Star Trek: Picard season 3 episode 1 ‘The Next Generation’ review

Be careful what you wish for, goes the old saying. I wished for one last ride for the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I thought it would be nice to see my old friends again, out on an adventure, something a little better than the tired mediocrity of Star Trek: Nemesis. But I wished on the monkey’s paw. I didn’t count on the tone of Star Trek: Picard being dark, violent and action-orientated. Why would it be? Your leading cast has an average age that would be impressive in a cemetery.

There’s a moment in Star Trek: Insurrection, one of the most middling films in the entire franchise, when Beverly Crusher picks up a phaser rifle. It’s funny because this TV cast was never designed for action movies. It’s in that moment you just wonder how it all went wrong. Now, 25 years later, watch in wonder as Gates McFadden reprises her most famous role as an action hero, brutally murdering random aliens. People will say: ‘oh, it’s so great that they finally gave this character something to do’. It really isn’t. Not this. ‘I’m so glad they brought back the The Golden Girls and finally Blanche unleashes her potential as a sex trafficker.’

Star Trek: The Next Generation was a lot of things, a wildly flexible format that could swerve from high concept sci-fi to morality plays, explorations of the human condition to brilliant comedy. It was contained, it was episodic, the characters were all well-defined. There were so many scenes of people sitting and talking. And it remains my ultimate comfort. It’s just a nice place to spend time. Why then, when you bring it back, would you tell everyone that you’re making a 10-hour movie?

I’m sick of 10-hours movies. I don’t think a single show has mastered that as a format. I’m tired of love letters to the fans. I don’t want references,  and there are absolutely tonnes in this if you care to look for them. I just want a story that I can engage with with characters who I recognise. Does everyone need a dark backstory? Did spending a season with Picard’s abusive father and mentally ill mother add anything to the character? Do I want Riker to be having marriage difficulties? Do her choices become more meaningful because Seven is deadnamed at work?

I would have loved it if Picard just pootled around on a farewell tour of the galaxy, saying goodbye to old friends, helping them with a problem involving the drainage in their garden before buggering off again. But there’s no point reviewing a show that doesn’t exist, you know, one I would like.

Anyway this one sees Picard receiving a distress call on an old Enterprise-D communicator. Remember the Enterprise-D? Remember these communicators? Remember the red uniform? God, his house must be bursting with all his old tat. It’s from Beverly Crusher and she tells Picard he can trust no one, especially Starfleet. So Picard must find a ship and go on a rescue mission. Hey, remember the first season of Star Trek: Picard? But surely there wouldn’t be another conspiracy at the heart of the Federation. So he recruits Riker and they commandeer the Titan-A, while its Captain, Liam Shaw (Todd Stashwick) makes it clear that he hates their cowboy, action antics from back in the day, and you can’t help but wonder if he’s thinking of Kirk and Spock. But anyway, Seven of Nine commits mutiny to help them out.

Meanwhile, Raffi (Michelle Hurd), the only remaining original Star Trek: Picard cast addition, is pretending to be a junkie while working for Starfleet Intelligence investigating some kind of stolen weapon using only cryptic clues and a search engine, while running around on the set of Blade Runner. In fact, a lot of the show seems to be set in the world of Blade Runner. It’s dark and neon and no one knows where the light switch is.

It’s all setup and maybe it’ll pay off, but I just have this weird feeling that we’ll spend the next seven episodes doing more setup until we have all the characters in one place and the score will play a sting we all remember.

The dialogue is weird but dialogue has never been Star Trek’s strong point. There’s a lot of saying exactly what’s happening, the wrong people explaining the backstory. When Laris says that Picard and Crusher ‘tried to be lovers’ it sounds like he couldn’t get it up.

But there are good things. The music is nice… I recognised loads of it from previous Star Trek films. The effects look great, brightly lit, no murky space and a more steady camera, much like those of the Star Trek movies, although, these CG models don’t hold a candle to models. The production design is very well done, or would be if we could see it.  And Jonathan Frakes is a delightfully warm presence as always. I can’t believe that he didn’t spend a decade playing a sitcom dad in the early 2000s. And given he’s beside Picard all of the way, hopefully he can do some of the heavy lifting that Patrick Stewart was unable to do while he sat in a chair during much of season 2. People worked very hard on this show, made it a labour of love and it seems mean be so critical to but I can’t access it, I don’t see what they were trying to do.

As much as this season is a reboot, with a new (old) theme tune, updated titles and title card, and a new cast, it feels very familiar, and not in a good way. People say that sequels and reboots don’t ruin the original, but in a way, I think they do. Because it strip mines the props, sounds and graphics and presents them like this. It’s saying, that mode of storytelling was unsophisticated, those episodes weren’t real or deep enough, and instead you want to see this sadder, darker thing with those characters that you recognise, but they’re older, broken and more violent. But still, 100% on Rotten Tomatoes… what show is everyone else watching?

Star Trek: Picard is currently streaming on Paramount Plus and Amazon Prime, depending on where you are, and sometimes on both.