Ask the chief


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Ask the Chief <font style="color:#55F;">3</font>/27/98


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First, some comments from previous columns . . .

In Search of Voyager

Beginning with Shirley Kolb's comments in the

1/16/98 column

Tom Elmore of Columbia SC: Thought you might find this interesting. David Bauder of the Associated Press writes today (3/24/98) that WB has now beaten UPN for 15 consecutive weaks

including the vital February sweeps period. It was the first time that WB did

not finish last during the sweeps period. He also states that WB is the top

rated network among teen-agers, with an average viewer age of 24.

The UPN death watch continues.
Robert J. Woolley: [Concerning "Mortal Coil"]: How *convenient* for Seven to suddenly remember, "Oh, by the way, Captain, I can bring people back from the dead." Might this not have been a useful item to

mention previously? And shouldn't Janeway sit her down and say, "OK, Seven,

anything else useful you can do that you forgot to mention? Make us invisible?

Zap us back to earth? Make our shields invincible? Raise all our IQs by 200


And here I was going to go into a long riff about how there is no way that any

technology is going to be able to restore brain cellular integrity and function

after 18 hours of death and room temperature storage. But I've decided against

it, for two reasons. First, there will always be the naysayers with the refrain,

"Well, you can never tell what 4 centuries of technological progess will bring."

And there's no convincing argument against that. All I can say is that I can

believe in dermal regenerators and bone knitters and cortical stimulators and

non-surgical surgery and artificial hearts and VISORs and rebuilding people from

just their DNA, but not this!

But the main reason for not examining this in more detail is that I just don't

care. I don't care about Neelix, about Voyager, about the series. I actually

spent most of this episode pondering why I was feeling so completely apathetic.

This is the best way I've thought of to express it:

We have to approach any dramatic TV program with a willingness to suspend

disbelief to *some* degree. This may be a minor degree for shows that try hard

to be realistic (e.g., Homicide); somewhat more for a show like X-Files that

deliberately pushes the boundaries of plausibility mixed with reality; and a

large degree for futuristic sci-fi that occurs on other planets. That we are

willing to give this suspension of disbelief (let's call it SOD) is implicit in

turning on the set in the first place.
If the story is sound, the drama genuine, the characters interesting, the

emotions familiar, our SOD is rewarded, and we are more willing to bring that

SOD back to the next episode. Conversely, if we get bad acting, one-dimensional

characters, poor pacing of the plot, etc., we feel cheated and less likely to

grant the SOD the next time (if we tune in at all).
More broadly, when a series is consistently rewarding, we're willing to overlook

the occasional clunker (STTNG's "Masks" come to mind), just as we'll keep going

back to a favorite restaurant in spite of one bad meal. But if our SOD is

consistently abused, we become less willing to grant it.

That's what has been happening to me with Voyager. There have been so many

disappointing episodes that my willingness to give it my SOD has been rapidly

eroding, and I'm afraid it's a vicious cycle. With less SOD, one's perceptino

changes; the flaws and implausibility loom ever larger, until they completely

overwhelm any virtue the story might have. The last several episodes, I've found

that with Voyager: the silliness all seems magnified. I find myself making the

same kinds of comments (mentally) that non-fans make when watching sci-fi that I

enjoy. That this is largely a subjective process is evident by the Brash

Reflections files: episodes that I have found unbearably ridiculous have been

hailed by others as great. Things that make me roll my eyes are making others

exclaim "Cool!" I have changed. Nitpicking is supposed to be fun--finding flaws

in a show that you genuinely enjoyed. But now I find myself feeling more

mean-spirited about it, because I'm losing the underlying enjoyment. (Note from Phil: Some times, it *does* take some effort to remain light-hearted!)

Even with this episode, objectively I can see that it's tackling a really

interesting question: is something ineffable and supernatural lost at death

which no degree of technological mastery of biology can overcome? It seems to me

they cheated on the drama by an impossibly simplistic and schmaltzy ending. (A

little girl needing him to chase monsters instantly reverses the deep

psychological trauma of having been dead, and of losing one's lifetime of

faith.) But maybe a year or two ago I would have found this acceptable, because

of granting the SOD. But not now.

I think that this process, like cortical necrosis, has reached the point of

irreversibility (absent a transfusion of Borg nanoprobes). If there were no new

episodes, I wouldn't much care--certainly nothing like the disappointment and

sensation of being cheated that I felt for days after viewing the last new

episode of STTNG. Lately when I'm watching, I keep thinking that I'd really

rather be reading a good novel. And I think that one of these weeks, that's what

I'm going to be doing on Wednesday nights.
And thus do series die....

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