Seven years ago I would have been beyond excited for a new Star Trek TV series, like the one just announced by CBS due to premiere in January of 2017. When Enterprise was unceremoniously cancelled in 2005, despite having hit its narrative and creative stride in its fourth and final season, I gave up hope of seeing Star Trek on TV again in my lifetime. For eighteen straight years, almost all of my childhood, Star Trek had been a staple with at least one or two series constantly on the air, and facing a world without Star Trek in my living room was a depressing prospect. So the me in the period of 2005-2009 would have been thrilled with today’s news. But the reality is that I’m filled with some strongly mixed feelings about the news, despite my undying love for (almost) all things Trek.
Star Trek belongs on television. It’s where the franchise got its start back in 1966 and where its spent the bulk of its time. With six series, over 700 episodes, and over 500 hours of content, TV has always been the home of Star Trek. The ten films, while great fun and a worthy addition to the franchise, are only successful because of the foundation built by years on television. Being on TV allowed Star Trek to set itself apart from the world of science fiction film. It gave the various shows room to stretch their creative muscle but also to tell thoughtful, adult stories far removed from big-budget action and spectacle. Star Trek may have had space ships, phasers, funky-looking aliens, and its fair share of action, but it was at its heart a thinking person’s show. It used its fantastical settings to tell stories that examined some of the core beliefs and assumptions of our lives, often in a way that was extremely contemporary and topical. Star Trek, in short, was political, it was radical, and its characters dealt with problems through knowledge, science, discussion, compassion, peace and understanding. So returning Star Trek to its roots should be cause for celebration.
Yet the me of 2005-2009 didn’t yet know what was in store for my beloved franchise, and had not yet been exposed to the reboot fiasco in which we currently reside. 2009’s Star Trek and its sequel Star Trek Into Darkness, took the visual trappings of the series along with familiar characters and literally rewrote history. The new films altered the universe I’d grown to know and love with a clumsy and unnecessary time travel plot that allowed them to do away with almost 50 years of history in order to give us leering shots of Carol Marcus in her underwear. The reboot is dumb, loud, shiny, and designed to appeal to people who thought Star Trek could have been great if it wasn’t so damn geeky, all while throwing bones to fans like me in the form of obnoxious callbacks to better moments from the franchise in the hopes that I’d look past the destruction of something that I loved just because Kirk ate an apple during the Kobayashi Maru. I’ve written at length about how much I hate the reboot, so I won’t delve too deeply into that here except to say that for my money I don’t and will never consider the reboot to truly be a part of Star Trek despite Leonard Nimoy’s appearances (which is why I only mentioned ten films above).
Suffice it to say, my deep love of Star Trek and my deep hatred of the reboot combine to mean that I greet any new Trek announcement with a healthy dose of skepticism. And despite my pleasure at Star Trek returning to the small screen (though screens are considerably larger now than they were the last time Star Trek was beamed to our homes on a weekly basis), today’s announcement gives me some major causes for concern. First among these is the fact that Alex Kurtzman is developing the new series. As a co-writer of the two reboot films, his involvement all but guarantees that the new series will be set in the rebooted timeline. His writing and producing credits, which include two Transformers movies, don’t give me any confidence that he can deliver on the “dramatic contemporary themes that have been a signature of the franchise” as promised in the press release. I like that they even bothered to make a mention of something that sounds like real Star Trek, but at this point I’m not buying it until they prove they can deliver.
There’s also the fact that Star Trek just doesn’t feel like a good fit for the modern TV landscape. Star Trek has never had to be 100% serialized before, and the level of serialization required from modern TV I feel would never allow Star Trek to explore the kind of issues that have always been at its heart. I feel like Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise really pushed the serialization aspect as much as they could and still feel like Trek, with more character growth and season-long plotlines than we saw from The Original Series or The Next Generation, but still with room for standalone episodes that allowed the shows to examine an issue or a new situation without feeling the need to service the larger plot. Judging from the reaction to the first season of Agents of SHIELD, television viewers aren’t interested in the old, pre-DVR style of individual episodes built to work on their own. Patience isn’t a popular thing these days, and I doubt viewers would tune in these days to see Kirk, Picard, Sisko, Janeway, or Archer deliver a sermon about respecting all ways of life, of providing for all people, and of treating everyone fairly in a peaceful manner. In television these days we like our heroes dark and tortured, our governments corrupt and ineffective, and as little sermonizing as possible. Star Trek was a universe filled with hope, and hope these days is more likely to be ridiculed than celebrated.
And then there’s the way CBS will be presenting this new Star Trek series. Rather than airing it on TV as a part of their primetime schedule, CBS will only air the pilot episode and will then put the rest of the series on their CBS All Access subscription streaming service. Notice the word “subscription.” In order to watch this new series you’ll have to pay $5.99 a month for CBS All Access (and that’s what it costs now, who knows what it’ll be in January of 2017). Currently CBS All Access allows users to stream current and past episodes of most CBS series, as well as live streams of some local CBS stations (minus things like NFL games). Of course, CBS is available to almost everyone in the country, either as a part of a cable or satellite subscription or simply over broadcast. This new Star Trek series will be the first show developed exclusively for CBS All Access, meaning that unless other new shows are announced between then and now people who already have CBS and subscribe to All Access will be paying $6 a month for basically only the new Star Trek series. I’d happily pay $6 a month for new Star Trek (provided it met my standards for what Star Trek should be), but it’s a steep price to pay for a service that gives me access to a channel I already have. I’d rather wait and watch the show on DVD, as it would be cheaper than $72 a year.
Still, despite my concerns and my fears, I will of course give the new Star Trek a try. A lot could happen in the next year, and we don’t yet know enough about this new show to make any kind of permanent judgment. Regardless, I’ll give it a go and be sure to let you know my thoughts when and if it finally does arrive. Star Trek taught me to be positive about the future, so that’s what I’ll do. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to go back to the days when any Star Trek news was met with unrestrained joy, but Trek is just too full of potential to ever fully write it off, no matter how huge are the mistakes that have been made. And if it is a disaster, more Into Darkness than The Voyage Home, I’ll still have hundreds of hours of episodes and movies of the real Star Trek franchise to rewatch instead.
What do you think? Are you excited to see Star Trek back on TV? Do you think there’s a place in the modern TV landscape for Star Trek at all? Do you think this new series will take place in the original timeline or in the new rebooted universe? Are you a fan of the new movies? What’s your favorite Star Trek series or film? Would you pay $6 a month for a new Star Trek show, if that’s the only exclusive content you got? Let me know in the comments!