Star Trek Needs Less Fan Devotion and More Episodes
Five Star Trek shows is a lot of sandwich, Dagwood. Now that we’re effectively down to two, here’s what should happen next.
Star Trek: Picard is over. Star Trek: Prodigy is, for the time being at least, no longer part of Paramount Plus. With Discovery ending early next year, that leaves us with two current shows: Strange New Worlds and Lower Decks. In theory, we still have both a Starfleet Academy show and a Michelle Yeoh Section 31 movie on the horizon.
Not sure if this is a controversial statement or not, but that’s too many shows. Star Trek, as intellectual property is spread thin with each series only getting ten episodes apiece. After years of debate over why each series struggles, it’s time to clear the clutter and be real.
Star Trek is not “too woke”. It’s not “too different”. And it isn’t “ignoring the fans”. Far from it. What systemic problems exist have nothing to do with showrunners, writers, actors, or COVID compliance officers. But Star Trek can always improve. And as this moment where most of the shows are either ended or ending, this is a good point to ask: how and where should the franchise pivot?
The Genre Hop
The impetus for asking “what next” comes from more than just the in-betweenness of things. It’s not only because we’ve got a few weeks to spare before Lower Decks returns. The biggest reason to ask “what next” is because of what just happened–namely the “every episode a big swing” that was Star Trek: Strange New Worlds season 2. Killer doctors, human Vulcans, animated crossovers, and a full-on musical show that SNW has an “everything’s wild and the sky’s the limit” mentality.
And according to an interview with Variety, that is only going to continue. Executive producer Akiva Goldsman says “where we haven’t been, we will try to go”. And showrunner Henry Alonso Myers says they are “trying to come up with something really great and cool and different for our actors”. Essentially, the bigger the risk, the sweeter the reward.
On paper, the “more is more” model makes a lot of sense. Boldly go where no one has gone before is kind of the entire franchise’s motto. However, to restate: that’s a lot of sandwich, Dagwood. And the question is, how does the team behind SNW (and all Trek shows) make sure they do not bite off more than they can chew?
The Case of the Star Trek Musical Episode
“Subspace Rhapsody” is an encapsulation of everything that Strange New Worlds‘ creative team wants to do. It shows both the potential and the pitfalls. A musical episode is gutsy. It requires much more than just working extra on weekends. It requires a team to come in to compose the songs, it requires choreographers, and, more than anything it requires time.
The musical episode is incredibly fun, but it betrays the one thing Star Trek needs more of than anything else: time. More than that, it shows how much each Trek show needs assurances. A musical episode needs more than a single season of preparation. Broadway musicals gestate for years. If the team behind SNW knows they have the greenlight for multiple seasons, then they have the time and the assuredness to plan something as big as a musical episode well in advance.
Goldsman and Myers want to keep pushing the envelope? I’m on board. Western episode? Sounds good. Claymation? Go for it. Just make sure there’s enough time to get it right. And while we’re on the subject…
Less Star Trek Shows, More Episodes
Not to rain on the Starfleet Academy parade nor slight Section 31, but there’s apparently only so much money in the streaming till these days. Spreading those dollars across so many shows seems counterintuitive. In the “golden age” of Star Trek, there were never more than two shows on the air at once. TNG and DS9. DS9 and Voyager. Enough Trek to suit multiple interests. Not so much Trek that longer seasons cannot be afforded.
In other words, instead of having three or more Trek series at once, stick with two and give them longer seasons. Twenty episodes instead of ten give creative teams more space to experiment, take big swings, and still make time for character growth and world-building.
Worldbuilding especially is of critical importance because, like Star Wars, Star Trek sometimes feels like it’s a little too focused on people with recognizable names. Your Kirks, your Picards, even your Noonien-Singhs at this point. In fact, that last part is so important, let’s devote an entire subheading to it.
New = Good
Full disclosure, this article exists not because of a Variety interview. It exists because the same writer who called Star Trek: Discovery a failure, whinged that SNW is moving “further away from the franchise’s core”. I cannot overstate this: taking big swings is the best thing SNW is doing at the moment.
Time issues aside, it’s when Trek tries new things that it excels best. Crossing live action over with the animation? Easily one of the most fun episodes in years. Having M’Benga straight-up murder a Klingon ambassador in cold blood? Hugely challenging to character, show, and audience. That’s a good thing. Even the musical, flawed though it was, proves that Star Trek can handle major genre-bending.
What’s less good is lingering on the canonical past. Who cares if Spock is all caps “IMPORTANT”? Does it matter that Chapel and Spock don’t last in TOS continuity or that Carol Marcus has Kirk’s baby? No. In fact, SNW even wisely acknowledges that the timeline, she is a-changin’ in the episode “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow”. It is not necessary to “give the fans what they want”. In fact, it’s impossible. Fans are not a monolith.
To sum up: more episodes, more time, more new ideas, less reliance on the past, and fewer shows in total.
Oh, and pay actors and writers a fair wage. That helps, too!