This is part 2 of our interview with Jordan Hoffman, host of Engage: The Official Star Trek Podcast. So far, Engage has covered topics like the Starfleet Academy Experience, the new Spock documentary from Adam Nimoy, a deep dive into Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and explained the fan film guidelines with great depth and clarity.
Hoffman, who will be hosting Missions: New York from the main stage, is a writer and movie reviewer and a super fun guy to talk Trek with. If you missed Part 1, it’s here.
The subject of a weekly call with Bryan Fuller (“Ten Minutes with Bry”) once the new show is airing came up several times during the interview.
Jordan Hoffman: I know he’s a busy guy, but we need to make it happen.
TM: Right. He’s got other shows, too.
JH: I know! I don’t know how he does it, exactly.
TM: I don’t either. I mean, I know when you’re the big chief, you’re doing less of the …
JH: Right. That’s the thing. You know, in all of our big entertainment, we tend to … it’s the auteur theory. We like to put a hat on somebody and say, it’s this guy—and it usually is a guy, unfortunately—we say this guy is the creator of the show when it’s a collaborative thing. Star Trek: The Original Series was a collaborative show. Gene Roddenberry was a genius, and Gene Roddenberry did a million great things, but Robert Justman and Gene Coon and D.C. Fontana and a few other people are pretty damned important to Star Trek, and you would not have Star Trek without them.
TM: What do you think the new series is going to bring?
JH: I think that fans want to manage their expectations. We have to sort of recognize this: we all want to wake up one day and discover that there were 25 episodes of the show that we love, let’s say it’s Next Generation, that we never saw. That’s the fantasy: holy shit, we just opened the shoebox, and there are 25 episodes that we‘ve never seen. Assuming that we’re not old enough to have watched the original series in its initial run, there was that point where we got into Star Trek, and there was the “Oh my god there are 79 episodes and I’m going to watch each one now, and there’s a whole world ahead of me, that’s great.“ To fans like us who are hardcore, that’s never going to happen. We’re never going to get that feeling back again.
And the new show is, I believe, going to be a little bit more action-packed than the previous television Star Treks. I think it’s going to be a little bit more propulsive in its storytelling.
I think you can look to the first season of Battlestar Galactica, the new one, as a model. ITrue Detective, Homeland, shows like that are sort of models for this type of storytelling. Some of the characters that you love … you know, on Next Generation, you’d get “this episode is a Worf episode.” And you’d get to know all about Worf. I’m going to use Mad Men as an example, there’s that one dude that you love in the background, he doesn’t get his own episode, he gets a scene. And then he goes away for a while. And then he comes back. So that might be what this new show is like. It’s a different era.
So fans need to mentally prepare themselves for that. And I also think that fans would want this to be a continuation—there are the Ferengi, there are the Bajorans—and it might not be stuff that we recognize. It may be new species, or it may just be Vulcans and not too much other cool stuff. We just don’t know.
And I don’t even know what I want. I would like it to be good, and you know, [have] certain touch points with the classic stuff. I read the comics and I read the books, so I love the deep lore of Star Trek, the Star Trek universe, and I would love to see some of that in there.
I don’t think you’re going to get any specific connections to pre-existing canon in the first season at all, other than very generic things like Starfleet headquarters is in San Francisco. I don’t think you’re going to hear, “Admiral Janeway said …“ or “Remember the battle of Wolf 359.”
TM: Because they really have to get new fans, too.
JH: Yeah. But I do think, and Fuller was asked this, are we going to see those characters? And he said, “Eventually.” So my guess is that season two, that’s when you might see an actor that you know and love maybe playing the same character, or playing something. There are ways you can do it. Vulcans live long. Michael Dorn has already played two different Worfs, so he could play a new Worf. Maybe Admiral Sulu shows up. Who the hell knows?
How great would that be, and if it didn’t leak, you’re watching season two, episode two of the new show, and the captain that we’ve already grown to love is talking to her or his—I think it’s going to be a her—
TM: I hope so.
JH: I think it is. I hope so. So let’s say, the captain says to her second in command, “The Admiral wants to see us,” and they open the door and it’s George Takei. Or Riker, with a gray beard. So we’ll see. It would be great, but I don’t think it’s going to happen in the first season. That’s my guess.
TM: Tell me about the moment in your life when you became a Star Trek fan.
JH: I guess it was a one-two punch. Seeing Star Trek IV in the theater; that lit the flame. And then having access to the reruns that were already on at that point. I would be about nine years old when Star Trek IV came out, and then going home and watching the reruns. I’ve thought about this a lot; I think that the very first original series episode that I watched from beginning to end, like “I am now going to watch Star Trek because I’ve seen Star Trek IV,” was “A Taste of Armageddon,” which blew me away. And then I definitely remember seeing “Arena,” which I frickin loved, and then “Mirror, Mirror” just destroyed me.
Now I don’t know if I saw other things in between that I didn’t like, because I grew up in the New York area. I was a kid, so I shouldn’t have been up anyhow, but the shows would come on at midnight, and I didn’t have a television in my room, but we had a very inexpensive shitty TV in the guest room. And I would go in and watch Star Trek at midnight on channel 11. But what would happen would be that on channel four, at 12:30, the old David Letterman show would start, the NBC Late Night with David Letterman would come on at 12:30 and there would be a decision I would have to make, which would be, “Am I digging this episode, or can I switch over to Letterman?” Because all the cool kids were watching Letterman. That was the thing to talk about. You would brag because you were allowed to stay up that late, or you did, even though you weren’t allowed, which I wasn’t. I had to keep the volume down very very low.
So if it was an episode like “The Alternative Factor,” yeah, maybe I’d switch over to Letterman. But if it was “Mirror, Mirror,” oh my god, I would stick with it. But the FIRST Star Trek I ever watched in the theater was Star Trek III.
TM: That must have been confusing as the first one!
JH: Yes and no. I feel like I got it.
TM: I feel like it kind of picks up right where Star Trek II left off.
JH: I can’t explain it. But I distinctly remember seeing Star Trek III with my grandfather, an immigrant from Russia, and somehow I understood it. And then I saw Star Trek IV multiple times in the theater, ‘cause it was just the greatest thing ever.
TM: That’s a good standalone, you can just walk into that one. Now let’s get back to the next batch of favorites. Favorite non-captain crew member.
JH: (deep sigh) I do think that the obvious answer is Spock, and I think that Spock is pretty great. Certainly very innovative for his time, there’s more humor in Spock than you realize. Spock reminds me of my grandfather, who was kind of soft-spoken, but if you listened, Spock was actually pretty funny, and was smarter than everybody else in the room. So if you can get on Spock’s wavelength, there’s a lot to gain from that.
TM: And he was treated like he wasn’t necessarily the smartest person in the room.
JH: No. So I think Spock is probably the greatest character in Star Trek. But there are a lot. I love Bones, I love Neelix. I think I’ve modeled my life after Neelix to some point.
Certainly one of the most interesting characters is Garak. We did a One Trek Mind about who’s the best side character, and Garak won by a country mile, he destroyed everybody. But the answer is Spock. He’s my favorite character on Star Trek.
TM: Favorite guest star? Doesn’t have to be recurring, but it can be.
JH: I’m thinking … uh, (pause) is it Grand Nagus Zek? No, he wouldn’t be a guest star anyhow, he’d be recurring. I don’t know, Cyrano Jones is pretty funny. Oh! You know who I liked? Rasmussen. The guy Matt Frewer played. That was a great guest star.
TM: I always liked Ensign Ro.
JH: She’s not a guest star, she’s a semi-regular.
TM: She was in a handful of episodes, and then off she went.
JH: No, she was much more … all right, Ensign Ro is marvelous. I would argue that Ensign Ro fits in with Garak and Grand Nagus Zek, and people like that. They were recurring, semi-regulars. For one shot I’m going with Berlinghoff Rasmussen. The guy Matt Frewer played. That’s my favorite one-time only. For semi-regulars, Ensign Ro is fabulous, you’re absolutely right. And I also like—what about the guy who played Abraham Lincoln? Give that guy a cigar.
(Later I’m compelled to check how many episodes these recurring characters did. Tallying them up, we have Ensign Ro at eight episodes, Grand Nagus Zek at seven and Garak at a staggering thirty-seven. Q, of course, has made his way across three series, and comes in at a paltry nine in comparison.)
JH: Tuvix! My favorite one-time was Tuvix!
TM: I have to say that casting-wise, they found someone who could actually do it. And it was one of those episodes where the premise kind of makes no sense whatsoever, and you roll with it.
JH: It’s heavy duty! Janeway had to do the thing!
TM: Favorite villain?
JH: I am going to say that the answer to that question, I’m thinking about this now … the favorite enemy is … I’m going to say Khan is a runner-up to whoever I come up with, because Khan is pretty good. But, my favorite enemy … I mean, Gul Dukat really sucks. He’s pretty awful. Gul Dukat is an evil, terrible man.
TM: And he killed Jadzia.
JH: He killed a lot of people. Gul Dukat is a space Nazi, I don’t like him at all. Oh! You know who’s good, is some of the trio of early Klingons who end up being good guys. Kang, Koloth, and Kor are pretty good.
There is something to be said about Khan. Khan’s a really good bad guy. The real Khan, none of this Cumberbatch nonsense. The real Khan is pretty cool. So let’s not beat around the bush. Let’s go with Khan.
TM: What’s the most unintentionally hilarious episode? The one that’s so bad it’s good?
JH: Oh, “Catspaw.” “Catspaw” was awful. I mean, it’s great, I love it, but you can see the strings on little felt monsters at the end, the special effect of the cat that’s supposed to be giant is terrible. And the whole show itself is idiotic. But it’s great. That’s one of the so bad it’s good. “Catspaw” and “Spock’s Brain” are enjoyable. I will fight anyone who calls “Spock’s Brain” the worst episode.
TM: Best dialogue excerpts you could ever ask for.
JH: “Brain and brain! What is brain?” “I am Morg, you are Eymorg.”
And that’s where we leave you. Check out Jordan’s podcast every week and swing by to say hi if you see him at a convention. He can talk about the shows, the movies, the books, and the comics with anybody, completely gets the joy of the franchise, and will never give you spoilers if you tell him not to. If you’re going to Missions: New York in September, you’ll see him moderating on the main stage.
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Nobody’s brought up Game of Thrones as a possible comp for the new series. “New Crews. New Villains. New Heroes. New Worlds.” Seems like an offer of something vast and expansive a la Westeros.
You’re so right. Trek is perfect for expansive storytelling. Rich with characters and different races. It will be a huge opportunity missed if there is not at least one dragon! :)