The Biggest Series Rebound in Streaming History?
"Star Trek: Picard" rises from the garbage heap to become one of streaming's top shows
I’m not a Trekkie, nor am I deeply immersed in the world of science-fiction, but I do have a nostalgic soft-spot for the science-fiction franchises I grew up on. They include the original Star Trek television series from the 1960s (Denver’s KWGN-TV aired the reruns all the time) and Star Trek: The Next Generation, which premiered around the time I was entering high school. Both spawned multiple films (of varying quality), and I’ve seen them all.
So, when Star Trek: Picard — an unexpected new installment of the “Next Generation” era — debuted on Paramount+ in 2020, I was inclined to check it out.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t particularly good. I mean, it had its moments, and it was fun to revisit some of the old characters, but the nostalgia trip wasn’t enough to carry the rest of the show. Critics and audiences mostly agreed. And with the series’ star, Patrick Stewart, already in his 80s, it didn’t occur to me that a second season would even be attempted.
But it was. And when a teaser-trailer for season two hit the internet, I admit I was again intrigued. It featured the character Q, Picard’s ever-amusing arch-nemesis played by John de Lancie in The Next Generation. Against my better judgment, I began watching it.
Some of you may remember me detailing the experience in the ‘Daly Grind’ last year:
The first episode was actually pretty decent, but after that, things went south and kept getting worse with each new episode. The acting was fine, but the writing was not. The story revolved around Picard and company having to time-travel back to modern-day America. Plot-wise, their mission was to save the universe. But the real mission — the one undertook by the show’s writers — was to inundate the audience with one current-day political stance after another (all predictably from the same ideological perspective). It was over-the-top ridiculous, almost to the point of parody.
Yet, I kept watching… until the bitter end… without the awfulness letting up… purely out of a decades-old affection for some of the characters. Resistance… was futile.
If anything, I was being too generous with that description. I can’t emphasize enough how bad it was.
Once again, most critics and regular viewers seemed to agree with me. Also once again, I figured the series had to be over. A mercy killing was the only reasonable next step. The final nails needed to be driven into the Next Generation coffin… with that coffin then jettisoned into outer-space (with or without a bagpipe tribute).
But that’s not what happened. Season three was announced, and after I lifted my jaw up off the floor upon hearing the news, I vowed that this time there was no way I was going to let myself be suckered in. No… way. I paid no attention to its release date, and didn’t bother watching a single trailer.
Then, a few months later, something weird happened. I started seeing online chatter like this, from people whose views I respect and often agree with:
It couldn’t be, could it? Season three was actually… good? I wasn’t yet sold.
But as the weeks went by, I continued seeing similar sentiment almost across the board. So, I caved. I began watching season three. And I’m happy (and still somewhat shocked) to report that it’s absolutely fantastic. With only one episode remaining (the series finale will drop this Friday), it’s probably been the most addictive television I’ve watched this year.
Word has spread. It was reported last week that this season of Picard marks the first time a Star Trek series has broken into Nielsen’s Top 10 ranking of streaming shows. To the surprise of many, the show’s final season has become a legitimate hit for Paramount+.
What has made it so good, amounting to perhaps the biggest series rebound in television history?
The Horizon Was Broadened
The first season relied heavily on Jean-Luc Picard’s personal introspection — his dwelling on past failures and losses, and his struggles with his age and mounting sense of irrelevance. It was often quite depressing, by design. And since the story beyond that wasn’t particularly strong, there wasn’t a big payoff for the audience.
The second season continued with Picard’s personal woes, along with the aforementioned 21st-century social-justice themes that turned off many viewers. Fans felt like they were being lectured more than entertained, and that’s not a good thing.
Nostalgia played a big supporting role in both of those seasons, of course, but most characters from the ensemble cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation had yet to make an appearance, at least beyond a few cameos. And with the story even weaker than the first season’s, it was a tough one to finish.
Season three, however, shifted away from a lot of the self-pity (though it didn’t disappear entirely), and pretty much abandoned its prior obsession with political correctness. Instead the writers focused on a fresh, surprisingly ambitious, action-heavy story that employed the best elements of the Next Generation brand, including reuniting nearly every key crew member in a logical way that remarkably didn’t feel ham-handed. The writers even took special care in connecting the story to past plot-lines, some of which had been left dangling years — even decades — earlier.
The result has been the creative and dignified sendoff Next Generation fans had all but given up hope on.
Adding brand new supporting characters to a well-established, highly-regarded ensemble-cast is always a challenge. Longtime fans are inherently suspicious of them, and their introduction often feels forced or contrived, like a number of new characters in the first two seasons of Picard did.
It’s usually not the fault of the actors and actresses. It’s just the nature of the beast. Viewers tend to resist the notion of such characters standing on equal footing with their favorites. They aren’t prepared to invest too heavily in them, and certainly don’t expect them to actually end up stealing the show.
But actor Todd Stashwick’s portrayal of Liam Shaw, Starfleet captain of the USS Titan-A, has proven to be a glaring exception.
I’d never even heard of Stashwick prior to Picard, but I’m guessing we’ll all see much more of him following this break-out role.
Shaw is sort of an anti-hero, extremely sure of himself and unimpressed with others’ stature outside of official authority. He’s like a professional internet troll, but super-smart and capable.
To better explain what I’m talking about, here’s his introduction to the series:
I mean, how great is that scene? Stashwick nails every one he’s in.
The Band is Back Together
As I mentioned earlier, just about every main character from The Next Generation (along with some from other Star Trek spin-offs) appears in Picard season three, and it’s a reminder of just how well those characters were first established all those years back. With the vast improvement and depth in this season’s writing, it’s been fun getting reacquainted with this group, presumably for the last time.
Let’s Hope They Stick the Landing
Like I said, the final episode of the entire series drops this weekend. I went from zero expectations for the show following season two, to now very high ones — the bar having been raised immeasurably by this implausible, highly laudable resurrection. If the show can deliver an ending at least equal in quality to the season up until now, I’ll walk away quite satisfied.
Regardless, I highly recommend this season of Star Trek: Picard to ‘Daly Grind’ readers, even those of you who haven’t bothered with the first two seasons.
If you’ve had any past interest in Star Trek, I’m confident you’ll enjoy it.
Into Star Trek? Been watching Picard? Let me know in an email or in the comment section below.
Obligatory Dog Shot
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