Mid-century television: Star Trek then and now

In the later part of the mid-century years, one interesting feature of the television landscape was a colorful science fiction series called Star Trek. While it was cancelled after only three seasons, its continued popularity later gave rise to various movies and spin-off TV series, ranging from mediocre to excellent.

As a retro revivalist, the original series remains my favorite of them all. Besides being the only Star Trek that fits in the mid-century modern lifestyle (many fine examples of mid-century modern furniture, architecture, and other design can be seen throughout the series), it offered episode after episode of colorful fun, interwoven with interesting scientific and social ideas and commentary that provoked thought while being wonderfully entertaining at the same time.

Star Trek is coming back to television a little over a month from now with the new series Star Trek: Discovery, which takes place about a decade prior to the original series. What do we have to look forward to? Here is the latest trailer, posted on Youtube today on the Trailers Promos Teasers channel:

Even before the show’s release, opinions run the gamut. There has been controversy among the online fan community about how well this new show fits into the previously known continuity, both in aesthetics and narrative. All that is a discussion for another day.

To me, the thing that stands out most glaringly in this new incarnation of Star Trek is that it is apparently aimed solely at an adult audience. This is clear from the TV-MA rating tag in the newest trailer. TV-MA is the most restrictive rating possible on American television, and this is a marked contrast from previous Star Trek, which was a vehicle for thoughtful exploration of the human condition that the whole family could enjoy together.

While it was previously revealed that the show would be a kind of “hard PG-13” level, which might equate to the TV-14 rating, show-runner Aaron Harberts still assured us all: “We want to make sure we’re not creating a show that fans can’t share with their families.” (source) However, this assurance has apparently been contradicted, since the show will be released under the restrictive TV-MA level.

In an era of increasingly dark, joyless, grim and graphic genre programs such as The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and the various Netflix-exclusive Marvel shows, Star Trek had an opportunity to stay above all that with a positive and entertaining show that parents could watch together with their children, and which could spark thought, imagination, and curiosity in hopeful young minds. In my opinion, the Bad Robot Star Trek movies starring Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto managed this balance quite well, with a spirit of rip-roaring adventure for the contemporary era.

But sadly, that hope is now gone. Star Trek isn’t what it used to be. But at least we retro lovers can still enjoy our beloved vintage original series. To conclude, here are some trailers for stand-out episodes of classic Star Trek, courtesy of the TrekTV channel on Youtube:

Stay tuned for the next installment of Living MCM…

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