There was a new Star Trek series announced today, which naturally has generated a lot of discussion. The article itself was terribly vague about what the show might be, other than “new characters” and “Star Trek”. Of course, any details they might be running with now, might change during development: premiering in January 2017 means they’ve got a year and a couple of months to get it to the screen.
The announcement article itself seemed to have as much focus on the deliver method (CBS’s premium streaming service) as on the fact that Trek was returning to the small screen (kinda) after a 12-year absence (Enterprise ended in May 2005).
There has been speculation that CBS’s pushing their own streaming service, not just for the new series but all the old shows as well, might spell the end of those Treks being on other services. With the monthly articles posted on Facebook I see about “What’s leaving Netflix at the end of this month”, it wouldn’t surprise me, but who knows.
The series is said to be unconnected with the upcoming movie Star Trek Beyond (Beyond what? With the last one being “Into Darkness”, I guess this is “Beyond Darkness”. It is very dark…. in space…). as Beyond is set for a July 2016 release, it would make sense for the stories not to be tied together. Also, with shooting finished on Beyond and production barely begun on Announced New Series, any direct crossover/set-up would be very unlikely.
A couple of snippets from the article:
“Alex Kurtzman will serve as executive producer for the new Star Trek TV series. Kurtzman co-wrote and produced the blockbuster films Star Trek (2009) with Roberto Orci, and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) with Orci and Damon Lindelof.”
from David Stapf, President of CBS: “we’re excited to launch its next television chapter in the creative mind and skilled hands of Alex Kurtzman, someone who knows this world and its audience intimately.”
I enjoyed Star Trek 2009 and Star Trek Into Darkness (though I’m still not sure that the latter makes sense after all the twists are unravelled). I do see what some Trek fans mean when they talk about those movies not feeling very like Star Trek, more a trek facade put over a not-Trek story. And even the Wikipedia page for Star Trek Beyond (which currently doesn’t give much in the way of details of the film) says:
“On the original draft by Orci, Pegg commented that Paramount “had a script for Star Trek that wasn’t really working for them. I think the studio was worried that it might have been a little bit too Star Trek-y.” For his role as the primary screenwriter, Pegg had been asked to make this new film “more inclusive”, stating that the solution was to “make a western or a thriller or a heist movie, then populate that with Star Trek characters so it’s more inclusive to an audience that might be a little bit reticent.””
For long-time Trek fans, particularly those of the TNG/DS9(/Voyager) era, this will temper any excitement we might have. But this sort of problem has been present for a while: initially the last TV series was called, simply, “Enterprise”, to distance from the Star Trek brand and encourage a new audience, before changing their mind later, and retitling it “Star Trek: Enterprise”.
The cynical might (and have) suggested that CBS don’t believe in the new Star Trek show enough to give it airtime (beyond the pilot), but hey, geeks will pay good money to watch it on streaming.
To put it another way, there has been a trajectory since (at the latest) 2001, where they want Star Trek, but without the Star Trek. It wouldn’t surprise me if a sizable chunk of the intended audience chooses to wait and see if the feedback turns out good, before spending any money on the thing. Which in turn could lower the hoped financial impact of the series, and a not-renewal even if it is good.
TNG had a cast that really liked each other, and the dynamic was shaken up a bit with two main characters leaving during the series’ run (one during the first season, and both actors returned as guests after they left). The cast dynamic added sparkle, even during those times where the characters didn’t have much to do.
DS9 gave all its characters stuff to do. All the main cast, and even pretty much all of the recurring guest cast. Even Morn, who was in many episodes and never had a single word of dialogue, had an episode all about him.
The original Star Trek had an intentionally diverse cast, which was pretty rare for the time. TNG and DS9 continued in that vein, in their own ways.
I think TOS put as many races as it could on screen, then for the most part refused to make a point about it. There’s a black woman and a Russian on the bridge with Kirk and McCoy, deal with it. TNG and DS9 probably made the most about race: Data with the desire to be human, Worf struggling to fit in with human culture while maintaining his own, Odo trying to find his race, the tensions between Cardassians and Bajorans (particularly see Duet, DS9).
Voyager again was intentionally diverse, and I’m not sure they made much of race at all, but it felt kinda forced. And some main characters didn’t get very much to do at all, and some actors apparently weren’t the easiest to work with. although there’s still lots to like about the series, there’s certainly parts that felt clinical and stale. And there was too much that was inconsistent. This week we’re surviving an encounter with 17 Borg Cubes, just one of which can wipe out half the Federation (to be fair, there was no battle there). Another week, we’re quivering in our boots at the sight of one Borg Sphere, which the Enterprise-E managed to take out in a single shot. And so much more.
The staleness continued into Enterprise. Parts of the first season were so forgettable, that at the end of an advert break, I couldn’t tell you what had happened before it. I didn’t get on with Season 3 when it first aired, I kept getting the “I waited a whole week for THIS?” feeling. It fared better on a later binge-watching. Season 4 did the impossible, the show really started feeling fresh and vibrant. Had they got a Season 5, I think they could have retrieved all the characters from the depths of blandness.
In Trek, generally there’s a few roles in particular that need filled. Captain. First Officer. Doctor. Engineer. Security. Science. Ops and Conn, or navigator and helmsman. Having such a large number of roles can be problematic, if the writers don’t write very well for ensemble casts. And there’s dangers of stereotyping, or not making characters very deep.
There are points when sci-fi on TV can seem stale, recycling old stories, nothing changes (at most, everything’s back the way it was after a two-parter), the characters aren’t interesting, or the interactions between characters isn’t strong, or you’ve seen these dynamics before. Then once in a while, a show comes along that freshens everything up. DS9 and Babylon 5 add some grittiness to the genre, a trend that may have reached its grittiest in Battlestar Galactica. Both DS9 and B5 did ensemble, character development, interplanetary politics and story arcs well, and story arcs became more of a trend. Fine balance to do right, but done well it’s great.
Firefly in particular became a defining moment for the genre, with the monolithic government and the monolithic Blue Sun corporation on one side, the Reavers on the other, and our heroes who jus want to go their way in the middle. Humour, quirk, many people with many motives, but a small core of characters, it’s not a surprise that it’s popular.
What do I want out of a new Trek?
Good stories, good characters. That’s about it. Optimism about the future would add to the Trek-ness, bleak having been more the order of the day since Trek went off-air.
If it’s a weekly show (CBS still in that world), I want each episode to be worth the week wait. If it’s released all at once (like many digital subscription shows have tended to be, in the era of Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime), I want it to be so good, it’s hard to stop after one episode (I remember staying up far too late watching Firefly, when I got the DVDs).
I want it to be the big breath of fresh air, not the stale, clinical, same-old. There’s much discussion about which Trek time-period it should be (contemporary with JJTrek would make most sense, given some shared leadership), but ultimately it doesn’t matter much if it’s good.
What might be a good way to shake up the crew dynamics?
Smaller core cast. Best way to do that? Science vessel. Go out exploring, to give them some variety, but build up to something major. Have an outpost or starbase that they need to go back to from time to time, can have some recurring guest cast there. Have the ship agile for evasive maneuvers, but not the kind of ship you really want to take into battle. Have a patrol ship or two in the area, that you can call in as cavalry or backup when you need it. Some more recurring guest cast.
Behind the scenes, try not to mess up the science too much, and try and get a cast that actually likes each other, and will still be happy to get together at conventions in thirty years’ time.
And good characters, good character interactions, and good character development. That ensign had better be promoted, maybe to a different role, by the end of Season 3.
Trek can be great. The new show could be a game-changer. And I’d really like it to be.
We shall see. Depending if the show comes to a venue we have access to. Think they’ll do a DVD?