CBS All Access is the forgotten cousin in the streaming wars, but CBS is hoping to change that with the introduction of "Star Trek: Picard," which stars Patrick Stewart in his iconic role. Is it worth the $5.99 subscription, or is this a missable entry in the Star Trek canon? Here's what the reviews have to say.
'Picard' Is Walking A Fine Line With Star Trek Nostalgia
"Star Trek: Picard" (due weekly, starting Thursday) is both the safest and most perilous addition to the "Trek" universe in recent years. Bringing back the great Picard will win legions of fans to the still-nascent streaming service, but it could also risk tainting the legacy of a character who's almost universally adored if the series doesn't get all the beats right.
It's a true pleasure to see Stewart in his element again, and it's a relief that Picard has managed to build a new universe around him that we'd actually like to spend more time in. By the end of Episode 3, I was starting to feel those familiar Next Generation vibes again... and that might be the highest recommendation of all.
[O]n paper ["Picard"] leans even more heavily on Trek nostalgia than Discovery ever has… But despite the cameos and Easter eggs, Picard never feels like nostalgia for its own sake. The creative team — including Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon, Alex Kurtzman, Akiva Goldsman, and Kirsten Beyer— have clearly given a lot of thought to the idea of an elderly Picard. What would he be doing?(*) How would he feel about being away from Starfleet? What might inspire him to go off on one more mission?
Stewart Is Still Excellent As Jean-Luc Picard
Here, he yet again finds conviction and depth within line variations he's said one-thousand times: "We have to help," "What could that mean?", and "Good boy, No. 1" (OK, maybe that one's new) all come across as enlivening with such a dedicated actor at the helm, as Stewart slides back into his captain — er, admiral — boots with ease. The show around him may look different, but the producing team knows Stewart, and the story will feel very familiar to fans.
The thing that can't be denied, if you bother to stick with Star Trek: Picard for more than five minutes, is that Stewart's effortless authority and well-earned venerability — he's 79, but could pass for 60 with ease — is sufficient enough reason to watch. He makes every line of dialogue, no matter how clunky it must have looked on the page, sound melodic and muscular and, as he's always done, protects Picard's more stubborn and potentially infuriating personality traits.
Patrick Stewart fits immediately back into his old role, whether in old uniforms or new civvies, and good thing, too, given how much expositional heavy lifting he's shouldered with.
It's The Most 'Prestige TV' Star Trek Has Ever Been — For Good And Ill
The new show, created by a committee that includes the executive producer Alex Kurtzman and the novelist and screenwriter Michael Chabon, is a modern animal, beginning with its short season and, most likely, bigger episode budgets. It's a single serialized story, partly in the ubiquitous form of the procedural mystery… along with this comes the style you'd expect: polished and restrained writing without the flat-footed corniness that marked "Next Generation"; credible, if routine, action scenes without the hilarious stiffness of decades of phaser battles. No dry-dock scenes of giant starships set to stirring theme music. (Yet.) Stewart is as charming and naturally charismatic as ever, but the general level of the performances around him is significantly higher
But even with such an esteemed history and noble intentions, Star Trek: Picard struggles at times to fly true in its first three episodes. Attempts to marry the sensibilities of big-screen (specifically, Kelvin timeline) Trek with those of its TV counterpart result create discord; there is a slickness to the pilot, particularly in the big action set-pieces, that doesn't quite jibe with the more pensive nature of the small-screen franchises.
Don't Worry, There's Still (Some) Action
Along with that budget comes action, and while, again, this episode is mostly planet-bound, there's still enough whiz-bang martial arts and phaser fire to keep adrenaline junkies happy. That Jean-Luc appears to have trouble keeping up with the action at times is a nice touch of realism, though one expects this will not always be the case as the show continues (we've already seen him in a sabre duel in the trailers).
But The First Three Episodes Are Slooooow
Instead, Picard is bad for the same reason many contemporary genre series are bad: It's a long-form story with zero forward progression. In the pilot, Picard decides to set off on a new mission. Two episodes later, he's still organizing a crew for that mission: The thrills of pre-production, dramatized! Serialization used to be exciting, back when Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was crafting a multi-season war epic. The three episodes of Picard I've seen confirm that serialization has become a haven for television's hackiest writing, a way to justify stretching one limp story across empty take-forever hours.
[T]he first three episodes are all setup, and your patience may flag. It's possible that the season will tell a story in 10 episodes that the original series would have dispatched in one or two, with jokes.
Maybe that's why the series seems, at first, so tentative. But it moves within three hours to a place that promises as much excitement and movement as there already has been insight into its beaten-down protagonist, a show that suggests it'll be worth sticking around for.
Stewart returning to the role would be reason enough to watch, but this is an actual show, rather than a greatest hits collection. By the time this older Picard actually says "Engage" in a scene, it is not in any way pandering, but something Star Trek: Picard and its great star have entirely earned. And it's a joy to behold.