The Coming Star Trek Renaissance

 

Not too long ago it seemed as if Star Trek was at a low point. Yes, the IP had a lot of attention thanks to its 50th anniversary, but it appeared that its corporate owners CBS and Viacom/Paramount Pictures could not fully take advantage of this event. There were many specials and such, but the only new product in 2016 was the film Star Trek Beyond, which did not do too well in the box office. In fact, to date it is the last Star Trek film to be produced. Then there was the backlash against both corporations when they came down hard on Star Trek fans with stringent, draconian guidelines regarding their ability to create fan films. At that time, aside from some TV specials, there wasn’t any original Star Trek content on TV. This was striking being that the franchise got its start in the television medium and flourished there.

However, CBS did announce at that time that a new Star Trek TV show, Star Trek: Discovery, was coming, except that it would only be available for subscribers of their new CBS All Access streaming app. So to see new Star Trek content on TV, one was forced to pay for it. This did not bode well for Star Trek: Discovery, and the show already had to face harsh criticism from disgruntled fans. Many of them balked at the design aesthetics, the cast that focused on women and people of color and different sexual orientations, and the fact that most of its season was devoted to a war. As Star Trek: Discovery debuted and failed to meet fans’ expectations, the franchise was further hobbled with the reports that a new Star Trek film was stuck in development hell. It seemed to be that as many cynics and haters were proclaiming: Star Trek was dying.

But the Star Trek franchise, as always, proved that it had life. Star Trek: Discovery began to find its legs and winning over skeptics. Its second season was light years better than its first with new cast members and better written scripts. This culminated in an epic season finale that rivaled anything seen in a Star Trek film and launched the series in a bold new direction while setting up respectfully the original TV show. That wasn’t all.

It was announced that there were other Trek shows in development. While the announcement was greeted with some interest it was Star Trek: Picard revelation that awoke the sleeping Star Trek fandom. The news that Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) star, Patrick Stewart, would reprise his iconic role of Jean-Luc Picard excited Star Trek fandom as did the news that the show would take place decades after TNG. This placated those who disliked the idea of reboots. It was clear that the original Prime Star Trek universe still existed and had stories worth exploring in it.

Star Trek: Picard was a much needed boost for the franchise as we fans eagerly wait for it to stream early next year. What added to the enthusiasm was the fact that Star Trek: Picard will feature other characters from TNG and even Star Trek: Voyager. This illustrates that the corporations finally recognized that they have their very own fictional universe to play with and utilize to its fullest. They have even given it an official name: the Star Trek Universe. We last saw this going on in the noughties with Star Trek: Nemesis and Star Trek: Enterprise. It is hoped that Star Trek: Picard will also feature characters and events from other series like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Enterprise. Additionally, there are two new animated shows coming soon and rumors of even more shows featuring the Klingon, Worf, and Captain Christopher Pike (as played by Anson Mount, who stole his scenes in Star Trek: Discovery’s second season). Even all does not seem lost on the film front. A Star Trek film directed by Quentin Tarantino is still being discussed. With all this, it can be said that a new Star Trek renaissance is upon us.

What is aiding the new coming Star Trek renaissance is that the corporations CBS and Viacom are merging and the two mediums they had the rights to, TV and film, can now fully interact with each other as last seen in noughties before both corporations separated from one another. So now full resources can be used for Star Trek with less of the corporate red tape over the usage of characters and situations.

Star Trek has faced many ups and downs throughout its fifty-plus years of existence. Some of its worst lows were after the original show and Star Trek: Enterprise were canceled. But time and time again after a lull, the franchise came back strong with renewed vigor. The upcoming shows and developments clearly show that Star Trek is coming back strong.

 

 

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Star Trek: Discovery Finds Its Space Legs In Its Second Season

 

*Warning: Major spoilers will follow, do not read until you have seen season two of Star Trek: Discovery.

The sophomore season of Star Trek: Discovery just concluded with its epic two-part episode “Such Sweet Sorrow” and what a way to cap off a successful season!

The episode concluded the season-long “Red Angel” arc where it was revealed that Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) was the mysterious Red Angel that appeared throughout the galaxy during pivotal moments in recent history. In “Such Sweet Sorrow”, Burnham used the Red Angel suit to time travel into the past to mark her appearances in the second season and to lead the starship Discovery and the show into its bold new direction for season three.

The second season of Star Trek: Discovery was a marked improvement over the first one with compelling stories, strong characters and a respectful acknowledgment of the original canon established in previous Trek shows. Due to the many stylistic changes done to the show, even though it’s a prequel to the original Star Trek, the setting looked too advanced and didn’t gel with the original. This was unavoidable given the original show is over fifty years old, and Hollywood magic advanced considerably since then.

This led many outraged fans to dismiss Star Trek: Discovery as not a real Trek show, even though the showrunners insisted it was set in the prime timeline. The episode “If Memory Serves” reiterated this point by having an episode recap from the very first Star Trek pilot, “The Cage”, which proved once and for this show is set in the original Star Trek universe. People had to either accept the visual changes and move on or reject the show altogether. Those that accepted the show were rewarded with a well-crafted season.

At the start of the season with premier episode “Brother”, Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount), the original Enterprise captain beamed aboard the Discovery and took command. His mission was to investigate unknown red signals that appeared throughout the galaxy. It turned out the signals coincided with appearances of the enigmatic Red Angel. This figure would show up at a pivotal moment that aided the crew of the Discovery. Pike and Burnham realize that the Angel is tied in to the disappearance of his science officer Spock (Ethan Peck), who apparently went insane and murdered people. For the first half of the season, they track him, and this quest culminated with the now-classic “If Memory Serves” which took Pike and Spock back to the planet Talos IV. It turned out that Spock was framed by the secretive Section 31 organization and that Section 31 was taken over by Starfleet’s AI, Control.

The AI wanted to get access to ancient alien knowledge recently stored in the Discovery to gain sentience and Burnham received warnings that Control would eventually destroy all life in the future. This plot propelled the second half of the season and led to the truly monumental “Such Sweet Sorrow” where Control took the Section 31 fleet against the Discovery and the Enterprise. The only way to keep this knowledge away from Control was to send Discovery into the future. This led to a busy, crowded and spectacular starship battle that was simply brutal and dizzying at times. The battle sequences looked like they could have been lifted out of a modern Star Trek film that involved drones, refitted shuttles as fighters, zero-g fist fights, Klingons (who are now thankfully more in line with the traditional Klingons), and even repair droids (!).

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Star Trek: Discovery’s Canon Problem

A major complaint about Star Trek: Discovery is that for a prequel set before the original Star Trek it violates so much of what was established in the original series that it should be thought of as a straight up remake. Everyone always brings up the fact the for a prequel the world shown in Star Trek: Discovery is too advanced when compared to Star Trek or that it violates the established canon of this franchise.

There is legitimate cause to feel this way and the coy remarks by the show’s powers that be do not help matters, they promise us that the show is set in the Prime Universe of Star Trek.  But this has not satisfied many who then online negative posts and videos and proclaim the show is not true Star Trek.

Of course, a lot of the criticisms about Star Trek: Discovery are valid, but we should be careful about using the show’s look and canon problems as a reason to dismiss it as something that doesn’t belong with Star Trek.

One thing to consider is that throughout its 50-plus years Star Trek and its films and spinoffs have many continuity problems. For instance, in the early episodes of Star Trek there wasn’t a United Federation of Planets. Instead there was a United Earth Space Probe Agency, then it was never clear as to when it took place. Remember the infamous misspelling of James Kirk’s name in the second pilot “Where No Man Has Gone Before”? The good captain’s middle initial was shown to be R. instead of T.

Then there are the Klingons. In the original show they were basically swarthy humans with actors in brownface portraying them. In the first film and onwards, the aliens were revamped and looked more alien thanks to ridges now showing on their foreheads. This perplexed fans until Star Trek: Enterprise offered an onscreen explanation as to why the Klingons looked so different.

And while people love to complain about Michael Burnham being Spock’s unspoken of foster sister, what about his renegade half-brother Sybok? Until the film where Sybok first appeared (Star Trek V: The Final Frontier), Spock’s best friend Kirk didn’t know Sybok existed. It stands to reason Spock never bothered mentioning Burnham. He is a rather private person.

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Star Trek: Discovery Vs. The Orville, Part Two

Let’s continue comparing two television shows that are similar to each other on the surface—Star Trek: Discovery and The Orville. In Part One, we explained how The Orville is an homage to the traditional Star Trek TV show with its set up and characters. Now its time to look at Star Trek: Discovery, which some feel is Star Trek in name only.

When Star Trek returned to the small screen in September 2017 with Star Trek: Discovery, many fans were bitterly disappointed with what they saw. While some criticized the 6th live-action Star Trek show for its flaws, others zeroed in on the fact that this Trek show is not a traditional Star Trek show. They point out that though it’s well done it lacks the essence of what made Star Trek so special. To be honest, they are justified for feeling that way; yes, we all miss the good ol’ fashioned Star Trek with a heroic starship captain (usually a white, male human) and his diverse bridge crew going from planet to planet and solving problems by the episode’s end.

Breaking the Mold of Traditional Trek

While these vocal critics are justified with their objections about Star Trek: Discovery, we must to keep this in mind. Star Trek had to do something different to stand out. By the time the last Trek show, Star Trek: Enterprise, finished its run, Star Trek had run its creative course and fell out of favor with fans who wanted something new and exciting.

During the long hiatus between shows, the return of Star Trek to the small screen was a difficult process as many different ideas were pitched to resurrect the franchise. For a time, Bryan Fuller, a veteran of the previous Trek shows, was the showrunner for Star Trek: Discovery, but ultimately left before it first aired. He did leave his mark with the direction and look of the show which broke the mold of a traditional Star Trek program. On the surface it seems familiar: the adventures of the crew of a starship called Discovery, which takes place a few years before the very first show. But it’s not what fans expected as they found out the newest Star Trek show is a definite contrast to what we think of as Star Trek.

The franchise is known for having an optimistic view of humanity and the future. Discovery instead has a darker, more cynical tone, even more than Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which for its time was derided for being too pessimistic. This perception is also reflected in the way the show looks. The sets, despite their futuristic look, appear gloomy and cramped. Not the kind of place we’d want to be assigned to if we were at Starfleet. Dutch angles, lens flares and dim lighting accentuate the overall flashy, but depressing look of the Discovery. While all this makes show seem edgy it comes at a cost to the warmer and more inviting look of standard Trek.

Naturally, being that this is a modern show with state-of-the-art special effects and production values, the show looks more futuristic than even the Star Trek spinoffs from its 1990s golden age. Holograms are everywhere and the show’s technology is incredibly high tech. The special effects are just breathtaking and are movie quality. It’s as if mini-theatrical films are being streamed for us. Being that this is a prequel to the original show from the 1960s, this ultra-futuristic look violently clashes with what was established in Star Trek and adds to the argument that the show is not part of the proper Prime Universe.

This is an unfortunate and unavoidable due to time, advances in special effects and larger budgets. While recapturing the exact retro look of the old show works for fan films it would not for a modern show trying to attract more viewers. Still, the perception remains that this incarnation of Star Trek is so dissimilar to the Trek we know that it is hard to believe that it takes place in the prime timeline; not to mention the contradictory background information that some have spotted.

battle of binary stars

The running arc of the first season of Star Trek: Discovery was of a war between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. The way the enemy race of the Federation was reconceptualized was simply terrible. While the new makeup and ship designs made the Klingons appear more alien and fiercer, it robbed them of the bravado and spunk they were famous for.

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The Orville Vs. Star Trek: Discovery, Part One

The biggest rivalry going on right now on TV is between Star Trek: Discovery and The Orville. Technically, that is not entirely accurate since Star Trek: Discovery is only available on the CBS All-Access streaming service while The Orville is broadcast on the Fox network. Still the competition between the two and the fandom generated, especially with The Orville, is quite fierce.

What is fueling the intense rivalry among fans is how similar both shows are to each other, at least when comparing The Orville to general Star Trek, not necessarily Star Trek: Discovery. In fact, The Orville perfectly captures the look and feel of Star Trek circa the 1990s. Meanwhile Star Trek: Discovery has a decidedly different tone than past Trek shows, which has proven to be controversial among fans.

With distinct differences and similarities, it’s an interesting exercise to compare both shows.

The Orville: Bawdry Expectations

When it debuted in 2017, The Orville was one of those programs that suddenly appeared in everyone’s radar. It was first marketed as a flat-out comedy that promised to spoof Star Trek and other sci-fi programs and films and their tropes. But viewers quickly learned that was not the case with The Orville. This could be why the show did not appeal to critics who were expecting bawdry, outrageous comedy in the vein of Family Guy. After all, this show’s creator and star is Seth MacFarlane, the creator of Family Guy.

Unlike its early trailers, The Orville’s humor is much gentler and dryer. Although at times it tries to be edgy with its comedy and it doesn’t always work. In fact, at times its attempts at humor feels forced and ill-timed, which throws off the tone of some scenes. Honestly, The Orville cannot be considered a comedy and it doesn’t really spoof Star Trek. Coming off more as an homage, the program’s smart scripts examines relevant social issues and sci-fi concepts like a classic Star Trek show. It’s why the show has resonated with fans yearning for traditional Star Trek and are disappointed by Star Trek: Discovery and the recent films. But it also turned off those tuning in to expect the next Family Guy or at least something along the lines of Galaxy Quest.

While MacFarlane is famous for delivering raunchy and over-the-top humor with Family Guy and his film Ted, many didn’t realize that he is a big Star Trek fan. In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter in 2011, he confessed that his dream was to pitch a Star Trek TV show. In the interview when the subject of Star Trek came up, Seth MacFarlane said, “But I’d love to see that franchise revived for television in the way that it was in the 1990s: very thoughtful, smartly written stories that transcend the science fiction audience.” Well, he clearly has his chance to do a Star Trek show with The Orville.

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