Ten-year-old me would be thrilled to see “Star Trek: Picard” hit the screen. Star Trek was an important part of my childhood (yes, I’m a nerd) — not the 60s, William Shatner, bodysuit-wearing, original “Star Trek,” but its self-reflective, late-90s, bodysuit-wearing younger cousin, “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Having never watched the show on the air, I always felt a little disconnected from the world of “Star Trek.” I’m over the moon (haha, get it?) to see faces I thought to be lost to time — first and foremost Patrick Stewart’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard and Brent Spiner’s lieutenant commander Data — return to the screen. But it is clear that the newest story in the “Star Trek” franchise is not a re-hashing of the old or the familiar.
“Star Trek” has long been a reactionary franchise, responding to social issues but giving in to the modern age of its time. The original series addressed racism and sexism in the 60s, albeit with a subtlety that felt more afraid than outright. Then, “The Next Generation” answered the hokey, cushioned TV fighting of the original series with a more retrospective tone. Yet it was no less topical, looking at stress around surveillance and military action at the end of the Soviet Union. The two are both of their time.
While “Star Trek: Picard” hits the nostalgic, fuzzy part of the brain that makes any reboot after 30+ years something special, it is clearly not the same type of show as “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” The reboot immediately reminds me that what is expected of today’s television is far different than 30 years ago. Gone are the days of family devotion to sitcoms and weekly commitments. A show must be thought-provoking, well written, pragmatic but optimistic, and of course, aesthetically appetizing in order to maintain a devoted audience.
Unlike “The Next Generation” which hung onto its stories for a mere hour, “Star Trek: Picard” fully commits itself to its story and tone. Retired Admiral Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) struggles with his life on the ground, tending to his vineyard and nursing his failures, with an eager eye fixed up at the stars. Having reached a midpoint in the first season, Picard finds himself unraveling forgotten secrets, a web of remembrances from both TV and movie depictions of “The Next Generation.”
The show settles on the two, fan-favorite storylines from the original show that lasted beyond one or two episodes: android lieutenant commander Data’s search for humanity and The Borg, a hyper advanced civilization hell-bent on domination. It is the natural choice for anyone who has watched “The Next Generation,” especially when considering the course of television today.
Just like the social frights of past decades, “Star Trek: Picard” observes that the issue of our time is the evolution of technology. While in “The Next Generation” Data and the Borg were diametrically opposed examples of what could be, the threat of society’s advancement has finally arrived. Both technical wonders are gone both Data and The Borg met their end in the final movies of the series but are now exploited by capitalism and nationalism.
Thematically, this is where the new show differs most from the old; all is not well in the world of “Star Trek.” Gone are the endless, detached Cold War-esque conflicts between the United Federation of Planets and the Klingons or Romulans. Instead, the rot is everywhere. Picard’s own failures have led to disasters affecting the whole universe, from planetary devastation to widespread injustice.
The show enters with an old man barely keeping together. He is haunted by the loss of Data, a close friend and a freak accident that led to seemingly all of the universe’s problems. It does not feel like a story had to be invented in order to revisit “The Next Generation;” instead, the novelty of the show makes me wonder how it hadn’t been revisited earlier.
“Star Trek: Picard” expands to a new set of characters accompanying the titular character, Picard, and they do not fail to impress. Particular focus seems to have been made to expose stories forgotten or avoided in “The Next Generation.”
I particularly enjoyed Allison Pill’s Agnes Jurati, a researcher who seems to be from a completely different world than the laser guns of “Star Trek” and Michelle Hurd’s “Raffi,” who helps Picard even as she confronts his betrayal years earlier and her drug addictions. Everyone is lonely in the show, and barely anyone is able to keep it together.
It’s new for “Star Trek,” but it’s old news for anyone who has watched anything on TV in the last five or 10 years. Still, to see a relic like “Star Trek” commit to the changing times and to do it so well is exciting.
“Star Trek: Picard” cements “Star Trek” not just as a beloved name of the past but a still relevant, still exciting name of today. Unlike well-worn franchises like “Star Wars” and “Harry Potter,” whose spark has waned in recent iterations, “Star Trek” does what few things — movies, shows, books, you name it — have done: bringing back a beloved, main character in a way that leaves little to be desired besides next week’s episode.