Why Care About Star Trek: Short Treks?
Star Trek: Short Treks is an odd little anomaly in Star Trek history. Is it a Star Trek series on its own or just a companion? Is it still continuing, or is it over? Is all of it even canon? These are all good questions that seem a little ambiguous at the moment, but I have a few other questions I think are more interesting. Each of us can answer them for ourselves: Who cares about Short Treks? Is it worth watching? And why should I care if it continues?
I can’t tell you to care, but if you’re reading this, I bet Short Treks has some importance to you, even if you don’t realize it. Do you like Discovery? You’ll find essential viewing that impacted the second season, as well as hints at what might be coming up. Like Picard? You’ll find a touching prologue to that show. Strange New Worlds? You’ll find that show taking shape. Lower Decks? You’ll find the origin of that show buried behind the scenes here. Prodigy? You’ll find the first computer-generated animated Star Trek shorts waiting here for you.
But let’s forget about all that for now. In fact, I’m not going to explain any of those further in this article, because in my estimation the real reason to care about Short Treks isn’t any of those things.
The reason to care about Star Trek: Short Treks is because it’s the series that never should have been possible but happened anyway.
I fondly remember growing up with The Next Generation, and it was astonishing when Deep Space Nine arrived. There were two new Star Trek series running simultaneously. It was amazing!
In the nineties, Star Trek practically invented multiple TV and film series interacting in a cinematic universe, long before avowed Star Trek fan Kevin Feige helped make Marvel Studios such an astonishing success. Trek ran new Next Generation movies side-by-side with Deep Space Nine and Voyager. The stories of all three would periodically interact with each other. (And the films and shows interacted as far back as The Undiscovered Country and “Unification”.)
But… I wanted more. Not just more content. More variety.
The Star Trek tie-in novels and comics are not generally known for being experimental. But every once in a while, you’d get a Marvel series like Starfleet Academy or a bonkers crossover with the X-Men. Or maybe a novel/audio book/video game focused entirely on the Klingons or on a ship being taken over by the Borg. Or you’d find a backup story in a DC special about Spot the cat finding his way to the holodeck. Or a one-off showing what happened to Scotty after “Relics”.
What if every story didn’t have to be part of an ongoing series or an epic movie with an existing cast? What if Star Trek had an anthology series?
Star Trek has always been something of an anthology. As much as modern fans are obsessed with canon, writers of The Original Series weren’t primarily focused on building a deeper universe every week. While they strove for a measure of continuity (especially in terms of how the characters acted), each episode was designed to stand alone. So, even in the nineties, having random one-off specials take place on different ships might’ve seemed to add limited value to a format that was already akin to an anthology.
But what if you could bring Sulu back and see him as a captain, just for one episode? What if you could hop between eras and explore Starfleet at different points in time? What if you could switch to a non-Starfleet point-of-view entirely on occasion? And what if you could do so in a way that allowed you to be bolder in the types of stories being told?
Twenty years later, Bryan Fuller had a similar idea: Star Trek: Discovery was to be an anthology show, with each season taking place in a different Trek era. This would’ve given a hint of the variety possible with a true anthology, but it still would’ve been limiting.
Shortly thereafter, CBS All Access (now known as Paramount+) wanted a bit of Trek content to keep subscribers hanging on until Discovery Season 2. And what did we get? Something better than an anthology show: an anthology show with variable-length episodes; a series that didn’t demand or even want to fill up an hour. Short Treks just wanted to do something different.
We got a fun side trip from one of the Discovery crew, followed by a jump one thousand years into the future to a time when it’s not even clear if the Federation still existed. Then a flashback from the point-of-view of a pre-warp society getting an early first contact with a captain (lieutenant at the time) whom we’d seen very little of up to that point. Then a flat-out dark comedy with Harry Mudd. And that was just the start.
It came back a year later, with a trilogy exploring Pike and the Enterprise. The second season eventually jumped all over. One of the episodes even focused on a different captain and crew entirely. It took some of the most daring risks of any Trek episode up to that point and hoped the audience wouldn’t be turned off by it. Some hated it, but those are the risks you take.
This would’ve more than fulfilled what I’d wanted, but things got even crazier: two computer-generated shorts with completely different styles, both visually and tonally. Then a touching Picard prelude that felt like nothing Trek had done up until then.
You may not like every Short Trek. That’s cool. When a series tests the boundaries, not every episode will land for everyone. But having a Trek show that can go a little crazy and give us something different… Well, that’s cool too.
Continue to be bold, Star Trek. And please give us more Short Treks.
Roger McCoy is pretty sure he was watching Star Trek before he was born! He has contributed to the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds anthology series from Simon & Schuster (not directly related to the TV series of the same name) as well as a couple of unofficial Doctor Who anthologies. He believes a Star Trek story does not have to be canon to be good and does not have to be good to be canon, but if a story is Star Trek then you have his attention. He can be found online on his laptop in the other room; come on over and say hi! He’s probably just looking at Star Trek news.