The name of the game is called… Fizzbin

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I'm looking forward to finding out How William Shatner Changed the World on the History Channel, but in this post-lapsarian world where there's not a single version of Star Trek or Star Wars in production, I suspect the design of the cell phone is pretty much the beginning and the end of popular science fiction-themed technological developments. Teleportation, which was pioneered in the "Al" David Hedison version of The Fly before it came to Trek, has decayed into little more than the terrible truth about telecommuting. Dr. Who's time-traveling police callbox lingers on only in the form of the JC Decaux pay toilet. You might stretch and claim the Blackberry is the real-life Tricorder; you could buy yourself a Soma Mobile Star Trek Communicator. Ultimately, though, I think the History Channel is right in the suggestion of its title: It was Shatner's incredible skill as a performer, rather than anything organic in the Trek vision of the future, that sold this stuff.

It's the same skill that allows Shatner to wear a wig that is almost surreally unconvincing, to come out with an album as wonderful and ambtious as Has Been long after the acid tide of irony and self-awareness would have killed a lesser actor. It's the thespian version of The Right Stuff—a quality beyond conviction or talent or training: Whether the material is good or ridiculous, whether he knows it's ridiculous or he doesn't, whether he's in on the joke or blissfully un-self-aware, the only thing that matters is that Shatner always believes in it. That's why he can make the crappiest-looking Feinberg prop look just persuasive enough—because even if you don't believe for a minute that toilet-paper-roll and tinfoil contraption he's holding is really a phaser or bottle of Romulan brandy, you never doubt for an instant that Shatner believes it's real. I can't bring myself to watch the lawyer show he's on with James Spader and Candice Bergen: It looks too much like Carousel for past-prime actors. But I'm glad he's getting recognized for making our world a better place. I'd like to see Gil Gerard do that!

Stim.com's page of real tricorders.

Actual rules of fizzbin.

Tri-dimensional chess variants.

NEXT: Treason at The New York Times

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  1. Boston Legal’s actually kind of clever. Shatner is a gas to watch. He chews scenery and steal scenes like crazy. And Spader makes a good foil/sidekick.

  2. KHAAAAAN!!!

  3. I loved Has Been. The phrase “I can’t get behind that” has entered my lexicon.

  4. Shatner is the reason that none of the other Star Trek series came close to the original – without Kirk’s presence on the bridge, it’s just cheesy sci-fi. Patrick Stewart was a good enough actor to make TNG respectable, but you just couldn’t imagine Picard throwing down and punching a fool.

    Oh, and ditto on the brilliance of Has Been. If you download one song this week, get his rendition of “Common People”.

  5. …without Kirk’s presence on the bridge, it’s just cheesy sci-fi.

    With Kirk, by contrast, it’s extra cheesy.

  6. For my money, Deep Space 9 was the best of all of the new treks

  7. Patrick Stewart was a good enough actor to make TNG respectable, but you just couldn’t imagine Picard throwing down and punching a fool.

    Yeah, but Avery Brooks was good enough that he could sell Sisko doing that.

  8. Denny Crane!

  9. Remember Avery Brooks as “Hawk” in the T.V. version (mediocre) of the ‘Spencer’ (terrific) novels? He was the single outstanding reason to watch the show.

  10. The trouble with Deep Space 9 was that it coexisted on TV with the far superior Babylon 5. Star Trek and TNG deserve props for being the forerunners of all of the great sci-fi that’s followed them, but at this point it just can’t compete.

  11. excellent post!

  12. …far superior Babylon 5.

    Bab5 had it moments, but someone needs to tell Straczynski (sp?) that he should stay away from comedy. They would often try to do “funny” bits on the show that were turn-the-channel-now painful.

  13. Screw “real tricorders.” Until someone can wave a groovy lit salt shaker over an ailing part of my body and have it instantly heal, the future has not arrived.

  14. I think they key to Star Trek’s (the original, not the Soap-Opera-In-Space forumlaic POSs that followed) influence on technology was the inspiration of design goals. Puncture-free injections, remote diagnostic tools, remote sensing in general, sliding doors that operate quickly (that one is still a dream), the first spaceship that looks like it was designed to stay in space…etc.

    That had a profound affect on the guys designing these devices. Whether it was the first or even the best is kind of irrelevant.

    Now, can we admit most of The Next Generation will be lucky to have Shatner’s career? The only one of them with a chance is Brent Spiner, because he has that body of Night Court work to fall back on.

  15. Say what you will, but I says Voyager was the best Trek

    A Captain I could respect enough to serve under
    Sworn enemies of the Federation as crew
    An honest-to-nonexistent-god Vulcan
    Seven of Nine

  16. Warren, you’re nuts. The only reason to watch that show was that yummy spinner they had the first few seasons. Once they replaced her with a siliconed Barbie Doll, I dropped it like a hot tribble.

  17. Warren, you’re nuts. The only reason to watch that show was that yummy spinner they had the first few seasons. Once they replaced her with a siliconed Barbie Doll, I dropped it like a hot tribble.

  18. Warren, I’m with you. I prefered Voyager too. Maybe that’s just me being a gay man and Janeway always came off as a fag-hag. The doctor became a good character on there too.

    I dreaded Deep Space 9. Seemed like a show about a truck stop. But to each his own.

    If you watch the movies, the cast from the original series ones are so much better than the next generation ones. Their relationships seemed much more realistic as long term co-workers than the TNG ones did.

    And no grautituous mention of Shatner’s esperanto language film ‘Incubus’? SOmeone’s getting sloppy! 🙂

  19. you just couldn’t imagine Picard

    Patrick Stewart, an actor who has perfected montone expression even more than Lee Majors. Plus, he’s able to do it while reciting Shakespeare, which turns it into high-minded monotone expression.

    I couldn’t imagine Picard betraying emotion if he were gang raped with rusty phasers by a legion of borg faggots. Which is a large part of why the Star Trek series he was in bored the living piss out of me.

  20. At first I thought this post was about the great wizard Fizban.

  21. thoreau, you’re always off topic. We’re talking about borg faggots.

    And what the hell are you doing up? You don’t have to feed the lab rats, do you?

  22. Boston Legal has to be one of the most asinine shows in existence. The writing is terrible, the filming is contrived and the cast…

    “Carousel for past-prime actors” might be the single most accurate description I could imagine.

  23. Count me a fan of Voyager too. Janeway could kick Kirk’s and Picard’s butts together.

  24. Uh, huh. Let’s put it this way–the entire Voyager series would’ve been one episode of TOS. Maybe two of ST-TNG (which would’ve been resolved with a phase modulation of something).

    Voyager did have Seven-of-Nine, which is the only thing I remember liking about it.

  25. I’m not a Trekker or Trekkie or anything, and never really watched much of anything except the original series and the movies, but y’all talking about Picard not being emotional have clearly not seen First Contact, I think.

  26. Voyager was great, DS9 was simply a soap opera. That wouldn’t have been too bad, but Major Kira became too annoying to watch.

  27. The rumor of William Shatner’s overacting is greatly exaggerated. This, despite the fact that Jim Carrey, overactor par excellence, did a good Kirk on an In Living Color sketch where Louis Farrkhan and his disciples (“Mint”?) take over the Enterprise by turning all the nonwhite/alien crew against the captain.

    And also despite the fact that TV Guide once covered writers making celebrities into mathematical equations, where one came out:

    Lawrence Olivier – Lawrence Olivier = William Shatner.

    Alot of problems were, as the article states, the inept bombast of Roddenberry’s scripting. Shatner managed through sheer hamminess to take that “Eee plabneesta; we the people” hypercorny speech and plot and turn it into some kind of dignity. Or the “risk, risk is our business” speech.

  28. “Lawrence Olivier – Lawrence Olivier = William Shatner.”

    I had heard that one from Penn Gillette, who was hosting an Outer Limits marathon on some cable network years and years ago. That makes me wonder who stole it first.

  29. Having watched last night as Bill changed the world, I have to agree with the title.

    It wasn’t cell phones, medical scanning equipment, and transporters that Star Trek sold, it was the simple idea that technology solves problems.

    For instance, a primary ST premise is that in the future everyone would be well-fed. Note that all the gloom-&-doom folks who spent the 20th century predicting famine are opening the 21st complaining about obesity.

    I think that resonates with our collective experience. I have always found it easier to see the future reflected in ST than I have in Logan’s Run or Blade Runner.

    According to last night’s show the one director who believes technology is malignant, and created DS9, was the least successful in terms of attracting viewers.

    The bug I find in the History Channel program is the idea that ST invented the “Sci-Fi challenges innovators” dynamic. NOT.

  30. I suspect the design of the cell phone is pretty much the beginning and the end of popular science fiction-themed technological developments.

    The beginning? What about Bob Heinlein’s waterbed.

    The end? Who knows? But a new Taser has just been introduced, and several other less-lethal devices are under development. And room-sized X-ray machines are totally obsolete. As are room-sized calculating machines. And there’s voice recognition, and…

    So there.

  31. Romulan ale. Sorian brandy.

  32. For instance, a primary ST premise is that in the future everyone would be well-fed.

    But didn’t every ST also have in its history a catastrophic war or other event that took humanity to the brink (and brought it to its senses?) some time between now and then?

  33. Issac, we offered the world ORDER!

  34. Mal shot first.

  35. The original Star Trek is my favorite.
    What other 3-season show had such impact?
    It didn’t need much high tech film props,
    just some fans who didn’t need all that.

    Tim the Tool Guy had a good take off on Shatner.
    You either like Shatner or not, never neutral,
    but he who doesn’t like the character Spock,
    is not someone to be suspected, not trusted.
    Capt. Kirk, Spock, and Doc McCoy were powerful,
    being the knight, the bishop, and the rook respectively. The pawns were the red shirts.
    “Beam me aboard, Scotty!”
    “She won’t take any more!”

  36. “The original Star Trek is my favorite.
    What other 3-season show had such impact?”

    Gilligan’s Island, the most libertarian TV series of all time.

  37. The Shat-man is a hoot in How Shatner Changed…
    Jonathan Frakes (“Riker”) also has a small part. Frakes actually has pretty good comedy timing; he should do more with it. God knows, far less funny people have their own sitcoms…

    BTW: here’s a Trek joke: You know what they sall Star Trek in Japan?

    Sulu – Master Navigator

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