Star Trek had been off television for four years before J.J. Abrams rebooted the film franchise in 2009. While Abrams' vision has clearly struck a chord with audiences (Into Darkness took in $84 million in its opening weekend), there are still many die-hard Trekkies who argue that Star Trek belongs on the small screen — and they have a point.
As a huge fan of Abrams' films, it's hard to admit that there is something very un-Trek about them. Instead of a contemplative study questioning the boundaries of morality, what Abrams delivered are exciting, shoot-em-up action flicks that happen to take place in space. Star Trek once excelled as a form of social commentary, and in an era of remote drones, ubiquitous surveillance, and phones that talk back to us, I can't think of a better time for it to return to its philosophical roots.
The Prime Directive dictates that the Starfleet will not interfere in the development of alien civilizations, even if that interference is well-intentioned. Meaning, simply because humans have the technology to do something, doesn't necessarily mean we should. The ethical dilemmas the Prime Directive posed were once one of Star Trek's greatest assets, yet these questions have been sidelined in Abrams' world, which focuses more on how Kirk will win instead of whether he should be fighting at all.
But as fans of the original series know, Star Trek was never about the battles; it was much more idealistic than that. If Star Trek were to return to TV, it would could once again explore the social ideas of peace, progress and tolerance. Yes, the crew encountered great adventures and epic fights, but it was when these incidents were balanced with a moral question (What does it mean to be human? When do the ends cease to justify the means? What makes a utopia?) that Star Trek truly shined.
To achieve these moments of kismet, the original Star Trek had a diverse ensemble to draw from, with each character offering a strong voice and unique perspective on the matter at hand. Abrams' Star Trek, on the other hand, is very much Kirk-centric. While Chris Pine has delivered a magnificent performance as the captain, I find myself missing the nuanced diversity of the original. In a serialized form, Star Trek was able to give each character narrative autonomy, allowing them to develop outside the shadow of their charismatic leader. But in the recent films, characters like Bones, Scotty and Sulu serve as plot devices within The Kirk Show and not much more. If Trek were to return to TV, it could once again become a developed character study, giving us a whole new Trek family to know and love.
The fall premiere of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. might have the power to change that. The upcoming ABC drama is a spin-off of The Avengers, with Clark Gregg reprising his role as Agent Coulson. If S.H.I.E.L.D. is successful, it might be able to inspire a similar Trek off-shoot by proving that a TV series and film franchise can happily co-exist.
That would likely mean the new series would be inspired by Abrams' alternative timeline, which he created through Spock and Nero's time travel in the 2009 film. By drawing from the Star Trek reboot, the possibilities of the new show would be endless. The series wouldn't have to be bogged down by predetermined notions and continuity constraints, since the entire future of the Starfleet is now unknown in Abrams' world. So why not have Chekov transfer ships and focus an entire series on that? Or maybe the show could go where no show has gone before and be set within the Starfleet Academy? There's so much material in the Star Trek canon for a series to work with and if done correctly, it would have the potential to unite both new fans and dedicated Trekkies who've been with the series since the beginning.
But until that day, at least we're able to relieve Star Trek's glory days on Hulu. The website has made the first season of each Star Trek series available for free, with subsequent seasons available with a Hulu Plus subscription.
Do you think Star Trek should return to TV?