Jean-Luc Picard is One Reboot Too Many


I woke up this morning to an email from my mother and a lit-up internet. Fandom and the media are going wild: Patrick Stewart is returning to Star Trek as Jean-Luc Picard.

Am I too much of a curmudgeon when I say “The line must be drawn here?

Make no mistake: Patrick Stewart is great. I’m rewatching the best episodes of TNG with my elder daughter, and have a fresh appreciation for how much he brought to the character of Picard. Stewart can play against any actor — even a child — and bring out their best performances in return. He’s the perfect anchor for any ensemble cast.

But when I hear this news, three unflattering thoughts run through my head…

1. CBS must have backed up a truck full of money to Stewart’s door.

Stewart is kind when he says, “I truly felt my time with Star Trek had run its natural course.” It would probably be more accurate to say that after 7 years and 4 movies, he never wanted to get in the uniform again. Even during the series, he was restless. Picard’s costume changes and occasional “Die Hard on a starship” action episodes exist mostly to keep Stewart from getting bored.

This doesn’t mean Stewart hates Trek. Far from it. He’s been an enthusiastic participant in the fan community and clearly relishes getting together with his old shipmates. But he had a long run with this character. He’s played several other characters to equal acclaim. Stewart has nothing to prove by returning to Picard. He has nothing, really, to gain by returning to Picard.

The man has already lived TWO lives.

Stewart may see new possibilities for an older and even wiser version of the character. But he doesn’t need Picard, which is a great negotiating position for him. He can name his own price to CBS, and one has to assume CBS ponied up.

2. Discovery, the cast and crew of DS9 would like to send their condolences.

CBS’s motivation is obvious. They want to draw more subscribers to All Access, and Stewart as Picard is is “must see TV” that will drive subscriptions. Which is interesting, because Discovery and the revival of Star Trek in a new series was supposed to be that last year.

There are no hard figures as to Discovery’s impact on subscriptions. Obviously, CBS has nothing to brag about there. One analyst wrote that the show’s performance “doesn’t bode well” for the future of All Access, and that one big exclusive show isn’t enough to drive subscriptions. This seems sensible, as is the further recommendation that CBS continue to release big-budget shows through the service.

Another Star Trek show with Stewart at the top of the credits fits that bill. But it also puts Discovery in an uncomfortable position.

The newest Star Trek has been familiar, innovative, edgy, quirky, occasionally silly, sometimes even dumb, and deeply divisive among fans. Some viewers have embraced the series. Other long-time fans have made it clear that they want their formative Star Trek all over again with as few changes as possible. They want comfort food, not new frontiers, and CBS seems to be revving up to give it to them

Assuming Discovery continues at all, it may find itself banished to the same corner as Deep Space Nine. DS9 was another quirky, sometimes dark show that broke the TNG moldand it spent most of its run being pushed into the shadows by TNG and Voyager. Creatively, it may have benefited from being the red-headed stepchild of the franchise, but it was still an uncomfortable experience for those involved.

I have no particular stake in Discovery. I enjoyed the first season and would enjoy seeing more, but even with its quirks it’s not a new experience that blows my mind. Which brings me to my most sobering thought:

3. Do we really need all these reboots?

I understand the difficulties of winning audience in an environment of constant new media releases. But aren’t we going back to the old media well a little too often?

Sure, I like Buffy. And Murphy Brown might have something interesting to say about today’s world. Even the Charmed sisters have potential. But do we really have to have them and Jean-Luc Picard all back at once?

There are good, new original shows out there, and they already have enough trouble getting attention. (They always do.) I didn’t hear anything about The Good Place until season 2, which means I nearly missed some of the sharpest writing and comedic acting ever committed to television.

I don’t know if there’s a solution for this. I’m not even sure there’s a problem. But once we’re over our next collective nerdgasm about the return of a beloved media icon… maybe we give a little more love to something exciting and new?

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