Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Thoughts On the Teaser for the New Star Trek Series

New Crews, New Villains, New Heroes, New Worlds

Those are the words from the teaser for the new Star Trek series, herein known as Star Trek: The New Series or ST:TNS. Don't look at me, they won't give me a real title either. They are the closest thing I have to insider information. They don't make me excited. Hell, they don't even make me happy. Put quite frankly, they make me a little pissed off.There is something that makes for a long lasting series. It doesn't matter if it's Three's Company, The Brady Bunch, Friends, Seinfeld, Battlestar Galactica or freaking Jeopardy. The one thing ALL OF THEM had in common was a central cast, even if it is a single cast of one for Jeopardy.  Even Quantum Leap had Sam and Al and every episode Sam was someone different but he was still Sam. Think about it.

Let's take MASH as an example, because I grew up with that show. Yes, Henry left and we got Colonel Potter. I always liked Potter better anyway. Yes, Trapper John left and we got BJ and there was Frank/Charles too. At the end of the day though, we always had Hawkeye. We always had Radar. Klinger was around from the first season onward as well and, let's face it, MASH just wouldn't be the same without Hot Lips. I had my first celebrity crush ever on her in like 1984.  Yeah, it's like that. And yes, I know the series ended in 1983 but it was in re-runs BEFORE it ended. And then what happened?

Over time, you really grew to love these characters. You felt like you knew them. When I was little I wondered what was in that still that they were always drinking out of. Now I'm bitter because they won't share. The thing is, I had a real attachment to them and so did the rest of the audience. You tuned in every week to find out what they were up to and what was going to happen to them. It mattered to you because they were your friends. When Hawkeye kissed Margaret it was exciting. When Henry got shot down on the way home we were all in shock. (Okay, I was in shock the first time I saw it. I missed the episode the first time around. Something about a wet diaper I was wearing I think.) I could go on, but I think my point here is made. It was the people that had us all tuning in every week.

Here's the thing: ST:TNS is advertised as new crewS -plural. We've all seen episodes of Trek at one point or another that feature multiple starships. The Battle of Wolf 359 comes to mind, as do multiple episodes of ST:DS9 during the Dominion War. The thing was that the Enterprise crew was always the main cast of ST:TNG. The crew of DS9 was, oddly enough, always the central cast of ST:DS9, along with the odd Ferengi here and there, all of which were still in the mix for the war. When our friends went through hell, we went there with them. It didn't matter if it was Kirk taking over the crime syndicate in "A Piece of the Action" or Archer in "Shockwave Part I and II" we went bled with our heroes because they were part of our lives. It doesn't sound like the new series is going in this direction though, and that bothers me.

If, and this is a big if, I'm reading this right, we're not going to get a central cast. If they're going to jump around from crew to crew with no continuing cast of characters, what's the point of tuning in every week and/or paying for the CBS All Access if we're not going to have a crew we care about? Where does the connection come from week to week?  I work for a living. I have kids in another state that I struggle to keep up with. I write. I read. I game. If you're not going to give me a cast of characters that I can get to know and actually give a fuck about why would I tune in?

Listen, we've all heard the debate about what made ST:TOS great. Was it the tech or the message? Was it the first inter-racial kiss or the thought of crossing interstellar distances with about the same amount of difficulty that the US Navy has crossing the ocean now? I've heard nerds rage at each other about this. I've read more on the subject than I quite frankly care to as well, but know this: What made that show work was the crew: Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Sulu, Chekov, Uhura, Scott, etc. When the ship was shaking and Scotty was screaming "I'm givin' 'er all she's got Captain!" what came next mattered to us. The messages were absorbed by identifying with the characters. The tech surrounded them and made what they did possible. In both cases, it was the characters that made us care.

So here is the point: I hope I'm wrong here. We lost a decade of Star Trek on TV because a movie failed to make money and "the audience was saturated." What's going to happen if this series fails because these asshats won't use a formula that they have used time and again for decades? Why would they do this? Listen, I know they're starting a new service and they need a revenue stream to make it viable long term. I know how loyal Trek fans are because I am one. I also know that Star Trek: Nemesis failed because the movies had not stayed true to what worked for the TV show. Now they're trying a new idea, built from scratch, that doesn't stay true to the history of the brand. Here's hoping that it works because I want to see this brand continue to move forward.

The really scary part is that all my other complaints make sense based on this. Think about it this way: Why don't we have an announcement about a cast? Because there's not going to be a steady cast. Why don't we have the name of a new ship? Because there are going to be eleventy bajillion of them. Why don't we have the name of a captain at least? Same reason. Why haven't we seen new uniforms? Maybe those will change. It it's a new crew and a new ship every week they could be using new time periods every week too. Lord knows Trek doesn't have a consistent continuity so there's no reason to worry about screwing it up.

This is a business too and let's think about things this way: How much is it going to cost to continuously construct new sets? How much is it going to cost to constantly be making new uniforms for new actors? How much is it going to cost for the constant changeover in props from episode to episode. If it doesn't make money it'll get dropped. With the extra expenses caused by going from one crew to the next, how is this thing going to make money? I mean, I don't have any stock in CBS so it's not going to make any difference to my bottom line personally. The fact remains that a financial loss has had huge implications for the franchise we all love once already. It could happen again.

Guys, I want to see this show succeed. I really do. But if that's going to happen, it needs to be good. Looking at what I see coming it doesn't look good. I really am afraid this will be it. Why continue making shows if this one fails? Especially given the fact that they gave up on Trek after a successful run with ST:ENT over something that had nothing to do with the show itself. Please, God, let me be wrong but this just looks scary to me.

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