Saturday, September 10, 2016

Star Trek 50th Anniversary Week: "More Tribbles, More Troubles"

It's Stardate 5392.4, and the U.S.S.Enterprise leads a convoy of robot ships and their grain shipment to Sherman's Planet, a developing world where both the United Federation of Planets and Klingon Empire have staked a claim.

The Enterprise must divert course, however, to rescue a single-man spaceship under attack by a Klingon battle-cruiser. Aboard that tiny ship is Cyrano Jones, "intergalactic trader and general nuisance."  

The Klingons, lead by Commander Koloth, accuse Jones of being an "environmental saboteur" and will stop at nothing to secure his capture, including invade Federation space and utilize a new weapon, a "projected stasis field."

While Kirk contends with the Klingons, he must also tussle with Jones, who has "genetically altered" his multitudinous tribbles so that they don't reproduce.  Instead, they merely grow to colossal size...

Cyrano has also brought aboard another animal, a genetically-engineered tribble predator called a "glommer..."

I enjoy tribbles as much as the next Trekker, but the Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973) sequel "More Tribbles, More Troubles" reminds me of a great line from the classic, live-action tribble episode: 

"Too much of anything, even love, is not necessarily a good thing."

Given the possibilities of Star Trek in animation, this is a story that might have gazed at tribbles from almost any viewpoint, or in any environment.  

What if they -- cute little parasites -- got loose on a Federation world and were causing starvation and famine? 

What if the Enterprise found the tribble home-world?  

What if we saw an episode from the Klingon perspective, in which the tribbles represented an environmental threat?

Those are just a few story-telling possibilities that would have extended audience understanding and enjoyment of those delightful, purring little fur-balls.

But instead, "More Tribbles, More Troubles" is content to rehash all the funny scenes from "The Trouble with Tribbles" and hope that the audience will find them funny on witnessing them a second time.  

Some specific examples:

A tribble decides to make a nest of Captain Kirk's command chair, much like one did in the live-action show.  

In this animated episode, the tribbles get into the all-important grain and eat it, just like they did on K-7.  

Here, a put-upon Captain Kirk gets buried in a pile of tribbles, just as he did near the storage compartments of that space station. 

And, in the end, the answer is to beam the tribbles over to a Klingon ship, just as it was before.

Both episodes even end with a play on words from Scotty, replacing "trouble" with "tribble."

I'm mindful that this story was designed for children, to air on Saturday mornings, but Star Trek, even at its lightest ought to be more than play time with tribbles, and most other episodes of this Saturday morning series certainly are.   

There will no doubt be people who note in defense that this episode is supposed to be fun, or just plain funny,  and I agree that this was no doubt the intention.  But the massive, wholesale repetition of concepts and ideas does a lot to mitigate any sense of fun the episode hopes to engender.  

Deep Space Nine's "meta" tribble episode, "Trials and Tribble-ations" is a lot more fun and original than this particular episode of the animated series is.  Overall, there's a self-congratulatory feel underlying "More Tribbles, More Troubles."  It feels like a victory lap instead of an original, self-contained story.

I know the budgets were low on this series, but it's also a shame that the tribbles are portrayed here as identical....and pink. In the original episode, the tribbles showed individuality in size, shape, color and movement. Here, not so, and since they are the focus of the story, their uniform presentation is disappointing.

Also, "More Troubles, More Tribbles" doesn't really examine any of the moral implications of its narrative. 

Kirk stands by and watches as a glommer devours a living tribble, and doesn't say a word, or complain about it being, well, inhumane.  I know tribbles are "just' animals, but for a series that had recently presented a moving story in "Yesteryear" about the bond between human and pet, "More Tribbles, More Troubles" feels like a big step backwards.    

Also, I've never been really happy with the idea of beaming tribbles onto a Klingon ship as the solution of the week.  It got a pass on the live action show because the resolution was funny and unexpected.    But by using it again, "More Tribbles, More Troubles" gives audiences time to think about the implications. 

Essentially, Scotty is sending those tribbles over to the Klingons to die.  

Does anyone believe that the Klingons won't start murdering the tribbles --  creatures they consider vermin -- to clean up their battle ship?

Star Trek isn't often about passing your problems on to someone else -- passing the buck, as it were -- so I find it doubly disappointing that this episode repeats all the plot-points of "The Trouble with Tribbles," and then re-asserts a resolution that was borderline questionable in the first place.   

All those tribbles may be a nuisance, and they may be a threat.  But do they deserve to be exterminated by Klingons, when they weren't even responsible for leaving their natural environment in the first place?

Yep, too much of anything, even tribbles, isn't necessarily a good thing...

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