The Center Seat
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This 10-episode docuseries looks at the history of Star Trek, starting with the importance of Lucille Ball to its existence and taking viewers all the way through the renaissance of the ‘90s and the first set of feature films. While some episodes cover specific series (The Next Generation, Voyager, etc.), others take a more sweeping approach, with one focused on actors, one on movies, and another on ships.
The series is narrated by Gates McFadden, who played Dr. Crusher for six of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s seven seasons and hosts a podcast for the company that produced the documentary. The producer/director is Brian Volk-Weiss; he also oversees the Netflix series The Toys That Made Us and The Movies That Made Us and has been a Star Trek fan since he was a kid, so this is his dream project, and it shows.
Expect lots of interviews with actors, writers, producers, production teams, and other contributors to the Star Trek franchise, plus notable Trek guest stars like James Cromwell and Sarah Silverman.
A smart friend of mine says that a good documentary will keep your interest no matter what the subject, and while I’m far from objective about the topic of this one, I think The Center Seat succeeds. The pacing is snappy, the narration is quippy as well as informative, and the stories being told are punctuated with moments and one-liners from across the franchise.
Each episode takes a playful look at this powerhouse of a franchise that spans five decades and shows no signs of stopping. As entertaining as it is informative, the doc isn’t just a rehashing of familiar stories—any Trek fan has heard the Nichelle Nichols/Martin Luther King story about a hundred times—and manages to offer up new tidbits for the Trek vets as it covers both familiar and undiscovered ground.
Hardcore fans will notice a few errors here and there: Kirk and Uhura did not provide the first interracial kiss in TV history, for example, but that didn’t make that episode any less controversial or groundbreaking. There are also some holes in the interview list, some of which was unavoidable due to the pandemic as well as busy production schedules: You won’t see Patrick Stewart or William Shatner. But you will get details on the never-produced “Phase II” TV series that was all set to go into production until the powers that be decided movies were more important and shifted gears. You’ll see new footage, including some great stuff from the conventions of the 1970s.
Refreshingly (and surprisingly), the doc isn’t afraid to show Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry in all of his colors, and they manage to paint a realistic picture of him instead of glossing over his decidedly unappealing qualities. It does skip over some other unpleasantness, however, like the departure of actress Terry Farrell from Deep Space Nine, which was more complex than their statement that she wanted more money and couldn’t get it. The lack of an interview with her is one of the holes I wish they’d filled.
But all in all, it’s a great ride. Whether you’re new to the franchise or just trying to understand its appeal, you’ll enjoy the ride, and each episode will pique your interest for the next one.
A combination of a deep dive and a crash course into Star Trek from its inception up through the early 2000s, covering the shows, movies, and the phenomenon itself.
Star Trek fans, the Star Trek-curious, TV lovers, franchise lovers, and those who are into pop culture history. But really? Star Trek fans and people who want to understand what the Star Trek fans in their lives are so worked up about.
Rumor has it there are more episodes coming. Since the pandemic got in the way of some key interviews, there’s reason to hope this might be remedied in the future.
*The release strategy for this series is a bit tricky to follow. The first four episodes are up on the History Channel as of this writing, although episode 1 is leaving soon. The rest are on the History Vault, which requires a separate subscription. The presumption is that eventually all 10 episodes will be in the Vault.