It is premature to engage in any fanboy handwringing over the new Trek series since we don’t yet know if CBS Access is creating a show that will be worthy of our interest. For all we know it could be a cartoon. Talk of Star Trek being CBS’s “crown jewels” aside, if their goal is to attract viewers to their streaming site they might figure they don’t have to pull out all the stops to increase usage over what it is now, which is apparently no one.
But since fanboys love to wring our hands, here goes.
Here is my list of red flags that—if I hear them from CBS’s marketing and eventually from the show runners—I will consider bad omens about the new series.
Token Person of Color: I won’t go so far as to say that we should expect and demand the captain not be a white male. I don’t care who plays the captain, or even if there is a captain. But I would find it hard to watch another Star Trek show where people of color are represented by one, poorly drawn, dull or dimwitted minor regular. The cast should reflect Earth’s diversity with similar ratio that Ridley Scott got for The Martian.
Token Gay Guy, or Trans: I’m also not suggesting there must be a gay or trans character, partly because I fear how they would be depicted by the straight, white male writers who will most likely be writing such a character. Not that they should have an excuse. It is not surprising to me that TNG never had a gay character. It premiered in 1987, the height of the AIDS epidemic, when most gay professionals were in the closet, when few gay youth were out in high schools and colleges, when there was no political or social support for gay rights. It would have taken a supreme act of imagination for men of the 80s and 90s, who were not personally close to any gay people, to take the popular impression of gays at the time and project what a gay person would be like three hundred years in the future. As a gay man, I’m grateful they did not try. They probably would have come up with a cross between Liberace and Boy George.
Writers today don’t need much imagination to picture what a gay Star Fleet officer would be like. Still, I cringe to consider the likely scene where it is shockingly revealed that the handsome and dashing Number One is gay when he goes into his quarters, strips his uniform off of his washboard abs and jumps into bed with his hot young twink boyfriend from stellar cartography. There are many ways to depict gay people without sexualizing it, but I’m skeptical the writers’ imaginations will extend that far.
The Women: There is a lot riding on how this show portrays its women characters. It has the potential to bring Star Trek into the 21st Century so far as gender is concerned (let’s forget for argument’s sake that DS9 already did this). The new show’s women characters can put to bed the 60’s overt sexism and miniskirts, the underutilization of Troi and Dr. Crusher, the mixed bag gender politics of Janeway’s captaincy, the truly awful cat suits and decon. gel of Enterprise. This show needs to get it right.
Token Vulcan: No more Vulcans for a while. Be your own show with your own aliens. Stop trying to carry “break out” characters on Spock’s long coattails. Create actual break out characters. And let’s remember that an actor playing a Vulcan must be as difficult as playing Hamlet. The only actors to effectively portray Vulcans were named Leonard Nimoy and Mark Leonard.
The Enterprise: Go ahead and set the show on a starship if you must, but don’t make it the Enterprise-H or any other version. If they do go with another Enterprise it will be a sign that the writers do not have faith in their ability to tell stories that will get people’s attention unless those stories harken back Kirk and Picard’s ship. It was one thing for Roddenberry to do it in 1987 when he wanted to stress continuity to the original series. But that is no longer necessary. Nothing Archer ever accomplished on the Enterprise NX-01 was made remotely more profound because it happened on a ship named Enterprise. It felt cheap, that we were supposed to care about silly stories simply because they were happening on a ship with that name.
“We’re going to stay true to Gene’s Vision”: If CBS says this, I sure hope they do what people who have said it in the past almost never do, which is explain what they think that vision actually is. Too often the executives pay lip service to the fans with hollow praise of whatever we think made Trek great, but they don’t actually share that vision or even have a vision of their own. To them it is just a brand. They need to take Trek’s vision of the future and update for our time.
“We’re not going to stay true to Gene’s Vision”: The most simplistic expression of Trek’s message is optimism for the future, and CBS may decide that optimism is not hot right now. They might want to make a Trek show that can compete in the “gore Olympics” (and Binge-watching Olympics) with Walking Dead and Game of Thrones. Trek is malleable, but it’s not build for apocalypse and cynicism. If it was turned into that kind of show it could only reasonable be called Star Trek during its title sequence.
Time will tell. As CBS starts to divulge more details, we will be all ears.