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Voyage Trekkers Review

on Wed, 10/05/2011 - 00:00

In March of 2008, it was announced that the FOX television network had picked up a new pilot from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia executive producers Rob McElhenney, Glenn Howerton and Charlie Day. The show, entitled Boldly Going Nowhere, was based on a concept from their assistant Adam Stein and in essence took the Always Sunny brand of irreverent humor to the far reaches of outer space. “We grew up watching shows like Star Trek, anything having to do with the future, and it was always about the adventures they’d go on,” McElhenney explained at the time. “We thought it would be funny to watch what goes on in between those adventures, when they’re waiting for the next big thing to happen. How do they keep themselves busy?”

Unfortunately the road from concept to actual television series proved long and arduous for Boldly Going Nowhere. The pilot episode was eventually filmed but it was decided that the script needed to be rewritten. Three years after it was first announced, Glenn Howerton used his Twitter account to proclaim that the project had been officially shelved. Where McElhenney, Howerton and Day may have failed, however, Arizona filmmaker Nathan Blackwell has succeeded with the web series Voyage Trekkers.

Although not It’s Always Sunny in Outer Space per say, Voyage Trekkers does contain its share of irreverent humor that likewise turns the original Star Trek on its head. Captain Jack Sunstrike—actor Adam Rini, who brings more Chris Pine to his performance than William Shatner—is both oblivious and self-centered as well as insensitive, and would fit in with the gang at the fictitious Philadelphia bar Paddy’s Pub rather than on the bridge of the USS Enterprise. First Officer Blake Powell (Logan Blackwell), meanwhile, has a firmer grasp on his duties but is often thwarted by either his captain’s ineptitude or the starship’s malfunctioning technology. Chief Medical Officer Elaine Rena (Gabrielle Van Buren) rounds out the main cast and appears to be the most grounded of the group, even though she is not above joining in on the shenanigans during the many misadventures of the web series.

And the crew of Voyage Trekkers do indeed have numerous “misadventures,” many of which directly relate to the themes of both the original Star Trek and subsequent spin-offs. While the 1960s television series explored such issues as sexism, racism and military conflict within its storylines, so too does Voyage Trekker—albeit more from the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia point of view rather than that of Gene Roddenberry.

In the episode “Rescue from the Lizard Men,” for instance, Captain Sunstrike is unable to tell the difference between the pair of aliens that are holding him at gunpoint. “It is wrong that I can’t tell them apart?” Doctor Rena likewise asks Commander Powell as they initiate a rescue mission. In “Phoning It In,” meanwhile, Sunstrike is more interested in having sex with an alien princess than the raging firefight going on outside the window of his quarters. “Captain, where are you? Decks nineteen through twenty-one are flooding with radiation,” he is told. “Well, seal off decks nineteen through twenty-one,” Sunstrike annoyingly replies. “Duh!”

Star Trek contained numerous technological devices that, although within the realms of “science fiction” during the 1960s, have become reality in the Twenty First Century. Instead of assisting the crew of Voyage Trekkers in their missions, however, modern advances are more of a hindrance. When Commander Powell gains the advantage on the aliens of “Rescue from the Lizard Men,” his phaser unexpectedly announces, “Attention, your weapon is out of ammunition. Please recharge at your convenience.” And in “Social Network,” the trio of Sunstrike, Powell and Rena are all distracted by text messages, cell phones and the latest Captain’s Blog entry during a brief conference with an alien culture.

Creator/writer/director Nathan Blackwell has done an exemplary job in all three of his roles on the web series. The production values of Voyage Trekkers are top notch, including the special effects that give an air of realism to both the internal spaceship scenes and exterior planet shots. The episodes, meanwhile, are tightly crafted installments packed with plenty of comedy. Although the acting trio of Adam Rini, Logan Blackwell and Gabrielle Van Buren are obviously blessed with natural comic-timing, even the mask-wearing aliens create their own share of laughter. A prime example is the performance of Brian Blackwell in the episode “Formal Charges.” Despite the inability to use facial expressions and without uttering a single word, his physical movements speak humorous volumes nonetheless. Taken together, these various aspects make Voyage Trekkers not so much a spoof of Star Trek but a legitimately original web series in its own right.

“I wish it was less rare that when you get a comedy script, you laugh out loud,” FOX president Kevin Reilly remarked in regards to Boldly Going Nowhere. “It’s a concept I’ve seen developed before badly, many times. These guys nailed it.”

The same can be said of Voyage Trekkers.

Anthony Letizia (October 5, 2011)

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