Why Picard Works

We’ve come to the end of the Why Star Trek Works series, and it seems appropriate that we’d end with the latest of the shows, Picard. 

I’m not going to lie, I was worried about this show. When I heard they were getting Patrick Stewart to reprise his role, I worried this was going to be cringy. I worried it was going to be the science fiction equivalent of The Mule with that ridiculous threesome scene with Clint Eastwood. 

I should have known better, of course. Picard was great. It works exactly as it needs to. 

Picard is a direct follow-up to Next Generation. It begins with Captain Picard, retired on his family’s vineyard. Because of course, his family has a vineyard. He seems content, at first. We find out soon enough that he’s haunted by his past decisions. And when some of them come back, he finds that he must put a crew together and set things right.

If you’re expecting to see Captain Picard, the stuffy in charge man who always has a diplomatic answer for everything, you’re wrong. He’s older, and he’s grown. That’s one of the reasons this show works. Sometimes we need a reminder that even adults have things to learn. There’s always another stage in our lives to grow towards. And Picard has grown past his former bigotry, his coldness. He’s starting to see how always focusing on the mission has hurt people he’s loved. 

But he also sees the good he did, despite that. Which I appreciated. 

One thing Picard had going for it that a lot of other shows don’t was the age of the main character. We don’t often see heroes this age. And frankly, that’s a sad thing. I feel like we always get the same sort of story, and few of them have anything to do with people in the later parts of their lives. It’s no wonder we’ve got a whole society of people terrified of getting older. If fiction is to be believed, you stop being the main character of your life and take on a supporting role. Which deprives us of a whole collection of stories.

Another thing Picard did well was the fan service. No, I’m not talking about nudity. I’m talking about moments that only mean anything to the long term Star Trek fans. I like that it had these fan service moments, while still being its own story. We see old characters and old stories coming to their eventual conclusion. But we also see new characters, new lives. We see old battles from different perspectives. What this does is simple. If you’re a Star Trek fan, you’re going to understand and value this show on every level. Moments that might be meh to a new viewer will break your freaking heart. But if you’ve never seen an episode of Star Trek before, you’re still going to like it.

There’s a problem with that, too. At least, if you as a writer hope to learn from it. Only a show with this foundation could have pulled this off.

As I said, there are moments in this show that made me bawl. Mostly dealing with the Borg. These moments weigh years of storytelling behind them. Decades. Two or three shows had to be successful, have beloved characters and set up long-term storylines for this to work. And that’s something that, if you’re just starting, you can’t do yet.

What you can do, though, is prepare for it. If you’re writing a series in a world you think you want to explore more, maybe prepare for this sort of thing. Write worlds that can be seen from multiple points of view. The best way to do this? Remember that no story is black and white. Everyone sees things from their perspective. And if you do things right, you can get your fans to see that too.

That’s really what makes Picard, and Star Trek in general, work.

Well, we’ve come to the end of our series. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed revisiting some old, and new, favorite shows. Let me know in the comments which one is your favorite Star Trek show. 

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Why Lower Decks works

Premiering in August of 2020, Lower Decks is different than the other Star Trek shows we’ve talked about in this series so far. But also not as different when you get into the details.

It’s not set on Enterprise, but many of them haven’t been. Lower Decks is set on the U.S.S. Cerritos. Of course, it’s animated. But that’s not the big difference. No, the real difference is, in my opinion, why Lower Decks works so well. Let’s discuss. 

We should start, as I always do, with the characters. The four main characters, Beckett, Brad, D’Vana and Sam, are all beautifully flawed. They’re neurotic, annoying, party lovers. These aren’t characteristics we usually see in Star Trek characters. Sure, Kirk was a man whore and Picard had a stick up his ass. But they were never what I’d call relatable. I can relate to D’Vana in particular. She’s socially awkward and loves her work. She gets way too excited. But the people who can up with her energy are rewarded for it. 

There’s something great about looking at a character and seeing parts of yourself reflecting.

Lower Decks also shows a different part of the world than we’ve ever seen. This, I think is really where the show differs from the others. The main characters have always been mostly bridge officers. And, you should excuse me for saying, they’re kind of bitchy about it. We can even see this in an episode of Next Generation when Picard sees what his life would have been like if he hadn’t gotten into a bar fight while he was in the academy. He finds himself no longer a bridge officer and quickly realizes something. His friends are kind of dicks. And yeah, if you watch through the show, our beloved characters are not nice to the people who work under them. I think it’s great to see the lives of the grunts. The people who are doing the day-to-day work. Not the people living in the posh cabins and making the big decisions.

Finally, Lower Decks manages to do something that I always want to do. Something some of my favorite writers manage to do well. It has a sense of levity, but it can still bring emotional gripping moments.

It’s important for a character if they’re going to be funny, to have a depth to them. No one’s the comic relief all the time in the real world. That buddy you’ve got who always makes you laugh? There’s no way she’s always like that.

Creating a character like that is hard. You’ve got to start carefully, making sure that we see their pain without really seeing it. The best way to handle it is small warnings, little signs that are only really visible in hindsight. 

It’s hard, and it takes a lot of editing. But if you can manage it, it’s great. 

We’re almost done with this series. It’s been a lot of fun. Next week we’ll be talking about Picard. But if there are any Star Trek shows I missed that you’d like me to cover, let me know in the comments. 

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Full disclosure. All the other shows in this series have one of two things in common. Either they were a childhood favorite of mine or a recent love. I’ve only seen bits and pieces of Enterprise. And there’s a chance that, even if you’re a big Trek fan, you haven’t seen much of it either.

Enterprise has a hell of a bad reputation. Trek fans kind of hate it. And so, for a long time, I didn’t bother to give it the time of day. 

I should have. Enterprise has all the same qualities as the other Star Trek shows. It’s got great storytelling, fun characters who grow and change as people. It’s funny, it’s smart. It has that same fast and loose hand with science that we’ve all come to love.

So why is it so disliked? And more importantly, how can you as a writer avoid these same traps? 

It only makes sense to begin at the beginning. In this case, we’re talking about the theme song. 

Oh, this theme song! It’s like someone ate the theme song for Full House and threw it back up. 

Not only is the song a bad eighty’s pop ballad, but it also has nothing to do with the show. It doesn’t fit the style at all.

This alone was enough to throw people off. Okay, well what does that have to do with writing a book? Let’s compare a theme song to a cover. A cover is something that everyone tells you not to judge your books by, but you do.

Don’t feel bad, I do it too. And at least two books I’ve loved recently have caught my eye because of their cover. 

Your cover matters. If you’re an indie writer, make good use of that. If you work with a publisher, then use whatever pull you have to make sure you love the cover. 

Now, let’s talk about the ending. And by that, I mean the last episode. And I’m not going to lie, you this is a problem that a lot of shows seem to have. No one seems to know how to end a show without pissing everyone off.

I’m not talking about endings that weren’t supposed to be endings, like Chuck or Santa Clarita Diet. I’m talking about endings that knew damn well they were going to be ending. Like Game of Thrones or Roseanne. Shows that decided the best way to end was to kick their fans square in the junk.

That’s the kind of ending Enterprise has. And a bad ending is always bad for business. 

I don’t mean a sad ending. A good sad ending can rip someone’s heart to pieces and they’ll thank you for it. Good examples of this are Flowers for Algernon or Lord of The Rings. No, I mean a lazy ending, that makes the reader or watcher feel dumb for putting so much time in. Or an ending that doesn’t make any sense. Anything that falls into categories like this.

It was all a dream.

The main character’s been in a coma.

The whole story took place in a little boy’s mind while he looked at a freaking snow globe.

It was all a playback on the holodeck. 

These are things that make fans hate you. They make fans want to hurt. Since that’s legally frowned upon, they will do the next best thing. Trash you and your work all over the internet. And word of mouth matters. 

Word of mouth, after all, is why I didn’t watch Enterprise for so long. I’d just heard too much bad about it to think it could be good. And that’s a really hard thing to get over.

That’s it for this time guys. Next week we’ll be talking about a new favorite of mine, Lower Decks. 

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Why it works, Deep Space 9

Welcome to week four of our Why It Works, Star Trek series. This week, as promised, we’re talking about Deep Space 9.

This was another that I watched with my grandmother as a child, and then revisited as an adult. 

Running from January 1993 to June of 1999, it’s the third Star Trek show to come out and the first to take place on a stationary location instead of on a ship. It’s unique in a lot of ways. I’d say the biggest difference between this and other series is that we see a lot of civilians. I appreciated getting a better understanding of what life’s like in this world if you’re not part of Starfleet. Commander Sisko is part of Starfleet, but most of the station is full of civilians. It’s a different dynamic.

Which is our first tip. While this one doesn’t apply unless you’ve been writing a while, it checks out. Dont be afraid to do new things. 

Not to plug my stuff here, but that’s what I did with Falling From Grace. A good world, Fantasy or Science Fiction, should have different societies, different walks of life. If you’ve created a good world, explore it.

In the first post of this series, I talked about an episode called Trouble with Tribbles. It’s a much-loved episode of the original series, with a hilarious mess up. During a scene where tribbles fall from a vent onto Captain Kirk, a stagehand’s hand can be seen tossing the little critters out. Well, Deep Space 9 had a chance to fix it, and they did. I mean, if you’re going to have a time travel episode, might as well fix some old mess-ups.

They intentionally wrote in a scene with Sisko and Dax in that same vent. And being covered in tribbles, they decide to toss them out of the vent. And Dax worries that her hand was seen. Well done, guys. 

Who is here that doesn’t belong? Leave your response in the comments.

Another thing that Deep Space 9 did well was to remind us that it is set in the same world as the other series. Particularly the world of Next Generation. Worf, of Next Generation, is a character for much of the series. Deep Space 9 was great at utilizing past success, but not as a crutch

You see that sometimes, with spin-offs or follow-up series. The original show was great, everyone loved it. And so the new show leans too much on the popularity of that show, having old cast members pop in and rehashing old running jokes. That’s not what’s happening on DS9. A good test of this is that it can stand alone. You could pull Worf out of the show and it would still be good.

Is it cool to have those old nods? Yeah, of course. But if that’s all your new story has, then you don’t have a new story. You have a continuation of an old story. One that, if you finished, was probably done.

So that’s it for Deep Space 9. There’s a lot to learn from it, of course. If you’ve never seen it, give it a shot. And join us again next week for Enterprise.

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Why Star Trek Voyager works

It’s time for another episode in our Why Star Trek Works series. This week we’re looking at Voyager. 

Technically Deep Space 9 came out before Voyager. But we’ll be talking about that next week. Both shows aired at roughly the same time, so it didn’t matter which one you watched first.

Voyager was, of course, far different than the original series or Next Generation. For starters, it’s not set on the Enterprise. 

Duh, I know. But think about what that means. Enterprise is the flagship of the Federation. The people who work on the Enterprise are the best of the best. Everybody from Captain Picard to the dude cleaning the toilets is the best there is at what they do.

That’s not to say that the Voyager crew is bad. But they’re not the flagship. They’re not the best of the best. They’re not getting the best of the best, either. There’s no posh bar run by an eternal psychic here. There’s a crew doing the best they can to survive a hell of a situation.

If you don’t know the premise of the show, let me break it down for you. Captain Janeway and her crew are tasked with tracking down a group of rebels called the Maquis. While trying to catch up with them, both ships are transported somewhere in space they’ve never seen. Over seventy years’ worth of travel stand between them and their families. While Captain Janeway is still dedicated to the mission of seeking out new life, her main mission is clear. To get her people home.

Now, let’s talk about why the show does and doesn’t work. Because while it’s great overall, sometimes we learn lessons from other people’s screw-ups.

Make your own rules, and stick to them. 

There’s a rather infamous episode of Voyager that messes up the math for warp speed for every other show in this cinematic universe. That was pretty extreme, but it’s by far not the only example of this show just not sticking to its own damned rules.

Take the Captain, for instance. Sometimes she’s a badass no-nonsense queen. Sometimes she wants to be everyone’s mom. And no one bats an eye at this. Look, I get that people change and grow. But if you’re going through a switch like that, someone’s going to notice.

Let your characters grow.

Alright, all that being said. There is a great amount of character growth in Voyager. And I love that. The premise of the show, that they’re lightyears away from home and might never get back, is going to force growth. No one’s the same person they are by the end of this. Which, if I’m being honest, is something that was lacking in the other Star Trek shows. Picard is Picard, from the start of Next Generation to the end. The same can be said for almost everyone. And that’s just not realistic. I’m not the same person I was seven years ago. Why should any of these characters be?

Have a clear goal that not everyone shares

Here, though, is the biggest reason Voyager works. Right from the start, there’s a clear goal, get home. But, and this is the important part, not everyone necessarily shares this goal.

There are a couple of characters who might be way better off on the other side of the universe. People who were in prison or maybe heading to prison. People who might be just as happy to make their way home, or their way in a new universe.

This sets up the immediate conflict for the whole series. There’s no writer’s block here because you always have something for your characters to be working towards and against. It also sets a finish line.

Over the last few years, never-ending shows have gone out of fashion. There’s an end to most stories, after all. A moment to pause. While life may go on for the characters, one tale doesn’t go on with them. Think of your own life. Has it all been one battle? Or has it been a thousand different battles? Giving a story an ending doesn’t just prevent you from jumping the shark. It’s also infinitely more satisfying.

So that’s it for Voyager. I’ll see you next week when we’ll talk about Deep Space 9. 

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Why Star Trek Next Generation works

Welcome to week two of our why Star Trek works series. This week, we’re talking about Next Generation. 

Full disclosure, I have a soft spot for this series. It’s the one I watched with my grandmother when I was a little nerdling. So I might be biased when I say that this is the best Star Trek ever. But I also think I’m critical enough to judge the show honestly. After all, we’re harder on the things we love than anything else. 

Taking place 78 years after the original series, the show included a fancier more advanced Enterprise with an entirely new cast. The mission remained the same. To explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no one has gone before!

The show aired from September 28th, 1987 to May 23rd, 1994. Since then, there hasn’t been a time when reruns haven’t been available on tv somewhere. 

I’d like to say the popularity of the show was just because the characters were great. They were great, after all. But it goes so much deeper than that. 

To start, the show was intelligent. Not so much in the science, most of that was bullshit. It was the creative writing that had to be smart. The show was working within a world that had already been established by the original series. They could make some changes, blame them on advancements. But some things they were just stuck with. 

It would have been easier to just make it an extension of the original series. But they went past that and did it well. Picard is a different kind of captain than Kirk. Dr. Crusher is a world away from Bones. While the positions remained the same, the people who inhabited them were wildly different.

Another thing that stayed the same, aside from the mission, was the lesson of inclusion and equality. It’s one of the first times we see an enemy race become allies in the Klingons. While sometimes the relationship is strained, they aren’t volatile. Over and over we’ll see this trend. Even into Picard, where we see the Borg become friends. But we’ll talk about that later. 

One thing I appreciated about Next Generation is the willingness to pivot. When something wasn’t working, they tried to fix it. One great example is Wesley Crusher. His character was an irritating pain in the ass. Mouthy, smarmy. He thinks he’s smarter than everyone around him. Spoiler, he’s not.

Wesley got taken down a peg when he goes off to school and messes up, hard. He becomes a better person after that and a better character. This decision was made after a huge wave of fan hate directed at the kid.

Brag in the comments if you know what he’s drinking.

(Will Wheaton, by the way, is the actor who played Wesley. He’s an adorable cat dad who makes me smile on Twitter all the time.) 

Finally, let’s talk about the comedy of the show. It wasn’t overall a laugh riot. It has some of the darker episodes of anything I’ve ever seen.

There are four lights. If you don’t get that, look it up. Then watch the episode and cry.

Somehow they manage to blend this with some really funny things. Like Data’s cat, Spot. Spot the cat hates everyone. No one can take care of this little monster. She put Riker in the medical ward. Even Worf is scared of this fluffy orange cat. Oh, and in case you don’t know, she doesn’t have a single spot on her. 

The whole crew would shred you if you hurt this cat.


There are so many lessons a writer can learn from Next Generation. I’m just going to give you a bullet list below.

-Don’t be afraid to be funny, even in a serious series.

-Let your characters be wrong sometimes.

-Think out your storylines in advance.

-At the same time, don’t be afraid to pivot. 

I hope you’re having as much fun with this series as I am. Next week we’ll be talking about Star Trek, Voyager. 

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Why it works, Star Trek the original series

I grew up watching Star Trek, Next Generation with my grandma. It’s pretty mainstream now, but back then Star Trek was a niche show. A nerd show. 

But being a nerd is cool now, so screw that. And now Star Trek’s got so much love it can’t handle it. I could be a bitter hipster about that. I mean, I liked Star Trek before it was cool. Or, I could just appreciate that everyone loves Star Trek. 

Third option. I could revisit Star Trek as a writer and see why it works. I like option three. 

Of course, I couldn’t possibly talk about all things Star Trek in one post. So over the next few weeks, we’re going to look at all of the different Star Trek shows, starting with the original series and ending with Picard.

Today, we’re starting with the original series. Why does it work?

Let’s start with the fact that it probably shouldn’t work. I mean, it was kind of a mess. The budget was garbage, the special effects were terrible, the costumes looked tragic.

But it does work. The series ran from September of 1966 to June of 1969. This means that the whole series started and finished seventeen years before I was born. And yet I can tell you Kirk’s last words.

Oh my. 

No, not the way Sulu says it. 

We’re going to break this down, but I can sum up in three words why Star Trek worked so well. Why it has survived well into the 21st century and will hopefully be around for a lot longer.

It was fearless.

Okay, it could get away with being fearless. No one expected the show to succeed. So it was working with little to no budget and a bunch of actors no one had ever heard of before. So, it could get away with anything. 

There’s a great quote by Lorne Michaels that I live my life by. The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready. It goes on because it’s 11:30. 

Well, someone must have told Roddenberry that quote. Because let me tell you, Star Trek went on because it was 11:30. This lead to some hilarious moments. Like the tribble incident. 

On the off chance you don’t know this story, man are you in for a treat.

In the iconic episode, Trouble with Tribbles, there’s a scene where Kirk opens a hatch and is just showered with the fuzzy little things. If you look closely, or hell not that closely, you can see the shadow of a stagehand shoveling the tribbles through the hatch. 

Okay, so what is there to learn from this? Who wants to go into the world with their shirt untucked, so to speak? Why would you want to put work out there when it’s not ready?

Well, is it not ready? Or do you just feel not ready? 

Let me tell you something, from my heart to yours. You are never, ever going to feel ready. Your book, tv show, podcast, movie script, is never going to feel ready. It’s never going to match up with the flawless project in your head because how could anything ever be that perfect?

So, because we have to assume that nothing will ever be ready, we have to go on because it’s time. Because it’s 11:30, or we’ve revised the damn thing so much we’re sick of looking at it, or we’ve had it sitting on our desk for years. Does that mean sometimes we’re going to see hands throwing tribbles out of the hatch? Yeah, of course. But the alternative is never sending anything out. Pick one.

Here’s the other way Star Trek was fearless. And it’s arguably a bigger deal. Star Trek wasn’t afraid of doing things that were taboo at the time. Like having a Russian man and an Asian man as officers. Like having a black woman as an officer. 

Like having the first interracial kiss in American history on television. 

In an episode called Plato’s Stepchildren, Kirk and Uhura share a passionate kiss. Funny story about this kiss, aside from it being the first one of its kind in America. The producers were worried about it, so they wanted to film the scene a few ways. Shatner agreed but then proceeded to intentionally fuck up every single take that didn’t include the kiss until they’d run out of time and had to use the scene as it was written.

That’s right. Shatner decided to be a dick to force social change. Good use of bad behavior. 

Not all the episodes worked, that’s for sure. The ones that missed, missed hard. But the episodes that work, work amazingly well. They work so well that they’re still working to this day. 

See you next week when we’ll be talking about Next Generation.

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