Jump to content

Is Star Trek TOS really a campy show?


Recommended Posts

So I am opening this thread so that I don't derail the Thrawn thread.  In that thread, Tank had stated Star Trek TOS is camp.  I disagree with that assessment.  Below are those quotes:

 On 12/2/2020 at 11:08 AM, Tank said:

Star Wars is not campy.

Batman 66 is campy. The original Star Trek is camp. Camp is intentionally making something over the top while at the same time employing a bit sarcasm or satire about the era in which it was made (or inhabits if it’s a throwback) so that in later years it’s looked back on as humorous exaggeration.

 

  

 

On 12/2/2020 at 12:03 PM, Zathras said:

Wait, I gotta defend Star Trek TOS.

Pop culture has caused TOS to be considered camp, but I  maintain that Star Trek TOS is not camp, and was not intended to be. It's just that TOS is more of a victim of the standards of TV acting and writing prevalent in the 1960s, being modeled, in part, after westerns and action of the time, and sci fi not being what I call "professionalized" like it is today.   Sure, there are some silly episodes, but they are mostly from the 3rd season, where most fans agree there was a drop in quality, when Friedberger took over.  I defy you to call episodes like Balance of Terror, Conscience of the King, Galileo Seven,  Space Seed, Court Martial, The Changeling, Doomsday Machine, Journey to Babel, Ultimate Computer, etc, etc camp.  I'd say at least a good 1/3 of the episodes are intended to be serious drama and allegory.  Maybe another third can be considered obsolete sci fi, because they are dated.  Maybe 1/3 has elements of camp (by today's standards) and lame humor in them.  But I don't think TOS can be classified as camp, because it wasn't originally intended to be.

If you really want camp in a Star Trek show, look no further than the Mary Sue romp that is Star Trek Discovery. That is one jumbled hot mess of Magical McGuffins where Michael Burnham is nigh omnipotent and can do no wrong, established continuity and world building is brushed aside and demed unimportant, has a host of fatally flawed and unprofessional characters that have no business on a star ship,  and everyone has a good cry at least once an episode.

 

20 hours ago, Tank said:

Well now we have to fight!

I love TOS, I was not being pejorative. But it was very much NOT played straight. You're right in that unless you're doing a throwback, camp is something that comes later. But at the same time, TOS leaned HARD into the garish colors, over the top line delivery, and action. It was meant to be larger than life, not unlike a comic book. So was Batman. So was Lost In Space. They were affected where as shows like Gunsmoke, Mission Impossible or Dragnet were not.

I wouldn't classify Disco as camp. I hate the term Mary Sue, but I have to acknowledge S1-2 Burnham was pushing it. Season 3 has been a great course correction-- it's actually where the show should have started. It is over the top and bombastic, but that's what camp means either.

  

 

Link to post
Share on other sites

Now, for my response to your last quote, Tank.  I agree Disco isn't camp.  I was being hyperbolic when I said that, mainly because I just effing hate that show.  I have seen the first 2 seasons, and whether you like or hate the term, Michael Burnham is ABSOLUTELY the definition of Mary Sue.  I have not seen season 3 yet, but from what I have been spoiled on, other than getting out of the way of established continuity, it still seems to suffer from the same issues of the first 2 seasons (Only Michael Burnham could jump forward nearly 1000 years, and can proceed to lecture admirals of future Star Fleet on what's what.  The writing on that show is terrible and  by people who clearly have very little to know knowledge of Star Trek lore, or people who just don't care about it.  I won't drift too much into why I hate that show, because there is another thread on Discovery I have commented at length.  I would go as far as to say the ONLY thing they got right on Disco in seasons 1 & 2 is Captain Pike and the Enterprise.  If they were going to do a prequel, THAT is what I would have liked to see, and a show is in development the last I heard.  I just hope they follow a formula closer to classic Trek (TOW/TNG/DS9).  But, yes Tank, Disco is not intended to be camp, nor do I actually think it does fit the definition.  I was just taking a cheap shot at a show I think sucks.

Now, the topic at hand.  Now, I do understand how you define camp and I quite agree.  Where I part company is that I don't think Star Trek TOS was intended to be camp. That is the key right there.  Intent.   It may be considered camp now, by younger generations, but it was not originally intended to be camp.  Instead, it is 1960s sci fi, which has changed significantly since the movie 2001.  Was sci fi fantastic, and otherworldly? Sure.  Was sci fi looked down upon back then? Certainly.  Was TOS not taken seriously by a lot of people? Definitely.  But that by itself doesn't make   The characters ARE in fact played straight.  Even Kirk, who has a reputation to chew scenery, is acting in a way closer to stage acting.  TOS is no more camp than Twilight Zone or the Outer Limits were.  Indeed, TOS was heavily influenced by Forbidden Planet and Twilight Zone, neither were campy shows in the way Munsters, Addams Family, Batman, or Gilligan's Island were.  That, to me is the difference.

Link to post
Share on other sites
2 minutes ago, captainbleh said:

It's often a horror show

Yes, actually you have a good point, there.  Devil in the Dark, Operation Annihilate!, Man Trap, What little girls are made of, Where No Man has Gone Before, all have elements of horror, or even are horror stories.

Link to post
Share on other sites

It's just something I've thrown out there because I thought it was revelant. I remember watching a couple of people talking about ST:TMP on YouTube a while ago and they used the horror aspects of that, including the sound design and visuals, to make similar observations about TOS.

ST:TMP might be a useful reference because that definitely isn't camp, or isn't intended to be.

I'll try and revisit this when I don't have a headache, but I'm in the not-camp camp for now. I don't remember watching any of the serious / dramatic / allegorical TOS episodes and thinking they weren't played straight or reacting to them as if they were.

(I don't have strong opinions about it)

Link to post
Share on other sites
14 minutes ago, Tank said:

I didn’t say they were shooting for camp, I just said they were not playing it straight. They were over the top on purpose.

Well, some of the lighter-hearted episodes or scenes, I can see that.  Also, sci fi as a genre inherently is going to be over the top, unless you are talking about hard sci fi.  But, the series as a whole, I think was mostly played straight.  What makes you say the show itself was not played straight and over the top?  Also, I'm asking because I just am curious what your opinion is, and why you think it.  Not that I am mad or playing gotchya.

 

 

Link to post
Share on other sites

I've never really understood what Susan Sontag was saying on the subject. I have sometimes suspected she didn't understand what she was saying on the subject. Having your opinions about the nature of a work of art or your opinions about the intentions of the artist dictated entirely by how other audience members besides yourself react to it doesn't make a whole hell of a lot of sense to me.

 

What is camp? What isn't? Is Star Trek ('66-'69) camp? Is Batman ('66-'68) camp? Are any of these questions actually answerable without peeking over someone else's shoulder to see what they came up with? I don't get it. I've never been to a bookstore or a Blockbuster Video ® or any other commercially accessible point of sale for any medium of art where there was a camp section; I don't think it counts as an actual genre to any one but a handful of enthusiasts.

 

None of these people can even agree on what is or isn't camp. Throw these people in a room and ask them to settle for themselves which of the following is camp and which isn't :

 

  • the original Dan DeCarlo strips for Josie and the Pussycats

  • the Hanna-Barbera animated show Josie and the Pussycats ('70-'71)

  • the vinyl album of music from the selfsame show

  • the movie from 2001

  • the currently ongoing television show Riverdale ('17-'39)

  • the stage show parody Roberto Aguirre-Sasca got sued for putting on in the early oughts

  • the comic book Afterlife with Archie where they're all zombies and witches and whatever

 

And some of the people who believe in camp will insist all of these are, or none of 'em are, or have elaborately worked out schema why some are or some aren't. But they won't agree. There won't even be fuzzy boundaries to the category.

 

Which episodes of Star Trek ('66-'69) are camp? Which ones are the campiest? Don't talk to me in broad generalities, don't even talk to me about individual characters or scenes, line up all the episodes of the show in order of campiness. Which episode was the least camp? Where's the scampi?

 

tldr = Anything that provokes a certain kind of laughter from a certain kind of person counts as 'camp' to someone or other, as near as I can tell. So the decision about whether or not something is camp is ultimately just a judgment at a distance about what another member of the audience feels rather than how you yourself react to it.

Link to post
Share on other sites

The Monkeys is camp.

The Munsters is Camp.

The Adams Family is Camp.

Beverly Hillbillies is camp.

 

Star Trek TOS is not camp. The 1st season tackled modern day issues like prejudice, equality, war, slavery and not interfering with other cultures.  I think that some things were changed in the 2nd and 3rd seasons to appeal to the executives at CBS, but they still got cut after season 3. Episodes like the Trouble With Tribbles and Mud's Women were considered campy and they may very well have been on purpose, but overall, most ot the episodes weren't treated as such.

Link to post
Share on other sites
 
Quote

 

adjective: camp
  1. deliberately exaggerated and theatrical in style, typically for humorous effect.

 

 
You are right about the first part of this definition.  I am just not sure you have demonstrated the second part, with exception to certain TOS episodes and scenes.
 
I'm not saying that to be a jerk, I just don't think TOS, as a whole, qualifies, and you have not demonstrated otherwise.  Put another way, The Orville is CAMP, in addition to being satire.  TOS is not.
Link to post
Share on other sites

The Orville doesn't know what it wants to be. I like it, but it is uneven.

And again, I am just going to say the same thing. Trek was played over the top, more often than you say, which has resulted in it being high camp NOW. It may not have been intended to be camp at the time obviously, but playing it larger than life certainly set them up for it.

 

Link to post
Share on other sites

I can live with that, because I said much the same thing earlier, too.  It was definitely larger than life, and sometimes the acting was very much like stage acting.  I think we were just having a difference over semantics, because camp to me, denotes a humorous bent to it.  Except for the comic relief scenes, or episodes like A Piece of the Action, I don't think it was intended to be over the top for comical reasons (exceptions notwithstanding).  I chalk that up to TV being very different than it is today. 

In any event, thank you for clearing that up for me.

Link to post
Share on other sites
9 hours ago, Tank said:

The Orville doesn't know what it wants to be. I like it, but it is uneven.

And again, I am just going to say the same thing. Trek was played over the top, more often than you say, which has resulted in it being high camp NOW. It may not have been intended to be camp at the time obviously, but playing it larger than life certainly set them up for it.

 

I think that it gives off that impression, because most of the scenes were put together on large stages, meant to represent being in larger places then they actually were. The sound technology they had was low budget, so they were forced to act like they were in a play on a stage, with exaggerated pronunciations of their dialogue, to ensure that the overhead mics picked up their voices. William Shatner didn't help with that image, because he tended to over-act his part a bit too much in the close up scenes. 

 

The sets also looked really cheap, because they were. It gave off the impression of being on the set of Saturday Night Live, because the studios couldn't invest a lot of money into the show, or the special effects.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Every time I hear people say TOS sets were cheap and low budget, I want to rip my teeth out.  For its time, TOS was a very expensive TV show.  The technology wasn't there back then, like it is today.  By today's standards, sure, it looks cheap,  but not in its day.  People forget this is a show from a half century ago.  Its not that they were cheap, it's just how far stage technology and special effects have come.

 

 

Link to post
Share on other sites
12 hours ago, Zathras said:

Every time I hear people say TOS sets were cheap and low budget, I want to rip my teeth out.  For its time, TOS was a very expensive TV show.  The technology wasn't there back then, like it is today.  By today's standards, sure, it looks cheap,  but not in its day.  People forget this is a show from a half century ago.  Its not that they were cheap, it's just how far stage technology and special effects have come.

 

 

Most of the stuff is pretty good, especially McCoys lab, but then you have stuff like the halls on the ship. Most of it is really good, but then you goofy red and yellow molded objects glued to the walls,  that are supposed to look like they perform a function. It's bad, even for the 60s. Then, most of the planets they land on have paper rocks and a few dead looking stalks of wheat coming from the ground. Every planet seems to have those same rocks. The sets themselves look like someone just threw up some walls and tried to cover it up with as many distracting items as they could, and the floors look like those of stage. I think that we saw more and more of these problems, during the final season, when the budgets were probably cut to a minimum.

The one that really probably sets people off the most, is the characters in the rubber suits. They look so bad, that they make the old Godzilla look somewhat decent.

I'll say this though. I got to see all of the cool props from TOS at the Star Trek Experience in Las Vegas. There was a lot of care and detail put into those devices. 

 

This guy built an exact replica of the TOS set and turned it into a museum. It's really cool.

 

 

Link to post
Share on other sites
10 hours ago, Gamevet said:

Most of the stuff is pretty good, especially McCoys lab, but then you have stuff like the halls on the ship. Most of it is really good, but then you goofy red and yellow molded objects glued to the walls,  that are supposed to look like they perform a function. It's bad, even for the 60s. Then, most of the planets they land on have paper rocks and a few dead looking stalks of wheat coming from the ground. Every planet seems to have those same rocks. The sets themselves look like someone just threw up some walls and tried to cover it up with as many distracting items as they could, and the floors look like those of stage. I think that we saw more and more of these problems, during the final season, when the budgets were probably cut to a minimum.

The one that really probably sets people off the most, is the characters in the rubber suits. They look so bad, that they make the old Godzilla look somewhat decent.

I'll say this though. I got to see all of the cool props from TOS at the Star Trek Experience in Las Vegas. There was a lot of care and detail put into those devices. 

 

This guy built an exact replica of the TOS set and turned it into a museum. It's really cool.

 

 

Thank you for the thoughtful reply Gamevet.  I was being hyperbolic in my last response and not bagging on you, just so you know. :)

Like I alluded to earlier, this goes to context.   First off, again, they spent a lot of money on this show back in the day, but FX hadn't progressed to the point it is, even by 2001 ASO, or ANH.  When it comes to the corridors and hallways if the Enterprise in TOS, if you have ever been on a naval ship like the USS Midway (a WW2 aircraft carrier)in San Diego, you can look at the enterprise internal sets and see how they resemble real world ships of the time.  Also, keep in mind the TVs back then were no where near the resolution they are now.  I know, because I grew up with an early 1970s Zenith TV (hand me down from my parents) until the mid 1980s!  The picture sucked! So, details that we see now in remastered DVDs or Bluray for TOS, where you see how fake the rocks are, weren't nearly as noticeable on those old TVs.

I would also say the main focus was the characters and their acting.  Sure, I agree it was over the top at times. Maybe in camp territory, at times, like THT and Tank mentioned.  But the overall show isn't camp, and when they were on their game, the acting of Nimoy, Kelly, and even Shatner was  excellent.  Also, like I was saying earlier, acting methods in the 1960s is different than it is today, and was more like stage acting.  SO, when you judge the acting, you have to take that into account.

As for the posted pic of the replica of the bridge, I have heard if that too.  It does indeed look great!  Closest thing I have seen in person was a traveling exhibit of the bridge (not sure if it was a replica or the original), but close up, it does look fake.  That museum replica you posted may even be put together better than the original TV version. 

Link to post
Share on other sites

Yeah, I watched the syndicated episodes of Star Trek in the early 70s. They did air it at 6 o'clock in Fridays. There was no cable television back then and the family television was a 19" color tv. My dad would bowl on Friday nights, so sometimes the bar would have their projection screen television on in the back room, where I could watch an episode. They must of had a really great antenna, because I seem to recall the picture quality being really nice.

 

I think it was an episode of American Pickers, where someone had the old navigation console from the show. It was in pretty bad shape and you could see how cheaply thrown together it was.

 

 

Link to post
Share on other sites

Yeah. Star Trek wasn't cheap. It had a decent budget-- that's just how things were between the designs and the level of details that would show on TV. There's not really anything to compare it to say it was cheap. Off the top of my head, there was only one other show in that era that took place on a spaceship and that was Lost in Space. (Though, I suppose you could also count Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea). And it's production design and budget were similar.

THAT is actually a great example of why I say Trek is camp. If you watch the pilot of Lost In Space, which was black and white due to budget, the tone was entirely different. Same actors, same writers-- but they were playing it very straight. They intentionally made the tone lighter and more fun as the show went on-- especially when it transitioned to color. It goes hand in hand with Trek. So again, I say that while no one set out to be camp, because that designation requires nostalgia, TOS was not played as a straight, gritty space adventure. It was intentionally over the top at times for the sake of being fun. You take fun and over the top, and play up the lighting and set design to reflect that, then add a few decades to look back, and you get camp.

 

Link to post
Share on other sites

I seem to remember one of the selling points for TOS was that they could visit Earth-like planets and use sets or props from other shows (EG Miri, Patterns of Force, A Piece of the Action), which saved them money on episode costs.  Also, the transporter was created so that they didn't have to show a shuttle craft every episode, and came up with the idea of beaming down.  I always thought that those were such creatives solution to help make TOS affordable enough to make.  

As for camp, it does not really  bother me that some (perhaps a lot) of people think of  TOS, and by extension, the rest of Classic Trek as camp.  It's not my place to tell someone that they should not see something as campy, if they see it as such.  But, the reason I don't think of TOS in particular as camp (for the most part, anyway) is that I have come to think of TOS as almost like plays.  Additionally, what a lot of episodes were trying to do, was convey a message in allegorical terms, and had messages of commentary on certain social issues of the day (for example, A Private Little War was commentary on the Viet Nam war, but in allegorical form).  For me, at least, if a show has a message, it transcends simple camp.  Perhaps having been played up a bit was what allowed TOS to get away with things a bit, and present a message that might not otherwise been able to get past the TV censors of the time.

However, I also recognize that shows of the past that weren't intended as campy, do become campy over time, due to changes in social attitudes, "pop-culture-izing of the show," and changing techniques in producing TV shows or movies. 

 

Link to post
Share on other sites

You want to see what TOS would have been like without any of those humorous moments, watch the animated series.

 

They replaced Chekhov with some alien dude and everything was so dry and sterile. Even Kirk’s tone became rather flat. I’d thought that maybe child me just didn’t relate to the animated show, but I bought the box set about 5 years ago and didn’t make it past more than 3 episodes. It was boring to watch.

Link to post
Share on other sites

One thing that certainly wasn't cheaply built was the Enterprise model. This 2015 Smithsonian video about preserving the original model is quite interesting. I wonder if anyone is doing the same for the old Klingon Bird of Prey, or the Romulan ships.

 

 

Link to post
Share on other sites
×
×
  • Create New...