How do you revive characters we haven’t seen in nearly twenty years, from a show that itself is over thirty years old? By bringing back our central hero and setting him off on an entirely new quest. Captain Jean-Luc Picard is back, but this time without the safety and crew of the USS Enterprise. But is a new Picard what fans really want?
We find Picard living at his vineyard back on earth, having traded in adventure for the mundane. Soon, however, a strange young woman comes in search of him and sets and him and a new crew off on an adventure to save what might be left of Commander Data’s legacy since his death in Star Trek: Nemesis. That’s about as spoiler free as I can get with a synopsis, but there are a lot of moving parts here—too many.
The biggest problem with Star Trek: Picard for me is its ten-episode structure. While that is the norm for many streaming shows these days, Picard seems intent on telling a much bigger story. As is, everything feels rushed. Characters are introduced, given backstory, and killed all within the same episode. Characters from past series are brought back, only to be brushed aside quickly without doing much. Yes, some of this is simply fan service, but it also constantly feels like they’re in a rush to hit the next plot point or next character introduction. As is, this is the first Star Trek series I can remember where I think previous knowledge is required to enjoy most of it.
Then, there are the bigger issues like it still often doesn’t feel much like Star Trek. Like basically everything since J.J. Abrams rebooted the film franchise, this feels like a generic sci-fi show with Star Trek trappings draped over it. There’s a character here that looks straight out of Lord of the Rings flipping around with a sword. That’s fine in Firefly or other sci-fi properties, but it feels terribly out of place in the world of Star Trek—as does the constant bed hopping, cursing, and brutal on-screen violence. I often was at a loss for what show I was watching until Picard showed up back on screen.
Look, I know long-running shows like Star Trek and Dr. Who must evolve and change with the times. However, part of the appeal of those shows has always been how they kept true to their original ideas. Star Trek is a show about humanity examined through the prism of alien species. How do we stack up to and respond to the warmongering Klingons, or the logic-driven Vulcans? Here, it feels like all the species have been thrown into a blender with clear delineations no longer possible. Then, what’s the point? It’s just a sci-fi adventure show. A very well made one with some impressive production design, but generic as can be in story.
In the closing episode there are flashes of what once made Star Trek great. There are flashes of made Picard such an iconic character. Perhaps a second season will embrace those more, but I have my doubts. Would it be so hard to look back on classic Trek and remember what it once was and could still be again—and simply make it so?