Star Trek: Picard Is The Long Overdue Show We Desperately Need Right Now
No character delivers stunning moral clarity better than Jean-Luc Picard, which makes him more relevant now than ever before.
It's no secret, I am a huge Star Trek fan. It has been something that's been with me nearly my entire life. To this day, when I just need a certain level of relaxation and familiarity, I will throw The Next Generation or Deep Space Nine on and let it rip. I have seen the episodes so many times, but I always walk away wowed, appreciative, and even excited about how good many of the stories were, even though they were produced on budgets that can be considered tiny compared to today's mega television shows. You can learn a lot by watching Star Trek, including a lot about yourself and most importantly, who you aspire to be.
Star Trek: The Next Generation eventually redefined what Star Trek was. At its center was one of the most morally sound characters in the history of fiction, Captain Jean Luc Picard, played by the now mega movie star Patrick Stewart. Hence, when I heard that he was returning to the role after nearly two decades in a new series and re-launching the up-to-date prime Star Trek timeline so many of us are so heavily invested in, I couldn't have been more excited. It was literally like receiving a tremendous gift, albeit one that was overdue.
A Galactic Detour Of Sorts
I have sat for the better part of 20 years watching the franchise go in directions I was far from thrilled about. Star Trek Enterprise was better than it gets credit for, but it doesn't compare where it counts most with its predecessors—in its atmosphere, tone, texture, and most of all, impact. It was killed right when it was finally finding itself, but in all honestly, it wasn't a massive loss.
Then J.J. Abrams took Star Trek into the glitzy action blockbuster realm. The best thing these films did was show what Star Trek could look like using cutting-edge special effects and a generous budget. Beyond that, they were at times mildly entertaining and at others, very frustrating. Overall the rebooted alternate "Kelvin" timeline films felt like a detour of sorts and they didn't really represent what so many post-Next Generation fans came to love about the franchise. It was as if Star Trek The Original Series had mated with the latter Fast And The Furious films and this is what popped out nine months later.
In the last few years, Star Trek: Discovery was born. Relegated to CBS's streaming service, it had some interesting ideas and many unbelievably poor ones (have you seen or heard the Klingons?), but like Abrams' Star Trek films, it gave us a clear idea of how incredible Star Trek can look with the latest production capabilities and a healthy budget brought to bear. Also, like the latest movies, it returned to a time frame around when the original series was set.
Some really bizarre choices and the show's premium on relentless action made it confusing at times and it lacked the really rich and slower storytelling of Star Trek past. Its second season was convoluted, but better than the first, with the highlight being Captain Pike played incredibly by Anson Mount, and the pre-Kirk USS Enterprise's crew of characters that were far more interesting than Discovery's. Simply put, Pike and company stole the show. In fact, I wish they literally stole Discovery's budget and production crew. I would trade a Captain Pike spinoff over Discovery with glee. Hopefully, we will be getting one that can exist alongside Discovery, so that wouldn't be necessary.
Now, in deep in the age of the streaming wars, CBS is betting huge on Trek. Discovery remains in production and a slew of other Star Treks shows, from animated to live-action, are also on their way to CBS All Access, the biggest of which is Star Trek: Picard.
Rejoining The Prime Timeline In The Present, Finally.
The big point to all this beyond a quick history of post-Nemesis Star Trek is that all of these properties have been set in the era of the original series or before. The characters that many of us grew up with and loved so much from The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager were abandoned in the hunt for reboots, prequels, and more soft reboots. While the studio somehow believed most people who actually wanted more Star Trek yearned for Kirk, Spock, and Bones, or even their forebears, I think it's safe to say the vast majority of us wanted more from the era we had spent literally hundreds and hundreds of hours of our lives learning about.
Finally, and I mean finally, the powers that be have realized what should have been a blatant reality. I mean, how couldn't they by now? There are far more people around that grew up watching Picard and Riker than Kirk and Spock. Since Netflix became a thing, a whole new generation got hooked on these shows. The highly serialized Deep Space Nine, in particular, is far more potent when binged than when having to chase around re-run listings like many of us did over the years. That show remains eerily ahead of its time in countless ways and is absolutely awesome, even by today's high television standards. More on that here.
The truth is, as time has moved one, The Next Generation has become perceived in a way similar to how the original series was in decades past. It is a classic, groundbreaking, highly engaging, and at times a remarkable example of television and science fiction storytelling. With this in mind, for many fans, it was obvious when Star Trek: Picard was announced that it would draw massive attention and anticipation. It was more 'what took you so long?' than 'what bold risk!' Look no farther than Seth MacFarlane's The Orville to understand the pent up demand for a Next Generation-like era show. The fact that it is a totally off-brand and humorous take on many of The Next Generation's themes and has still lasted three seasons, is significant. In fact, I would argue that The Orville is the best Star Trek in decades.
The added benefit that everyone from The Next Generation is still alive, as well as many from Deep Space Nine and Voyager, and engaged in the Star Trek community means that Star Trek: Picard could, and should, turn into a whole new tangent of content for the already reinvigorated franchise, one that will likely be its most popular. But while it's exciting to catch up with some of our favorite characters from the rich era of Star Trek that ran from 1987 to 2002, it's more exciting that after 18 long and frustrating years, we can actually pick back up on the most extensive science fiction timeline any screen has ever seen.
In other words, hopefully, more spinoffs will come from this that will incorporate characters from all three series. Judging by the fact that Star Trek: Picard hasn't even aired yet, but it has already been renewed for a second season, I think it is more likely than not.
A Badly Needed Voice From A Past Next Generation
Beyond the chronically unanswered demands of a huge fan base finally being satisfied, Star Trek: Picard could and should be far more than just a long-awaited sequel series with a hugely popular leading man. Picard's character in Star Trek: The Next Generation had the best and most confident moral compass of any character I have embraced in fiction. Not only were his convictions deeply grounded, but his logic was absolutely consistent and uncannily on point. Somehow, this was the case without making him unnecessarily preachy or even cheesy. Such an accomplishment was the result of a magic potion of fantastic writing and Patrick Stewart bringing Picard to life and evolving the character over time. The result was a pulp-culture icon that really is worth listening to carefully.
Picard was a quiet, reserved, powerful man that also had a few of his own demons and somewhat entertaining shortcomings. Above all else, he achieved huge respect of his peers and a sense of authority via his mind, not his muscles. He was a slight, not very tall, graying, but mostly bald man. Hardly the traditional swashbuckling science-fiction or fantasy hero we are accustomed to. His power came through intellect, and we believed it without question... Totally.
This is the exact voice we need in a turbulent time in the country's and the world's history. We need to ask ourselves "what would Picard do?" in regards to the outlandish moral excursions we find ourselves mired in politically, militarily, and sociologically.
I have no deep insight into what the new series will hold, but I can only hope that they take the Picard of the past and plunk him down in a far less certain world than the one portrayed in The Next Generation. We need a Picard operating in a broken system struggling to find its way again, not a perfect one. A system with faltering long-held institutions and decaying morality. That way our own struggles in these regards can be reflected back at us in a manner only great science fiction really can.
As such, Star Trek: Picard could be so much more than just a good new Star Trek story with some beloved characters. It can have a real impact and help us better come to terms with the decisions that face our very real society. Above all else, no other character can provide clarity even in the murkiest situations.
The worst thing that could happen is that Star Trek: Picard just turns into another over-paced, action-packed, largely senseless adventure that has to swing a sledgehammer to make a point. But there in lies the opportunity—if the writers and production team behind the series are able to keep the prevailing "never enough action" forces at bay, and settle in with a more balanced, character-driven, and cerebral tone, that alone will make the show unique for the genre in this day and age. For Star Trek alone, it could redefine the franchise and set the bar at a new height.
There are promising indications that the series may be heading in this direction, but we won't know for sure until the show premieres this Thursday, January 23rd, on CBS All Access.
For the sake of the Federation, and maybe even ourselves, let's hope it does.
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com