’t bad), so I thought they might like watching Picard & Co. romping around the galaxy in the Enterprise-D. But then a funny thing happened—the show didn’t really take with them. Whereas we’d spent a couple of months binging through the original series and they had always wanted more, after a couple of TNG eps they were done.
It didn’t take me long to figure out why, because I got the same notion myself. As cheesy and dated as the old show could be, TNG somehow seemed even more dated—a relic of the same era that gave us Airwolf, Knight Rider and The A-Team. Not that there’s anything wrong with those shows, mind you, and they’ll always have a special place in my heart (yes, I remember you too, Misfits of Science), but there isn’t much urge to go back and watch “The Night the Cylons Landed” from Galactica 1980 the same way I watched “Mirror, Mirror” and “The Doomsday Machine“ from classic Trek a hundred times.
And so it goes with Next Gen. While there were certainly a few outstanding episodes that come to mind (“Yesterday’s Enterprise,” “The Best of Both Worlds,“ “The Inner Light” and the episodes where Q was being funny), most of them just aren’t that memorable. As bad as the original series could sometimes be, however, who doesn’t enjoy watching William Shatner wigging out everytime the chicks in “Spock’s Brain” crank up the pain belts? I’ll take that over Picard’s “There are four lights!” any day of the week.
Finally, there are the relationships. As Steve so ably points out above, TNG had a whole seven seasons to develop its characters—but they couldn’t hold a candle to what TOS did in a mere three. Oh sure, the writers would occasionally bring in an old friend of Picard’s for a guest shot, but then they’d kill him off just when things got interesting—think Walker Keel in “Conspiracy.” And probably the most interesting thing Picard had going on—his balancing act with the ship’s doctor Beverly Crusher—was teased a few times, but ultimately amounted to nothing.
Kirk, meanwhile, had McCoy and Spock, who represented different aspects of his own personality and truly made him whole. You really got the sense that these were all men who would do anything for each other. By the time Spock died at the end of Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, you really felt Kirk’s grief—and more than that, you shared it. Compare that to when Data died at the end of Star Trek: Nemesis. Were any tears shed? Because I sure don’t remember any.
Oh, and did I happen to mention that Kirk once made it with an Orion hottie? That’s something even Christopher Pike could never claim, much less Jean-Luc Picard.
So there ya go—a sampling of why I will always be cheering for Team Kirk. That said, you’ll never hear be rooting against Team Picard, because Patrick Stewart has been awesome in everything he‘s ever been in (and yes, I’m including Dune and Life Force). But the Shat is the Shat, and that is that. There will simply never be another one like him.