Oh, Star Trek: Short Treks. You have always been a mixed bag of doorknobs. The audience understands you guys want to play in the Star Trek universe, but it just ends up with you guys pulling out rejected stories you sent to other places and put an ST sheen on it. Sometimes, you can get all up in it and Star Trek it up, but even then, you guys nod to guideposts but don’t pull it together. Michael Chabon is the king of this, and the quicker they kick him out of the writer’s room, the better off the audience will be. Chabon uses his undeniable talent to try to bend ST to his will instead of add to the scene.
The Short Trek “Q & A” is a great example. The first thing Chabon does is give Number One a name. This is the cheesiest-dick move of cheesy dicks, everywhere. EVERYBODY knows Captain Jeffrey Hunter Pike addressed his first officer as “Number One” and that’s her actual name. The joke is that’s her station, and the way you address her. Anyway, let’s bullet-point this stuff:
- “No need to shout, Ensign.” That’s a hilarious fifty year callback.
- While the roller coaster turbolift with the completely pressurized volume is visually a treat, it doesn’t make a lick of sense. Not a goddamn lick of sense.
- Spock’s next logical question as to what Number One’s “freaky’ is isn’t a specific thing to that character, but rather that she is a huge ST:TNG fan and cribbed Geordi’s love for Rodgers and Hammerstein. These guys on STD can’t write originality.
- “The Trouble with Edward” is similarly ridiculous. It’s like they know what to do but can’t bring themselves to do it, with a “Captain’s Log” entry. It’s like CBS wants to give us Star Trek but feel that they can’t, somehow. But H. Jon Benjamin in a Star Trek kinda goes the way you would expect. Graham Wagner didn’t do any tribble research, but he cashed his check, anyway.
- My notes for “Ask Not” were just “Three Pike episodes in a row; Kalinda Vazquez wrote this mess; so, Starfleet are assholes.” That really, really isn’t a good sign.
- “Ephraim and Dot” and “The Girl Who Made the Stars” aren’t for me because they are cartoons. As an audience member, I don’t care about cartoon versions of the live-action show I enjoy. And, honestly? What did “The Girl Who Made the Stars” have to do with Star Trek in any way?
- The “Children of Mars” episode was ridiculous. I’m glad for the “rogue synth” set-up for Star Trek: Picard, but the fact they think this atonal, disjointed crap that is “Short Treks” is synergistic assets is crazy. CBS needs to not just up their game, but shake out the cobwebs. People aren’t going to fall for this for much longer. Ask the UPN.
That said, let us turn our meager attentions to Star Trek: Picard and be pleasantly surprised.
One of the hallmarks of the original Star Trek series was that it didn’t talk down to its audience, and never played the “look how smart we are” card that Star Trek: Discovery did all the time and woefully failed at. You can’t hang a lantern on your cleverness if, you know, it’s not clever in the first place. Trying to borrow interest from TOS with its clever references to Shakespeare only fails if you pull random bard of Avon quotes and stick them on your episode with only a tenuous or oblique reason as to why they’re there.
But speaking of borrowed interest; there’s a whole bunch of heavy-lifting you don’t have to do if your structure your initial episode in a straightforward manner and base it around the twilight years of Captain Picard. Quick; can anybody tell me what S1E1 of Star Trek: Discovery was about? Something something Klingons, Spock’s sister, Michelle Yeoh is in it? Spock’s dad once pronounced his name SAY-wreck, and now he laughs a lot? Now, that’s deliberately arch, of course, but you can logline Star Trek: Picard in two seconds to help word of mouth and promote sampling. I mean, as much as anybody is going to sample something behind a paywall: “At the end of his career, now-retired Admiral Picard faces his disappointments and sinks his dog-breeding, wine-making, Romulan-rescuing teeth into a doozy of a mystery: who is Data’s daughter, and why is she a battle angel? And why does a franchise whose entire existence is predicated on the human condition now crib wildly from Blade Runner? Didn’t somebody in the room once get a Pulitzer?”
OK, that’s a little arch, too, but you get what I mean, yes? At least Picard takes familiar tropes to assuage the audience and gives us a little Vaseline-on-the-lens soft focus version of what we loved back then and updated it.Star Trek: Discovery just slaps you in the face with its Pink Floyd “The Wall” version of ST “How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?” version of medicinal Trek with its four minutes of Klingon subtitle reading, whole main characters just walking borrowed interest, and systemic dismissal of established storytelling.
Get an actor of Patrick Stewart’s skill and gravitas, though, and that covers a lot of sins. Give him a couple of Romulan caretakers keeping him company in his dotage for services rendered and then drop Data’s daughter in his lap?
I dunno; modern Star Trek is such a bucket of pop culture cioppino that Star Trek: Blade Runner seems like a good idea in 2020. Just go easy on the 9/11 allegory and tell us a story you don’t have to be a phD in the mirror universe to understand.