Star Trek has forgotten the one thing that made it important and is abandoning a generation in the process
I’m writing this from the perspective of someone who is actually quite enjoying the current run of Star Trek in both Discovery and Picard, but there is one blinding issue I want to discuss about both series - and that is their adult nature.
Historically, from the very first episodes, Star Trek has been made up of stories that can be enjoyed by multiple generations. Children of the 1960s will have grown up watching weekly with their parents as Star Trek broke taboos - from the first interracial kiss to the appearance of women in leading roles. It helped to broach subjects that were difficult for children to understand and uncomfortable for their parents to talk about by tackling them in a science fiction setting.
This same multi-generational slant was retained through the films, and into the series that launched in the 1980s and 1990s - again children, young adults, their parents and even their grandparents could sit down and enjoy each episode and again it played the part of helping tackle subjects that were still even then taboo - transgenderism, sexuality and even continuing racial divides were all still hard to talk about on television, even in more adult shows so for a series that crossed generational gaps to tackle them in such a surprising and thoughtful way was impressive.
There are clearly some problematic issues with Star Trek - especially the original 1960s series and The Next Generation, but the fact that it was able to break down issues and present them to the viewers without prejudice was something that set Trek apart.
Deep Space Nine in particular excelled in this - Avery Brooks was very much at the forefront of pushing the narrative and tackling the racial issues that affected the America of the 1990s and we had a show that not only featured a lesbian kiss, but also saw what many would consider a terrorist to be one of the leading sympathetic characters. And all this was done in a series that changed how television stories could be told.
Fast forward to the launch of Star Trek Discovery and Picard and we have something that is entirely different. The current production team have decided to make a show purely for adults - it’s a show that is gratuitous in its portrayal of sex, one that happily drops in an unexpected F-bomb and one that feels totally un-Star Trek in its tackling of modern subjects. Yes - it’s great that Discovery features a black woman in the lead role and Michael Burnham is a decent character, the show lacks a moral core that grounded Trek as we’ve known it to this point.
I miss the chance that my dad had to sit with me and watch Star Trek - I can’t do that with my children as much as I’d like to. It would appear that the producers are aware of this and are looking to introduce a Nickelodeon animated show - but that shouldn’t be needed - Trek has always been a series that has been able to talk to everyone, regardless of age and while many may mock the idea of Trekkies and Trekkers there’s no denying that their politics and message are far more wholesome than the current series would suggest.
These issues extend to Picard - it was a show that could have given us that bright future that Gene Roddenberry had envisaged - shown that humanity as a whole was able to overcome the devastation of the Dominion War and actually did the right thing with the Romulan people. Instead, the producers see the drama of a future humanity that isn’t perfect and suffers from many of the faults we see in the current day. There are plenty of ways to tackle the moral issues that Picard hinges on in a way that is more inclusive of younger audiences.
There’s no denying that the idea of what the Borg do is full-on body horror - it’s a violation and would clearly lead to the PTSD that Picard faces now. But again the strength in old Trek is that it would be able to talk about these subjects in a way that would have introduced younger generations to those issues and enable them to talk about it in an almost educational way. Instead Picard is addressing these issues by showing explicit gore - did we really need an episode to open with the graphic removal of someone's eye?
Right now, for the first time, despite being a large presence on TV screens, Trek is abandoning a whole generation and it will be almost impossible to recapture them. While children of every decade up until the turn of the millennium will have memories of sharing a love of Star Trek with their parents, right now the children of today do not have that. They won’t be able to talk about the same stories because, if and when CBS actually deliver on a series that is watchable by children, they won’t be part of the stories their parents are watching and by the time they’re old enough to watch Discovery and Picard they'll discover generic science fiction that is as far from the Trek of the past as it is possible to be.