My morning routine is always the same once I reach my desk but I should perhaps start to avoid that first hit of Twitter. It can put me into a foul mood and I’m already pretty tetchy. At the risk of turning this blog into a diary of my continuing and utterly frustrating struggle with hay fever, I swear these antihistamines are making me irritable. It’s either that or I’m responding to the mess my eyes are now in.
I can, however, see perfectly well – it’s more of an issue with soreness – and, to prove the point, yesterday I seriously binge-watched Picard. I have just two episodes to go and I’m loving it, even if I do understand why some people might hate it. First, it’s a slow burn. A real slow burn. The first five episodes luxuriate in the room they have to flesh out characters. When writing about the latest Star Wars movie the other day, I lamented on how little room they left for character development. Picard is all about the characters, which isn’t surprising, given the involvement of Michael Chabon, who, by anybody’s measure, is a serious writer.
It’s also different to what fans of Star Trek would probably be accustomed to. The move from a series to a serial makes a huge difference. The first ten episodes could have made one decent episode of The Next Generation if they’d rushed through it and avoided all nuance. Over 10ish hours, it’s sometimes frustratingly slow but I didn’t mind that. I was constantly thinking: if John Le Carre ever wrote Star Trek, this is what it would feel like.
Lastly, there’s the swearing. There have been about five ‘f’ bombs in the show, which, admittedly, did feel out of place in Star Trek, yet I also don’t care. They are unnecessary but a juicy reminder that the producers were trying to do something different with the show. There is a persistent sentiment in the nerd community that they (why don’t I write “we”?) want some of their (“our”?) favourite shows to go seriously “R”. It’s why the movie Dredd was so good. There was no attempt to make it suitable for family audiences and the result caught all the vibes of the comic. Conversely, there’s nothing worse than when a great “R” rated movie is remade for a family audience. It happened with Robocop, which was never as good once it lost Paul Verhoeven’s eye for society’s brutality. It happened with Terminator, going from hard sci-fi to this popcorn popularism where Arnie had to be the good guy.
So, Star Trek heading into more adult waters felt, to me, entirely reasonable. Oddly, from the first episode, the characters felt more rounded, prone to less TV-friendly sentiments. It also made it possible to address the themes in a way that didn’t feel forced and obvious. No doubt some might think it was pure liberal Hollywood emoting again on topics of nationalism, but Star Trek has always done that. Here it is done with a lighter touch and allowing room for doubt. It doesn’t entirely rule out the idea that synthetic life might be a bad idea, although with two episodes to go, I’m not sure how that will be rounded out. I do know that it’s not entirely either/or.
The whole thing could yet fall flat over the final two hours, but I really don’t mind at this point. I was expecting to hate it and found myself loving it. It’s certainly the best Star Trek I’ve seen since, perhaps, Voyager. Definitely better than the J.J. Abrams nonsense. I’m invested in all the characters, which is a lot more than I can say about any in the new Star Wars trilogy (two of which, unsurprisingly directed by Abrams). And, best of all, I loved seeing old characters in shows that didn’t merely use them as tokens. The biggest takeaway here was that Seven of Nine needs her own show.