Everything You Need to Watch Before Star Trek: Picard

One funny thing about Star Trek obsessives is that the rules of the fandom oblige them to understand and accept people who aren’t Star Trek obsessives. Infinite diversity in infinite combination is written into their bumpy-foreheaded, triple-stranded DNA. (Thanks a lot, Vulcans!) It’s also true, though, that on-ramping to Trek ain’t easy. With decades of content in the can, the makers of every new Star Trek show fret about appealing to newbies. With Star Trek: Picard premiering on Jan. 23 on the streaming service CBS All Access, the problem is even more acute —lots of never-Trekkers love Patrick Stewart, revisiting here his role as Jean-Luc Picard, captain of the USS Enterprise in the Star Trek: The Next Generation years. Lots of people love the season-one showrunner Michael Chabon, author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay as well as a moving New Yorker article that closed the door forever on “tear-jerking essays about Star Trek and fathers and sons.” (Thanks a lot, Chabon.)

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New Picard Star Trek Series Is Coming to Amazon. SortaThe trailers for Picard look good. Sci-fi TV has gotten better and better-looking since TNG ended in 1994. Stewart’s an ace. And nerds and the nerd-adjacent are going to be watercoolering about this thing. But judging by advance press, the show is gonna be allusive. So the question is, can a person who hasn’t engaged with Trek’s five decades of TV and movies still climb aboard? As someone who is the other kind of person—which is to say, a person who has watched all the Star Trek—I’m here to help. Yes. The answer is yes.
At one level, it's not that complicated. Three decades ago, Picard led a close-knit crew on a spaceship. They had problem-solving, intellectualized adventures with laser guns, go-fast rockets, and aliens. That’s all you really need. Don’t worry about the silly names. (“Phasers” are ray guns, “warp drive” is rockets, “communicators” are phones.)At another level … whoooo. OK. See, when Next Generation premiered in 1987, fans had only known one kind of captain—James T. Kirk, a swaggering cowboy, something of a Cold Space Warrior in a two-front fight against the aggressive Klingons and the inscrutable Romulans, and a pansexual adventurer who never didn’t have time to chase alien orifice. (This is all canon!) Picard was a change. Older and more measured, he was a stalwart defender of the non-violent, inclusive ideals of the United Federation of Planets and Starfleet, the organizations he worked for, even when his bosses weren’t. Kirk never met a spaceship he didn’t want to shoot at; Picard fretted about the pronunciation of diplomatic greetings. The actor who played Kirk, William Shatner, was a journeyman TV professional with two of the best episodes of Twilight Zone on his resume; Stewart was a trained Shakespearean with a typical Brit actor’s filmography—high art interspersed with an occasional Excalibur or Dune.
Like a lot of actors who get pulled into Trek’s orbit, Stewart came to see beyond the obsessive fandom and silly techno-babble. Somewhere around the third season, which is when Trek shows generally find their footing (if they ever do), he turned avuncular gravitas into a philosophical conscience. Partially that’s because Stewart can deliver one hell of a monologue, a skill on which the writers leaned hard, but whether through self-examination or just plain good acting, Stewart managed to transcend dopey sci-fi TV convention and convey—sometimes with just a gesture or a glance—lessons about leadership, family, and integrity. Here are a dozen hours of video, all gettable on various streaming services, that prove it.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: ‘The Measure of a Man’

Where to Stream: Netflix, Hulu, CBS All Access