So for the past month or so, I’ve been recording a podcast with a friend of mine where we review each episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in order from start to finish. You can find the podcast here (shameless self-promotion is best promotion). The two of us going through the show again got me thinking about something. Why is Star Trek so loved, and what exactly do people love about it?
It’s interesting, because there hasn’t been a Star Trek show for a decade now (the date this is posted will be exactly ten years from the premiere of Star Trek: Enterprise‘s last episode…I was already writing this post when I found that out…funny how things work out). The only thing Trek fans have gotten in the last ten years is a couple of movies that are basically more action movies than anything. So then, what got people interested in this franchise in the first place?
I’ve never actually watched much of the original Trek series (I know, it’s heresy), but I have seen all or at least most of The Next Generation (TNG for short). I used to watch it all the time back when my family first got satellite television. SpikeTV used to broadcast episodes of the show back to back, so I would watch them when I got home from school that day. The show itself was on the air before I was born and ended its run when I was about three or four, so I was never really able to watch it back then. The thing that struck me about the show, and something I really look for in the shows I watch today, was how character driven it is. TNG is not a show that’s driven by action or explosions. It’s driven by characters who are genuinely trying to find their place or deal with personal issues. Sometimes this works beautifully. Sometimes it doesn’t. Such is the nature of television.
TNG is especially a case of ups and downs, mainly because it was born in that time where television was in a state of transition. TNG itself was even the driving force behind a lot of changes in television. But that being the case, it is also true that the first season of the show is very much all over the place in quality. One episode could be an enjoyable romp with good pacing, and the next episode could be stupefying in how bad it is. And yet, despite this rocky first season or so (me and my friend have only done the first ten or so episodes so far), the show went on for seven seasons, and garnered multiple Emmy awards. So the question still remains, what made this show so popular?
Re-watching the first episode for our podcast, I realized part of that reason. The first episode of TNG deals with the crew of the Enterprise encountering a godlike being named “Q”, who places humanity on trial for being savages. The Enterprise crew of course argues that humans may have been savages in the past, but that they’ve changed. The rest of the episode deals with them proving that point, showing that humanity can indeed better itself. It’s certainly a more hopeful vision of the future.
It’s this philosophical nature of the show that I think a lot of people like, myself included. The show proves its intellectual chops right away in the first episode, despite the fact that the episode itself is very uneven. Star Trek as a whole loves to muse on the nature of the human race and its place in the grand scheme of the universe, and I think that science-fiction as a genre deals with that a lot. That’s part of the reason I like science-fiction so much. It’s part philosophical, part spectacle, and part character driven. Or at least it can be. You can also get sci-fi tinged Michael Bay movies that do little more than make jokes about giant robot balls (yeah I’m looking at you Transformers 2).
But when sci-fi is done right, what you get tends to be an incredible experience…if you’re into that sort of thing. There are a lot of people out there who just don’t get science-fiction, don’t understand why people are so enthralled by it. And that’s perfectly okay. Sci-fi was never meant to be an all-inclusive genre. It straddles the line a lot of the time, drifting into most other genres with ease, but there’s always a distinct sci-fi flair to it (or lens flare if you’re J.J. Abrams).
It’s something that TNG as a show understands very well. It’s deep, thought-provoking, and touching at times, but it also sometimes just has fun with its premise. One of the early episodes deals with a region of space that allows people’s thoughts to become reality, and it’s that sense of wonder and mind-bending concepts that made me love Star Trek. It’s not afraid to try something new or be outlandish.
So will we ever see another Star Trek television show? I honestly don’t know. There have been rumors over the years about different projects, but none of them ever came to light. I would love to see another show, but I wonder if it would succeed in modern times. When you look at the popular shows, they tend to be things like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, shows that aren’t very favorable to humanity, instead showing us as bitter and conniving. Is there room in this landscape for a show that presents us as flawed yet well-meaning? I like to think so, but only time can tell.
Well that’s all I have for this week. Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.