William Shatner’s delivery has long been an over-tapped well of material for hack stand-up comics. But while Captain Kirk has gone under the microscope, his co-stars have often escaped similar scrutiny. For the purposes of this review, the regular crew of the Enterprise gets a pass. After all, they crammed a five year mission into just three seasons of television. Plus, a measured critique would also have to include Chekov’s wig and Spock’s goatee.
Instead, let’s focus on the co-stars, many of whom clearly relished their roles as intergalactic rogues, vagabonds and ragamuffins. So much scenery was chewed by bit players between 1966-69, it’s no wonder the series was forced off the air.
For the purposes of this demonstration, special effects designed under a strict network television budget rendered quaint by our cynical modern age are not in the running. This means Kirk’s slow-motion battle with the Gorn in “Arena” is out. So, too, are the pile of pizza toppings masquerading as a monster in “The Devil in the Dark” and the giant planet eater from “The Doomsday Machine”, which went on to play the titular role in mid-‘90s German schlock-horror film Killer Condom.
Let us begin with William Campbell, who appeared in two different roles on the original series. In the first, he tackles Trelane in “The Squire of Gothos”, a foppish dandy with a penchant for playing every syllable to the back of the room.
While the episode ends with Trelane’s hissy fit, his use of the harpsichord and mildewed dialogue early in his appearance are where he most makes his mark.
Campbell returns with the same muggy smirk in a different role in the show’s second season, playing Klingon captain Koloth, complete with stick-on facial hair in “The Trouble With Tribbles”. Koloth doesn’t emit much menace in this form, though apparently somebody up in the universe loves him, because Campbell revisited the role a few years later in the animated series and again in the mid-‘90s on Deep Space Nine.
“The Trouble with Tribbles” was a veritable orgy of over the top acting, as Stanley Adams’ take on the corpulent Cyrano Jones threatens to render Campbell’s performance as dull as Kirk’s wrap-around tunic. Jones delivers Shakespeare-in-the-Theme-Park lines with abandon from the moment he first appears, but he really delivers the goods both stealing and attempting to protect a drink during an interminably lengthy fight scene straight out of the Three Stooges.
Also up for consideration is Bruce Mars for his appearance in the first season episode “Shore Leave” as Finnegan, a singularly named jackass with whom Kirk apparently attended the academy. Mars’ Finnegan is so stereotypically Irish, it’s a miracle they didn’t opt to add drunkenness to his repertoire of cackles, jigs and sudden spasms of violence.
Collective recognition might have gone to the rotten kids from “Miri” if not for Hollywood’s clumsiest portrayal of long-haired weirdos not seen on an episode of Dragnet in “The Way to Eden” from Star Trek‘s third season. So appalling are the space hippies, the portrayal single-handedly set back the youth movement with far greater effect than all the Herberts in Richard Nixon’s entire administration was capable of.
Finally, no retrospective of this nature would truly be complete without Harcourt Fenton “Harry” Mudd. The churlish con man was played to the nth degree in two different episodes by Roger C. Carmel, whose loooong vowels and faux drawl were nearly as garish as his bushy moustache and clip-on earring.
The original Star Trek series still remains one of television’s greatest achievements, as much for showing us television’s only limits was its imagination as well as what can happen when network executives and the general public don’t know when they’ve got a good thing going. But for all the flak Shatner has taken over the years for being a ham way back when, it’s time some of that was put into perspective by what was happening around him. The U.S.S. Enterprise blasted its characters and viewers into distant, unknown worlds. Why shouldn’t the actors have been afforded the opportunity to have far too much fun with it?