Brent Spiner is best known for portraying the android Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Among fans he is also known for playing Data’s “evil” android brother Lore. In the context of the series, the androids were by the brilliant scientist Dr. Noonien "Often-Wrong" Soong, also played by Brent Spiner, under a ton of makeup applied to make him look like an old man. The androids created by Dr. Soong, perhaps in a tinge of hubris, were made to look like a younger Soong.

Later, on the last season of Enterprise, the sad forgotten brother of Star Trek, Brent Spiner was enlisted to play Dr. Arik Soong, a brilliant, if misguided and somewhat evil scientist. Arik was assumed to be an ancestor of Data's creator. It seems that Arik Soong was experimenting with the same kind of genetic science that created Khan Noonien Singh, he who so mercilessly plagued Captain Kirk in the original series episode “Space Seed” and then later returned in the second and still best Star Trek movie, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. It’s interesting to note that Data’s creator and Kirk’s nemesis shared a first name, and an active interest in the Eugenics Wars of the late 1990’s.

Moving back in time from the events in Enterprise (which take place roughly in the years following 2151) we arrive at the year 2005, and find yet another brilliant scientist, played by Brent Spiner, combating an alien menace. Dr. Nigel Fenway was a microbiologist who was responsible for finding a way to stop aliens from rewriting human DNA (alien eugenics?) on the television series Threshold. The series, produced by several Star Trek alumni, never played up on the connection between Dr. Fenway and Soong, but the physical resemblance made it obvious that they were related.

Nine years earlier, the insane Dr. Brackish Okun, lead researcher at Area 51, gave his life to help fend off a major attack on Earth by extraterrestrial invaders. We can assume that much of what we saw in the movie Independence Day was fictionalized and expanded upon, and that the actual invasion was much smaller and localized, but again, the brilliance and physical resemblance between Dr.’s Okun, Fenway and Soong are indisputable. They all come from the same family.

Such familial relationships based on actor portrayals are sometimes obvious (T.J. Hooker is the ancestor of Captain James T. Kirk) and sometimes fatuous (Is Tim O’Hara, as played by Bill Bixby in My Favorite Martian, in any way related to Tom Corbett, as played by Bill Bixby in the Courtship of Eddie’s Father, or to Tony Blake, as played by Bill Bixby in The Magician or to Dr. David Banner, as played by Bill Bixby in The Incredible Hulk?) It stretches credibility, but sometimes actors playing different parts are connected through their roles and the relationship becomes part of continuity.

Lisa Kudrow played a ditzy waitress on the TV series Mad About You starring Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser. When she was cast as a similar character on Friends she was given the name Phoebe Buffay. The two characters were similar, not identical, but they did turn out to be identical twins. When Phoebe’s sister showed up on Friends, she was played by Lisa Kudrow, and became Phoebe’s “evil twin.” She dated Joey, became a porn star under Phoebe’s name (Buffay the Vampire Layer) and will one day become governor of New York.

Much of the groundwork for this kind of theorizing was laid out in The Mad Peck’s seminal article “How J.R. Got Out of the Air Force and What the Derricks Mean.” In this far reaching work (which is a bit faux-Freudian for my tastes) it is effectively argued that Major Nelson, the astronaut from I Dream of Jeannie once made a wish to be a Texas oil millionaire, and through Jeannie’s magics attained this wish, becoming transformed into J.R. Ewing on the popular primetime soap opera Dallas.

This stuff works best in shows that are separated by time, either historical dramas like Little House on the Prairie (so when Michael Landon’s character Charles Phillips “Pa” Ingalls dies, he becomes the angel on Highway to Heaven) or sci-fi shows set in the future (like the aforementioned Star Trek.) Shows with magic or super science work great, because all sorts of weird stuff can happen. It’s also helpful to remember that TV shows and movies present fictionalized dramatizations of actual events, and that oftentimes the same character might be featured on two separate series or movies bearing two different names for copyright reasons.

On the TV series Family Matters, we met Carl Winslow, played by Reginald VelJohnson a police officer and eventually the straight man to the amazing Steve Urkel. Though as a character he is mostly played for laughs, we see some of Carl Winslow’s cop skills in certain episodes: we see him team up with the Urkel-bot to stop a robbery, for instance, but for a real example of his crime fighting skills we have to turn to the Nakatomi Tower terrorist attack in downtown Los Angeles. Because of copyright and trademark issues Carl Winslow was named Sgt. Al Powell, and he, along with John McClane, stopped the nefarious Hans Gruber (as seen in the motion picture Die Hard.)

To be continued...


RJackson said...

Another classic character move from show to show is Detective Munch (played by Richard Belzer) late of Homicide: Life on the Streets and then a main role character on Law & Order: SVU