Okay, I am not going to lie. Yesterday was a huge bummer for me.
It was announced by Variety that Bryan Fuller, the endlessly talented genius behind such great shows as Pushing Daisies, Wonderfalls & Hannibal, would be stepping back as show-runner on the upcoming Star Trek: Discovery. I can’t even begin to describe the immense crushing feeling I felt when I first heard the news. It was like watching the Enterprise-D crash into Veridian III in Star Trek Generations. My heart heaved and I just sat there motionless for a couple moments before reading the entire article. Sure, that might seem like hyperbole, but to understand why I was so bummed, it helps to understand why Star Trek means so much to me.
I grew up with Star Trek. My stepdad introduced me to Star Trek: The Next Generation when I was a kid. I was just so impressed by the show’s ability to interweave complex philosophical themes with social commentary even at a young age. What’s more is that I loved how everyone seemed to have put aside their differences and had found a way to work together. I was bullied a lot growing up, so it was kind of idyllic and nice to see people working together, getting along and respecting one another. I didn’t really give Deep Space Nine much of a chance growing up, as I was more enchanted by its sibling show Voyager, but I’ve been rediscovering DS9 as of late and it’s like I’m watching a brand-new Star Trek show for the first time. However, that’s for another discussion altogether.
By the time Voyager ended, I was already sensing a time of change. As anyone who truly knows me… well, knows, I am not a fan of change. I like complacency and I like a routine. For seven years, I watched Star Trek: Voyager every Wednesday at 9pm with my stepdad. It was a weekly ritual. It brought us together, gave us something to do together and it provided me a modicum of comfort in a time where almost everything in my life was changing. So when Voyager ended, I was unsure of where Star Trek was heading. The Next Generation movies were coming to a close as Star Trek: Nemesis was in production for a winter 2002 release. It was being speculated at the time that it would be the last film featuring the cast of The Next Generation, which created even more unease for me at the time.
When Enterprise (later to be re-titled Star Trek: Enterprise) rolled around, it gave me a renewed sense of excitement regarding Star Trek. It was also around the time I was entering middle school, which was an uneasy time for me as an adolescent. I never realized until recently that the trajectory of Star Trek would mirror my own life trajectory: as the franchise evolved, the more turmoil and conflict was created among the characters. The more my life evolved and the more I got older, the more stressful it became. My relationships in my life had more conflict and turmoil. That’s a part of growing up, of course, but Star Trek was beginning to provide less and less stability as I got older. My stepdad and I were never fans of Enterprise. We watched religiously every Wednesday (and then every Friday when UPN changed when the show aired). It continued to bring us together, but it was less out of genuine enthusiasm for the show, but more so because we were Star Trek fans and we were faithful. When we went to the theater to see Star Trek: Nemesis on December 13th, 2002, we were among only a handful in the theater. The end of The Next Generation – the Star Trek show I grew up with, with Picard as my childhood hero – went out with a whimper, not a bang.
Star Trek: Enterprise ended in May 2005. It was a similar situation. My stepdad and I watched out of ritualistic faithfulness. We didn’t really have much of a reaction, though. It wasn’t emotional and it wasn’t sadness. Yes, we were sad Star Trek was going off the air, but we had no emotional attachment to the show – even after watching faithfully for four seasons. Our ritual of sitting down to watch Star Trek together – a ritual that had lasted 11 years – ended one uneventful Friday evening. I remember wondering what we would do on Friday evenings in the future. Fortunately, we found something to occupy our time, at least until I left home. Regardless, Star Trek has a very special place in my heart. It helped create memories I’ll never forget. Even though Star Trek got progressively weaker as the franchise continued, my stepdad and I still showed up. Which is why when CBS announced a new Star Trek series was in development, I was excited. I was still cautiously optimistic, but getting systematically let down by a franchise for years will do that for you. However, it’s Star Trek. So of course I am going to be excited. I’ve always felt like Star Trek was better suited for television anyway.
However, when Bryan Fuller was announced as show-runner behind the new show, I was ecstatic. For those that don’t know, I became a huge fan of Fuller when he revitalized Hannibal for NBC. It became my favorite network show while it was on TV. It was the first time in a while that I would literally cancel all my plans and make sure that I would be able to watch the show when it first aired on Thursday evenings. It lasted for three seasons before it was canceled. The cancellation of Hannibal was a huge disappointment for me, even if I knew it was inevitable based on the esoteric and atmospheric nature of the show. So, when Fuller was announced as spearheading the new Star Trek show, I felt like it was a perfect marriage. Even before Fuller was announced, I told myself, “There is no one better to revitalize Star Trek for television than Bryan Fuller.” I figured Fuller wouldn’t get hired – it was too good to be true – but he was and I was elated. So, you can imagine my extreme and utter disappointment when I discovered that Fuller would be stepping back as show-runner yesterday. For a couple months, I was so unbelievably excited at the prospect of a new Star Trek show – a sense of excitement I hadn’t felt for Star Trek in years. Star Trek wasn’t just coming back to television, but it was coming back to television in the best possible way, under the best possible leadership.
To understand why I was so disappointed stems back to my experience with Trek when the show was still on the air and the cast of The Next Generation were still making movies. For a while, even though we were getting new Star Trek, it was a case of diminishing returns. Star Trek: Insurrection & Star Trek: Nemesis were both disappointing on the movie front and Voyager and to a much larger extent Enterprise weren’t doing the franchise any favors, either. J.J. Abrams managed to breathe fresh air into the franchise with his reboot in 2009, but count me as someone that was disappointed with Star Trek Into Darkness in 2013. While I absolutely loved the most recent Star Trek film, Star Trek Beyond, it is telling of the current state of Star Trek that I found it to be the best Star Trek movie in 20 years – which is a long time between really good Star Trek movies.
If you think this makes me cynical, then you have every reason to believe that. It’s hard not to be cynical about Star Trek when it has continually disappointed you for years. However, even though Fuller isn’t overseeing the day-to-day operations of the new show, I am still excited. Why? Let me explain.
Fuller was named show-runner of Star Trek: Discovery back in February of this year. That was before it was even called Discovery. At that point in time, only producer Alex Kurtzman (who has co-written and worked on the Kelvin Timeline Star Trek films) was on-board and no other details had been finalized. When Fuller was brought on-board, he was brought on-board to conceptualize and theoretically run the new Trek show. In that time, he’s brought on-board writers (many of whom are Trek alumni, such as Nicholas Meyer), producers and essentially helped choose the entire production team behind the new show. He’s written two episodes of the first season and according to Variety’s article, he will continue to map out the story arc for the first season and the mythology of the new show. So, in short, Discovery is still Fuller’s brainchild even if he’s not running the show anymore. The people currently running the show, Gretchen Berg and Aaron Harberts, have worked with Fuller before on Pushing Daisies. It’s not like CBS is bringing back Rick Berman & Brannon Braga. They essentially promoted two of Fuller’s most trusted producers to step in and takeover. If anyone can fulfill Fuller’s vision of the show and uphold it, it is likely these two.
That’s been some negative press regarding the hiring of Akiva Goldsman, the “wonderful” writer behind that “classic” film Batman & Robin. I will admit when I first heard Goldsman was being brought-on in a “top creative role”, I was pretty upset. It was like experiencing the Enterprise-D crashing into Veridian III and then witnessing one of your favorite characters die – oh, wait. While I don’t have a lot of nice things to say about Goldsman – who butchered Mark Protosevich’s fantastic script for I Am Legend and turned Lost in Space into something utterly unwatchable – he did win an Oscar for writing A Beautiful Mind and not many Star Trek writers or producers can say that. We don’t know if Goldsman will actually write any episodes of the show. At this point in time, it is safe to assume most of the first season is either mapped out or written. He’s probably being brought-on because Berg & Haberts have never run a show before and CBS obviously doesn’t want to screw this up. There’s a lot riding on this show being successful – it’s going to be the flagship of CBS’s new All-Access streaming service, it’s the first Star Trek show in 12 years and the apparent price tag is $6-7 million an episode. That is a pretty hefty price tag, more than double what they spent on the last Star Trek show, Enterprise, and close to what HBO spends on Game of Thrones. So it makes sense that CBS would bring someone like Goldsman on-board to help facilitate things and make sure this ship runs smoothly.
It is also possible Fuller, who is also executive producing American Godz for STARZ and revitalizing Amazing Stories for NBC, will come back in a more direct leadership capacity for the second season. Many of the articles reporting on Fuller’s reduced role cite him stretching himself out too thin essentially running three shows at once. This was probably bound to happen, as Fuller committed himself to American Godz & Amazing Stories before he decided to take on the Star Trek job. Unless Discovery completely tanks in its first season (in which case Fuller has nothing to worry about), there will be plenty of time for Fuller to come back inhabiting the role he once had. While Star Trek: Discovery has had somewhat of a bumpy start out of Starbase, with the premiere date being pushed back from January to May (which, really, was only a good thing), this isn’t like Maurice Hurley running things into the ground with the first couple seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It’s not nearly as chaotic as things were on that show in the beginning, so for all intents and purposes Discovery is still steady as she goes. At the very least, the first couple episodes will be very much creatively driven by Fuller, even if he’s not overseeing everything from now until the first season wraps.
In any event, beyond this unfortunate drama, we have a new Star Trek show to look forward to. The first one in exactly 12 years when it debuts in May 2017. Not only that, but technology and television has come a long way since Star Trek went off the air. We are in a television renaissance at the current moment, in an era where shows like Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Westworld & Black Mirror are completely reinventing how we perceive and interpret serialized, episodic storytelling. Even films themselves are becoming more and more episodic in nature, like the Marvel Cinematic Universe which many franchises and studios are trying to emulate. We’re also in a very tumultuous time, with a crazy election cycle and social injustice creating race and gender tensions as we move forward. There has really never been a better time for the ideals and philosophy of Star Trek.
When I was younger, I grew up idolizing and admiring The Next Generation. I appreciated the Utopian approach to society and anticipated a future where everyone would get along. As I got older, I realized that might not be exactly pragmatic. The older I got, the more conflict ensued in my life. However, with that conflict, I realized that even though life sometimes gets more stressful the older you become, with age comes maturity. Thanks to Star Trek and most recently Deep Space Nine, I realize you can still have conflict, tension and strive in your life – you just have to know how to properly deal with it. I can’t wait for Star Trek to come back to the small screen, where it belongs, so that it can help others that were like me. Star Trek is one of the most important and influential intuitions that has ever come along and we need it now more than ever.
For those reasons and many more, I refuse to lose hope for Star Trek: Discovery. Besides, Star Trek wouldn’t want me to lose hope. It would want me to continue to be excited – excited at the endless possibilities of what a new Star Trek show has to offer. So, next time you are feeling bummed about Bryan Fuller’s reduced role or anything that happens from now until May 2017, just remember that the future is bright. The human adventure is just beginning.