In 2016, Chris Pratt was being interviewed about the upcoming Star Trek Beyond, the second sequel to the J.J. Abrams Star Trek remake. The interview can be summed up in the first paragraph:
Back in 1965, NBC told Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry his science-fiction TV show was “too cerebral” for television audiences to enjoy. And it looks like in 2016, our current incarnation of the heroic Captain Kirk agrees with that assessment. While making the interview rounds for Star Trek Beyond, Chris Pine said, “…you can’t make Star Trek cerebral in 2016. It just wouldn’t work in today’s marketplace.”
I think that such a mentality sells out audiences fairly short. The problem is that the current marketplace demands established IP’s in such that now everything is a remake, or a reboot, or a sequel. there is also a need to try to create audiences out of thin air, so what happens is we end up with established properties no longer resembling what came before. Until Star Trek: Discovery, we haven’t had a Star Trek franchise on television in a number of years. Even then, we ended up with a series that pandered to the member berries of people who have never watched Star Trek. It was an unecessary prequel that brought back some of the more famous elements such as Spock, but presented them within the confines of something that was more akin to Game of Thrones, rather than a long established and beloved series. From Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager we were left with a rich void of storytelling that has been shamefully abandoned. At the end of Deep Space Nine, the Alpha quadrant had been left in shambles with billions dead from the Dominion War. Voyager ended with the seeming end of the Borg and new hope and knowledge coming from the Delta Quadrant. I can think of a dozen different stories to follow all of that, about how the Federation had to pick up the pieces, how civilization would evolve from what we now know. There was so much that could have been told, but when CBS had the opportunity to bring Star Trek back with Discovery, all it did was shit the bed. The casual audience members, all they may know about Trek is pointy ears and the Vulcan salute. If everything goes “pew pew pew”, then I guess it doesn’t matter.
I have just finished watching the premiere episode of Star Trek: Picard, and my thoughts about it are conflicted. In many ways Picard is to Star Trek as Rogue One is to Star Wars. It’s an interesting side story at best, but middling fan fiction at worst. With over fifty years of Trek lore, this was the story they had decided to tell.
Twenty years after the events of Star Trek Nemesis and the back story of Abrams’ Trek remake, we find a despondant and retired Admiral Picard, wasting away at his family winery. He had grown bitter with Starfleet over its handling of rescuing the Romulan people from a supernova and its reaction to a terrorist attack on Mars by synthetic lifeforms. During this time, he is visited by a young woman in trouble who Picard determines may be a daughter of the deceased Commander Data. I won’t get too much more into the story; there’s plenty of plot recaps floating around out there. All I have to say is that there are some interesting developments in the first episode; it was nice to see Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner again. But it still felt empty. I, once again, feel like the current Trek showrunners don’t want to tell a Star Trek story. The first episode feels more like a subpar Blade Runner, or something else. It felt like they were trying to create anything but Star Trek. This feels more like an action premise than a Trek story so far, and that was one of the main problems with Discovery.
As the saying goes, you can’t go home again. We have, what, another seven episodes to go? There’s plenty of time to right the ship as the story is somewhat engaging so far. Hackles were raised last week after an interview Patrick Stewart gave to Variety in which Stewart played the cynic about the world of Next Generation. I could care less about that as long as the story is good, but that’s yet to be seen, isn’t it? But I can understand the frustration. One thing that can always be said about Star Trek was that it had reflected the politics of the time. It had also, however, remained a beacon of hope of what things could be. If we are just going to have another show that is dark and dreary and obsess over MAGAtards vs. “Orange Man Bad,” then we are moving into well-tread territory. Let’s not forget that we have had a series that approached such subject matter effectively with episodes such as “The Drumhead,” “The Measure of a Man,” “Past Tense,” and “Far Beyond the Stars.” But we also had a franchise that across the board had episodes like “The Inner Light” and “The Visitor.” When you have an article that describes The Next Generation as “Lo-fi and a little quaint by today’s standards,” you’re going to get some blowback. Still, it would be nice to see a story involving Q. It would be nice to see us visit the wormhole again. I just think there is such a need to seduce audiences who would never watch Star Trek in the first place that some major opportunities have been lost. We’re still only in the first episode, so who knows where this is going to go? I usually hate the idea of reading franchised novels, but last year, I read Star Trek: Destiny which was a brilliantly written trilogy that had spanned almost every Star Trek franchise out there. Good Trek stories are out there, it is possible. Even the disgraced Bryan Singer had pitched a fascinating Star Trek series in 2005, but we end up with Discovery. Now we have Picard. I wish that my review could be all like “ZOMG! OMG! OMG! STAR TREK, WOOHOO!” but honestly imagine being excited for anything in 2020. But in the spirit of Star Trek, the first episode does have glimmers of hope yet.