Sunday, March 8, 2020

Trek Watch: "Picard" and "Star Trek: The Next Generation"

I am not a "Trekker" like I'd consider some of my friends.  I do not have a tattoo of the Enterprise on my forearm (hi, Stuart).  I do not know the names of episodes as chapter and verse.  I mostly only watched Star Trek (the Original Series) and Star Trek: The Next Generation.  And I quite liked both.

Y'all can go to bat for DS9, Voyager and Enterprise.  I'm aware they all have their plusses, but I didn't really watch them.  And I honestly mostly watched ST:TNG out of order in syndication after season 4 wrapped up (why our local channel showed them out of order when I was in college, I will never know, but I generally knew what season it was by which uniform they were wearing).

When Picard was coming on, I realized it'd been a while since I spent much time with ST:TNG.  In theory, I liked the show, and I'd watched bits here and there on BBC America during lunchbreaks when I worked from home, but I was genuinely not sure the show held up.  Further, I wasn't ready to wade through 22+ episodes per season of 7 seasons of TV (plus a few movies) to catch up and be ready for Picard.

Thus, I turned to Stuart, who gave me the following watch list:

Season 1
Encounter at Farpoint
The Neutral Zone

Season 2
Meaure of a Man
Q Who

Season 3
The Offspring
The Best of Both Worlds I

Season 4
The Best of Both Worlds II
Data's Day
The Drumhead

Season 5
Unification I and II
I, Borg
The Inner Light

Season 6
Face of the Enemy

Season 7
The Pegasus
All Good Things..

Also (sadly) Star Trek: Nemesis.

We finished "The Drumhead" (Season 4) last night, so we've still got a ways to go.  Plus, I keep getting distracted and saying "oh, yeah, that one was good" and putting episodes on here and there.

You hear a lot about how the cast are actually fast friends from working on the show and now their frequent Con appearances.  What's interesting is how organic the cast feels on the show - for all the workplace dramas and comedies out there, there's something organic about all of the players and their roles, yes, but how they seem to relate to each other on a weird, nuanced level.  It may not be Mad Men level character development, but it was never supposed to be.  As they dig into *ideas* each episode, they do still have characters who *work* together and it's those exchanges that can feel oddly very workplace-ish and with a lot of general pal-ness that absolutely makes sense.

From day one, ST:TNG was also a show I never took to in the same as as ST:ToS in that I didn't want to be any one of the characters in particular (Kirk.  I wanted to be Kirk.  He had great hair, a devil-may-care attitude and didn't know how to throw a punch, either, but he always came out on top).  But I did love the idea of the crew and journeying on that ship - so drop me in there as myself.  I want to push away at plexiglass screens like they do something, and I would be completely happy.  I want to leap into action when Captain Picard says "make it so".  I want to hang out at Ten-Forward and have a robot dude hanging around like it's no big deal.

To this day, I still don't love the aesthetics of ST:TNG.  There is carpeting on the walls of the turbolift and they really, really went in on beige.  For my dollar, the bridge of the Enterprise NCC-1701 as seen on Discovery is the cat's pajamas.  NCC-1701-D's Engineering has berber carpeting.  That's just weird.

And the uniforms in Seasons 1 and 2 are... a little rough.  I don't think it's a mistake the main cast got upgrades for Season 3 (but you can still see the extras in old uniforms in the background).  The outfits look especially itchy now in HD where you can really get a feel for the "all synthetic materials that look very not breathable" accentuated by the t-shirt collars.  And, man, nearly every alien race and any officers in leisure-wear are deeply committed to a pastel palette with a minimalist design aesthetic that borders on pajamas.

Admittedly, I'm not even particularly a huge fan of the design of the Enterprise NCC-1701-D.  It does look like a logical extension of the Star Fleet design, and I get the jump from Constitution class to Galaxy class, but I'm allowed to think the NCC-1701-E may be way cooler, even if Roddenberry was all about that Cruise Ship in Space look.

At the end of the day, if your job is to marry characters - who are being seen episodically in an era before binge-watching - with a theme of the week, ST:TNG was knocking it out of the park.  In the very few episodes I've watched, there have been trials about the guilt of humanity, trials about whether an android has rights and is self-aware, an examination of the *nature* of trials.  We've had new horrors arise in the form of removal of free will and collective group-think on a show that's about the strength of diversity of thought.

On a tangent - as a kid, I did not care for Counselor Troi and did not get, at all, her place on the bridge - or, perhaps, on the ship at all.  As an adult, it's an astoundingly forward-thinking bit to have an analyst riding shotgun to a ship's captain as he navigates diplomacy and serves as a foil to "ready photon torpedoes".  And, it's a handy device narrative for characters going through a thing to have the chilled-out shrink on board to whom they can unload their worries and woes.  So, here's to Troi.

What I do not get is that they didn't do more to establish who else was sitting at the Ops and Conn stations once Wesley had jaunted off to intergalactic adventure.  Seems like an opportunity lost, but they were juggling a large cast.  It's just a series of randos doing day work at SAG scale with very early 90's hair.  But Star Trek has always had it's fair share of background crew and red shirts.

Meanwhile I'm also watching Picard, which is built for today's television audiences.  Serialized rather than episodic in nature, we're getting a sprawling novel's worth of story rather than a short story or novella.  We're also not getting Picard at his best, nor within the confines of Starfleet - and, there's a deep suggestion Starfleet itself ain't what it used to be in the wake of tragedy.

People have been pretty (surprisingly) hard on the show, which I'm mostly just happy exists.  I like the overall mystery and plot, and I'm not clear what, exactly, people don't like.  That Picard Skywalkered on the Federation?  That things didn't wind up all peaches and cream?  That everyone doesn't just fall in line because Picard walked into the room?  I dunno.  Fill me in.

If Star Wars had Luke run from his role (which I still think is a fascinating path), I am more than okay with the aged former Admiral going out for one more adventure in the wake of crippling disillusionment and at the behest of long held loyalties that go beyond Starfleet itself, in fact at odds with Starfleet.  There's some deft stuff going on character wise with Picard as he walks back toward his own past, which is not all glory and sunshine - and some of the things that happened in ST:TNG would absolutely *not* have actually wrapped up neatly just because it's time to end the episode.  So, yeah, I'm here for it.

It's also a kick to see Peyton List pop up in another show I'm watching, and that Allison Pill ain't half-bad, either.

It's also been a kick to see some non-Federation sanctioned space as well as an acknowledgement that our alien races of Trek aren't monocultures, including the Romulans.  It was a feature more than a bug that prior meetings with aliens were with ambassadors, generals, politicians, etc... or, you know, unknowable energy beings of vast cosmic power.  But it's curious to see something even like a Romulan sect of warrior-nuns and whatnot.

I very much appreciate the watch-list from Stuart as it's been a reminder of specifics and the attention to detail in moving from ST:TNG to Picard.  You can certainly get away without seeing those episodes - they don't avoid necessary exposition - but to actually travel back and see exactly what events they're addressing (minus the trigger-event of the Synth attack on Mars, which seemed to throw off a great number of people), is something absolutely fascinating in our modern era of TV.  And I do feel like Trek is making the most of it on all sides of Starfleet history, from Discovery to Picard to whatever is coming with Captain Pike and the gang.


Stuart said...

Ha! You left in the "sadly" before Nemesis in my list.

The League said...

The truth is, somehow I completely missed Nemesis when it came out. I've never seen it! So, this is going to drive me there and get me to form an opinion. The funny thing is, I thought I had seen it, and then people were comparing the first Kelvin timeline movie to Nemesis, and I was like "what the hell are they talking about?" and realized I'd somehow never seen it.

Stuart said...

By the way that that TNG list was restricted to episodes I thought would be relevant to Picard. I feel I would be remiss if I didn't also recommend the following:

Season 3
Who Watches the Watchers
Deja Q
Sins of the Father
Yesterday's Enterprise

Season 4
First Contact

Season 5

Season 6
Ship in a Bottle

Season 7
Lower Decks

Simon MacDonald said...

Picard's been great and I've been loving it. I can't understand why people are crapping on it. I think it's way better written than most of Trek.

Oh those old ST:TNG costumes were amazing. IIRC there was an interview with Jonathan Frakes where he was commenting on the costumes on something Patrick Stewart use to do which gained the name "The Picard Maneuver". Because the costume used to ride up on the actors they'd have to pull them down constantly to keep them from bunching up.

The League said...

Once you see them tugging on the costumes, you can't unsee it. I don't think it's a mistake the female leads are mostly in other uniforms, with Troi in her various outfits and Crusher wearing a hefty lab coat. It's kind of weird they leaned so hard into a space-onesie when no one would have thought anything of a two or three piece uniform. And it very much helps that they also gave everyone sort of shoulder pads in Season 3 so they have something of a silhouette. It's just odd that The Orville made this all look so easy.