The Next “Next Generation”

It’s only a matter of time before unscrupulous Hollywood producers set their sights on a reboot of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” If you look at the Internet (at all), you’ll note the show receives a lot of affection from fans. And just as devotees of the original series attained the power to finally reboot Kirk, Spock, and the rest (or, should I say, “Begins” them), another set of individuals will come to power wanting to tell more stories of Picard, Data, and Riker (yes, even Riker). Since I felt like having fun with my last post of 2011, I thought I’d imagine how a reboot series might change the characters. During this exercise, let’s assume the new “Next Generation” is a weekly television series set in the J.J. Abrams universe. Of course, a lot of the story points and character arcs could also play out over a series of movies as well … but let’s face it, “Star Trek: The Next Generation” is better suited to TV.

Premise: Despite creator Gene Roddenberry’s best intentions of an Earth beyond war, poverty, and the prosaic problems of the now, the characters he created for “The Next Generation” have interesting personality flaws that — I think mainly due to the nature of series of television in the late 80s — never really got the sort of play or development they, or the actors playing them, richly deserved. So, let’s start with the overall premise of the show. In the 24th Century, the U.S.S. Enterprise is a ship of both peace and family, but its executive staff happens to be a group of people who do not fit in the traditional Starfleet family mode. Therefore, they become one amongst themselves.

1. Jean-Luc Picard, Captain: It’s clear from the early episodes just what Roddenberry wanted Picard to be. He’s very gruff and ill at ease with just about everybody. In the pilot, he even asks Riker to help him cultivate a genial appearance, particularly around the children on board. The brusque, uncomfortable Picard does not last long as Patrick Stewart injected his natural warmth into the character. Sadly, it’s never really played as a story point. There just comes a time when the writers start writing for Stewart’s voice. With the luxury of hindsight, writers of a Next Gen reboot can easily meter out this change in the character. I think its an interesting concept as the Picard we only ever glimpse in the existing series is a man full of regret. He was so focused in the single-minded pursuit of commanding the Federation’s flagship that he let a lot slip by. He’s estranged from his brother, he never committed to a relationship, and even his stated love of archeology fell by the wayside for the dream of command. This is great material to build from. Now having finally reached his goal, he finds the Enterprise is filled with reminders of everything he gave up.

"My life is a hollow lie, Number One."

2. William Riker, Commander: I’d argue that Riker is almost the viewpoint character of the series. Like Picard, he’s obsessed with the center seat … but he’s also a much younger officer. In many ways, he’s also like Kirk, but he lives in an era where Kirk’s vitality is seen as a negative. He also has a romantic entanglement with the ship’s counselor. The show was often unwilling to pay attention to these story points, favoring Riker’s thirst for command versus his love of the Enterprise. Well, that’s in the four or five episodes where they even give him that much to do. Roddenberry was obsessed with the idea of Executive Officer, but could never really fit him into the dynamic of Star Trek. He tried creating the same character for the aborted “Phase II” series. He appears in Star Trek: The Motion Picture as Willard Decker (I’m sure the similiar name is no accident), a character that is ultimately shifted to a higher plain of existence because he does not fit into the established crew. In a reboot, I see Riker eventually making definitive choices about his love life and his career, perhaps at the behest of Picard, who sees “Number One” making the same mistakes he made.

Of course, recasting his beard will be a great challenge.

3. Data, Lieutenant Commander: While Data is the best developed character in the cast, I think the crew’s acceptance of him comes far too easily. In the pilot, Riker expresses certain reservations about working with an artificial person, but they’re never brought up again. The series also introduces a friendship between Data and Geordi that seems to happen by necessity. Data needed someone to talk to and Geordi (in the first season) was an extraneous character. Data’s emerging relationships with the rest of the bridge crew offers a wealth of story potential, which brings us to …

4.) Tasha Yar, Lieutenant: Since this is a reboot, the Sword of Damocles will constantly hang over Tasha’s head. While playing with audience expectations of her eventual demise, there’s also opportunities within the character as created by Roddenberry to reveal a deeply troubled person. Simply put, I think Lt. Yar has a form of PTSD that Starfleet does not admit exists. She came from a failed Terran colony that collapsed in on itself. While the enlightened Earth Federation saved her, it allowed a world to develop into economic collapse and roving rape gangs. This reveals an unspoken class structure between Earth-born Terrans and colonists. This being an extension of J.J. Abrams re-imagined universe, I imagine Tasha would love her drink, complete with off-duty benders that will lead to her infamous night with Data (What do you want? It’s an important story point for her as she was only in 10 or so episodes).

For such a supposedly progressive show, it's sad that this is a character's defining moment.

5. Worf, Lieutenant Junior Grade: I love Worf. Through him, the Klingons became a developed race of warriors with a unique code of honor and a habit for shouting. The character himself is rife with themes of culture assimilation (no pun intended) and the difficulties of being alone in a ship full of adjusted human types. Unfortunately, the writers often forgot these aspects of the characters and did this to him:

You can stop watching the video at any time.

Since he’s one of the more troubled characters from a creation standpoint, I think he needs more work in the reboot. Let’s say he’s clearly defined as the communications officer (his lack of a job in the early first season prevented him from developing quicker), a role his Klingon heart chafes against, but will eventually lead him to becoming Yar’s second in security. Whether or not she dies, Worf will eventually replace her, always trying to reconcile his Klingon extincts with his Starfleet training. This time around, his tendencies toward rash action will be tempered without being scolded as often. Well, I hope, anyway. Also, I’m one of the people that always thought the nascent relationship with Deanna Troi was interesting. It might not be a One True Pairing, but it would be a hoot to see the two actually operate as a couple.

It is time for Ho'cha'Wij!

6. Deanna Troi, Ship’s Counselor: Having accidentally written a novel about an empath, I find Troi needs a little rehabilitation in regards to her abilities. That is to say that she will never announce what an alien is “feeling.”  Instead, her talent will manifest more as an intuition that she uses while actually counseling the crew. That’s means her seat on the bridge would be replaced with an office where the bridge crew come to her for help. She would still go on away missions from time to time, but she’ll have to earn her place on the command deck. An interesting story point late in the existing show sees Troi taking the bridge officer’s exam to clear up any misgivings junior officer might have about her position on the executive staff. This is a great idea with plenty of potential. As she becomes a more valuable adviser to Picard, she finds her lack of an actual command status grating … leading to the bridge officer’s exam. The extra duties might mean eventually handing off her practice to another character.

7. Geordi La Forge, Lieutenant Junior Grade: Like Worf, Geordi’s lack of a clearly defined job in the first season hobbled the character. Roddenberry intended for him to be the helmsman, but it seemed the writing staff had trouble working him into that function. In the second season, he became the chief engineer … but that was more down to a production necessity than any story development. His aimlessness is actually a great starting point. He’s part of a small minority that would still be classified as “crippled” even in the enlightened sensibility of the Federation. Though he has his VISOR, his inhuman vision makes him odd and different. In a reboot, the Geordi we meet is unsure of himself, wavering between Command and Operations. His fascination with the inner workings of the ship could first be noticed by Data, leading to the two becoming fast friends. Finally having a confidant, Geordi transfers from the bridge to the engine room, working through the ranks for awhile. As his confidence improves, it might be interesting to see him try dating for the first time in his life. LeVar Burton, who played the character in the existing series, always felt the show shied away from illustrating the love life of a black man. I think that’s a fair criticism, but to add to that, Geordi is also a classic geek. The show never really acknowledges it, but he is more comfortable around machines than the ladies. He even has a holodeck affair that later blows up in his face. Here’s some great story material not only for Geordi, but to explore how gender roles and social attitudes toward dating might change in the future. For his part, Geordi’s arc should see him progressing from a talented, but listless young man to a mature department head. By the time he trades in the VISOR  for compact contact lenses, it should be a moment that marks his complete transition into adulthood.

8. Beverley Crusher, Chief Medical Officer: There’s a lot of missed opportunities in Dr. Crusher. Roddenberry clearly meant for her to be Picard’s love interest, but the show always seemed uncomfortable with that idea. Instead, it was denied in favor of her having storylines with guest characters and even a ghost. In the reboot, I think there’s room to examine this concept with a healthy dose of conflict considering Jack Crusher and Picard’s role in his death. Whether or not the two can carry on a relationship, the clear thing here is to show Beverly as someone trying to move on, raise a child, and commit herself to an administrative role that can’t possibly be as easy as it was depicted. When the show tried to do play with these ideas, it pushed the character into a very serious and glum place. The reboot Beverly should be a beacon of positivity that actually helps bring the executive staff together. Like Geordi, she deserves a little fun.

7. Wesley Crusher, “Shut Up”: There’s no avoiding him, actually. He’s key to Picard’s arc. Regardless of a romantic relationship between Picard and Beverley, I think Picard should take a personal interest in Wesley’s development. Initially, it could be a tinge of survivor’s guilt or the suggestion of Counselor Troi, but mentoring Wesley would be instrumental in Picard learning that he is capable of warmth and compassion. This reboot Wesley would be different from his predecessor in a key way: he’ll never get the keys to the Enterprise. Shoehorned into traditional Star Trek plots, Wesley won the ire of fans pretty quick. He was a super-genius, precocious, and often poorly plotted into stories. Instead, the new version will present a kid of, say, 13 who uses his fascination with Starfleet as a way to mask the pain of his father’s death. Sure, he’ll use Picard as a surrogate father, but I imagine there’s plenty of story potential there.

8. Miles O’Brien, Lieutenant Junior Grade: Oh, you best believe the ever-beleaguered transporter chief has a place in this reboot. While he starts out as a relief helmsman, he’ll quickly become a operations chief with a specialization in transporters who begins a long courtship with botanist Keiko Ishikawa (yes, I had to look it up). From there … O’Brien. Must. Suffer.

"Dear God, why?"

9. Guinan, Your Bartender: While never clearly defined, I think there’s a place for Guinan in a reboot. A survivor of a scattered race of listeners, Guinan is actually first brought on board by Counselor Troi,  who knows that there are some things a person will tell his bartender that he won’t tell his doctor (or words to that effect). Since this version takes place in the J.J. Abrams reboot universe, the Ten-Forward lounge will serve actual liquor. Beyond her natural ability to listen, Guinan will also cultivate a fine stock behind the bar, making Ten-Forward the best ship’s lounge in Starfleet. Since she is a mysterious character with some understanding of how time flows, she’ll also sense that there’s something afoot in reality …

10. Q, Representative of the Q Continuum: This time around, Q has a real mission. Cognizant of the temporal upheaval that led to the Abrams reboot, Q is slowly, but surely, training Picard and his team for the moment when they will have to deal with the crisis that led to the destruction of Romulus. Of course, he’ll still do it in his brash, arrogant way. Over time, though, he will come to respect humanity’s ability to adapt and evolve. He’ll also secretly long for the camaraderie the Enterprise executive crew has found and that the Q Continuum can never offer.

Watching “The Next Generation” on Netflix recently, I see a lot of unrealized potential in the characters. This group had the misfortune of appearing on TV at a time when character development was not a driving force of story. This is particularly true in the syndicated market the show aired in;  a huge flaw in the show’s first few seasons where plot drove everything. It ultimately found its footing and the characters grew to be as endearing as the original series crew. I think the major difference between the two shows is just how much more of a family Picard’s staff became. A reboot of the show would do well to focus on that dynamic as it will always be a source of interesting and entertaining stories.

Or I could just watch this show.

About Erik

Erik Amaya is the host of Tread Perilously and the former Head Film/TV writer at Bleeding Cool. He has also contributed to sites like CBR, Comics Alliance and Fanbase Press. He is also the voice of Puppet Tommy on "The Room Responds."
This entry was posted in Home of the Bizarre Rant, Projected Pixels and Emulsion and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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