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Tag: Star Trek: Discovery

Is Star Trek: Picard Any Good?

If you were hoping that “Star Trek: The Next Generation” would get the band back together one day, you’ll be disappointed with what “Picard” has to offer. Instead, this series takes Picard in a new direction. Here are my thoughts on this new course.

“Star Trek: Picard” has arrived, and as a life-long “Star Trek” fan, I should be ecstatic with not one but two new “Star Trek” series to watch on CBS All Access.

Well, not exactly. But I do keep paying money to stream them. So, that says something right there.

I’m also not so annoyed that the producers keep messing with the original formula for “Star Trek.” I respect the need for “Star Trek” to evolve.

That said, since “Star Trek: Discovery” premiered, I think it’s also become clear to the producers when they have strayed too far from the source material. I feel the second “Star Trek: Discovery” season was more enjoyable than the first due to the ongoing presence of Captain Pike, played so well by Anson Mount. It was the perfect way to connect that series back to familiar territory.

The Picard Maneuver
The producers have clearly used the same tactic in creating their newest “Star Trek” series. What better way to anchor this one than center it around Jean-Luc Picard, played by the great Patrick Stewart?

The story follows Captain Picard fourteen years later, after his retirement from Starfleet under complicated circumstances. He’s down… but not out.

Of course, there’s an important reason why he feels compelled to leave his family’s vineyard and come out of retirement, and the Romulans seem to be at the center of the problem. There’s also a Borg cube. (Enough said.)

For me, the fact that the writers have picked up from the plots of 2002’s “Star Trek: Nemesis” and J.J. Abrams’ 2009 “Star Trek” is compelling, but I’m not sure if other more casual “Trek” viewers will find that same narrative pull.

Not “The Next Generation”
If there’s any doubt, you should know that “Picard” is absolutely not Season 8 of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” There’s an entirely different cast of characters in this series, although some legacy characters do show up from time to time.
(Data is in the first episode. Don’t worry about how. It’s explained.)

My favorite new character is Laris, played by Orla Brady, a Romulan former intelligence operative and current employee at Picard’s vineyard. In these early episodes, she’s essentially serving as Picard’s Number One. (His dog holds the official name.)

Even though the writers seem hell-bent on continuing to use four-letter words in their scripts including the f-bomb, Brady is the first Star Trek actor to actually pull it off with a sense of style.

Taking Time to Get to Warp Speed
So far, the producers of “Picard” have performed a successful narrative balancing act by giving Trekies what they want with plenty of Easter eggs, while not making the whole experience feel like you’re a nerd attending a “Star Trek” convention.

After watching the first two episodes, I do need to admit that the series is taking some time to set itself up. It’s not exactly slow, but I’d prefer that the plot move more quickly beyond what I already know from watching the promos for the series.

But in case there’s any doubt, I’m in. I do plan to watch the rest of the season. In fact, I’m already more invested in “Picard” than in the upcoming “Star Trek: Discovery” season 3, which is seemingly rebooting itself… again.

An Inclusive Viewing Universe?
With the current movie series sputtering to a halt, the future of “Star Trek” is currently in the hands of “Picard” and “Discovery.”

I do continue to wonder about the audience that CBS is trying to attract. Sure, there are still old-time Trekies out there who will pay CBS All Access to watch, but what about the next generation of viewers?

Sure, bringing Jean-Luc Picard back is a huge hook for “Star Trek: TNG” fans, but there’s been an eighteen-year gap here. That’s an eternity to recapture a viewer’s attention.

I think it’s also fair to say that “Star Trek” hasn’t maintained the same cultural gravity as the “Star Wars” universe.

Plus, kids can’t join this party due to the bad language that’s sprinkled into the scripts.

So, that might leave a relatively narrow segment of the viewing population who will rush to sign up for “Star Trek: Picard.”

We’re Just Getting Started
Still, for those who are already predisposed, I’m here to report that “Picard” is certainly ‘engaging’ enough to spend time with. (You thought I wouldn’t get to that pun?)

With the exception of the original 1966-1969 series, new “Star Trek” shows have often had uneven early episodes, including “The Next Generation.”

And when viewing “Picard” though that lens, I’m actually quite excited to see what comes next…

Let’s make it so!

Why Star Trek: Discovery is Finally Worth the Price of Admission

If you’ve previously ignored “Star Trek: Discovery,” it’s time to go back to the future. There’s been an unexpected course correction in this series’ sophomore season…

As a ‘Trekkie’ for most of my life, I’ve lived through “Star Trek’s” ongoing life cycle of failure, cult phenomenon, success, expansion, contraction and rebirth. What’s been especially frustrating of late has been watching some of its enduring core elements warped in “Star Trek: Discovery.”

In its freshman season…. hope, morality, humor and the generally positive outlook of the larger “Star Trek” universe were mostly sidelined for more flash, intensity, discomfort and darker episodes to meet the expectations of today’s HBO-trained audience.

It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the opportunity to watch the first “Star Trek” series since 2005. But this one was so different, perhaps necessarily so, because traditional “Star Trek” had become too tame and predictable for modern tastes.

Season 1 Was Not Family Friendly
“Star Trek: Discovery” was supposed to be “Star Trek”… reinvented. You can say a lot about how “Discovery” lost its way in Season 1, but you can’t say it was tame.

It was intentionally designed for an adult crowd, complete with a “TV-14” rating that included R-level violence and a few four-letter words.
(Really)

I found Season 1 a bit exhausting.

Oh yeah, and you had to pay for it (streaming on CBS All Access for $5.99/month or $9.99/month without commercials).

I think along its journey of necessary reinvention, the writers simply left out too many familiar “Star Trek” ingredients.

In the sophomore season, we’re told we’re getting a ‘course correction.’ And after watching the first two episodes, I am happy to report that it’s true!

New Captain on the Bridge!
The biggest change is our new captain… Christopher Pike. Yep… the Enterprise captain who came before the more famous Captain Kirk.

Played by Anson Mount, Pike beams onto the Discovery from his mysteriously ‘short-circuited’ Starship Enterprise which has to then be towed away… literally.

Pike immediately takes command to lead this new season-long mission.

Captain Pike’s character was first introduced in the original (and failed) “Star Trek” pilot, “The Cage,” back in 1965. Played by Jeffrey Hunter, Pike was serious and a little stiff, but certainly a model of Starfleet values and morality. The writers loosed things up a bit when they created Captain Kirk.

We saw Pike again in J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Kelvin-timeline movie reboot and 2013’s “Into Darkness” sequel. This time played by Bruce Greenwood, Pike was again the moral compass and a father figure to the young and inexperienced Jim Kirk.

“Discovery’s” Captain Pike gives us a similar leader with strong ethics, but still able to recognize inconsistencies that challenge his own beliefs. He is on his own journey of ‘discovery.’ And this mission with his new crew is clearly going to challenge his personal and professional rule book.

But compared to all of the questionable choices made by characters in Season 1, Pike has immediately become “Discovery’s” moral center. (Doug Jones’ Kelpien Saru held this responsibility in Season 1 and was briefly joined by Michelle Yeoh’s Captain Georgiou.)

Pike’s entrance is such a relief.

It may have taken decades of “Star Trek” storytelling for this to become entirely clear, but Pike… not Kirk… best reflects the essence of Gene Roddenberry’s foundational theme surrounding our destiny. In Roddenberry’s future, humanity has matured enough to avoid extinction, get it together and reach for the stars.

Pike has always been the grown up.

He’s serious and dependable, but the writers of “Discovery” have shaved the stuffy edges off of his character and given him a little dose of welcome humor. And Mount fits the role perfectly.

Be Bold. Be Brave. Be Courageous.
When Pike proclaims ahead of his first Spore-Drive jump, “Be Bold. Be Brave. Be Courageous,” First Officer Burnham cracks a small but proud smile.

I smiled.
And I think thousands of “Star Trek” fans smiled too.

That line touched a feeling in me that harkens back to when I was a kid and first heard the line “Space, the final frontier…”

Hope. Wonder. Adventure.
A little more humanity.

Yes, please.

The First Two Episodes Are On Course
At the end of Episode 1 (“Brother”), Pike turns to Burnham and says,
“Wherever our mission takes us, we’ll try to have a little fun along the way too…”

I think that’s a line clearly directed at fans to proclaim the show’s adjusted tone.

And if it’s not clear enough that “Discovery” is finally embracing its own roots, Jonathan Frakes (“Star Trek: The Next Generation”) was tapped to direct the second episode, “New Eden.”

As soon as I saw Frakes’ name pop up in the credits, I knew the space/time continuum was well on its way to resetting itself with old Commander Riker at the helm.

“New Eden” felt like the best of classic “Trek,” complete with visiting a strange, new world and questioning the Prime Directive. But it also focused on characters getting to know each other better. And of course, then we get to know them better.

Could this crew actually be developing into something of a “Star Trek” family?
Developing character connections and strong storytelling have always been the core of “Star Trek.”

“Discovery” has even demonstrated “Star Trek’s” traditional willingness to tackle big questions that really work your brain…

When Pike talked about Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law reflecting an updated view that “any sufficiently advanced extraterrestrial intelligence is indistinguishable from God,” we know we’re solidly in the “Star Trek” universe we know and love.

The Shakedown Cruise Continues
This is all not say that “Star Trek: Discovery” is totally fixed.

The introduction of the young Spock character is a bold and yet unproven move that currently feels like a plot device taken from “The Search for Spock” movie.

And what’s up with Cadet Tilly? Played by Mary Wiseman, we really need to see her character grow this season into something beyond awkward and flustered. It’s time to show her evolution…

And as the star of the show, Sonequa Martin-Green’s Burnham still has some work to do to win over our hearts.

Discovery is No Longer Lost in Space
The good news is “Star Trek: Discovery” has passed its core Kobayashi Maru test.

Yes, Season 2 still has a long way to go, but “Discovery” has now discovered the right formula to reinvent “Star Trek” in a way that’s fresh and challenging, yet also doesn’t repel its fan base.

Strong, uplifting storytelling with heart has always been at the center of great “Star Trek.”

Keep making these types of episodes, and the audience will show up
…and pay for it.

One Science Fiction Fan’s Bucket List

“Star Trek: Discovery” has created so many questions as it wraps its first season that you may need a 23rd century display panel to keep track of its complex plot. But that’s not entirely unique in the world of sci-fi storytelling…

So, I must admit I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the first season of “Star Trek: Discovery.” I know I had my doubts early on. But the CBS All Access streaming series came out of the gate strong, with its own fresh style, superior special effects, really interesting characters, and great acting (Sonequa Martin-Green, Jason Isaacs, Michelle Yeoh, Doug Jones and Anthony Rapp). It’s also displayed a whole bunch of plot twists and a compelling, gritty pace.
(And I’ve loved the extended stay in the Mirror Universe.)

“Discovery” has firmly established itself as a new and different Star Trek while not ignoring its own heritage.

Sure, the young series is not perfect, and all of our heroes aren’t exactly shining examples of the Federation’s finest. But that’s what makes the show all the more interesting.
(I still question the choice to drop the F-bomb.)

More Questions are Piling Up
As for what has sometimes been a confusing extended plotline and a threat to Star Trek canon, it’s evident that what doesn’t make total sense early on has been better explained in later episodes. That said, there are still lots of questions that need answering…
(What good TV series with ongoing mystery isn’t chock full of question marks?)

My one suggestion to the writers is to just be sure not to create too many loose ends. Because it can be difficult tying them all up. Now, I don’t expect everything onboard the Discovery to be all nice and tidy anytime soon, because season 2 has already been announced.

But plenty of other science fiction TV series and even some with extended runs have had difficulty wrapping up their major storylines.

So we don’t want history repeating itself.
(Unless it’s part of the space-time continuum)

No Conclusion
With all of the storytelling flexibility that sci-fi allows for, it’s amazing how much unfinished business remains.

Usually this frustrating problem for viewers crops up, because a TV series gets unexpectedly cancelled. Similarly, a movie may come out with important cliffhangers that don’t get resolved by a sequel that’s never made.

Now, I get that the economics often require the sudden end to a series that’s not cutting it in the ratings. But without a conclusion to the underlying story, that’s clearly an extremely unsatisfying situation for any fan.

So if there are any Hollywood producers out there trolling for reboot ideas…
Here’s my bucket list of marooned science fiction stories I’d love to see resolved. And I don’t mind that that we’d likely need to reimagine some of the content and hire new acting talent.

Maybe it’s not a whole new series. Perhaps, it’s just a one-off.
But just finish the story!

“Lost in Space” (1965-1968)
Do the Robinsons and Dr. Smith ever find their way back to Earth or to Alpha Centauri?
(Even the writers of the 1998 movie with William Hurt and Gary Oldman, hoping for a sequel… never answered that question!)

“The Starlost” (1973)
(This is the one with Keir Dullea from “2001: A Space Odyssey”)
What happens to the giant space station ark? Do they save it? Does it burn up?
(I think Seth MacFarlane may have already presented his own answer in “The Orville” episode “If the Stars Should Appear.”)

“Space: 1999” (1975-1977)
Do the inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha ever find another planet to live on?
Or do they just putter about their Moonbase Alpha forever or until their resources run out?

“Sliders” (1995-2000)
Does the team ever get back to their universe and their own version of Earth?
(I know by the time the series was cancelled, no viewers in any universe cared anymore… The cast had almost completely been replaced by then, but come on… Getting back home was the whole point!)

“Star Trek: Nemesis” (2002)
Yeah, we lost Data in this final “Next Generation” movie, but there’s a big cliffhanger we’ll apparently never get to see resolved: Does B-4, Data’s earlier (and less evolved) android cousin ever grow to essentially become Data?
(Data shared his neural engrams with B-4.)

“Tron: Legacy” (2010)
What happens after Sam and Quorra escape the Grid and get back to the real world?
Now, this is a sequel the producers could easily do, because “Legacy” is so recent… if Disney decides to finally green-light it.

Any more to add to the list?

Those That Stuck the Landing
If it’s beginning to look like major loose ends are a natural byproduct of sci-fi storytelling, that’s not always true. Here are a few TV series that successfully finished their major narrative arcs…

And yes, except for the original “Star Trek,” all of the subsequent Trek series had their finales.
(But what really did happen to Deep Space Nine’s Captain Sisko?)

And I regard “Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country” (1991) as the original crew’s wrap party.

So, with the exception of the TNG Data storyline… “Star Trek” as a whole has done just fine.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be so concerned about “Discovery?”

Infinite Possibilities
But the irony about “Star Trek: Discovery” is every narrative door that closes appears to reveal the existence of a new one. We’ve been introduced to the idea of parallel universes (in the plural) and (Spoiler Alert) time travel with the spore drive via the mycelium network. That opens up so much!

Now, since there are (Spoiler Alert) Mirror Universe character crossovers in this series, I want to go find Prime Lorca!

Make it so…

Just please keep track of it all.

#HappyTrekkie

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