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‘Star Trek: TNG’: a misnomer?

Captain Kirk retired from Starfleet in the year 2293. Jean-Luc Picard assumed command of the Enterprise-D in 2364. That’s a gap of 70+ years. Even in an era when lifespans have lengthened dramatically,[1] it’s a stretch to call Picard’s crew “The Next Generation.”[2]

Then again, “Star Trek: A Subsequent Generation” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

  1. Memory Alpha suggests that the average human lifespan had lengthened to 120 years by the TNG era. A 137-year-old McCoy visits the Enterprise-D in the newer series’ pilot episode.  ↩

  2. Technically, the “next generation” was already serving in Starfleet at the tail end of the Kirk era.  ↩

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Picard’s final mission

Actor Michael Dorn, who played Worf on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, is currently spearheading a movement to bring his character back to television.

With all respect to Dorn, Star Trek’s eventual return to TV shouldn’t be a vehicle for Worf; that character has already appeared in more episodes than any other in Trek’s history.

And the new show shouldn’t further J.J. Abrams’ alternate universe, either. That shiny, whiz-bang world is best-suited to the big screen.

No, the next Star Trek TV series should follow the final days of Jean-Luc Picard in Starfleet. Give us just a few hours’ worth of story, explaining how the beloved Next Gen captain finishes his career.

Here’s why a Picard-centric miniseries is the way to go:
1. Patrick Stewart is pushing 75. While other key TNG actors could reprise their characters in another decade or two, the window is closing on Stewart’s ability to swashbuckle. Let Geordi or Riker (or Worf) have their moments in the sun when they turn 75.
2. The last Next Gen movie, Nemesis, failed to bring closure to the TNG narrative. Its weak-sauce villain and clumsy plot left the audience with a bad taste in its mouth. Picard—and Patrick Stewart—deserve better.
3. Plus, a miniseries is a perfect format for dipping our toes back into *Trek* on TV. It would demand only a short-term commitment for Stewart, whose busy acting schedule might make a multi-season run unappealing.
4. Focusing on Picard would allow the show to up the dramatic stakes. Stewart is likely the best actor to ever play a major Star Trek role. Leveraging his talent, Trekcould find its place in TV’s “New Golden Age” of recent years—think Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, and *House of Cards*. I’m not saying Picard should become a murderous misanthrope, but Trek needs a new, darker tone in today’s television era.

What story would the series tell? I’d like to see something more character-focused, at a very small scale. No galaxy-wide war. No Deux-ex-machina meddling from Q. No fan-service appearances from other TNG characters. Just Picard. Maybe he spends his final years commanding an archaeological vessel, and his well-intentioned exploration draws him into some unexpected conflict?

Honestly, the actual plot device isn’t that important. Just give us clever writing, quality production values—and a fitting send-off for a favorite captain.

UPDATE: In August of 2015, Patrick Stewart was asked whether we might see Picard again. He seemed pessimistic:

It’s possible. I think it’s unlikely. But it’s possible. The series wrapped over 25 years ago and we’ve got a rather elderly Captain Picard now. So I don’t know. It would be… it could be entertaining.

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Ship of fools: Star Trek TNG’s (socially awkward) Enterprise.

If Star Trek: The Next Generation accurately depicts humanity’s future, get ready for some very awkward conversations. The show’s main characters all struggle socially. Consider:

  • Worf would rather eat you than meet you.
  • LaForge’s best friend is a robot, he intimidates his employees, and he makes out with holograms.
  • Picard can’t relate to the crew unless he’s bossing them around. He only deigns to cavort with his underlings at the series’ very end.
  • Data’s whole M.O. is making social faux pas.
  • Dr. Crusher’s bland bedside manner only reminds us how much we miss Pulaski.
  • Wesley’s a gangly, self-conscious teenager. And those sweaters!
  • Even Riker (supposedly the Enterprise’s smooth operator) can’t sit or stand like a normal person.

I can’t wait for our Star Trek future! Impossibly powerful technology. The eradication of poverty. And… unbearably uncomfortable dinner parties.

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Trek envy

J.J. Abrams’s Star Trek reboot focused on the franchise’s original characters: Kirk. Spock. McCoy. Scotty.

It must feel unfair to the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation. After all, in terms of sheer screen time, they’ve got the original cast beat. We have many more hours of Trek with Picard at the helm than with Kirk. Yet no one’s seriously considering a TNG reboot. And even hard-core fans would squirm if Abrams tried to shoehorn Troi or Geordi into the alternative timeline established by the new movies.

That hasn’t stopped the actors from trying. Every so often, Brent Spiner or Jonathan Frakes shameless pitch themselves for the next Abrams flick. “Of course they could bring me back!” they protest, “It’s Star Trek, for God’s sake! A malfunctioning transporter! A clone experiment gone wrong! Time travel! You fans should write letters demanding my character’s return!”

This sort of self-promotion irks me, for several reasons. First, it reeks of desperation. Open groveling breaks my heart. Second, it proves how little these actors understand storytelling. Fan service does not a good plot make. Finally, such role-grubbing seems ungrateful. Where’s the respect for the fictional universe that brought them international fame and commercial success?

Then again, maybe they shouldn’t be grateful. Trek has a way of hijacking actors’ careers. Once you’re typecast as the childlike android or the chair-challenged commander, it’s tough to earn a non-Trek gig.[1] You’re doomed to attend an endless series of nerdy conventions, answering the same questions again and again. There’s only so many times you can wax eloquent about Wesley’s sweaters or Riker’s beard before you go mad.

It’s no wonder that the TNGers hunger for a more mainstream spotlight.

  1. The only notable exception is Patrick Stewart, whose British theater connections (and sheer awesomeness) kept his career from going Picard-centric.  ↩

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The best Enterprise

Baby boom Trekkies loved the original TV series’ ship (NCC–1701). Millennials had Picard’s ship, the 1701-D. But my ship, my Enterprise, was NCC–1701-A—the short-lived duplicate we see in Treks IV-VI. The Undiscovered Country is the first Trek I saw in theaters; that film cemented my fondness for its imaginary vessel.

But it’s not just nerd nostalgia that makes 1701-A better. The refit Enterprise (both 1701 and 1701-A) looks better than any other Star Trek ship. It has a simple, utilitarian appearance—not the retro corniness of the original series’ design (and J.J. Abram’s reboot), nor the smooth, oddly-aerodynamic sleekness of the Next Generation-era ships. The 1701-A design is so beautiful that the first film dedicates five full minutes to a majestic fly-by. Some people think that scene is boring. Those people are wrong.

The 1701-A’s interior aesthetic bests its Enterprise siblings, as well. None of these sprawling, 2000-square-foot luxury suites from the Enterprise-D. Instead, enlisted crew share bunkrooms, and even a ship’s captain gets relatively cramped quarters. The bridge feels submarinish—metallic and stark—compared to the plush, over-carpeted interior of Picard’s bridge, or the 60s show’s cardboard sets.

I do sometimes wonder what happened to the Enterprise-A, since the ship disappears from canon after The Undiscovered Country. According to a toy model’s documentation, the vessel gets placed in a museum. A TNG comic indicates that Scotty tours the 1701-A after his unlikely rescue by Picard and Co. (TNG: “Relics.”) And in William Shatner’s (non-canonical) Trek novels, Kirk (newly resurrected after Generations) pulls the Enterprise-A out of retirement for one more mission to save the galaxy.

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Join Starfleet! Corrupt leaders, and no chance at promotion!

Enlisting in Starfleet (Star Trek’s exploro-military outfit) seems like an awful career move.

For one thing, you’re pretty much guaranteed to work the same job for the rest of your career. Thirty years later, Chekov’s still stuck at the conn. Uhura is still manning the phone lines. Scotty’s still buried in engineering somewhere. Among the show’s original crew members, only Sulu ever managed to escape Kirk’s orbit and snag his own ship. And things don’t get better for the Next Generation; for twenty-plus years, that crew toils away, trapped under Picard’s command.

And it’s not like Starfleet couldn’t use some better leaders. Their top brass is notoriously corrupt. Every admiral we meet eventually betrays the Federation. One conspires to start a war. Another steals his wife’s anti-aging medicine. One willfully ignores peace treaties. Still another presides over a witchhunt. Heck, the entire Starfleet Command gets taken over by mind-control crawdads at one point.

Starfleet’s like any other company, in the end. If you can’t stand the boss, steer clear.