For those of you just joining us, yesterday I wondered why we didn’t have a new Star Trek television show on the air already, before suggesting that, just maybe, such a show wouldn’t work on modern television anymore. Pick your appalled, disagreeing jaws off the ground; here’s where I explain what I mean.
I’ve been embarrassingly addicted to rewatching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine on Netflix Instant since it was added to the service a couple of weeks ago; I’m almost finished with the first season already, and loving every minute of it. But something that keeps occurring to me during almost every episode is how unlike modern television it is. If Deep Space Nine was still on the air, it’s very unlikely that it’d manage to be the same show that it was back then.
For one thing, it’s so wonderfully leisurely at times; pre-credit teasers take their time getting to the point, and even within episodes, scenes can unwind at a surprisingly slow pace, filling the space with character moments or throwaway technobabble for the hardcore audience. Compare and contrast that to television today, where everything has a ratcheted-up intensity and meaning – There’s rarely a scene that doesn’t have some kind of “significance,” usually offered with a breathtaking lack of subtlety (Not, admittedly, that Trek was a subtle show, in any of its incarnations, I admit).
Also, all of the Treks – with the possible exception of Enterprise – had a wonderful schizophrenia about their tone that is very rare on television today; you would never really know, tuning in, whether you were going to see a drama or a comedy, or whether the drama was going to be of the “This is an allegory for a real-world situation and we shall all be making a Very Serious Point” variety, or the “We’re trying to make a suspenseful thriller, so expect long looks punctuated with stirring soundtrack strings” one, or even the “Want an action movie in less than an hour? We’ll do our best, but don’t judge us too harshly” attempts. What was weirdly wonderful about Trek was the play-of-the-week nature of the show, even when there were longer-running continuities running through episodes, and television – especially genre television – has lost that variety; normally shows stake out their tone early on and stay there, hoping to ensure loyalty through stability and knowing exactly what you’ll get when you switch on.
There are some exceptions to that; Castle and, to a lesser extent, Bones both strike me as shows that aren’t afraid to shake things up every now and again. They’re both procedurals, as well, which is maybe the last way in which I worry that Trek would be changed for a modern audience: Star Trek is a procedural show. It’s not about the inner lives or love lives of its characters, except as color commentary between the weekly plots, and there days, network genre television comes with a large helping of emotional drama, to “humanize” the characters and soften the show’s appeal to those who may not be into “science fiction” but could maybe get into a soap opera with some weird things in it (See the success of Lost as leading that charge, I think).
All of which is to say, if we did get a new Star Trek on television, I’d worry that it’d come retooled for what executives believe today’s audiences want: A series with a long-running storyline in every episode, a consistent tone and a focus on the character’s private lives when they’re not on the bridge, where every scene counts towards a larger story that’d be planned to run through many years. And, while that could be a great show, I’m not so convinced that it’d be a great Star Trek show. But what do you think?