Spoilers for Picard below.
I was excited as anyone for Picard, a series that served as a sequel to my favorite television series of all time (okay, it’s second to MST3K).
As hopeful as I was for it, I thought Picard was pretty uneven at best and downright bad at its worst.
One thing I realized was that Gene Roddenberry would have *loathed* this show. Not all of Roddenberry’s ideas about the future (e.g., that humanity would have moved beyond grieving) were great, and they certainly weren’t conducive to drama. But I have to say that I’ve quite had my fill of “the Federation isn’t the utopia you think it is” angle since Deep Space Nine introduced it in the ’90s. Every bit of Star Trek media since then has doubled down on this idea, including the reboot films.
I think there’s this sense among some people that the original Star Trek series was birthed in the midst of this period of optimism and big dreams for American society. This probably comes from the space race stuff that was going on at the time. But the show debuted three years after JFK’s assassination, in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War, at a time when American society was in upheaval. Star Trek offered a chance to see us as our best selves at a time when we weren’t.
I think we need that version of Star Trek again, and we needed the Picard of TNG, the humanist exemplar who represented our best selves. Instead, we got a show where that Picard is mocked, lectured and ridiculed (and sworn at) for those very qualities, and a Federation as incompetent and corrupt as much of our own world’s leaders.
I suspect the producers and writers were concerned today’s audiences would be too cynical to accept the TNG version of Picard, and that he had to be shown as flawed and arrogant and pompous or audiences would never take him or the show seriously. It’s the grimdark take on Star Trek, and it’s not something I’m that interested in.
To be clear, I’m not looking for a fairy tale. I think DS9 did a decent job, for most of its run, with wrestling with the ideas of utopia and its potential problems without dismissing the concept entirely. But similar to what happened to superhero comics in the ’80s and ’90s after Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Killing Joke and Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, the later Star Trek creators became obsessed with the idea of the Federation being flawed. Maybe this is a reflection of American anxieties for the last thirty years, or maybe it’s the libertarianism that has historically run through so much American sci-fi asserting itself over Roddenberry’s utopianism, I don’t know. But I hope the next season of Picard can get back to some of the more hopeful views of our future. I’ve had enough of the post-apocalypse.
And on a less philosophical note, the show was just badly written at times. There were unbelievable coincidences, completely superfluous characters and subplots, and many unearned moments of pathos. It just needs better writing (and to be clear, bringing in Ronald D. Moore is not the answer).
One final note: the whole ludicrous rift-in-space-with-robotic-tentacles was such a ripoff of both the first Hellboy movie and the Mass Effect games that I can’t help but think it was intentional.