A few years ago if you’d told me we were heading for a Star Trek overload, I’d have laughed – but somehow, with the new announcement that the Chris Pine-starring film series is adding another instalment, we all find ourselves staring down the barrel (well, phaser) of a huge number of Star Trek TV series and movies.
To whit, there’s the ongoing Star Trek: Discovery, the upcoming Patrick Stewart comeback Star Trek: Picard, comedy animated series Star Trek: Lower Decks, a spin-off with Michelle Yeoh’s Georgiou character from Discovery, an animated Nickelodeon series intended for kids, the returning film series that JJ Abrams began in 2009 and a film being developed by Quentin Tarantino.
Throw in Discovery’s Short Treks spin-off Star Trek-inspired sitcom The Orville (not part of the official franchise, but very much of the same ilk) and it’s a deluge.
That’s five official Star Trek series already airing or in the works, and two big-budget movies – and I can’t help but feel that CBS and movie studio Paramount are about to seriously overfish the Star Trek stream, or at least muddy the waters with confusing alternate continuities.
Of course, many Trekkers may not agree with me. For them, this explosion in Star Trek content might be a sign of health in the franchise after a long period (2005-2017) without a series on-screen, and the growing desire to tell different Star Trek stories could be seen as a good thing. Personally, I can’t wait to see Picard, and the approach they’re taking with that looks really interesting.
And after all, it’s not the first time Star Trek has overlapped onscreen – Deep Space 9’s airing overlapped with both The Next Generation and Voyager (albeit at different times), and the shows even crossed over characters – while in today’s pop culture sphere, studios like Marvel can have multiple releases a year on the big and small screen without any trouble. Why shouldn’t Star Trek do the same?
It’s a fair argument – but only if Star Trek were doing what Marvel does. They’re not.
Marvel’s great wheeze has been to create a series of films and TV shows that interlink and overlap, existing within the same community and allowing for plenty of crossover. By contrast, almost every single Star Trek TV series and film coming out exists in an entirely different continuity, universe or at least time zone.
Discovery is in the same reality as the Michelle Yeoh series but millions of years ahead of it in time. Picard, meanwhile, is set in another time period altogether to both, hundreds of years separated. Lower Decks, and the more child-focused animated series are set in different time periods again, while Noah Hawley’s upcoming movie exists in its own separate universes, while Tarantino’s R-rated take on Trek will again be very much its own thing.
Deep Space 9, Enterprise and Voyager existed at a similar time in different places, and could cross over – none of these series or movies can. In practice, this means we have a half-dozen Trek shows and films, all with different characters, all telling stories of starship crews and their adventures but in completely different times and places.
There won’t be a fascinating, interlinking Star Trek world. There’ll just be a lot of Star Trek, none of it properly connected, airing all over the place (especially overseas, where CBS doesn’t have much of a foothold and has to agree to different distribution agreements) without much thought to the overall viewer experience.
The clashing continuities, time periods and styles don’t make for a cohesive style in the vein of Marvel. Instead, it just makes for a confusing rush of Star Trek stories that may baffle casual viewers even if more hardcore fans find it easy enough to navigate their way through the projects themselves.
In short, Star Trek needs to calm down and take things a little slower for a while. If even Star Wars can burn out from launching too many spin-offs and prequels, no franchise is safe, and CBS in the States would do well to think of how the series (and Paramount’s films) mesh together as a whole rather than as a mass of different takes on Gene Roddenberry’s original mythos.
Otherwise, the whole franchise will be at risk of going where far too many have gone before… over and over again.
Or to put it another way…the brand! She cannae take it!