When I started the first project in 2012, I used to joke that it would cure me of my love of the show. As we know, it didn’t. In fact, it only intensified it. It was surprisingly hard work. You would think that sitting around, watching a TV show would be about the easiest job in the world. But it requires a great deal of concentration, and it’s very easy to lose engagement with the show. In some ways, that’s the show’s job. If it holds my attention, it’s doing its job well. One of its jobs after all is to entertain. If it doesn’t entertain, it might as well be on PBS.
I can talk for a long time about why I love Star Trek. If we look at the hours of my life that have been spent engaged in media absorption, far more have been devoted to Star Trek than any other. Star Trek is the language that my father used with me as he did a spectacular job of raising me in the limited time that he was granted. After he moved away, the manager of what was perhaps America’s greatest film theater, the Vogue, took over my education (which was far more important and far different than my schooling, although I’m eternally grateful to my long-suffering teachers) the brand new Star Trek: The Next Generation became the ritualized, weekly inspiration for discussing the horizons of what it means to be human… and more importantly, what it can mean to be human.
That iteration of Star Trek peaked for me in 1990 with the conclusion of its third season. If you go back and look, a lot of the most important episodes that followed were in one way or another inspired by episodes that took place in that third season. That’s my way of saying that while there were some tremendous high points, they were all variations on a theme. I still think DS9 got a bum deal, and I remain very familiar with that text. My exposure to Voyager continues to remind me of all that dissuaded me from getting to know that text more intimately. And Enterprise made me want to watch more Enterprise. Scott Bakula is, on one level, so bland (compared with Shatner, Stewart, Brooks, and the uniquely tart Mulgrew… which is not to say she’s a unique tart) that he’s easy to overlook. But you know what? He’s perfect. He’s an openhearted explorer forced into the role of warrior. He goes on a journey for which Joseph Campbell would’ve been proud, and it’s just depressing that we didn’t get three more years to actually see where it would’ve gone. Just as interesting? I would’ve enjoyed seeing what would’ve happened to Dr. Phlox. I think all of the Star Trek doctors after McCoy improved on each other. The thing I like about Dr. Phlox is that he is both proud of his ethnicity and a complete xenophile. I don’t think we always see both of those qualities in the same package. His rallying cry of “Optimism!” was never insipid nor Panglossian. It was an expression of Being. In some ways, he was the ambassador of every thing Gene Roddenberry said that he wanted to see in Star Trek.
Ultimately, I just got worn down with Sturgeon’s Law. There are a lot of different ways that I could have structured viewing these, but the end result would always be me spending time with shows I knew fairly well with no real purpose in mind. My 2012 project was designed to see if a human body could take that much Dark Shadows. The Babylon 5 project was designed to see if I could conquer ghosts of the past. (I sort of did.) The summer 2013 project was to do the deepest analysis I could possibly imagine regarding that world and those characters. With this project, I just found myself miserable. I mean, I have been tired ever since the first project in 2012. I’m not sure I’ve ever caught up. But it doesn’t matter. It was worth it. But this was a project that had very little interaction with fans, very little interaction with friends who are Star Trek fans, and no real end point. I just spent three weeks or so with one great show and the growing pains of three spinoffs. There was not a paycheck. There was not a growing fascination. Early impressions were pretty much justified. (The only exception being Enterprise, which I really liked. Well, the other exception was TNG, which plays much better in the theater of memory, and I think I will love it more if it remains there.)
This puts me back to Dark Shadows.
I had intended to do a massive film viewing project this summer as a break from Dark Shadows. If it had gone forward, it would’ve been an incredible achievement. But it was halted by external forces. I don’t really know what would happen if I told the whole story. You can infer from that the fact that something so bizarre took place that I really can’t talk about it all. I hope that drives you as crazy with curiosity as it does me with with frustration. It was a strange and unexpected chain of events. That’s all I can say. The Star Trek project was a back-up that everyone I knew seemed really excited about … until it started. Now there are noted exceptions to that rule. If you know me, are actually reading this, and are thinking to yourself that you are an exception, you probably are. Call me up, let me know, and I’ll compile a list that I’ll post online.
But Dark Shadows? I remain convinced that there is a deep, significant story being told it Collinwood. I think it matters. And I’m not entirely certain that it has a champion… yet. The show has fans and historians and even analysts, don’t get me wrong. But there is something magnetic about the characters, their changes, and their struggles that transfixes me unlike any text I have ever encountered. I have not seen a recent study of the show nor McCravian-style appreciation of the show written, and I want to change that.
I only have so much time. I have spent too much time at funerals for someone my age. I have an acutely, well, acute awareness of mortality. Given all of that, I am compelled to use my vacation time productively. There is a special misery in returning after two months off with nothing to show but a shared moment of “Where did the time go?”
I canna let that happen, Captain.
So, I need to do what makes me happy and what will continue creating some kind of worthwhile product. That product is the Dark Shadows Index, found under password protection (write to me and ask for it) at http://collinsportstar.com. The Index (and the Episode Pal, which is the real star) is not an end. It is just a database for the book I’m shaping up.
I want to give people ways to watch the show so that newbies don’t want to strangle their significant others. I also want to give people ways to watch the show so that people familiar with it have a new way of looking at it as if it were one, big story with one major arc and theme. Oh yeah, and answer the most important question — and, golf clap, please, title of the book — Why DARK SHADOWS Matters.
Back to Maine on Sunday.
I should be done (I think) with 1897 by the time I have to go back to work.
Looking forward to it more than I can say.