Life is more interesting when it doesn't work out the way you expect.
I grew up with "Star Trek: The Next Generation," and though I loved it I always thought of it as a Very Serious Show. Even the cast calls the episode arcs little morality fables, full of deep insights and lessons about life and conflict and what it means to be human. Even if you weren't raised religious, you could do worse than using "The Next Generation" as your Bible.
So when I took my seat for "The Star Trek Ultimate Xperience" earlier this week, I expected a serious discussion about character development, overarching themes and relevant social issues. I would have enjoyed it – one never really recovers from being an English major – but I expected it to be more enlightening than strictly entertaining.
What I got was one of the most hilarious night of talking heads I've ever heard.
The cast, as it turns out, are complete goofballs. Marina Sirtis got up and started rearranging the furniture so the audience could see better, and later on the entire cast did a rousing impression of the flailing they had to do to simulate a ship crash. William Shatner, the moderator and designated adult for the evening, had to work hard to keep everyone on track.
They shared several embarrassing stories about each other, from the too-small pink chenille bathrobe Jonathan Frakes insisted on wearing around the set to the time Gates McFadden thought an earthquake was just her co-stars shaking her trailer. They also had several stories about Patrick Stewart, who wouldn't arrive to defend himself until Saturday, and both Frakes and Brent Spiner showed off very good Stewart impressions.
In between, the entire cast kept up a steady stream of one-liners poking affectionate fun of either themselves or each other. Just a small sampling:
Spiner: "I loved every line I said. Not that I knew what any of them meant."
Sirtis, about "Star Trek"-themed cruises: "The only escape was over the side."
Denise Crosby: "I came from a failed Earth colony. It was called Hollywood."
There were some serious moments, particularly when a military veteran broke down telling the cast how watching the show had helped him through his struggles with PTSD. The cast all came down from the stage to hug him, and even a teary-eyed William Shatner was rendered speechless.
In the end, though, I came away with no deep insights about the show or science fiction's complicated history with social issues. I did, however, get a powerful look into the wonderful, complicated, delightful humanity that lives behind the scenes of all the cinematography and storyboards that make up our favorite movies and TV shows. These people have real lives that are often wildly different than the those they play onscreen, which makes the ability to transform themselves into the characters we know and love that much more magical.
More simply, it was a reminder that what you see on the surface is only ever a part of the story. That event that may seem very dry and intellectual might be of the most fun evenings you've ever had. That person who seems very quiet and serious might turn out to be a laugh riot in their private moments. Life is always waiting to surprise you.
And, sometimes, so is "Star Trek."