Would We Have Watched 'Star Trek: Picard' If Picard Were Not In It?
A Question That's Been Popping Up
The first season of the CBS All Access TV series Star Trek: Picard has wrapped up, stirring a lot of online fan discussion. Throughout the season, fans conversed back and forth about what they liked and disliked about the series, as is to be expected. In various online threads, people sometimes asked whether or not anyone would be watching the show if it were not focused on Picard. This question has been asked seemingly as a way to evaluate whether the story of this series would have been good enough to carry itself without a familiar character like Picard. My answer to this question is, "No," but for reasons that might not be what one might expect.
Obviously, if Picard were removed from the equation altogether, then the series title would be different. But there would also be no show to begin with. The premise of the show is carried by Picard's desire to preserve a part of Data that is out and about in the world. That legacy is Data's android daughter Soji, who, for a while, believes herself to be human. This premise feels very specific to these characters. It is built upon what came before that pertained to these characters. It is difficult to imagine a generic Starfleet member and a generic android being the focus of this. With there being no show, we wouldn't have been watching it.
Let's simplify the premise, excluding the characters we know. The series is about a former Starfleet member trying to seek out and help the android daughter of his fallen android colleague and friend. When reading the premise, one might think, "Well, the show should be about Picard and Data." If there are characters with these roles, then audiences might say that they might as well be Picard and Data. To me, that's preferable to having characters that are Picard-lite and Data-lite.
One could simplify the premise further by making it just about someone unrelated to Starfleet dealing with androids in the Star Trek universe, but comparisons to Blade Runner would still persist. Perhaps even further since the series needs more ingredients that make it feel like Star Trek. People say that they want new things, but that they also want what came before to be honored. In my opinion, Star Trek: Picard did just that. It brought back familiar characters (including Seven of Nine from Voyager) and put them into new situations. We were able to see how the characters were changed in such a way that feels like a natural next step for them. One could argue that Riker and Troi did not necessarily need to be included, but it was nice to see them regardless.
Having watched the season finale, I can confidently say that the poignant moments in the last 20 minutes would not have been packed with as much emotional weight if the series had been about new characters. While there is nothing wrong with having a show focused on new characters (Discovery being a good recent example), Star Trek: Picard season 1 acts as an effective epilogue to the somewhat abrupt ending of Star Trek: Nemesis, which many perceive as a not so satisfying final outing for the cast of The Next Generation. Star Trek: Picard is the closure that is available to fans who desire it. Overall, I am thankful that these characters were brought back for this series that did not feel too "same old, same old." We can look back at the past, but Star Trek needs to expand. As it does so, we might see familiar faces along the way, and this was an instance in which they were necessary.