The entire Internet is freaking out right now, because CBS has announced that "Star Trek" is coming back to the small screen.
The show is set to debut in 2017. Like the series of yesteryear, the new "Star Trek" will also feature "characters seeking imaginative new worlds and new civilizations," according to the Hollywood Reporter.
So it sounds like we're getting another ship and another crew flying through space at warp speed. But that's about all we know right now, leaving many of the tough choices about the new series to producer Alex Kurtzman, who worked on the recently rebooted "Star Trek" films. Here are a few of the biggest decisions he'll have to make, and along with one, big recommendation: Set the new series during the Earth-Romulan War of the 2150s.
When does this "Star Trek" take place?
This is by far Kurtzman's most difficult call, and the fate of the entire "Star Trek" franchise hangs on it. Kurtzman played key roles in making the most recent "Star Trek" films, which set up an alternate universe that's separate from the one Gene Roddenberry created in the 1960s featuring William Shatner as Capt. James T. Kirk. It would be totally natural for Kurtzman to want to flesh out this new timeline (in which Kirk is played by Chris Pine). But if he does, he'll likely disappoint a lot of longtime "Trek" watchers by condemning some of their favorite shows and characters — "Deep Space 9," Capt. Jean-Luc Picard, et al. — to the historical dustbin. It would be the final nail in the coffin for that timeline, which many people appreciate for its mature handling of race, gender, ethics, economics, politics and foreign policy, among other issues.
Does this "Star Trek" embrace the golden age of television?
By now, TV watchers have shown that they're willing to commit to season-long plot lines. This is promising for "Star Trek," a show that did some of its best work when rolling out a two- or three-episode narrative arc. "Deep Space 9" is routinely held up as an example, at times setting the action against a high-stakes backdrop of interstellar intrigue and conflict in the Dominion War. Now is the chance to try that format out in full, telling a single story over 12 or more episodes.
Critics of the recent "Star Trek" films have complained that they reduce the franchise to an action-packed shoot-'em-up. That's forgivable in a feature film when you have only a couple hours to spin a yarn. But by giving the series more breathing room, television will be the real test of the alternate universe, should Kurtzman choose that timeline. Which leads us to the next big decision.
Is this "Star Trek" dark or light?
The original "Star Trek," under Kirk, painted the world as a utopia. "The Next Generation" expanded on this by introducing new technologies, such as the replicator, which explained how humanity overcame hunger and want. But "Deep Space 9" depicted a much grimmer vision of the galaxy, one characterized by war, espionage and subterfuge. Many fans argue that this was when "Star Trek" really shone — and that the next show ought to be an equally gritty and dark spiritual successor.
With 2013's "Star Trek Into Darkness," the rebooted universe appeared to take a turn in this direction, offering up themes of conspiracy, betrayal and a thinly veiled critique of U.S. foreign policy. So it's possible that Kurtzman might further expand on that, exploring the corruption within Starfleet and its struggle to define itself in its earliest years.
What new technologies will "Star Trek" give us?
"Star Trek" isn't just a venue for discussing politics or religion. It has also inspired many people to become scientists and engineers. Technology from the show has played a pivotal role in shaping our modern-day devices, from the smartphone to the tablet to voice recognition and command software. The big question for the new "Star Trek" is, what kind of technology can Kurtzman introduce into the franchise that will give real-world people something fresh to dream about and tell us something new about the fictional universe?
Herein lies a thorny problem. Kurtzman can't make reference to the replicator, the holodeck or any of the technologies that show up in "The Next Generation" or subsequent series. Why? Because at our current point in the alternate timeline, these technologies are still in the distant future, if they get created at all, thanks to the disruption in time that led to the events of the 2009 "Star Trek" film.
What the new "Star Trek" should really do
From all this, we look ahead to a few things. First, each episode should be part of a serialized, season-long story, rather than a forgettable standalone episode that tackles a monster of the week.
Second, in keeping with the more serious drama viewers have become accustomed to in other shows, the new "Star Trek" shouldn't shy away from darker subjects.
Third, perhaps it should consider a setting like the 2150s-era Earth-Romulan War, a period in "Star Trek" history that's relatively unexplored in the original timeline and completely uncharted when it comes to the rebooted universe (the events that cause the new universe to be created don't take place until the 23rd century). While a return to the 24th-century world of "The Next Generation" would be welcome, extending the original universe even further, Kurtzman's real-world connection to the Abrams reboots makes it hard for him to ignore the alternate timeline.
In the Romulan war, Kurtzman has the opportunity to produce new stories in his own style while avoiding divisions in fan loyalty between either universe. The war lends a dramatic backdrop to events that occur to the new ship and crew, gives them a reason to act, and places them early enough in Earth's spacefaring history that the show's creators could explore humanity's initial interactions with other Federation species and the emergence of the Federation itself, along with all the messy politics, economics and diplomacy that implies.
Earth at war, but in the teething years of the Federation, could offer both darkness and light, combining the grim realities of an interstellar conflict with the hope for an enlightened, organized future when security is guaranteed by a galactic alliance of peace-loving people.
What's more, establishing Romulans as the villain would make the show more accessible to series newcomers, many of whom will remember that it was a 24-century Romulan that served as the principal bad guy in the 2009 Star Trek film.
Prequels carry their dangers. One of the big challenges that "Star Trek: Enterprise" had, as a show that told the story of Kirk's forbears, was that it failed to create meaningful dramatic tension. Viewers already knew from watching "The Next Generation" and "Deep Space 9" how things would turn out.
The difference here is that with Kurtzman leading the new "Star Trek" show, viewers can never be truly certain what the future timeline holds. Kurtzman may be perfectly happy to create speculation among fans as to which history he's really writing for. In this part of the "Star Trek" timeline, Kurtzman enjoys the most creative freedom and the fewest restrictions imposed by canon.
So, when does the new "Star Trek" take place? In the alternate universe, or the prime universe? As I said before, it's a question the show producers will need to answer, but not necessarily out loud.