‘The Captains: Close Up’ is an entertaining enterprise

If you still think actor William Shatner has an ego bigger than his big head on “3rd Rock from the Sun” (1996-2001) where he played the Big Giant Head, you’re missing a real treat.  His 2011 “The Captains” was heartfelt entertainment and his series on Epix “The Captains: Close Up” is an extension of that documentary.

You must start where the series began, with Shatner. Here he has Kate Mulgrew, a more formidable interviewer than Barbara Walters, interviewing him. But this series isn’t about making people squirm or cry, but getting the captains to reflect upon Star Trek and their lives before and after.

Shatner also includes segments of Chris Pine who is now playing the young James T. Kirk like a comic book action superhero, but there’s no snarking here.

Patrick Stewart’s segment explores his loneliness and his career before Star Trek and his new found X-Men fame.

Avery Brooks comes off a bit more focused and its fascinating to consider how elusive he seems as himself, but how intensely he can project a personality like Paul Robeson.

Scott Bakula gets to learn how to ride Shatner’s bomb-proof horse and teach Shatner how to sing.

Kate Mulgrew remembers how she got the role of Janeway at the last-minute replacement. Her fellow cast members recall how different her Janeway was compared to the departing Genevieve Bujold.

We get to hear more commentary from the actors who formed their crew and co-stars.  All of these five actors were originally stage actors, perhaps not famous to the TV public, but considered accomplished and promising before they were drawn into the Star Trek universe.

It seems a shame that the current cast of the Star Trek reboot are all of the same basic physical type, near the same age and with very little of the stage presence that made each of these captains so memorable. Theatricality ennobled science fiction that was Star Trek, but the reboot hold attention with the usual explosions and unsurvivable falls, making the current crew near immortals in a live-action graphic novel that has pretensions of human life in the future.

Shatner has mellowed with age and as an interviewer he challenges his subjects but with warmth instead of snark.  Let’s call him the unofficial historian of Star Trek for now and I eagerly await his next project. Will he be at Comic-Con in San Diego? I hope so. “The Captains Close Up” is currently available to stream on Epix.

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