4 Ways To Fix The Star Trek Franchise
These ought to be wonderful times, The Internet. We're getting new Star Trek in theaters this year and on television by 2017. Something like that hasn't happened in more than a decade. And EVERY TREK FAN (who hasn't heard the advance buzz because they live under a rock) IS THRILLED.
Have mercy, you Headline Furies!
So since Star Trek Beyond and Star Trek With Doctor Who Graphics are about to hit our
screens laptops we pirate on, here's everything new Trek storytelling needs to be in the post- BushObama era.
It has been a WHILE.
Trek Needs To Be An Action Movie
Speaking of Obama, he happened to be president during the latest two Star Trek developments: the rise of streaming television and the explosion of lens flares. Not that Obama had anything to do with that; his administration wasted its time on fringe special interests like counter-terrorism, health care, and Star Wars.
"Is Trek Star the one with Professor X?"
As Netflix shipped their billionth DVD and then moved away from shipping DVDs at all, J.J. Abrams brought Trek roaring back into theaters. Unlike every previous Trek movie, Star Trek: The 2009ening wasn't piggybacking on a hit TV Shatner or Stewart. It stood on its own. It was also a reboot, and an action movie, and a departure from the franchise's noble tradition of timid, sweaty "stunts."
Enter the dragon, Captain Kirk. Enter the dragon.
So while Netflix beamed every heady TV episode onto devices nationwide, the movies made bar fights the true Starfleet Academy. And boy, did the fans ... not hate that decision.
But despite those Vegeta-percentages, fans really did hate it the second movie around. And rightly so. Into Darkness was big stupid piece of "Khaaaaaaan"-appropriating garbage, with a script in which Starfleet flipped Jim Kirk's rank four times, one-man spaceships made crews obsolete, and interplanetary teleportation made ... Star Trek obsolete?
"Beam me everywhere, Computer That Replaced Scotty."
So after the fans blinked the lens flares out of their eyes, they backlashed. If anything, that 86 percent on Rotten Tomatoes heightened the Comic Book Guy-ing and convention insurrections and headline anger.
We weren't just mad; we were correcting the historical record. And we were urging Into Darkness's key creatives to realize that despite how much money we handed them at the box office, we didn't want Star Trek 3 to be Star Trek Into Darkness 2 Also Still No Colons Even Though This Kind Of Title Feels Like It Needs Colons. But once Into Darkness's key creatives told us to fuck off, in interviews and as comment section trolls, Star Trek Beyond only needed a whiff of creative trouble and one weird trailer to sabotaaaaaaaaaage our hopes.
This is about the Prime Directive now.
But I'm not surprised Simon Pegg told us to fuck off, kind of, if you sort of take it out of context. And I'm not surprised Paramount hired the Fast & Furious guy to direct the new Trek. That's not a sign that they want it to be even stupider than Into Darkness. It's a sign that they want an insanely hard-working big-movie director to fix their most cherished big-movie property. A property they know only needs two course corrections.
Okay, three course corrections.
When J.J. Abrams said he regretted the script and the lens flares of Into Darkness, he was right. The much-better 2009 movie was much better than Into Darkness in both areas. And if you remove Abrams, the guy responsible for both those things, what do you have left? A pop culture institution with an improbably perfect recasting of its original crew, and enough recent box office success to pay for more bold-going. And I'm sorry, Nerds Who Are the Real Life Version of This Onion Headline ...
... but "too Star Trek-y" is a valid criticism of a Star Trek movie script. In today's Hollywood and world, you can have a Star Trek action movie or you can have no Star Trek movie at all. The average American sees fewer than four movies in a theater per year. Disney is making sure that at least two of those tickets go toward an Avenger and a star war. So even if Paramount wasn't losing money hand over fist right now, they'd be insane to throw a $150 million budget at a movie not everyone thinks is worth their other annual drive to a theater.
"I'll miss you while I'm out, Giant Perfect TV Everyone Has At Home These Days."
Chris Pine is Action Kirk. You can't stop it. Just be grateful that you can stream your precious Thinky Trek on every device you own. Hell, be grateful you can stream it at all, because ...
Trek Needs To Get Lucky
Every Star Trek story originated on television, and the cruelty of the television business almost killed every Star Trek. The original series died in development, needing recasting, reshooting, and Lucille Ball's money hose to get on the air. If not for Lucy, Star Trek would be a forgotten failed pilot starring the other guy from The Searchers. It would be Leonard Nimoy's Fox Force Five.
Shatner Trek still risked cancellation every week. It only got convention-level popular because 1) Trek-alien-sounding Trek fan Bjo Trimble led a letter-writing campaign that kept it going for three seasons, 2) a company syndicated the show even though there weren't enough episodes for that, and 3) most of those syndicated reruns aired on late afternoons, so kids watched it after school, because video games weren't invented yet.
"Gosh, I wish this was a cutscene."
Without all those lucky breaks, there are no Star Trek movies, no billions in merch sales, and no Star Trek: The Next Generation. And TNG almost didn't cast an unknown British bald guy as Picard (Roddenberry hated the idea). It almost gave Picard an Inspector-Clouseau-style Fraaaaaanch accent (they made Patrick Stewart try it). It should've gotten torpedoed by a weak first season and a writers-strike-crippled second season. But somehow, all of that worked out, just like how Deep Space Nine (1993-1999) and Voyager (1995-2001) cannibalized each other's' audiences without getting each other cancelled, and how Enterprise was a weird dream we all had so who cares.
Odd how we all napped in front of TVs playing that Men Of A Certain Age marathon.
And if this new show was a bet on Star Trek's popularity, it'd be in great shape. But it's not. Instead, it's CBS's much-riskier bet that CBS can out-Netflix Netflix. Because CBS owns the Trek TV rights. Two years ago, they turned down Netflix's proposal for a joint CBS-Netflix Trek show. CBS also sat out while all their competitors built Hulu. Ya know, the thing you've used to watch every show that's not on CBS. Why did they make those decisions which CBS execs assure us were all on purpose? Because they launched CBS All Access, their own HBO-Go-type service. And it finally answered the question "How many people will pay six bucks a month for an ad-filled stream of CBS's closest thing to Game Of Thrones?"
CBS All Access doesn't have the network's NFL games, can't win enough subscribers with their other shows, and took on a comically overcrowded landscape of original scripted TV. How can CBS fix that? Well, right now, the plan is to air the first episode of your precious new Trek show on televisions, and then hide the rest of it on their streaming service, counting on hordes of passionate Trek fans to cough up almost-Netflix prices every month and resuscitate HBO Old. So this new Star Trek series will live in the most walled-off walled garden in modern television history, because not enough #YoungPeople are spending money they don't have to see The Big Bang Theory legally.
"Welcome to CBS, where it makes sense to us."
And unless CBS is cool with nobody watching Trek '17, you'd better hope this is the latest commercially lucky Star Trek show ... on top of hoping it's a departure from past Trek creatively.
Trek Needs A Next, Next Generation
There have been two Star Trek premises: Deep Space Nine and everything else. If development had gone differently, DS9 would have been a literal space western about Starfleet running a frontier fort in a Bajoran desert. It ended up in orbit, as a happier spit-shined Deadwood with Israel/Palestine vibes. Also, the Dominion War.
If your co-worker muttered "Fuckin' Dominion War!" just now, you're both reading this.
The other shows and movies are about a Federation ship, boldly going. That's all. And Trek's repeated that twice too often. Next Generation worked because we'd waited so long for more Star Trek, and because they improved on the original. And with Voyager and Enterprise, the premises were promising (ship lost in a new quadrant / ship from pre-Kirk history). But how those premises played out most weeks ("This part of space is NOT FULLY EXPLORED!!!" / "These aliens are UNFAMILIAR and MORE ADVANCED!!!") also describes most TOS and TNG episodes.
Though Voyager did innovate with their "captain and helmsman make sweet lizard love" storyline.
So while the movies figured out a way forward by rebooting Kirk, the TV show teaser promised us new crews, villains, heroes, and worlds. And that's filled the rumor mill with whispered nothings. Maybe it will be set between TOS and TNG. Maybe it will be an anthology. Maybe they'll read a trove of Gene Roddenberry's old floppy disks and base the show on whichever Authentic Roddenramblings they find.
Oh Christ, that last rumor wasn't a joke.
Whatever the show's distinguished brain trust decides to do, they might be fine playing it safe. We're so starved for new TV Trek that maybe all we need is another ship boldly going. But if they cowboy up and generate a new Star Trek premise, it can benefit from the franchise's rich history while growing what the franchise can be.
Trek Needs To Lift Us Up
I don't need to tell you hardbitten Game of ThWalking BreakingSaultruedetective fans that today's Good Television has never been darker. Hell, as this excellent Slate piece points out, TV is even darker-looking than ever before.
When's that dour Jon Snow gonna try a summer print?
When The Sopranos (1999-2007) conquered TV while imitating The Godfather's shadowy look, everybody but Star Trek copied that underlit cinematography. Non-Trek TV storytelling also copied The Sopranos, so Good Television became a neurotic bloodbath. And while we fell in love with Firefly (2002) and Battlestar Galactica: The Good One (2004-2009), Star Trek rolled out Enterprise, a throwback that opens with a visual love letter to NASA, set to the tune of a song from Patch Adams.
This thing had people standing outside Paramount protesting.
But you know what? That dopey optimism is Star Trek 's goddamn job. They science fiction prototyped a fantastical universe in which us Earthlings start getting along. And sure, Trek's United Earth needed world wars and Fallout-style horror to get there. But it also needed a post-racial human society, which Star Trek put on American television in the 1960s, earning the gratitude of everyone from Whoopi Goldberg to Martin Luther King, Jr.
When Martin Luther King, Jr. asks you to stay on a show, you stay on a show.
And I know I'm on the record as being a big ol' goober, but I don't think I'm the only person who likes their Star Trek to be a li'l Utopian. And remember, any Utopian story about space explorers is automatically going to be pro-space-exploration. At a time when even Democrats are slashing NASA's budget, our real-life attempts to explore strange new worlds need all the cultural help they can get.
Which is why I'm dancing to this crap in the Cracked offices right now.
So be bold, Star Trek 2017. Be positive. Make an exciting show that's happy deep down. And even if you don't want to do that, your hands are tied. If you go gritty with a Trek-type show these days, people will say you're ripping off BSG. And there's not a frakking thing you can do about it.
Zoroastrianism used to be one of the biggest religions in the world, but their idea of heaven had a slight twist on it: To get there you'd have to cross a bridge, sometimes rickety, sometimes wide and sturdy. If you fell off, you'd go to the House of Lies for eternity. Fun! Not terrifying at all! This month, Jack, Dan, and Michael, along with comedians Casey Jane Ellison and Ramin Nazer discuss their favorite afterlife scenarios from movies, sci-fi, and lesser-known religions. Get your tickets here, and we'll see you on the other side of the bridge!
See why we can't watch American Pie without cringing in 5 Classic Movies That Have Become Horrifying With Age and check out the twist we wanted in Star Wars in 20 Stupid Ways to Ruin Brilliant Movies.
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