Star Trek Guide

Picard Had Star Trek's Best First Season Since The Original Series

Star Trek: Picard season 1 pulled off an impressive feat - it had the best first year of any series in the franchise since Star Trek: The Original Series. Set at the end of the 24th century, Star Trek: Picard found the aging, mournful Jean-Luc Picard be given a new lease on life when he's called into action once more to defend the android offspring of his former second officer and friend, the late Lieutenant Commander Data.

Along the way to save Soji from the treacherous Romulan cult known as the Zhat Vash, Picard assembled a new crew on the freighter ship La Sirena. Captain Cris Rios, Agnes P. Jurati, and Raffi Musiker are instantly likable additions to the Star Trek canon, and the show even brought in Star Trek: Voyager's Seven of Nine, bringing new layers to an already richly realized Star Trek icon.

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But at the end of the day, this was always a story about the man himself, and Picard didn't disappoint. Patrick Stewart - visibly older than when he last played the role in 2002's Star Trek: Nemesis - injected his signature warmth and gravitas into every inch of the series, with a refreshing sense of humor and humility that showed this wasn't quite the same man after two decades of retirement and heartache. Most of that heartache, surprisingly, came from the death of Data, which Picard had been mourning for most of those years. The show ultimately gave Data a proper sendoff and a new beginning for Jean-Luc, but before we get into all the ways Star Trek: Picard impressed, let's take a look at the gold standard for first seasons of Star Trek, namely The Original Series.

Why Star Trek: The Original Series' First Season Was The Best

Star Trek: The Original Series was never supposed to work. The original pilot was rejected by NBC for being "too cerebral," which was very loose executive code for "boring." But instead of throwing the expensive pilot on the scrapheap, NBC commissioned a second try, this time with William Shatner's James T. Kirk taking the captain's chair instead of Jeffrey Hunter's Christopher Pike. The chemistry between Shatner, Leonard Nimoy's Spock, and DeForest Kelley's Dr. McCoy was an instant winner, and the show would go on to be the standard by which all other televised science fiction was measured.

The first season of TOS was a whopping 29 episodes, and while not all of those are classics, it's stunning how many seminal stories were told that first year. "Balance of Terror" was essentially a submarine thriller in space, and introduced the treacherous Romulans in a story which they've still never really lived up to. "Space Seed" would introduce the villainous superman Khan, the antagonist of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, still generally held up as the best Star Trek film. "The Devil In The Dark" is an essential Star Trek story about empathy and understanding, while "City On The Edge Of Forever" my still be the best time travel story the franchise has ever told. Considering the volume of episodes they had to produce on the budgets available to 1960s TV series, Star Trek: The Original Series' first season was a miracle.

How Picard Beat Star Trek's First Season Curse

Star Trek: The Original Series' freshman year luck would not extend to the rest of the franchise, however. Star Trek: The Next Generation was notoriously lousy its first two seasons, with behind the scenes chaos reigning until producers Michael Piller and Rick Berman took the reins from creator Gene Roddenberry in the third season. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine didn't really find its identity until the back half of season 2, when the Dominion War storyline began in earnest.

Star Trek: Voyager's quality was notoriously inconsistent, and its first season was likely its weakest, as the cast still hadn't quite gelled and the stories often felt like TNG retreads. Star Trek: Enterprise never got off the ground creatively, and its season 1 was just as aimless as the rest of it. And while Star Trek: Discovery figured itself out in its excellent second season, the first season was marred by the same behind the scenes calamities that plagued TNG, and the messiness leaked onscreen in some unfortunate ways.

But Star Trek: Picard beat the odds with a strong first outing. It certainly helps that fans were already likely to give the show a wider berth than Discovery, since it was at least partially playing on viewers' nostalgia for TNG. But the show used that nostalgia sparingly, focusing mostly on Picard's new crew and mission - though it likely says something that episode 8, "Nepenthe," featuring the returns of Will Riker and Deanna Troi from TNG, is almost universally held up as Picard's best hour. Star Trek: Picard featured slick visuals, a deliberate, occasionally poetic style of storytelling, pointed political commentary, and powerhouse acting from everyone involved, but certainly Stewart most of all, who may be at the height of his powers at 79 years old.

Star Trek: Picard Can Still Get Better In Season 2

All of this is not to say Star Trek: Picard season 1 was flawless. Even more so than Discovery, Picard suffers from the decompressed storytelling style that has plagued many shows in the streaming age, resulting in a sometimes painfully slow pace. There are bits and pieces of the overall plot that don't quite add up, even if all the lovely little details mostly paper over that fact. More pointedly, the show leans far too heavily on graphic, sadistic violence, which has become fashionable in science fiction in recent years, but feels out of place in Star Trek, even a darker iteration of it like Picard.

Similarly, Star Trek: Picard seemed hellbent on bringing back minor characters from Star Trek lore just to violently cut them down. TNG's Bruce Maddox and Voyager's Icheb both got just enough screen time to die horrifically, while the death of the gentle former Borg drone Hugh caused a social media meltdown and fan petitions to bring the character back. Hugh's death, in particular, seemed rather pointless and mean spirited, a nasty flash of cynicism in a franchise that is supposed to be all about hope and progress.

But in the grand scope of things, these are minor quibbles. Star Trek: Picard told the story it set out to tell in a largely successful way, and it did it with grace and empathy. Jean-Luc Picard may not be the same man we once knew - he's really not even a man anymore - but we can't wait to see what the next chapter holds for the good captain and the crew of La Sirena.