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Assignment: Earth

What do you get when you cross Trek with another series? A mess, mostly. It's a likeable mess, to be sure, but still a mess. Perhaps the new series would have sold if Roddenberry had offered the idea on its own instead of as a spin-off.

As it is, he tried to shoehorn a Star Trek episode into his pilot -- or is it the other way around? -- and does a disservice to both. The Gary Seven character, quite full of potential, is not explored. His assistant comes off as miles more interesting (the reason to watch the new show each week), and even his mysterious cat shows more personality. And Seven has some fantastic gear, including his own long-distance transporter, a sassy super-computer, and that cool sci-fi Swiss Army knife. But it seems as if Roddenberry has broken one of his own cardinal rules, and created a show about the gear (and the situation) rather than the people.

It's not that Lansing is miscast. He's really perfect for the role. But there just isn't much role. To establish some mystery, we're given only sketchy information about his origins, but there's nothing there to latch onto. Maybe we're given too much, maybe too little, but one way or another it's not the right amount. It's pretty easy to imagine some of the adventures that these characters might have had -- unless you are a network executive. In that event, there's just not enough here, and this pilot would surely have left you feeling mostly empty.

It's also preachy. The series premise is that aliens have been watching Earth and are now intervening (by way of specially-trained human surrogates) to make sure humanity survives. Like much of Roddenberry's futuristic visions, it envisions a happy outcome, but a series of very unfortunate steps to get there. But to place the fate of humanity in the hands of special agents from outer space is just too much for a television industry that could not accept open-mouth kissing. The blatantly political subject matter, and the writer's lack of subtlety, probably doomed this idea. In fact, making his pilot as part of his ongoing series suggests that he could not sell anyone on the idea of funding a stand-alone pilot -- which says a lot about its chances.

As Trek, it's also rather thin. Time travel presents sci-fi problems which are legion and well known, and even a modestly engaged viewer will wonder why the Enterprise crew didn't check their record tapes BEFORE beginning their mission back in time. This lack of basic research seems like dereliction of duty (and a clear violation of the Temporal Prime Directive -- another concept I hate). Of course, had they done that, Kirk would have had no conflict and there would have been no reason for our heroes to get involved. Of course, there were other ways they could have gotten involved. Suppose that they knew what was supposed to happen and were there to find out how it happened. Then by intercepting Seven's beam-in they inadvertently disrupted things and allowed Seven's nemesis (something he no doubt would have needed were there to be a series) the upper hand. The story could have had the same charm, but engaged our crew as allies of Seven instead of adversaries. It's arguable what difference, if any, this would have made in selling the series, but being seen as aligned with the characters of a successful show might have had an intangible benefit.

The episode must have been terribly difficult and expensive to produce. There are lots of new sets and props, many new effects shots, location/back-lot shooting, and at least one expensive guest star. The expense would partially explain the unfortunate use of stock footage and still images. It's noticeably inferior to other Trek in this point. I'm sure that compromises had to be made in order to justify the great expense needed to create Gary Seven's many effects, but it gets a bit much.

In all, it makes for a very anti-climactic finish to the second season. But let's face it: despite all that is wrong with this episode, the lovely and charming Teri Garr makes it one to watch again and again. It borders on classic Trek for her presence alone.

Rating: Middle (4)