Tag Archives: The Next Generation

Your Dad’s Star Trek

It’s a good thing I love Star Trek because I don’t have Showtime or AMC, so I’m sitting out the conclusions of Dexter and Breaking Bad. And since I don’t watch professional sports, I am poorly equipped to talk about anything that’s popular right now.

Except Miley. I can always talk about her.

Resigned to being Twitter irrelevant, Star Trek is my fallback obsession. And boy do I love it. So much, in fact, that I have been in more than one drunken, impromptu Star Trek trivia dual.

So it’s been TNG all the time in my house and I forgot how amazing that show is. Which is a good thing because JJ Abram’s Trek marks the end of Gene Roddenberry’s vision.

And that’s ok. Nothing lasts forever, and by my count Star Trek had 28 years and 11 movies excluding the two most recent reboot films. That’s an amazing run. More than half the time Doctor Who has been on the air. And I think we are all aware that less than half of Doctor Who has been as good as Star Trek. By my record, that puts the franchise that hasn’t aired on television since 2001 ahead. It’s such a long body of work, with so many fantastic characters, that it doesn’t make a lot of sense to be upset about a new vision.

Especially when you consider the market really doesn’t have a place for Star Trek as we’ve known it. What’s popular on television today? It’s all reality TV, police procedurals, gritty adult dramas and genre mashups. Is it really a surprise when we have a Star Trek that’s less interested in philosophical questions and problem solving than in having someone kick the ship’s engine until it starts moving again?

Seriously. Kirk seriously kicked an antimatter engine to get it to work. That is quintessential American grit right there. A TV trope should be named after that–if it’s not already.

Let’s think about when the last truly successful space opera was. Outside of video games, I would probably call it Battlestar Galactica in the mid 2000’s. That was a show that captured the imagination, but was almost cancelled more than once before actually being cancelled. In terms of cult popularity you could probably give it to Firefly... which had 12 episodes and a movie. But both those shows have been out of play for a while and, as I recall, Star Gate Universe was the last memorable attempt at the genre.

And none of these shows are like Star Trek. They are each and everyone darker, more ragged stories about survival. This is what I think JJ Abrams doesn’t get about Star Trek. The show isn’t just about fighting against the odds to win the day. That is a component, though classic Trek preferred to out-think a challenge rather than out-fight it. Still, while episodes vary, the themes tend to be philosophical in nature.

In the broadest definition, Star Trek has been about what we ought to do instead of what we have to do. In any given episode Star Fleet and the Federation are usually the most powerful people in the room because it’s not about beating the big bad. Notable exceptions include the Borg, The Dominion and (if you really want to reference Voyager) species 8472. But whenever that does happen, questions almost always remain about what is appropriate; where the line we won’t cross is.

Except here. Action hero Picard just wanted to kill some Borg. 

It’s almost always about understanding the situation and acting in accordance with our values. Better than our values, really. In Trek humans have generally “evolved” beyond things like greed and genocidal rage.

It’s completely different from the more popular fighting in defense of our values we often see or the do as much cool shit as possible approach to television. In that form, heroes fight as hard as possible doing whatever they can to survive in the name of standing for defending their families, standing for America or just generally protecting their way of life. In Trek it was worth the extra risk or the possibility of losing to remain true to your principals.

Trek is introspective. Outsiders like Spock or Data are constantly making the characters consider why it is they do what they do. And, now and then, they call them out on their BS. In the TNG episode Measure of a Man, Data is ordered to turn himself over to Star Fleet to have his brain disassembled in an attempt to make more of him. Oddly enough, Picard was totally fine with following those orders until Data pointed out that no human would be required to be dissected for government research.

Or the episode where Data creates f****** life in the form of another android. Artificial life creating artificial life! There are so many philosophical considerations. Can an android teach another android? Should an android teach another android? Is that the beginning of a species? Do they have rights? If we try to pull the plug, would we end up in The Matrix or Terminator?

Every Star Trek has one of these characters because the show has always been interested in exploring exactly how we understand the universe and why it is we do what we do.

And we are the better for it. In Star Trek humanity is simply better than it has ever been in real life. I’ve said before that the franchise has an overly optimistic sense of exploration. Real colonialism resulted in genocides, slave trades, horrible diseases and hundreds of years of consequences we still feel to this day. Yet the intrepid crew of the USS Enterprise goes out to explore with generally positive results.

In spite of these flaws and the entire seasons of Trek that could be thrown away, I’m willing to say that I am satisfied with what we got. I’ve come to terms with never seeing another like it in my lifetime. And you know what they say about all good things.

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