New Star Trek Series in the Works
So, Star Trek is finally returning to the small screen. The announcement seemed like it came out of nowhere, but it also makes a lot of sense. Trek is one of the very staples of popular culture, and, even with a few absolutely superb films attributed to the franchise, it is a formula that is best suited for television. Let’s also not forget that there are more sub-par films in Trek’s film series than truly outstanding ones, not to mention a couple of real groaners. Star Trek started on television, and that’s where it works best.
The series is scheduled to debut in January of 2017. That’s little more than a year from now. This article can’t give you this news any better than the official press release, so here it is at this link. One interesting aspect is that will be served to us on the silver platter of CBS’ streaming service. I guess that’s keeping up with the times.
The most worrisome aspect of the new series is not whether or not it is connected in plot and story to the rebooted film franchise, but whether it will have the same inherent problems that that franchise does, and with one of the reboot writers, Alex Kurtzman producing this new series, those fears are definitely well-founded.
Sure, Kurtzman knows Trek very well, and there are aspects of the the new films that are superlative examples of someone writing the scripts that cherishes Trek’s long history. My favorite example is how the character of Spock is introduced. In the original series, we learn (in separate scenes and even separate episodes) that Spock is not all Vulcan – that he is, in fact, half human, and that his mother was human. We learn that, as a youth, he was bullied by Vulcan children. We learn that he was the first Vulcan to join Starfleet. We learn that his father wasn’t fond of his decision to deny a spot at the Vulcan Science Academy.. Kurtzman’s script for Star Trek (2009) was able to blend these elements into a single through-line for the character (that he was made fun of and even discriminated against due to his human side, and that’s why he chose to join Starfleet in defiance of the Vulcan way). It takes a smart writer who appreciates the history of Trek to be able to seamlessly integrate that backstory into the plot of the film (which, just so happens to concern Kirk a bit more than Spock).
Yet, while Kurtzman might know his Trek, he doesn’t seem to know his science. Both films he worked on had great pace and a lot of energy, but to achieve that kinetic energy, the scripts sacrificed much in the way of credibility. Case in point: Supernovas threaten entire galaxies, singularities are both black holes and time portals, people can beam to places light years away, including planets and moving ships, and a journey from Earth to the Klingon Empire takes literally two minutes.
These kinds of storytelling shortcuts don’t play all that well in a film, and they won’t play at all on the small screen. Star Trek’s scope is pretty wide, and a lot of the drama would go away if journeys could be instantaneous or if the laws of physics were simply ignored. Sure it’s science fiction, and the writers of past series made up some of their own terms (tachyons, anyone?) and fudged things here and there, but they also checked with science consultants and made use of large distances between worlds to add to the drama rather than take away from it. I think the recent Trek reboot films were very much targeted an an audience the producers believed to have short attention spans. However, Star Trek is, at its heart, a science fiction franchise, and not merely and adventure serial, and it is one which the viewers might actually be challenged with thoughtful and ponderous stories: there’s no need dumb everything down or to move things too quickly in order to keep people from tuning out. If the story and characters are good, people will stay tuned.
What should this new series be? Well, that’s a pretty broad question. I think the show’s producers should consider the younger audiences whose minds might be shaped by this new show. Maybe they should try to make something fresh for a generation that is so used to superb special effects and exquisite production values, even on the small screen. Find some way to engage that generation whilst still implementing the Star Trek formula.
There’s all different types of adventures of adventures out there, and different ways to tell such stories. Star Wars is back in the public consciousness, and comic book-style storytelling is the order of the day. Trek can use aspects of these styles but it should also be quite different from those other approaches. It should do what it has always done: explore the human condition. It should probe some great moral questions. It should highlight great friendships between characters that the audience will care about. I think the producers should step back a bit from what has come before and think about what the new generation of young adults might be missing when looking at what is out there right now for them to embrace in the popular culture. Once the producers find that, they should use that as the inspiration for this new series.