In an America rocked by racism, protests and the coronavirus, “Star Trek” stands as a beacon of hope.
Sure, it’s just a TV show. Well, a bunch of TV shows and movies. But the “Trek” universe shows us a future in which humankind has moved beyond bigotry. That was the case in the 1960s, when “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry populated his bridge crew with actors of a variety of ethnicities, and it continues to be true today.
“I think that we all feel ‘Star Trek’ is a larger mission than just making great entertainment,” said Alex Kurtzman, the executive producer and current guiding force behind the franchise. “Gene Roddenberry’s greatest contribution to the conversation of diversity in the future is that diversity is never addressed in ‘Star Trek.’”
The fact that the crew on the original series was multiethnic was never addressed. The fact that the central character in “Star Trek: Discovery,” Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), is Spock’s foster sister is a major plot point. The fact that she’s a Black woman is not.
“What Gene originally envisioned is being carried out today,” Martin-Green said. “We are going further with the representation. ... We have this franchise that has always been built on innovation, and we are continuing to do that.”
And “Star Trek” characters are, for the most part, the “best versions of themselves.”
“It’s not just about seeing people of color,” Martin-Green said. “It’s not just about seeing a Black woman as the lead. It’s not just about seeing an Asian female captain. It’s about seeing these people be well-rounded and strong and integral to the group, and that’s the representation that changes people’s beliefs and can therefore change the world.”
Or the galaxy, for that matter.
The original series featured the first interracial kiss on American TV, and the fact that it was interracial was not at all important to the plotline. The series wasn’t always subtle, however. It got downright heavy-handed in the episode “Let This Be Your Last Battlefield,” about a planet populated by beings who were black on one side and white on the other. They all killed each other because some were black on the right/white on the left and vice-versa.
But it was always aspirational, portraying a future where humans overcame racism and aspired to universal brotherhood/sisterhood.
“On ‘Discovery,’ we try to honor that in everything we do,” said showrunner Michelle Paradise. “All of the magic started in the original series. It started with the diversity on that show and the acceptance of differences.”
Yes, it was an ongoing plot point that Spock was half human/half Vulcan, and there were occasional moments of anti-alien bigotry. But when it arose, there was quick condemnation.
“Gene Roddenberry had the amazing foresight and fortitude to create a bridge crew that was entirely colorblind at a time when everyone was only looking at color,” Kurtzman said. “He made an incredible statement without having to say anything at all.”
It’s a statement that continued on “The Next Generation,” “Deep Space Nine,” “Voyager” and “Enterprise.” It continues on “Picard” and “Discovery,” which features the first gay couple in a “Star Trek” series — and the fact that Dr. Hugh Culver (Wilson Cruz) and Lt. Commander Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) are gay is incidental.
“I believe and I hope that in the future it’ll be such a nonissue that we wouldn’t talk about it,” said Cruz. “It is progress, as far as I’m concerned.”
Racial harmony is just part of the overall optimism embedded in “Star Trek,” which projects a future in which hunger, poverty and warring nations on Earth have become obsolete. Even though “Discovery” and “Picard” are darker stories, good eventually triumphs over evil.
“There is an underlying optimism and the feeling that whatever challenge we encounter, we can overcome it together because we’re a family and we’re Starfleet. We’re the Federation,” Paradise said. “There’s magic in that. And we try to continue honoring that in every story we tell, in every episode and every season.”
And, months before Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd were killed and protests against racism and police violence erupted across the country, Kurtzman said the “Star Trek” franchise “has become a beacon for us all. And, hopefully, the world will feel the same.”
NOW AND IN THE FUTURE • After a 12-year hiatus, CBS introduced one new “Star Trek” series in 2017 and another in 2020. And four more have been announced — although no premiere dates have been released, and the coronavirus pandemic is delaying production.
• “Star Trek: Discovery”: Production has been completed on Season 3; reportedly, editing and post-production continues. It’s expected to premiere sometime in the next few months.
• “Star Trek: Picard”: Season 2 has been ordered, but there’s no word on when it will go into production.
• “Star Trek: Short Treks”: This is an anthology of short stories, ranging from 8-18 minutes in length, that vary widely. Five of the 10 released to date are directly tied to “Discovery,” three to “Strange New Worlds” and one to “Picard.” Two are animated. There’s a comedy involving tribbles, and a tragedy involving two young girls. Reportedly, there are plans for more — but nothing has been announced.
• “Star Trek: Lower Decks”: Not only will this be the first animated “Trek” since 1974, it will be the first one that’s supposed to be funny. An “adult comedy” from the writer/producer of “Rick and Morty,” it will focus on low-ranking crew members on “one of Starfleet’s least important ships,” the U.S.S. Cer. It’s set in the year 2380, shortly after the events of the film “Star Trek: Nemesis.” It’s expected to debut later this year.
• Untitled Philippa Georgiou series: We know that this series will revolve around Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) — the mirror universe doppelganger of the captain of the U.S.S. Shenzou, who was killed in the second episode of “Discovery.” The surviving Georgiou — the former emperor of the mirror universe Earth empire — now works for Starfleet’s secretive security force Section 31, and there are unconfirmed reports the series will be titled “Star Trek: Section 31.” Georgiou is in Season 3 of “Discovery,” so the spinoff isn’t expected until at least 2021.
• Untitled animated series: This computer-animated series will follow a group of “lawless teens” who find a “derelict” Starfleet ship, repair it and take off on a series of adventures. It will be aimed at younger viewers, and it will be the only new “Star Trek” that won’t be streaming-only — it will air on Nickelodeon, but reportedly not until 2021. CBS has not confirmed reports that it will be titled “Star Trek: Prodigy.”
• “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds”: Fans of “Discovery” demanded this series after falling in love with Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) during Season 2 of that series. Set in the decade before the original series, it will show us the voyages of the starship Enterprise NCC-1701, with Pike in the captain’s chair; Number One (Rebecca Romijn) as his second in command; and a young lieutenant named Spock (Ethan Peck). The series will be less like “Discovery” and “Picard,” with their season-long story arcs, and more like the original or “Next Gen,” with self-contained episodes.
HOW TO WATCH ALL THE SERIES • The original series, “Next Generation,” “Deep Space Nine,” “Voyager” and “Enterprise” are all available on Amazon, CBS All Access, Hulu and Netflix. “Star Trek: The Animated Series,” “Discovery,” “Picard” and “Short Treks” are on CBS All Access.
With the exception of “Picard,” all episodes are available on Blu-ray and/or DVD. (That includes the first nine “Short Treks.”)
The Heroes & Icons network — carried in Utah by Cedar City/St. George station KCSG — airs five “Trek” series six days a week. Sunday-Friday, you can watch “Star Trek” at 6 p.m.; “Next Gen" at 7 p.m.; “DS9” at 8 p.m.; “Voyager” at 9 p.m.; and “Enterprise” at 10 p.m.
“Star Trek” also airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. on MeTV. And BBC America sporadically airs episodes of “Next Generation,” “Deep Space Nine” and “Voyager.”
“TREK” OVERKILL? • With all the new “Star Trek” series headed our way, some Trekkies are expressing concern about overkill. That too much of a good thing will send the franchise into another long hiatus. Which has happened before.
From the debut of “The Next Generation” in September 1987 until “Enterprise” ended in May 2005, there was always at least one “Star Trek” series on the air. For six of those seasons, there were two — “DS9” overlapped with “Next Gen” for one-and-a-half seasons; “Voyager” overlapped with “DS9” for four-and-a-half seasons. There was a total of 624 episodes — an average of almost 35 episodes per season for 18 years.
And when “Enterprise” limped away, we didn’t see another “Star Trek” series until “Discovery” debuted more than 12 years later.
But they’re not making 26 (or more) episodes a season anymore. Season 1 of “Discovery” was 15 episodes; Season 2 (which began 11 months later) was 14; “Picard” was 10. That’s 39 episodes spread over more than two years. And upcoming seasons of those shows (as well as the four that have yet to premiere) are expected to be in that range.
It seems highly unlikely that we’ll see a glut of episodes like we did from 1987-2005.