There were quite a few episodes in which real acting was going on and not mere entertainment.
Does not compute...
I think it does compute.
When Star Trek began way back in 1966, and I was around back then, whatever the motivation of Gene Roddenberry, it was a dynamic process of his creation plus all of the many crew members as well as the writers, many directors, effects, makeup, producers, and actors going through a collaborative effort.
Some aspect of commerical success is necessary in order to keep from being canceled and being popular with a niche audience. That's what I mean by entertainment.
Another paradigm is more geared to independent productions in which something is artistic, takes risks, and often displays a high amount of gravitas.
While there are fun episodes that we all enjoy over the many 700 plus episodes, there are other shows that are quite memorable because the directors, crew, and writers allowed the actors to be quiet and speak sincerely and do much more than tell a story. During those episodes, it becomes a postmodern mythology as interesting and nuanced as anything from literature.
If you're a hard core fan, then you no doubt notice that there are times when an actor performs better than other times since they're human. But in my mind, often the performance is a result of the quality of writing and the direction and the constaints of budgets, because the actors are essentially the same people.
It's true they grew into their roles, and were more willing to take risks, and television can be an ideal medium because where else does an actor have so many opportunities to have a history with their character, see the character over many diverse situations, and allow a full range of emotions?
Chain of Command STTNG S06E10 and S06E11 are very serious episdodes. They're not at all like some of the rather ridiculous episodes on the holodeck. The writers, actors, and crew of course didn't desire to hit the same one notes each time in order to make it a commerical success, but allowed the actors to have the variety from one extreme to another. Other episodes were very balanced over the series with combinations of these factors along a continuum.
Again, it was often a process of the writers, actors, and directors to make decisions about who the character is and what is the story. That takes time, and so it's fairly normal for a Star Trek show not to "hit their stride" until late in the first season. This process partially explains the differences in say, Deanna Troi in the beginning versus very late in the series. The characters are not only aging, but the backgrounds, the concentration on her comeliness, the intelligence of the character, all have changed. Much of that due to the alterations in the way her character was written and directoral and producer decisions.
Star Trek Enterprise took a lot of risks, because the writers allowed the pre-Federation (really the Terrans) to stumble...a lot, and to show their feet of clay. In my mind this is what makes that last series so endearing. Usually the opposite is true in perfomance, as ancestors are shown in one dimensional purely heroic self-sacrificing ways. That leads to a very false sense of history something that most often happens in say depictions of WW2 soldiers.
Perhaps one of the highest accolades one can give a dramatic performance is to say, "Wow, that was so brutally honest in the character's depictions besides creating a reality in which I felt I was not only observing but felt resonnance with." That to me is art.
That's quite different than the first always struggling original Star Trek in which the crew were never sure of renewal, had to cut corners all the time, and yet they made a lot of television firsts, had layers of meaning and metaphor, and had some exemplary performances as well.
Some of those 3rd season episodes from the original series, like Spectre of the Gun were cringe-inducing. Surely you're not going to say that the quality of those shows consisted of anything more than mindless entertainment? I have no doubt that the crew of the original series was quite unhappy that last season.
Star Trek up until the last season of Enterprise had become one of the most influential franchises in postmodern history. I think though that the loss of a generation acquainted with the Apollo missions, and a very jaded public who stopped tuning in when space missions were broadcast, and who eventually allowed the dismantling of NASA resulted in Star Trek being of secondary importance as mythology.
That's extremely unfortunate because what could be more important that vision and hope? Times have changed, at least in the American public, and we are not the same people we were even in 2000. Today anti-heroes are popular probably due to the severe changes to the economy and because we've lost our way in the aftermath of the end of the Cold War. In my mind, that's why Star Trek is still relevant as a mythology to inspire about fallible characters who ascribe to be noble, compassionate, and articulate.
Let us hope that the next Star Trek is equal to that task, and not just a shadow trying to fill up an hour a week of vicarious living through entertainment.