Between 1967 and 2005, 684 hour-long episodes of live-action Star Trek and 22 half-hour episodes of the animated series aired on TV. Allowing for commercial breaks, that gives us 521 hours of Star Trek, give or take. Add in the 13 movies, from 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture to Star Trek Beyond in 2016, and you wind up with more than 48 full days of Star Trek—not counting books and comics, which, if you want to argue about canonicity and amount of content, my DMs are open. (Not really.)
In-world time runs even longer—by a lot. The prequel series Star Trek: Enterprise begins in the year 2151, roughly, and the last movie set in that same timeline, Nemesis, takes place in 2379 or so. But Voyager traveled back to the Big Bang in one episode and Next Generation reached into its own future, to 2395. So that’s 14 billion years of history covered. Oh, and the three “reboot” movies—Star Trek, ST Into Darkness, and ST Beyond—take place in an alternate timeline sprouted off from the original. And each of the TV series spent time in a “mirror universe” where good and evil were inverted. That means we have three full Trek universes.
What I’m saying is, there is already a lot of Star Trek.
And now the first real look at the long-delayed new show Star Trek: Discovery has finally frontiered. I’m gonna watch that show, too. All 15 hours of it, set to air on the subscription streaming service CBS All Access in the autumn. (When I showed my editor the new trailer, he said, “Sure, but who’s gonna get CBS All Access?” “Me,” I meeped. “For that.”) As a lifelong, devout Trekkie, I hear your concerns about the new show—why did they keep pushing the release? Why did showrunner Bryan Fuller bail for American Gods? What is up with that awful typeface on the intertitle cards?—but like Star Trek itself, I remain hopeful.
In fact, I am fuller of hope now than I have been about any of the movies since the whale one (which I liked). Because Trek’s serialized self, its television self? That’s Trek’s best self.
Discovery will focus on a callow commander (Sonequa Martin-Green) rather than a sophisticated captain, though we’re still getting the latter, too, played by the great Michelle Yeoh. Lantern-jawed cis-het white men have been rightly cleared off the bridge in favor of a team that more accurately reflects the galaxy (and Gene Roddenberry’s vision). New ship, new crew, new strange new worlds, new life, new civilizations. Beam me up.
The trailer’s visuals combine the shiny, lens-flaring, camera-tilting modes of the JJ Abrams and Justin Lin reboot movies. But that slickness is a sop to non-fans. Give me bulkheads that wobble and actors pretending to fall over when the camera shakes to simulate the loss of inertial dampers after a phaser takes the forward shields down to 30 percent. I mean, I get it: The structural rigidity of epic-sci-fi movies turns pretty much every Trek film (except the good ones) into a quest adventure with a third-act reveal and a finale of VFX and explosions. But audiences get enough of that these days from Star Wars and Marvel movies. A television show, with more time for story and presumably way less money in the budget, let Star Trek get back to its authentic guts.
To the extent that Trek TV shows worked at all, it was due to their persistence. Like any long-running television show, the actors and writers got into grooves (and out of them and into new ones) over years. They experimented with genres from humor to horror. Characters combined and recombined into satisfying riffs, ‘shipped and otherwise. At their best, the writers remembered that the science-fiction was just a fulcrum for metaphoric levers; fundamentally, Trek shows are about different kinds of Americans trying to figure out how to be good in the world. The bad guys are always the geopolitical bad guys of the time, from the original series’ Klingons proxying for Cold-War Russia to the Borg making like a stereotypical Asian collectivist culture, up through Enterprise’s alien terrorists from the future. Sure, every show repeats the “exploring what it means to be human” trope—Spock, Data, Odo, the Doctor, Seven of Nine, T’Pol—but those arcs, over years, all took interestingly different ballistic paths. (Odo looked into it and basically said, “meh, I’m good with being shapeshifting glop in a big lake of same, thanks.”)
The good news for Star Trek: Discovery, I suspect, is that all good television is like that now. Quality television tends toward lightly or heavily serialized drama, where even the one-off episodes usually have at least an undertone of long-arc character growth and a Big Bad hiding in the season finale. The Original Series did that by accident; most episodes started and ended with the crew gathered on the bridge, staring at the big TV screen that gave them their missions. But all the subsequent shows experimented at least a little with call-backs and character development. Now, all good TV does that.
Today, in post Deadwood–Sopranos–Galactica–Breaking Bad nirvana, with Netflix and Amazon Prime in a knife fight not for most but for best, TV writers’ rooms know what they can aspire to, now. I hope the Discovery room remembers. They’re adding text to one of fiction’s grand, collaborative canon, created almost as much by its fans as its writers. I hope they go boldly.