Jonathan Frakes Says Star Trek: Picard Could Never Have Been Made Under Gene Roddenberry

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In the run-up to Star Trek: PicardPatrick Stewart kept insisting that this would not be simply a retread of The Next Generation and the only reason he’d agreed to return to the franchise was because the show would push Trek in a bold new direction that would reflect the complex times we live in. Well, the series has definitely lived up to that promise, offering a darker, more mature version of the Trek universe than the one Picard and his crew occupied in TNG. 

Returning alongside Stewart for Picard is Jonathan Frakes, who’s both reprised Riker on-screen and has directed a couple of episodes of it as well. Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Frakes reflected on the differences between TNG and Picard, particularly with regards to episode 5, “Stardust City Rag,” which featured a very emotionally-charged scene between Jean-Luc and Jeri Ryan’s Seven of Nine.

“We never could have done [a scene like] this on our show,” Frakes told THR. The actor/director is referring to how creator Gene Roddenberry was keen for Trek to depict a utopian future where humanity has come together and put aside interpersonal conflict. This was a noble foundation for the franchise, but it’s made things notoriously difficult for writers over the years when it comes to crafting dramatic situations.

To Frakes, Picard still honors Roddenberry’s beliefs but also delves into the vulnerability of the characters more than we’ve seen before.

“As we know, conflict is what creates drama. So, on Next Gen, it was a very challenging set of rules — primarily for the writers — to find ways to create drama. In this new version of Star Trek, which honors what Roddenberry laid out — in terms of the optimism and respect toward themes like racism — all of those elements are sort of strongly rooted in this show. But the notion of self-doubt, the vulnerability — especially for a [character] like Picard — the damage of past experiences, are so much more compelling to watch … It’s a denser show than Next Gen, I think that’s fair to say. Pushing Picard to these places, watching Patrick act that out — and he was in the writer’s room as they developed this story — it’s all so rewarding to see.”

Something else you wouldn’t have on classic Trek is expletives, with F-bombs and the like making their way into the franchise with Star Trek: Discovery. Picard showrunner Michael Chabon has previously defended the use of strong language in modern Trek series, pointing out that it was only network rules that prevented any swearing before now and there’s no in-universe reason it shouldn’t happen.

Star Trek: Picard continues Thursdays on CBS All Access.

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