On first inspection, I wasn’t sure of what to think of CBS’s new Star Trek series, Picard, I was mildly optimistic and especially intrigued at the potential of a thoroughly engaging plotline.
I expected criticism from fans. It’s Star Trek after all, so anything short of perfection is unacceptable to the alternate universe’s fanbase. Ever the optimist, I shut out the “haters” and tried to enjoy Star Trek: Picard as something wild and new. Now that I’m four episodes in, I’ve got more to go on. I’ve gotta say, the “haters” might be onto something.
Now first let me say this: Star Trek is a vast and richly diverse fictional universe that is, I would argue, part of the bedrock of modern sci-fi culture. It’s to be expected that a new TV show or movie might take risks to bring viewers something new. To its credit, Star Trek: Picard does take those risks. It’s not a traditional Star Trek show by any means. However, taking risks usually only pays off when the producers and writers are intimately familiar with source material. Part of the success of much of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) was due, in part, to the fact that the writers and producers were very familiar with the Marvel comic book universe. Viewers knew it as the same universe.
In Star Trek: Picard, however, a deep understanding of the source material doesn’t come through very well. Much of what made Jean-Luc Picard (captain of the USS Enterprise-D) so instantly recognizable did make it into the show. However, the character development doesn’t go beyond that. It feels like the show’s potential was limited by the writers’ emaciated understanding of the Star Trek universe. After working my way through four episodes I was left with more questions about the show’s believability than the story’s mysteries.
For example, why is Picard obsessed with Commander Data (above)? Of course Picard had a great relationship with Data throughout Star Trek: The Next Generation, but I don’t recall that relationship being as close as Star Trek: Picard makes it out to be. Unless I’m missing something critical, Picard’s obsession with the (now visibly older) Data, while not completely out of character, could benefit from some explanation.
And what happened to The Federation? Star Trek fans are quick to point out that Star Trek: Picard takes an unnecessarily malevolent tone toward The Federation. In the TV series, The Federation has all but abandoned its position as the champion of unity, peace, and diversity. Apparently, in Star Trek: Picard, The Federation is about self-preservation at the cost of innocent lives. This vision of a dark and evil-natured Federation is not what Star Trek is or was ever supposed to be.
Aside from these glaring criticisms, niggling criticisms grew on me over time. Why don’t the Romulans look the way I remember them? What was the point of the synth attack on Mars as a plot device and why would that prevent the evacuation of Romulus? Even the acting, at times, seems a bit stiff and awkward.
Despite all that, I’m still optimistic. After all, it’s still Star Trek and I’m excited about anything Star Trek, regardless of how unambitious it may feel. While I doubt that much will change before the end of the first season, I will still be looking forward to following Picard on whatever adventures lie in store for him.
If you enjoyed this review by Adam Nieri, you might want to check through the ones below as well for thoughts about films that might interest you— brought to you by Mind Matters News Sci-Fi Saturday:
2019’s Best and Worst Sci-Fi TV: 2019 featured many sci-fi television and movies that were less sci-fi than political narrative. In 2019, I fell out with Netflix. I felt bombarded by more and more edgy content, as though Netflix wanted me to know how “adult” it is. Rather than producing a few amazing originals, Netflix started vomiting up a ton of terrible originals.
Ad Astra: The Great Silence becomes personal. The film images the fate of those who seek significance in the stars and may well wait indefinitely. In a world where the divine touch of extraterrestrial intelligence doesn’t elevate human existence to any level of significance, we are left with Ad Astra: a slow, methodical decay of human significance.
Alita, Battle Angel A Mind Matters Review: If you love anime and felt betrayed by the flop of Ghost, I would highly recommend Alita.
Another Life All fun and games till an AI falls in love. Then it descends into a convoluted drift of uncertain storytelling. And the victim is not primarily the viewer, who has other options. The victim is the art itself.
The Expanse: A Mind Matters TV Series ReviewThe attention to detail and the realistic portrayal of space set it apart from run-of-the-mill sci-fi. I love the deep mystery surrounding the show’s central narrative device, the proto-molecule. It is somewhat sentient and is desperately trying to figure out what happened to the civilization that created it and was then wiped out while it lay dormant in our solar system for millions of years.
The Expanse, Season 4: The Best So Far? A Mind Matters Perspective: Unlike critic Zac Giaimo, I preferred Season 3 but it really depends on what you are looking for. Season 4 is, as critic Zac Giaimo notes, integral to character building and plot development for the overall series. I gave it 9/10 in an earlier review. However, I don’t know if I completely agree with Giaimo’s Amazonian optimism. Season 3 set up urgent questions that should be answered by the end of the show, preferably beginning in Season 5.
The Feed—A Mind Matters TV Series Review: I started out thinking that the show was just the usual ho-hum tyrant-AI-takes-over flick and it is so good to be wrong! Imagine a world where your mind is stored on social media. Now, what happens if someone steals, then abandons it? What will you do?
Her (2013): If you created her, is it real love? In this retrospective Mind Matters movie review, Adam Nieri ponders the questions raised by a thoughtful AI film. Unlike Catherine, Samantha is exactly what Theodore was looking for. No surprise there; Samantha is, literally, adjusted and updated according to Theodore’s preferences from when he initially began speaking to her. She exists only to be Theodore’s soulmate. Is that enough?
How To Become Human—A Mind Matters Short Film Review. This new film turns a conventional sci-fi storytelling premise upside down. Rather than an AI struggling to become human in a human-dominated world, we watch a human struggling to be more like an artificial intelligence in an AI-dominated world.
Lost in Space, A Mind Matters TV series review. I was skeptical at first, based on Netflix’s track record, but was pleasantly surprised. If I could rewind time a week and add a piece of 2019 sci-fi to my list of the year’s Best and Worst Sci-Fi TV, I would add Netflix’s Lost in Space, Season 2—which came out just after I had published. Let’s fix that now.
Love, death, & robots Despite the trash and ruined expectations, several shorts were enjoyable and downright fun to watch
Nightflyers: A Mind Matters TV Series Review Despite its flaws, Nightflyers does not deserve all the criticism it received. It’s the saga of a ship of scientists making their way through the cosmos to unlock the secrets of a mysterious entity known as Volcryn. It turns out that Volcryn is not the only mystery; the good ship Nightflyer holds many of its own secrets.
The Outer Worlds—A Mind Matters Game Review: You must discover the dark secret of the Halcyon space colony, despite the greed and corruption of a handful of powerful corporations. After the raging dumpster fire that Fallout 76 (2018) turned out to be, I hesitated to invest my time and money in another role-playing game (RPG) epic. But I am glad I did.
Picard (2020): Episode 1 Is an AI-Themed Mystery. The mystery is related to another familiar Star Trek character. Seeing the Star Trek universe from a different perspective—that is, not from the interior of a starship—was super refreshing and rewarding. It gives viewers a unique look at what day-to-day life is like for other people (much as The Mandalorian did for the Star Wars universe).
Simulation: Would a simulated universe even make sense? A well-crafted short sci-fi film suggests, intentionally or otherwise, maybe not. I’ve seen quite a few sci-fi short films over the years and Simulation is certainly one of the better ones. However, beyond that, I’m not sure this film knows what it is; it’s an identity crisis.
Sprites: Will plausible robots replace movie stars? A short film prepares us to think about it.
Terminator: Dark Fate—A Mind Matters Movie Review. Aside from the fact that it felt like a retextured version of Terminator 2, I was constantly being reminded of the film’s obvious political agenda. Movies like Terminator: Dark Fate don’t seem to be made by people who care about the narrative. They seem to think that they need only make something that looks like a movie but acts as a medium for broadcasting their message to the masses.