Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Seasons 1-3, Discovery Seasons 1-4, Short Treks Seasons 1-2, and minor spoilers for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
At time of writing, the most recent episode of Short Treks aired two-and-a-half years ago in the run-up to Season 1 of Star Trek: Picard. Since then, Paramount has been content to put the format on ice, and although it’s been mentioned more than once in interviews and conversations, no new episodes or seasons have been forthcoming. I think that’s a shame, because in 2022 Short Treks has a lot of potential – arguably more than it did just a few years ago.
As a concept, Short Treks always felt nakedly commercial to me. At a time when many subscribers to what was then still called CBS All Access would watch their favourite show and then cancel their subscription, the corporation in charge hoped that dropping a handful of short episodes in between seasons would be enough to keep some of those folks paying their subscription fees. Promises that Short Treks stories would tie into the world of Star Trek: Discovery in a big way were part of this, too.
However, as Short Treks rolled on, there seemed to be a bit more leeway given with the kind of projects that were greenlit. Short Treks became more experimental, producing an overtly comedic episode, two animated episodes that used wildly different storytelling and animation styles, as well as continuing to connect with ongoing or upcoming Star Trek projects. It’s this experimental aspect and the potential to create some truly different and interesting one-off stories where I feel Short Treks could excel in the years ahead.
Not every Star Trek character or concept can be spun out into a film or an entire season of television, and there’s scope to use Short Treks to tell one-off stories that wouldn’t fit anywhere else. Robert Duncan McNeill’s Captain Proton pitch, for example, could absolutely work as a one-off short story, and I think that could be a cute nod and wink to fans of Voyager.
There would be scope to bring back legacy characters in this format as well, particularly if actors are unable or unwilling to make a longer commitment. Fans have asked for a long time to see Captain Sulu aboard the USS Excelsior, for example, and a Short Treks story featuring George Takei could be a truly excellent way for the franchise to celebrate his decades-long association with Star Trek. Rather than trying to shoehorn legacy characters into ongoing shows – or writing out main characters to bring back legacy characters, as happened in the case of Picard Season 3 – giving some of them their own Short Treks stories could be an alternative option.
The Short Treks format could even operate as a kind of backdoor pilot to test the waters and see how fans respond to concepts that could go either way. Michael Dorn’s Captain Worf pitch, for example, could be converted into an episode or two of Short Treks, recycling sets built for Picard Season 2, as a way to see how interested fans would actually be and whether the character truly has spin-off potential.
Star Trek has never shied away from being an experimental franchise, and that continues in its modern iterations. But given the serialised nature of shows like Picard and Discovery in particular, the scope to go completely off-topic and to different thematic and narrative places is more limited than it ever used to be. Short Treks could be the catalyst to bring more of that experimentation back to Star Trek.
The episodes The Girl Who Made The Stars and Ephraim and DOT showed off a very different style of animation and storytelling to anything we’ve seen so far in any iteration of Star Trek, and with advancements in animation happening all the time, there’s even the potential to use animation to bring some of these concepts to life. Where it might seem prohibitively expensive to tell a story set in an alternate reality where the Borg have conquered large swathes of the Alpha Quadrant, for instance, an animated Short Treks story could delve into that concept in a way live-action couldn’t.
When we look at the production side of Star Trek, too, Short Treks has a lot more to work with than it did in the 2010s! New sets have been constructed in recent years for Picard, Strange New Worlds, and Discovery’s 32nd Century that could all be taken advantage of to tell stories set in different eras. With a few changes here and there and some clever set redresses, Short Treks stories could be set in basically any era of Star Trek without having to spend excessive amounts of money on design and construction.
Then there’s the AR wall – the massive video wall that’s been used to great effect in Discovery and Strange New Worlds to bring depth and scale to some of the sets. The AR wall opens up all kinds of possibilities for unique designs: starships, planets, and more could be brought to screen without having to construct new sets. It would even be possible to use the AR wall to reconstruct something like the bridge of the Enterprise-D and tell a new story set during the events of The Next Generation.
If Star Trek chooses to settle on one primary era for its main shows – such as the 32nd Century or the 25th Century, for instance – then Short Treks could be the way to keep other eras and alternate timelines alive. Short Treks would be great to tell one-off Mirror Universe stories, for example, or stories set in the 22nd or 23rd Centuries if those aren’t going to be the franchise’s main focus in the years ahead.
A particularly fun idea could see Short Treks expand on our knowledge of the events of individual episodes. We could see one of the battles of the Dominion War from the perspective of another Federation ship, for example, with its crew coming to the aid of the USS Defiant. Or how about the same battle from the Cardassian side? A Short Treks episode could absolutely do that.
There are many Star Trek stories that, while not exactly incomplete, are definitely able to be built upon to show us more. The Lower Decks Season 2 episode wej Duj took a unique format showing us the crews of several different ships who were all part of one larger story, and Short Treks could do something similar. By picking up story threads that we only caught glimpses of in classic episodes, there’s scope to expand our understanding of some of these stories.
There’s also huge potential to dip into the wider lore of Star Trek. What happened in the years in between The Undiscovered Country and The Next Generation Season 1, for example? This massive eighty-year span of Star Trek’s history contains many interesting events that have been mentioned or referenced but never explored on screen, and Short Treks could change all that. We could see, for instance, the “Tomed incident” that led to the Romulans entering a prolonged period of isolation and find out what happened to cause the Federation to give up cloaking technology.
With sets already built for the USS Stargazer that we saw in Picard Season 2, Pike’s Enterprise, and more, as well as the AR wall, there’s a heck of a lot that Short Treks could do with existing sets that it couldn’t a few years ago. That has greatly expanded the number of potential stories that episodes could tell, and right now it really does feel as though Short Treks is a concept that Paramount is not taking advantage of.
Not only would some of these ideas be interesting and fun for longstanding fans, they could serve as soft landings for newcomers to Star Trek too, providing fans of shows like Prodigy with new experiences that build on their burgeoning fandom. Fans who’ve only just begun to fall in love with Star Trek could find one-off episodes that serve as easy ways into what can be a complicated and convoluted franchise, and that’s another massive benefit to creating stories like these.
From Paramount’s perspective, the original idea behind Short Treks is still valid. While 2022 may yet see five different Star Trek productions, in years ahead there will still be downtime; gaps in between seasons of the franchise’s main shows. Short Treks stories could fill those gaps, keeping Star Trek alive in the minds of fans and casual viewers alike, providing one more reason to sign up for and remain subscribed to Paramount+.
The experimental nature of some of these stories could see Paramount test out pitches that may be able to be expanded into full series of their own – just like Short Treks episodes featuring Pike, Spock, and Una helped prove that a Captain Pike series would be viable! Stories that draw significant reactions from fans, or that bring back elements from past iterations of Star Trek that prove popular, could be spun off into their own miniseries, show, or even films, setting the stage for Star Trek’s continued expansion.
In short, there are a lot of ways that brand-new episodes of Short Treks could be utilised to not only tell fun, entertaining, and fan-servicey stories, but to give a boost to Paramount+ and provide a way for the creative teams to experiment with completely different ideas that would be difficult or impossible to fit into any of the existing shows. Short Treks has a vast amount of untapped potential.
The first two seasons of Short Treks are available to stream now on Paramount+ (in areas where the service is available). Short Treks is also available to purchase on DVD and Blu-ray. The Star Trek franchise – including Short Treks and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.