TV TATTLE

Star Trek: Picard knows that the idea of Star Trek is a hard sell in 2020, but it avoids tackling the difficult questions it poses

  • CBS All Access' second Star Trek series, starring Patrick Stewart reprising his iconic role, "is extremely interested in examining how the idea of Star Trek must change to make sense in 2020, and using one of its most familiar and beloved faces to do it," says Joshua Rivera. "Unfortunately, all of these questions have an easy, cheap answer, and they are never far away in Picard. If the Federation has changed, maybe it’s because it was compromised. If an alien race is treated with hostility, well, they are up to some shady stuff. And if an organization is ultimately oppressive, principled people who work within it are definitely not complicit. The good news is that even three episodes into a ten-episode season, Picard is still very much gearing up, and there’s still plenty of room for the show to surprise viewers and choose the more difficult, complicated answers to the questions it poses. Giving the show the benefit of the doubt, however, feels too much like the hollow centrist play that Star Trek needs to move past if it truly wants to be resonant today. Because the upsetting truth about 2020 is that, when faced with certain disaster, there are people who will ultimately refuse to work together, who’d rather rule over ruins than labor toward an equitable future. Star Trek is a franchise that believes in institutions, and it’s fascinating to see Picard acknowledge that institutions don’t just fail, they can become co-opted entirely while still posturing as a force for the public good. The challenge of the show, then, echoes our real-world political challenge: being honest about why that happens. Whether or not it does that, Picard has a chance at being the most relevant Star Trek has ever been — just maybe not for the reason it intends to be."

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    • Star Trek: Picard is bad, boldly going nowhere new as the clichés pile up: "Picard, suffice it to say, is nothing like The Next Generation," says Darren Franich. "That doesn’t have to be a bad thing, though the streaming hysterics make you long for leisurely syndicated charms: Holodeck reveries, Ten Forward wind-downs, comfy lean-back helm chairs, the eternal promise of an O’Brien Family check-in. Instead, Picard is bad for the same reason many contemporary genre series are bad: It’s a long-form story with zero forward progression. In the pilot, Picard decides to set off on a new mission. Two episodes later, he’s still organizing a crew for that mission: The thrills of pre-production, dramatized! Serialization used to be exciting, back when Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was crafting a multi-season war epic. The three episodes of Picard I’ve seen confirm that serialization has become a haven for television’s hackiest writing, a way to justify stretching one limp story across empty take-forever hours."
    • Picard is a Peak TV experience: "What’s more noticeable are the differences," says Mike Hale. "Picard, the second streaming Star Trek series (after Discovery), is a peak-TV experience, and it immediately feels — on the surface, at least — as if it could be the franchise’s best small-screen offering. Next Generation put out mostly 26-episode seasons from 1987 to 1994, back in the day when ambient mediocrity went along with bulk production and modest budgets, and a show could succeed handsomely on the basis of Stewart’s Shakespearean assurance, Spiner’s winsome mugging and the enduring appeal of Gene Roddenberry’s 1960s utopianism. (Also, really tight uniforms.) The new show, created by a committee that includes the executive producer Alex Kurtzman and the novelist and screenwriter Michael Chabon, is a modern animal, beginning with its short season and, most likely, bigger episode budgets."
    • Star Trek: Picard makes Patrick Stewart's character perfectly fits in with the present: "Nostalgia fuels so much of the decision-making in entertainment today that a show like this one, full of familiar faces, could easily feel like a retread no one asked for or a return to the past that diminishes the original," says Brandon Katz. "Neither is the case here as Picard conducts itself with the soft-spoken dignity of its predecessor and the kinetic verve of modern serialized storytelling—at least in the first three episodes provided to critics. Created by Alex Kurtzman and Michael Chabon, Picard delivers a rich new world that shares the classic Star Trek DNA, but is wholly unique from The Next Generation. The most immediate and refreshing difference is format—TNG embraced the plot-heavy, episodic structure of the 1980s and ’90s, while Picard is a more of an action-adjacent, serialized character study driven by our protagonist."
    • Patrick Stewart is terrific, but Picard is definitely a very rough work in progress: "Let’s start with what works about Picard," says Scott Meslow. "It’s no surprise that Patrick Stewart is terrific, because he’s great in pretty much anything not called The Emoji Movie. The show looks great and has some of the best action scenes in the history of the entire franchise. And Picard has a very cute pit bull named Number One who could literally never overstay his welcome. As for the rest… well, at best Picard is a very rough work in progress. The downside of a performance as magnetic as Stewart’s is that it makes everything else look slipshod and undercooked by comparison. Apart from a researcher played by Allison Pill, none of the new characters get much to do. The subplots that don’t involve Picard directly—essentially, a bunch of convoluted politicking involving Starfleet and the Romulans—mostly manage to be confusing and boring at the same time."
    • Despite the cameos and Easter eggs, Picard never feels like nostalgia for its own sake: The creative team, says Alan Sepinwall, "has clearly given a lot of thought to the idea of an elderly Picard. What would he be doing? How would he feel about being away from Starfleet? What might inspire him to go off on one more mission? There is a clear purpose to revisiting the character at this advanced age, and to the story he gets tangled up in...Just as importantly, there is the leading man. With all due respect to Shatner, Nimoy, Brooks, Auberjenois, Mulgrew, Bakula, et. al., Stewart is far and away the best actor to be a Star Trek regular. He made the dire first two seasons of Next Generation watchable through his sheer presence, and when the writing improved, his work took the series to another level."
    • Picard is a new kind of vision for what a Star Trek show can look like: "The ensemble of actors arrayed around Stewart will certainly come to matter more as the season drives forward," says Adam Rosenberg. "But in these opening episodes, Picard lives up to the promise of its title: It's a show about the man who commanded the U.S.S. Enterprise and what his life and perspective look like 20 years later. It's clear right away though that Picard is also about so much more. It's a TV series with the narrative mindset of a movie, and a Star Trek story that's committed to shining a light into dark places that we haven't explored before. This is a world we all know, filled with familiar names and faces and references to lore."
    • Picard is closer to the TV version than the film version: "Part of the issue with Picard is that the television version has historically been significantly different than one we’ve seen in the films," says Sopan Deb. "In the original series, which aired from 1987 to 1994, Picard was a measured diplomat with a talent for staying calm. In the movies, Picard became something else entirely: an action hero, and an impulsive one at that. (Picard’s most famous line, from Star Trek: First Contact, 'The line must be drawn here and no further,' is well delivered by Stewart because of his talent, but it was quite out of character.) This Picard, a version 20 years older than the one we see in Nemesis, is closer to the one we saw on our television screens: witty, warm, inquisitive and fierce about his beliefs in right and wrong."
    • Picard makes it clear early on that the new series is not a Next Generation reboot: "By Star Trek standards, Picard appears uncomplicated and down-to-earth (literally), relatively unencumbered by impenetrable lore, alternate timelines, or detours to the mirror universe," says Ben Lindbergh. "Morally speaking, though, the series is cloudier than the utopian TNG tended to be. Picard questions Starfleet’s judgment (admittedly, not for the first time), but he’s not necessarily right; Starfleet’s side of the story is persuasive, too. In typical Trek fashion, Picard is partly inspired by real-world events: The essential struggle of Star Trek, isolationism versus cooperation, remains resonant in the era of Brexit and President Donald Trump."
    • Star Trek: Picard struggles at times to fly true in its first three episodes: "Attempts to marry the sensibilities of big-screen (specifically, Kelvin timeline) Trek with those of its TV counterpart create discord; there is a slickness to the pilot, particularly in the big action set pieces, that doesn’t quite jibe with the more pensive nature of the small-screen franchises," says Danette Chavez, adding: "Picard is also so packed with plot and backstories, it’ll have you wishing you had the memory banks of Data (Brent Spiner), the dearly departed android whose cinematic death still haunts Picard. In just the first three hours, the series sprints through decades of history, including the tragic events of the Romulan supernova that killed billions and made refugees of millions more."
    • Star Trek: Picard is geared more toward the diehard fan: "The show around him may look different, but the producing team knows Stewart, and the story will feel very familiar to fans — so much so, many of the biggest twists and reveals aren’t even explained for new viewers; not only does Picard stretch to connect Jean-Luc’s movies with the recent reboots, but the first episode ends on a kicker only Trekkies will understand," says Ben Travers. Far be it for a casual fan like me to compare Star Wars and Star Trek (even if J.J. did it first), but seeing Jean-Luc again reminded me of seeing Luke Skywalker at the end of The Force Awakens. Just glimpsing the aged face of a pristine, unquestioned hero from yesteryear was enough to bring back childlike memories of simpler times, when shades of gray never reached the silver screen’s bigger-than-life heroes. Picard made tactical errors and a few other blunders in the past, but he’s still a mythic persona; a hero from the time of heroes."
    • When Star Trek: The Next Generation was bad, it was truly horrendous: "There aren’t just a lot of candidates for the worst episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, I would contend there are a lot of worst episodes, period," says Rob Brickens. "It’s amazing how much terrible content this show produced while simultaneously reviving the beloved franchise."
    • Meet Hanelle Culpepper, who became the first black woman to direct a Star Trek series after helming the first three Picard episodes
    • New York subway is selling limited edition Star Trek: Picard MetroCards
    • Trekkers are using crowdfunding to help fellow Star Trek fans pay for CBS All Access
    • A Picard primer: Here's all you need to know to prepare for the new Star Trek series
    • How Picard reshapes the Star Trek galaxy: J.J. Abrams' 2009 Star Trek film is sort of a Picard prequel
    • Where's Worf and Geordi? Producers made it a point not to bring back any legacy characters that didn’t organically tell this story
    • How Michael Chabon, Picard's Pulitzer-winning showrunner, became interested in Star Trek: "Chabon’s particular passion for Star Trek blossomed when he was 10, thanks to another great influence — a 17-year-old babysitter in Columbia, Md., who was a huge fan of Gene Roddenberry’s original series," reports Jim Ruland. "After attending the first Star Trek convention in Washington, D.C., she brought back fanzines for her young charge, creating a fanboy who would later attract millions of fans of his own. Chabon’s babysitter was black, and Star Trek was more than just a TV show to her." “She told me that Lt. Uhura meant a lot to her,” Chabon recalled. “That was part of my understanding that made the show special from the very beginning.”
    • The Picard team wanted to embrace a more deliberate pace to reflect its 79-year-old star: “I don’t think people look at Picard and go, ‘I can’t wait to watch that action show,'" says executive producer Alex Kurtzman. “I think they look at Picard and they want a deep character study.”
    • Patrick Stewart initially rejected the return of Star Trek: TNG's Data and The Borg: "Patrick, in the beginning, felt like ‘I don’t want this to be a reunion show. I don’t want this to be me and a bunch of legacy cast walking through the door,'" says executive producer Heather Kadin. "That conversation later sparked another with the show’s star once he was officially involved, with the intent being to say 'we think it would be great to have Data — here’s why it’s important to the story.'" Alex Kurtzman called it a "constant collaboration."
    • Stewart says Picard isn't political, but it is trying to send a message: “It has always been part of the content of Star Trek that it will be attempting to create a better future with the certain belief that a better future is possible if the right kind of work and the right kind of people are engaged in that,” Stewart told reporters. “And my feeling was, as I look all around our world today, there has never been a more important moment when entertainment and show business can address some of the issues that are potentially damaging our world today. Now, I’m not saying we are turning Star Trek into a political show, not remotely. What we are making is entertainment, but that it should reflect perhaps in a subtle and gentle way the world that we are living in is what Star Trek has always done, and I think it’s important.”

    TOPICS: Star Trek: Picard, CBS All Access, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Alex Kurtzman, Hanelle Culpepper, Heather Kadin, Michael Chabon, Patrick Stewart, Star Trek




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