Star Trek: Picard (Review & Commentary)
Transcribed directly from an audio recording
The much anticipated Star Trek: Picard has just come out on streaming platforms. As such, I thought this would be a good time to spend a few minutes discussing my thoughts regarding my impression of the initial episode as well as the Star Trek franchise in general. Long story short, many fans have been extremely excited for this series release, especially given the tepid response to Star Trek: Discovery which came out in 2017 from a majority of fans. Many admirers of the franchise felt that Star Trek: Discovery was too far removed from anything relating to Star Trek. The show also divided fans and critics. Upon release, it was generally and relatively well-received by critics but most fans concur that Star Trek: Discovery missed the mark and is, one of the least, if not, least enjoyable television versions in the franchise. Star Trek: Picard so far seems like a course correction to win back the favour of fans around the world.
For context, I’m an incredibly huge fan of Star Trek in general. I’ve been watching this franchise since I was just a small child. My mother thoroughly enjoyed the original Star Trek and I literally grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, which, to this day, is my favourite version of Star Trek. I also thoroughly enjoy the original series, especially the six films featuring the original crew. I recently finished a month-long re-watching of every single Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode and even though this version wasn’t my favourite growing up, I can honestly say that after Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine comes in second place on my all-time favourite versions list of Star Trek series. I am not a huge fan of Star Trek: Enterprise or Star Trek: Voyager. Unfortunately as a child and even growing up, my primary focus was on Star Trek: The Next Generation and the original six films. In regard to the J.J. Abrams universe of three films, I did enjoy these as summer blockbuster films, but I can at least understand that some diehard fans of the franchise, consider these too mainstream and ultimately too different from what they were used to up to that point.
Star Trek is an interesting topic for me personally because growing up, I was often ridiculed or made fun of for liking the franchise. It simply wasn’t cool at the time, and I found this out the hard way. I clearly remember when I was about eleven or twelve; we had a school project in which we were supposed to bring in our favourite scene from a film we enjoyed to class. As such, I showed the class the scene from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country where the two Starfleet officers beam over to the Klingon ship. I was excited to show my peers, but my excitement didn’t last long. I was ridiculed endlessly for my enjoyment of Star Trek and never again did I bring up my adoration for Star Trek for the remainder of primary or secondary school. In 2009, it all changed. J.J. Abrams released his first film in his trilogy and then it seemed that all-of-a-sudden Star Trek became popular and mainstream. I even remember attractive girls gushing about going to watch the film that week, which was astonishing for me, given my overall experience up to that point personally. No girl in the history of my childhood found it attractive to be associated with a Star Trek geek. The trilogy seemed to revive the Star Trek franchise, which, at the time, had unfortunately been at an all-time low after Star Trek: Enterprise and the Star Trek: The Next Generation series of films. As a Star Trek fan, I was delighted that Star Trek was gaining popularity and that the franchise was being reinvigorated again. I certainly was excited to see what would be next. Another series of films? A television series? Whatever came, I ultimately would be excited for.
I was very excited when I heard the announcement of Star Trek: Discovery sometime in 2015. I waited anxiously for the series to be released on streaming platforms in 2017. I even subscribed to Crave, even though I had multiple other streaming platforms solely to watch the show. I watched the initial episode upon release and have watched every single episode since. My excitement was shattered, however, after the first episode. What I saw wasn’t Star Trek, it was a politically focused and social justice warrior themed sci-fi extravaganza. I won’t get into details about Star Trek: Discovery in particular, but what I can say is this. For me, from the get-go, it was all wrong. There are some things that are right in the episode and are well done. I will at least give the show credit where it’s due. With that said, there are plenty of issues with the show namely the overtly obvious political undertones and messages, the stylized sloppy and choppy filmmaking, the redesign decisions by the producers which include the choice to completely reimagine everything we had come to know including the Klingons, the ships, and the important aspects of Star Trek. Further to this point, I also don’t appreciate the fact that they chose all of these choices given that Star Trek: Discovery is a prequel to the franchise. I can understand if this was meant to be a reboot or revision, but essentially, the producers of Star Trek: Discovery, have explained that this takes place in the same universe as what we’ve come to know over the past fifty years. Bottom line, it makes absolutely no sense. The technology is far too advanced for its time and setting, the design is completely different from what we’ve been used to. Every aspect of this show is attempting to be different, unique and controversial. It’s infuriating. If you’re going to fit in the franchise of Star Trek, then you need to fit within its established guidelines of the past fifty years. I don’t mind if there is a refresh to the design, characters and other previously seen items in Star Trek but a complete redo and redesign is completely unacceptable. What I hate the most, however, about this version is how obvious it portrays its message. For starters, the entire crew is made up of what has been historically established as minorities, which isn’t an issue when it seems natural. In this case, it’s beyond noticeable and contrived. As an example, the main character is a short-haired African American female Captain named Michael. The crew is made up of every noticeable and obvious minority representation including an intelligent but silly and less attractive redhead that is on the heavier side, several LGBTQ members, grumpy but assertive female heroes with prickly personalities, an Asian Captain with an obvious accent and so on. I love diversity and I support it one hundred percent. In fact, I am part of multiple recreational activities in the LGBTQ community. I am considered a minority in these groups as I am one of, if not, the only straight male in each activity. I love my time participating in these activities and I support diversity and minority representation one hundred percent. My point of contention with Star Trek: Discovery, however, is that the creators of the show seemed to have obviously chosen their characters, their character’s names, their character’s roles, etc. to reflect what seems like every noticeable minority available. It would be as obvious as a show that was created with ten white thirty-five-year-old males on the bridge. I truly believe that when you go out of your way in this fashion, to make a statement regarding minorities, you severely undermine your whole intention. It’s too on the nose and comes off as contrived and purposeful instead of natural. It literally feels like the creators purposely took a look at every underrepresented minority and put them in critical positions in the show. It could also be mentioned that a majority of white middle-aged males on the show are deemed as evil or the bad guys. I’m glad that Season Two seemed to course-correct its obvious undertones and I’m interested to see what Season Three has in store for us, but I’m not holding my breath. I suspect that Star Trek: Discovery is beyond recovery and with Star Trek: Picard, I doubt that we will see much more of Star Trek: Discovery if the first season of Star Trek: Picard is well-received. On a positive last note though, I probably would have enjoyed the show if it wasn’t Star Trek and wasn’t so obvious in its message. At the time, I was at least glad that The Orville was released around the same time, which gave me an enjoyable and beautifully shot “Star Trek” type show.
My thoughts on the first episode of Star Trek: Picard are quite simple. Firstly, I have been excited for years that we actually received a sequel to Star Trek: The Next Generation. In my lifetime, I never thought this would happen. When I met the entire Star Trek: The Next Generation crew in 2012, I was sure then that we wouldn’t receive any further series or films featuring the cast. I very much appreciate that we are able to continue the journey of Jean-Luc Picard as well as a couple of other familiar members of the Enterprise-D crew and the Star Trek: The Next Generation show. When watching the episode, I felt a general sense that this particular incarnation of the franchise was returning to form and something more familiar to what we’ve come to love. I hope that, as mentioned above, we can see a refresh of certain aspects without seeing a complete revision. I hope that we continue on in a similar vein to Star Trek: The Next Generation, or at least a familiar vein. I do have some issues with the first episode, however, namely the filmmaking. It seems rushed, lazy and almost like a poorly financed fan film. The CGI is less than par for 2020, some of the effects are not quite handled well, and generally, the filmmaking is sloppy. The show contains many camera shakes and movements, lens flairs, quick edits, and generally frantic camera work. The first episode also feels quite rushed. I truly wish it was a two-part episode so that we, the audience, would have time to take everything in. There is a lot to explain in the first episode and every bit of exposition, context, and story felt rushed through. By the end of the episode, I generally felt underwhelmed with what happened in the episode. This combined with the uneven filmmaking, made the episode, honestly, quite unenjoyable, generally speaking. It’s 2020 and frankly, I’ve come to expect better with regard to filmmaking and plot pacing. This show is far from polished or well-constructed thus far. It simply feels lazy and rushed. We’ve been waiting almost two years to see the first episode and the first impression wasn’t great. I know the filmmakers can do better and I hope they do. I hope that Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard don’t effectively kill the franchise. My other point of contention is with the design of Data in this episode. As fans, we know that Data doesn’t age so with this in mind, having Brent Spiner appear with some basic makeup and a wig is simply unacceptable. We’ve seen great de-ageing effects used in films and television for the past several years. Films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have utilized this technology well and even films like The Irishman have all been successful. I’m not sure why the filmmakers chose not to utilize such techniques. Truthfully, we’ve seen free apps like Snapchat able to age or de-age recipients for free, so I’m sure the budget wasn’t constricted enough not to use this technology. It would have been amazing the see Data as he was thirty years ago and this, in my opinion, would have made Picard’s memory of the character so much more emotional and nostalgic. With all this said, I’ll still be tuning in each Thursday to catch the new episode and I’m sure that the pacing and filmmaking will improve. As we know, it often takes shows a little bit of time to catch their stride. I mean, take a look at Star Trek: The Next Generation. Many fans feel that Star Trek: The Next Generation didn’t hit its stride until Season Three. What I can say is this, I’m at least excited to see Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, and other favourites back and I’m still genuinely excited to see what’s next. I’m particularly excited to see Jonathan Del Arco as Hugh. I do ultimately think that Star Trek: Picard will be a success and thus far, some interesting ideas and plotlines have been revealed. I can see they are, at the very least, headed in the right direction. Thanks for tuning in and I’ll catch you next time. If you have a moment, check out my Star Trek rankings list which currently doesn’t include Star Trek: Picard, but will soon enough.