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The Comic-Con At Home Star Trek Universe Panel Is Not Quite What We Expected

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BY July 23, 2020
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In this time of pandemic, audiences are growing used to seeing conversations and panel discussions featuring many people broadcasting from webcams while wearing headphones. Naturally, the Comic-Con at Home crew used this format to assemble their panels, including the Star Trek Universe panel. Running about an hour and 20 minutes, this panel featured some news—mostly that the Nickelodeon series for kids will be called Star Trek: Prodigy—and plenty of conversations amongst the actors and storytellers. The lack of an audience, either for cheers or the Q&A portion changes the dynamic, making it feel less like Comic-Con. That said, it does offer up some unexpected moments and creative ways to do a panel in a world with COVID-19.

There is no question that Comic-Con is a marketing event. This can add a level of cynicism to things, and the successful panel blends the marketing feature with literal fan service. Unfortunately, these pre-taped conversations all-but exclude that element. Yet, the addition of production, specifically editing, does help keep the conversations tight and engaging. Yet, it loses something, too. The spontaneous, hilarious, and sometimes awkward nature of panel discussions is part of the appeal.

Still, the Star Trek Universe panel is not just an example of how Comic-Con at Home is different, but also the strength of the franchise. While there may not be a new Star Trek movie in a long time, the strength of its television presence is growing to a level not seen since the 1990s. Along with Picard and Discovery, there are two animated series, and a forthcoming Strange New Worlds set on the USS Enterprise.

Discovery Table Read is Highlight of Comic-Con at Home Star Trek Universe Panel

ViacomCBS deal reunites Star Trek Discovery Group Shot Image via CBS Interactive

The most interesting part of the Star Trek Universe panel, which could only be done for Comic-Con at Home, was a table read. The cast of Star Trek: Discovery read the script for the first act of the season 2 finale. Like the recent Scott Pilgrim vs the World table read, it’s a different and pleasant way to experience a familiar story in a new way. The full table read will be up on the CBS site later. Still, it was the kind of unique event that wouldn’t really happen at an in-person convention panel.

After the table-read, the cast and storytellers discussed at-length how their show upholds the “tradition” of Star Trek. While their answers about inclusion and representation are spot-on, they didn’t address the big problem with new Star Trek right now. Star Trek’s aspirational quality is built on the idea of being able to build the perfect societal system. Today, society doesn’t trust even the idea of systems and institutions. Sci-fi is best when it is a reflection of the time in which its made, but that presents a unique problem for Star Trek.

Mary Wiseman, who plays Ensign Tilly, offered up a reason for the disconnect between Star Trek of old and today. She suggested that presenting a utopian world allows some audiences to convince themselves we’re already there. Because Star Trek: Discovery is still “Star Trek.” Yet, like The Last Jedi controversy, the risks the show takes are unsettling to fans want something familiar. In the case of Star Trek, it’s to see nice people go on episodic space adventures.

Star Trek: Lower Decks Is a Risky Show Trying to Make Star Trek Funny

Star Trek Lower Decks Trailer Release Date Action Shot Image via CBS All Access

While Star Trek: Discovery may not be a show where nice people go on episodic space adventures, Star Trek: Lower Decks hopes to fill that need. The setting of the show is post Star Trek: Nemesis. “We tried to fit into canon, so it doesn’t break anything,” showrunner Mike McMahan said. He added that along with humor and excitement, they tried “to keep all the ethical sci-fi…stuff that makes Star Trek” what it is.

The clip appears to be the first scene of the series. The show employs very fast-paced dialogue and a frenetic energy common in cartoons aimed at younger audiences. Specifically Tawny Newsom’s Ensign Mariner is…a lot to take in her first scene. She ultimately attacks Ensign Brad Boimler, voiced by Jack Quaid. He seems like almost the same character as Kaz from Star Wars: Resistance, an (almost painfully) awkward screw-up. Not particularly inspired, but screw-ups present a lot of opportunity for comedy. Quaid also revealed they “got a lot of mileage” out of the holodeck, which is a surprisingly good sign. Holodeck episodes of the 1990s-era series were usually very silly (and not in a good way). A Star Trek comedy cartoon can make the Holodeck great.

Unlike the Discovery discussion, the Lower Decks presentation is a tightly produced panel. It appears that McMahan interviewed each star individually, editing their answers together. This actually works well. More like a featurette to introduce the new series than a panel, it felt like the perfect introduction to the show. They even made fun a bit out of bleeping out accidental spoilers from the cast, but not tap-dancing around spoilers helped make the rest of the conversation more engaging.

Star Trek: Lower Decks premieres August 6 on CBS All Access.

Picard is the Big Star in the Comic-Con at Home Star Trek Universe Panel

Star Trek Picard Season 1 Finale Rafi Jean-Luc Uniforms

The clear headliner of this panel was the cast of Star Trek: Picard, though interestingly without any of the writers or producers (beyond Patrick Stewart, of course). Brent Spiner returns to the cast but not as Data. He called the chance to add a coda to the story of Data and Picard “a gift.” Stewart also spoke about how the story of these characters facing the end of their lives resonated with the actors on a personal level. The rest of the cast mostly just praised their lead actor, heaping compliments upon him, along with nicknames like “SPS” and “P-Stew.” Much to the (playful) disgust of Marina Sirtis.

The Deanna Troi actor brought a lively energy to the discussion, frequently interrupting others’ soft-spoken and serious answer with a joke. Usually at the expense of Picard himself. Sirtis was the only one to tease Patrick Stewart, calling him “a dummy” and saying, “you’re ancient.” To which the knighted 80-year-old global treasure laughed with delight. Sirtis is clearly a convention pro, bringing her raucous on-stage energy to the virtual chat. She did, however, offer a heartfelt bit of gratitude for getting to play the character again and work with Stewart and Jonathan Frakes.

Just like with the Discovery panel, they addressed the Star Trek take on a (perceived, at least) utopian society. The series premiere of Picard made it clear that the character no longer trusts the system to do the right thing. The cast elaborated on the idea that their universe changed in dangerous and regrettable ways after the destruction of the Romulan homeworld. This Star Trek series was able to examine the question of what would happen if the perfect system failed through the eyes of the man who (arguably) best embodied its ideals.

You can watch the full Comic-Con at Home Star Trek Universe Panel below.

What did you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Featured image via VacomCBS

TV ShowsStar TrekStar Trek: DiscoveryStar Trek: Lower DecksStar Trek: Picard

Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.

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