Star Trek: Picard never captured the zeitgeist, but why?
No one is saying you can’t like Star Trek: Picard, but you can’t deny that besides maybe Discovery, no other Trek show has had as many detractors from within the community. Is it 30% of the fandom that hates the show? Maybe. Is it 50%? Maybe. Is it 20%? Maybe.
It’s unknown but just from doing this job for as long as I have, no series causes more contention among the fanbase than Picard. So even if 90% of the fanbase loves the show (and they don’t), it can still be fair to say it’s the least-liked show in the franchise series.
After all, it only got three seasons. And yes, it was only originally scheduled for three, but Patrick Stewart and Terry Matalas have both said some variation of “we’ll do more if they let us”. Stewart has even advocated for a Picard film, that will hopefully never come.
Shows all the time go beyond their original scripting. Supernatural was written for five seasons and went 15. So clearly, what it was supposed to be and what it could’ve been aren’t ideas that were necessarily hand in hand.
Clearly, a fourth season would’ve been made had ViacomCBS and Paramount+ thought it made fiscal sense. It clearly didn’t. Yet, why? Why did Picard tank compare to other modern Trek shows? Why did Strange New Worlds and to a lesser degree Lower Decks and Prodigy, become the flagships of the new era of Star Trek?
You know, besides the often-complained about writing.
Well, I have a theory.
Star Trek: Picard suffered by not obeying the Star Trek ethos
Every Star Trek show needs a captain, and a ship…or a space station if you wanna get weird. Every show through Discovery obeyed this concept. The Original Series had James Kirk and the NCC-1701 version of the Enterprise. The Next Generation had Jean-Luc Picard and the NCC-1701-D version of the Enterprise. Deep Space Nine had a commander and a space station in Benjamin Sisko and Terok Nor/Deep Space Nine, but later promoted Sisko to Captain and gave him the Defiant. Voyager had Kathryn Janeway and the Voyager. Enterprise had Jonathan Archer and the NX-01 version of the Enterprise and Discovery had the USS Discovery and, well a lot of captains.
It wasn’t until Picard where that wasn’t a thing. The show did bring in a ship eventually, but it wasn’t a Federation ship, nor was the captain a Federation captain. It felt more like a Star Wars story, with a random group of people on a spaceship zooming around doing whatever.
It felt completely un-Star Trek. That right there, is what limited the show’s reach. It wasn’t Star Trek enough.
Lower Decks and Prodigy would absolutely avoid that pitfall, and once again bring in the captain/ship concept though with varying differences. But in each of the shows, the focus remains on the ship and the relation the crew has with its captain, the core tenants of every Trek show besides Picard.
So it’s really no wonder why Strange New Worlds (and even The Orville) became the hits they did because they focused on the traditional Star Trek storytelling ideas. Sure, you can get bold and try new things but when you show up for a brand, you want that brand to deliver.
Look at what happened to Star Wars when it got away from what worked. Look at any time a major retailer or restaurant chain gets too cute. They tank.
Star Trek only works when there’s a captain and a ship. If you avoid having those two elements, there’s no point in doing a Star Trek show.