"Paul Levinson's It's Real Life is a page-turning exploration into that multiverse known as rock and roll. But it is much more than a marvelous adventure narrated by a master storyteller...it is also an exquisite meditation on the very nature of alternate history." -- Jack Dann, The Fiction Writer's Guide to Alternate History

Friday, April 3, 2020

Star Trek: Picard: Non-Pareil

Just finished binging Star Trek: Picard on CBS All Access.  It's the best Star Trek since Star Trek: The Next Generation, which is where Jean-Luc Picard was introduced.  And unlike TNG which was episodic, this first season of Picard was serial, which is a big plus in my book.

But let me get this relatively minor point, in retrospect, out of the way: I thought the weakest part of Picard was the beginning, or the first episodes, which show a 90+ year-old retired Star Fleet admiral down on Earth.  This part of the story was good enough, and enjoyable.  But it's not until Picard literally takes off in a faster-than-light ship that the story really takes off.

The series meshes with TNG and with the entire Star Trek corpus just beautifully.  In addition to Picard, three of the major characters from TNG play important and very satisfying roles.  More minor characters also reprise roles and are equally effective.  And at least one iconic major character from another Star Trek series makes some game changing appearances in Picard.

And Picard borrows well from two titans of off-screen science fiction.  Isaac Asimov is read in this future in paper books, and Dr. Agnes Juradi (nicely played by Alison Pill, billed right after the non-pareil Patrick Stewart) reminds me of Susan Calvin, who figured prominently in Asimov's early robot stories.  And there are a group of warrior nuns in the mix, who echo the Bene Gesserit in Frank Herbert's Dune series.

The cinematography is splendid, reminiscent of Second Life (that's a compliment).  The battle scenes and the warp speeds are palpably portrayed.   The Borg and the Romulans figure crucially in the narrative, and we're introduced to some new planets and people, as well.

If you've noticed that I haven't said anything specific or much at all about the plot, you'd be right.  I don't want to spoil some of the many surprises for you.  But what I can tell you is that, if you're a sentient being, you'll be moved to tears, more than once, as well as laugh and be caught up in the combination of intellectual puzzle and sheer adventure that you'll find in this superb new series.

See also  Discovering Star Trek: Discovery ...   Star Trek: Discovery 2: Tour de Force Story and Characters



Catherine Asaro said...

I enjoyed it a great deal. One difference in our reactions: I really like the parts on Earth. Picard on the vineyard worked for me, and I appreciated the way the series charted his character development, showing how he changed over the course of the season, going from his retirement on Earth back to captain of a star ship--albeit a very different sort of ship!

The Picard series has a different feel than past Star Treks. I don't know if more mature is the right description. More artistic, perhaps. Still good adventure, but done with more of a look toward literary quality.

Visually, I loved the image of a sunset on his vineyard they use for the show image. It's gorgeous. https://www.cbs.com/shows/star-trek-picard/about/

The series story-telling method worked for me in this particular show. More generally, I'm on the fence about using series rather than episodic stories. I like shows that have them both, that is, a series with an overarching story, but each week an episodic one as well. That way, you get a puzzle each week while you try to solve the overall puzzle.

HOWEVER -- having a series rather than episodic approach only works if the series story works. If an episode doesn't work, I can always tune in to the next episode and continue enjoying the show. If the series story doesn't work, I quit watching.

Off the top of my head, I can think of two shows where the series approach didn't work for me, Batwoman and Jessica Jones. I expected to love both series. They had everything I liked, a a strong female protagonist, adventure, sff, all of it. But for each of them, I disliked the overarching story so much I quit watching after only a few episodes. The story seemed to dwell on abusing the female protagonist with tiresome villains I didn't want to watch.

However, Star Trek Picard showed how a series story can work at its best. I enjoyed the puzzle. I'm curious to see what they do with the next season.

And hey, that mysterious race of destroyers is still out there somewhere ...

Paul Levinson said...

Great review, Catherine - thanks! I haven't seen Batwoman or Jessica Jones, which may account that I have a higher opinion that you do about series (vs episodic) television in general.