- Oct 22, 2010
Again, I haven't seen Picard, but the characterisation stood out to me in STD too. There were either total nerds or there were cold action heroes. Michael Burnham was both. None had any depth. Generic action series things.Yet the idea that the grittiness of shows such as Picard makes it mature and relevant, while the ethos of yesteryear Star Trek is now naive or too old-fashioned to survive, feels misjudged. The hope, optimism and sincerity of the original 60s series was in itself a radical act: a way of portraying the future as it should be (a multiracial cast in a time of civil rights struggle; peace and cooperation in a time of nuclear terror), rather than merely wallowing in things as they were.
In the 90s, the darker spin-off show Deep Space Nine pre-empted Picard’s themes by 27 years, asking what happens when the principles of the Federation are compromised by war. The difference was that Deep Space Nine, much like the best of Star Trek, managed to balance its meatier themes of PTSD, faith and wartime atrocities with episodes where everyone got dressed up to visit a holographic version of 60s Las Vegas.
It is this, more than anything else, that is fundamentally lacking from modern Star Trek: a sense of tonal texture, a spirit of curiosity about different worlds and cultures, and the crackling chemistry of a warm and interesting crew. Instead, as is the case with Picard, its new characters have felt like broadly drawn “badasses” at best and, at worst, downright cold and unlikable. The prime example being Michelle Hurd’s new addition Raffi: the wise-cracking ex-Starfleet officer who insists on calling Picard “JL” (instead of Jean-Luc), and can often be seen vaping.
And yet the appetite of modern audiences for that bygone era of Star Trek storytelling still exists. Just take the popularity of one of the strangest things on TV: The Orville. Originally trailed as Seth MacFarlane’s Family Guy-esque parody of Star Trek-style sci-fi, it has instead revealed itself as a trojan horse for his at-times entirely sincere Star Trek: The Next Generation fan-fiction, featuring MacFarlane cosplaying as the dashing captain of his very own Enterprise. Its aesthetics are similar, its stories are similar, it is clearly based around Roddenberry’s ethos of exploration and optimism. There are even episodes written and directed by 90s Star Trek writers and directors.
As we all cower in our homes for fear of a threat that we cannot see, a dose of optimism about the future would be more appreciated than ever. But, sadly, all we are left with is a choice between Star Trek that doesn’t really feel like Star Trek at all, or a dodgy covers band playing the greatest hits. What a fate for a once-great franchise.