So I’d like to give my two cents (see what I did there?) on the new Star Trek Universe that has recently spawned from the mind of Alex Kurtzman on the Paramout+ streaming platform.
The new content first started almost 5 years ago now, with Star Trek: Discovery, starring Sonequa Martin-Green. The story of this series was that of this experimental starship and her crew that existed in the 23rd century, which places it after the time of Jonathan Archer and the Enterprise NX-01, but before the time of James T. Kirk’s 5-year mission on his Enterprise (NCC-1701). The original premise of the show was to be differently filmed as the main character wasn’t the captain, rather that of a bridge officer. Since then, we’ve seen Section 31 get involved, an evil AI that wants to take out all life in the universe, a stop in the mirror universe, and eventually a time travel to the 32nd century, where they currently reside.
The next series to be added draws from Star Trek’s past and centers around a significantly older, retired Admiral Jean-Luc Picard. This series just completed it’s second season. The first season dealt with the re-acceptance of android life within the United Federation of Planets after said beings waged war on all organic life. (Seeing a pattern here yet?) Now, in the second season, an old friend of Picard’s, Q has returned and messed with the timeline, which our cast of characters now have to go back in time to correct.
Next up was the Lower Decks, an animated series set on the Federation starship, USS Cerritos after the events of the Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and the last movie of those series, Nemesis. As I’m sure you can guess from the name, the Lower Decks centers on a group of Ensigns on the ship who are generally given the dirty, menial jobs on the ship. They don’t have their own quarters, rather just their own bunk space. Even the ship is generally an afterthought, as the USS Cerritos generally is given orders from Starfleet to make Second Contact with various worlds. So while the Enterprise and ships of it’s ilk meet new species and take on super important missions…the Cerritos, not so much.
And most recently, Strange New Worlds made it’s debut this past week. It features Captain Christopher Pike on the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) after the events of the second season of Discovery – when Pike briefly took over command of the USS Discovery. Along with Pike, onboard the Enterprise here is his first officer, Una Chin-Riley, played by Rebecca Romijn, and his science officer, Mr. Spock, played by Ethan Peck, who were both also included in that one season of Discovery. In the first episode, we’re also introduced to a young Cadet Nyota Uhura, played by Celia Rose Gooding, Doctor M’Benga, played by Babs Olusanmokun and Nurse Christine Chapel, played by Jess Bush. We’ve also been told that with Strange New Worlds, the series will be going back to the classic, episodic, self-contained nature of the previous Star Trek television series such as The Original Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and so forth. Whereas Discovery & Picard have featured episodes of a serial nature, as in each episode builds on and continues the story of the previous, almost like a movie chopped up into numerous episodes to form a season.
While I’m glad to have fresh new content to take in on a weekly basis, however I have to share some thoughts on each offering from Paramount here. First off, the first season of Discovery was quite interesting since the main character, Michael Burnham, played by Sonequa Martin-Green was shot from the perspective of a bridge officer who wasn’t the captain and you’d see her personal life onboard Discovery and hear her being paged to the bridge or wherever her presence was required. Certainly something new and different for a Star Trek Series. However, as the series has gone on, every single season, they’ve saved the entire universe from threat after threat of the end of it’s existence & it’s getting old. Also, they’re now so far in the future that their technology has become so advanced that they might as well just be casting magic spells now.
Plus, on top of that…Michael Burnham is now the captain, which as I just stated, took away that unique perspective and has made the show just feel like another Star Trek show. Also, it’s one thing for the Captain to have a differing opinion from the Admirals in the series, which is typically the case in Star Trek – TNG seemed to have a number of out-of-touch Admirals which Picard would have to contradict and prove his side of the argument to be correct, but Michael Burnham is FAR more outspoken and will contradict her superiors all the way up to the Federation President in this show. It’s almost comical to think that she would continue to be allowed to captain a starship when she has a perfectly competent replacement in Saru on the ship as well. She also tends to be quite overly emotional as well to the point that it almost feels like she’s seen crying in about half of the episodes each season. I actually stopped watching this series about three quarters of the way through this most recent season because I’ve just grown frustrated with the writing of the characters and how everything centers on Michael Burnham so much so that many of the bridge crew, who we’ve seen for four whole seasons now, aren’t important enough to be given any personality or depth of character and are largely nameless recurring characters who are played by actors who could be replaced with someone who slightly resembled them, and most viewers wouldn’t notice.
In Star Trek Picard, the series is centered on an old Jean-Luc Picard who is a retired Admiral. The cast of the show have each been given some back story and are far better written than most of the cast of Discovery, but once again…we’re dealing with stories with catastrophic consequences if Jean-Luc & friends aren’t able to come through. Seven of Nine from Voyager is also a central figure in this series, however after returning to Earth from the Delta Quadrant, was not welcomed and accepted by Starfleet & the Federation, and is now a part of the Fenris Rangers, a group of vigilantes who help to instill justice in lawless and dangerous regions of the galaxy. Also, in this most recent season of Picard, she has just had a lesbian kiss with Picard’s former first officer, Raffi…so there’s that too. Also, Raffi tends to refer to Picard as simply “JL” which to any long-term trekkie, is just tacky. Every time I hear her refer to him as that, I can’t help but cringe. However, actors from Picard’s past on TNG tend to make cameos from time to time, so it’s nice seeing Will Riker, Deanna Troi or Data make an appearance, while Brent Spiner also continues to play other various members of the Soong family.
While I think the show is far better written than Discovery is, I do feel that the show largely gets a pass simply due to the good will towards Sir Patrick Stewart and his longevity with the Star Trek IP. That character can do no wrong in the eyes of most trekkies, and for good reason! We’ve enjoyed watching the crew of the Enterprise D & E go boldly for over a decade between the seven seasons of The Next Generation and the four movies produced afterwards. Does the show stand up to that level of storytelling and continuity? Certainly not…and it’s really a shame, because there are so many trekkies/trekkers out there who want so much to be transported back in time to the good times with that crew, and for as great as it is to see them make cameos in this show, it’s just not what we had hoped for. Sadly, I think the production crew knows it too, considering the fact that they announced mid-season that most of the rest of the crew from TNG would be coming back for the third (and I believe, final?) season, next year. So I kind of read it as: “Please don’t stop watching we have *GOOD STUFF* coming up soon!” We shall see.
The Lower Decks is really my favorite offering from Paramount to date. The Lower Decks returns us to the timeframe we already know: we’re right after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis, when Riker & Troi are on the Titan. Our main cast are Ensigns aboard the USS Cerritos, serving under Captain Carol Freeman, and this series returns us to the episodic style of storytelling we’re accustomed to for Star Trek television series. Ensigns Bradward Boimler, Beckett Mariner, Sam Rutherford & D’Vana Tendi are often assigned the menial tasks onboard the ship, but often manage to cause some sort of catastrophe that eventually gets cleaned up by the end of the episode. While the Ensigns deal with the menial tasks, the bridge crew are generally intended to be the other half of almost a dystopian society and are exaggerations of their individual species’ characteristics. I.E. – Lieutenant Shaxs, the ship’s Security Officer is a trigger happy, “shoot first & ask questions later” Bajoran who clearly was a Bajorian Resistance leader during the Cardassian Occupation of Bajor. The storylines typically contain copious amounts of easter eggs referring back to lots of Trek lore, often poking fun at a lot of the intricacies of the everything Trek related. It’s a fun watch!
Finally, most recently, Paramount has debuted Strange New Worlds. Picking up after the season that Captain Christopher Pike spent on the Discovery with Michael Burnham and crew. During that season, Pike found out about his eventual fate in 10 years, so in this series, he’s dealing with knowing his own fate and mentally struggling to keep it together enough to be an effective captain. The first episode was fantastically written, with some depth given to the key crew members of the Enterprise. And the Enterprise! She’s been so beautifully reimagined and is visually stunning, both inside and out! While Paramount has seemed to miss the mark quite a bit with the first two series offerings, the last two really hit that Trek sweet spot that I’ve been missing for years now!
Also mixed in with all of this new content is Short Treks, which are 10-20 minute mini episodes that typically don’t have any bearing on anything in any of the individual series. Sometimes it features the main characters of the various series, while often telling stories with completely new characters. It’s ok for what it is, but I don’t go out of my way to keep up with it.
As you can see, I’m not entirely happy with either Picard or especially Discovery. Picard, I’ll still give a shot next season since they’ve promised us the rest of the cast of The Next Generation, however I think I’m done with Discovery. Since the first season, I’ve said it really doesn’t hold any re-watchability…I know, because I tried! I just don’t care enough about the characters or the stories they’ve told to bother. Sadly, that’s also the case with Picard. The Lower Decks, on the other hand…I’ve watched The Lower Decks season 1 twice and will likely watch it and the rest of their episodes numerous times again. That also will likely be the case if Strange New Worlds continues the way it started.
Just like I’ve seen with long-term prowrestling fans, I see plenty of Trekkies online, berating Discovery and to a lesser extent, Picard. What I’m here to say is this: There’s really no need to hate-watch. I know as a wrestling fan, that I would tune in each Monday night to watch Raw and not like a good 80%+ of it, so when I found NXT — which was the style of wrestling that I liked with good storytelling and compelling characters…until they changed all that. My point is this…being a fan of Star Trek doesn’t mean you have to like everything Star Trek-related. Why put yourself through hours and hours of watching a show that you don’t like? Just stick to the series you do like & let it be. Hopefully for those of us who don’t like Discovery…and according to the average audience score on Rotten Tomatoes (36%), there are a lot…hopefully something will either change with the show or they’ll move on from it entirely, and hopefully produce more shows like The Lower Decks or Strange New Worlds.
There’s also Season 3 of The Orville starting in early June on Hulu that up until recently, I’d consider the general feeling of the show to be more “Trek” than Discovery or Picard. So there’s definitely that to look forward to! Seth McFarlane really hits that Trek sweet spot as well.
Bottom line…don’t waste time watching shows you don’t like just because it’s supposedly part of a continuation of an IP you have liked over the years. Watch what you like, don’t watch stuff that gets you frustrated. Life’s too short. But that’s just my two cents.
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