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HUMOR AND SYRUPY SENTIMENT LAUNCH 'ENTERPRISE' ON MAIDEN VOYAGE

The captain was born to fly, raised by a father who built engines and taught his son not to fear the wind. The Vulcan is a short-haired, feisty and sexy woman with a logical mind of her own. The doctor is a cheerful sort who obviously believes laughter is the best medicine.

Welcome to the two-hour maiden voyage of "Enterprise" (8 tonight, Channel 67), the highly-publicized prequel to the original "Star Trek" series.

Scott Bakula, who previously was a time traveler in the series, "Quantum Leap," is the volatile and brave captain, Jonathan Archer, of Enterprise NX-01.

His first mission is to return an injured, incommunicative Klingon to his people so the big guy can deliver an important message. However, a villainous race of aliens, the Suliban (hmm, sounds a little like the Taliban doesn't it?), kidnaps the Klingon and creates a dangerous diplomatic interstellar crisis.

This being the year 2151 and a full century before Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and Spock (Leonard Nimoy) went into deep space, things don't always go swimmingly.

The phase pistols can be a bit dangerous to anyone who doesn't know the difference between the "stun" and "kill" settings. And the universal language translators sometimes make about as much sense as Dominik Hasek did in radio interviews.

But the one reliable element from the show's past (well, actually, it is its future) is the very serious and time-consuming dialogue.

"Pardon me, if I don't realign the deflector, the first grain of space dust we come across will blow a hole across this ship the size of your fist," advises one crew member."

"Is it me, or does the artificial gravity seem a little high?" asks another crew member.

My sentiments exactly.

The special effects are first-rate, at least the ones completed in my unfinished review tape. They also aren't so futuristic that they make the 1960s "Star Trek" seem totally antiquated. The plot is a bit confusing, but not so that you don't know which are the good, strange-looking guys and girls and which are the bad, strange-looking guys and girls.

Is it me, or do the humor level and the sentimental level seem a little high?

The sentiment starts with the syrupy opening theme song, which plays as shots of aviation and space heroes of the past are shown in footage in the background. There also are black-and-white flashbacks of scenes long ago between Archer and his father.

The script is loaded with humor, often directed at the Vulcans. My favorite line in the script by Rick Berman and Brannon Braga comes early, when Archer chastises a male Vulcan leader: "When your logic doesn't work, you raise your voice. You must have been on Earth too long."

My sentiments exactly.

The captain and the female Vulcan who is sent along on Archer's first mission clearly have issues. Archer is angry and resentful because the Vulcans have been in control for almost a century, delaying deep space exploration and preventing his father from ever seeing the Warp 5 engine, which he helped develop, used in deep space.

As Vulcan Sub Commander T'Pol, Jolene Blalock is a striking presence -- and not only because she fills her tight suit so well.

T'Pol is a bit tightly wound and certainly isn't out to win any friends. She constantly reminds the crew of their deficiencies and foolish qualities.

"You should learn to interfere and when not to," she tells one guy after he jumps to a wrong conclusion.

T'Pol appears to have a love-hate relationship with Archer, even though Vulcans don't have either emotion. Archer isn't thrilled to see her, either.

"Take your Vulcan cynicism and bury it along with your repressed emotions," he tells her angrily.

By episode's end, the sparring between the two diminishes. Logically speaking, you can expect the sexual tension to escalate. After all, the creators say the series will have a higher sexual quotient than the four "Star Trek" series that went before.

Linda Park is the second strong, vibrant woman, Ensign Hoshi Sato, the skittish translator who can't always rely on the machines to understand people from other planets. John Billingsley is a lovable and cheerful alien doctor, Dr. Phlox, who loves discovering new medical details.

The rest of the diverse regular cast includes Connor Trinneer as a southern-sounding Chief Engineer Charles Tucker III, Anthony Montgomery as a space boomer, Ensign Travis Mayweather, and Englishman Dominic Keating as Lt. Malcolm Reed.

Every cast member makes a favorable impression, though Montgomery and Reed are sketchy characters.

If "Star Trek," "Deep Space Nine," "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and "Star Trek: Voyager" have taught us anything, it is that the success of these series will be determined over time and not just by one's reaction to the pilot.

Current world events certainly would seem to be providing numerous stories lines to make this series seem even more current.

Confession time. The "Star Trek" franchise never really spoke my language. I don't know the difference in appearance between the old Klingons and the later ones.

With that in mind, "Enterprise" seems much more accessible than episodes of previous series. Perhaps that's because viewers going along for the ride know as much or more as the characters, who are learning about deep space, weaponry, space world politics and how to be beamed up.

The first "Enterprise" certainly has enough going for it to beam me back for a second trip, if only to see if the gravity and sentimental levels can be lowered.

Rating: 3 stars out of 4

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