Star Trek: Picard

4 out of 5

Created by:  Akiva Goldsman, Michael Chabon, Kirsten Beyer, and Alex Kurtzman

covers season 1

Rather frustrated by the often dunder-headed writing and structure of Star Trek: Discovery, I couldn’t help but view the premiere of Star Trek: Picard through a tainted lens, and one that was tainted further by the sort of burnout that comes from all of the interconnected film / TV universes of the era. That is: it just seemed like nostalgia / franchise bait, given prestige by the presence of Patrick Stewart, but surely subject to the same waywardness as DISC. Indeed, here are guest stars from our favorite era of Trek, and then let’s throw in some swears because we modern up in here.

Eventually, I’d revisit Discovery with a little less knee-jerkyness – it’s still often written pretty poorly, and they backed themselves up into an odd selection of characters on which to focus, but it’s enjoyable – and then it was time to revisit Picard in the same way. Turns out that show is actually damn good, and is legitimate sci-fi, doing the classic ST routine of mingling a dramatic, character-driven tale with some good doses of speculative concepts, and sprinkles of action. Its nostalgia aspects – cameos, references – does seem somewhat indulgent at first, floating through only to be discarded, but that’s a lark: every element that I thought the show was going to leave behind ended up becoming woven into the season-long story of Picard firstly discovering that Data has a “daughter” – a synth made from his materials – and then that there’s some Romulan-intermingled conspiracy to kill off that synth. And yeah, Stewart does add some instant gravitas to thing, but our writers know to lean in to that as part of the story as well, setting the retired Admiral up as having grown frustrated with some of the Federation’s actions in his later years, and thus – due to some burned bridges – not always successful at trading on his fame as he tries to be. Adding to that gravitas is a well-ceded “crew” that slowly joins up with Picard as he tries to suss out the whys of what’s going on and put a stop to it – characters who can’t just be said to occupy one-note beats like ‘the funny one’ or ‘the serious one’ (a la Discovery), but rather come across as well-rounded, and with effectively delivered backstories, certainly helped along with great performances from Alison Pill, Isa Briones, Santiago Cabrera, and Michelle Hurd.

While this makes for a sincerely always-interesting and very binge-worthy series, that knows how to juggle plot versus drama with some tension-alleviating humor here and there – and again, to knock on Disco but praise Picard, the former I could generally only take in 2 episode chunks, but Picard was a 10-eps-in-one-go viewing – the two main sides of the story (Picard’s crew; time spent with some featured Romulans, played by Harry Treadaway and Peyton List) feel a little clunked up when transitioning from one to the other, not really feeling like they’re playing in the same time or universe, and even as a two-parter, the conclusion feels a bit rushed, and reliant on some unfortunate Bad Guy cliches that you almost suspect are a twist because they’re so silly… but then they’re not. That might sound like it makes the conclusion a bummer, but it’s buffered by cool concepts, and also by a ton of goodwill and energy that the show’s stored up until that point. And these episodes aren’t bad by any means, just suggestive that we might’ve need a 12- or 13-episode season to smooth things out.

I’d probably point out Michael Chabon as a key writer who kept things on point throughout, but everyone surely deserves credit for keeping things intelligent and engaging the whole while, with the directors also to be praised for giving the show the weighty, cinematic flair that that prestige sensibility deserves.