Benjamin Ahr Harrison and Adam Pranica were introduced by a mutual friend who told them they’d probably get along because they were basically the same person. A couple of guys about the same age, they both had small video production companies, both had a pretty similar sense of humor, and, as it turned out, they’re both obsessed with Star Trek and podcasts.
At first as a joke, and then less and less as a joke, the pair started recording themselves recapping and making fun of all 178 episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, a show that had a massive impact on me as a child, as it may have had on you (if you work in a corporation, watch again: the show’s as least as much about managing staff, building a career, and working within a bureaucracy as it is about zapping monsters with lasers).
Those recaps eventually became the podcast The Greatest Generation, now probably the country’s most popular Star Trek podcast, with more than 100,000 downloads per week. Harrison and Pranica’s show is great (and it is in fact very great) because they appreciate STTNG for what it is: at once one of the 20th Century’s finest pieces of science fiction (don’t @ me) and a deeply silly show where a main character was murdered by a talking puddle. They groan and gasp along with us, and make talking about Star Trek seem like a pretty worthwhile way to spend an hour.
In advance of their live show, coming to The Bell House on August 23, we called the duo as expert witnesses to tell us what to expect from the upcoming Star Trek: Discovery. Premiering on September 24, it’s the first new Trek show in more than a decade, and despite 1) strong fan interest and 2) the existence of the internet, has managed to remain pretty mysterious. Other than knowing that it’s a prequel, will feature “sexy and vital” Klingons, and has transporters that look like they’re from Restoration Hardware, we don’t know a whole lot. What should we be looking forward to, and what should we be dreading?
Brooklyn Magazine: I can’t think of anyone more qualified to tell us how Star Trek can reach its highest highs and lowest lows. What does STTNG do that really works—what’s great about it?
ADAM: I think when The Next Generation is the best, it’s withdrawing from the character account that it spends a lot of time putting deposits in. You know these characters very well, and to go through conflicts with them after having gotten to know them over a matter of years—that’s extremely rewarding. When Star Trek tends to fail, it tends to be extremely—it doesn’t cover up the message it’s trying to give. And I think it works against the messenger.
BEN: There’s a lot of morality plays in episode’s clothing, which don’t work particularly well. I also really like when Next Gen will center an episode around an idea from actual science, [for instance] let’s spin out the multiverse idea. We just got finished recording for the episode “Parallels,” where Worf is slipping into different multiverses, and experiencing different time-tracks of life. And it’s so great, because it’s got a real underpinning in quantum physics, but they kind of have fun with what would that mean practically, if you weren’t in the universe you were supposed to be in?
There’s nothing in the trailers for Discovery that I’ve seen which would lead me to believe that they’re making a show where a lot of science-y ideas are going to be explored. It seems a lot more like the kind of space opera version of Star Trek that we’ve been getting more and more of lately.
Surfing a wave of exploding ships while the Beastie Boys plays?
BEN: Well, I’ll be surprised if they have that in there. I don’t hate space operas, and I don’t hate the interstellar politics stuff—like, one thing we talk a lot about on our show is the idea that Star Trek is a place you can go, and there are a lot of different types of stories in that place. There’s so much potential in that. And if they’re true to that in Star Trek: Discovery, then it could be a great show.
ADAM: Yeah, to be clear, we both really hope it will be! Our show pokes a lot of fun at this thing we both love a lot, but I think that’s the point. We criticize the thing we love because we love it. I think we both want Discovery to be a great and satisfying show to watch. But we don’t love it so much that we won’t criticize itif and when it makes choices that we don’t agree with.
BEN: I guarantee that we’ll criticize it.
Discovery is set in the increasingly small window of time before the original series that hasn’t been covered. How do you guys feel about it being a prequel?
ADAM: Well, irrespective of its place in the timeline, one thing that gave me a lot of hope for the show is that Nicholas Meyer is attached as a consulting producer. He is the director of my favorite Star Trek movie, The Undiscovered Country. I think that’s a great example of how great Star Trek can be. It is a movie of political consequence that also has a great amount of science-fiction action. It’s a perfect distillation of what the show was and what it could do. I would hope that his being a part of the project will impart some of that DNA.
I will say that I’m a little disappointed with where it is in the timeline. I like things that happen in the future, either specifically or generally, and I’d like to see what happens after Voyager, you know? I think there are still stories to tell in a post-24th Century future.
BEN: I think that there’s a strange impulse to—we don’t need the gaps filled in. We all learned what a mistake it can be to prequel-ize everything to hell, like they did in Star Wars. Let’s open it up. It’s been a long time since the Next Gen era, and we’ve learned a lot about science in that time, and the world has really changed. Sci-fi is about the present, and it’s so weird that so much of the sci-fi that’s being created now is the past of the future.
What kinds of episodes do you like?
BEN: I like how vast the difference can be from episode to episode in terms of how high the stakes are. I am a little bit bummed out by the amount of peak TV that is focused around everything having the most stakes it can have, and then we raise them again. All of these contemporary shows have seemed so desperate to keep you clicking to the next episode in your binge-watch. I tapped out of watching Silicon Valley with my wife, because I was like, “This is supposed to be a light comedy, but every episode these guys get in deeper and worse trouble.” Like, that’s not funny to me. It’s not fun for me to watch people who never get a win.
I like that Star Trek recycles the stakes every episode, and sometimes doesn’t raise them that high at all. There’s a certain amount of self-confidence in that that TV used to have that it doesn’t have any more. Next Generation is a show you can vacuum your house and miss five minutes, and it’s not a big deal.
I’m not trying to dump on all contemporary TV. I just wish we had more shows that weren’t vying for Number One Prestige Drama, because I am super tired of Number One Prestige Drama-type TV.
What are you guys hopeful for—what do you want to see in this new show?
ADAM: I would like to come away from watching an episode, or the first season of this series, instead of with a sense of gratitude that more Trek has been made, feel great about there being a good show in my favorite franchise. Like, the feeling that I’ve had after leaving the movie theater after seeing a Star Trek movie the last three times was like, “Ah. That wasn’t great, but wasn’t it great to be back in that world again?” I’m tired of equivocating the feeling that I have while consuming this thing that I love. I would love to feel great about it in every sense, instead of making excuses for it.
Photo Illustrations by Morgan McMullen