Ageism in the New Trek Era: Going Boldly into Maturity

One of the things I’ve enjoyed about this new season of “Picard” is that few viewers are griping about how old the cast is. The show doesn’t soft-focus anyone on the TNG cast or avoid extreme close-ups, even in 4K. Most of the TNG cast is either in or approaching their 70s. In 1984, when Star Trek III came out, there was already talk about Shatner’s belly and hairpiece. He was 53 years old at the time. By The Undiscovered Country in 1991, Shatner and Nimoy were 60 and the focus was how to retire these old folks with dignity. Shatner was getting the lion’s share of the criticism which sounded a lot like those who found Roger Moore’s later Bond outings as increasingly unbelievable just as his relationships with much younger “Bond Girls” cringeworthy even for the 1980s.

TOS Trek films have been obsessed with aging ever since 1982 when Kirk began thinking of himself as “old” even though this belief was based heavily on being a desk-tethered Admiral overseeing young cadets. By The Voyage Home, the film addressed Kirk’s waning romantic charm by having Dr. Gillian Taylor ultimately dismiss Kirk as a love interest to follow her own path in the 23rd century. After that, Trek became less about going boldly to strange, new worlds and more about the crew confronting their possible obsolescence in the face of a “next generation” – very meta for the time when a younger, hipper crew was burning up television on a weekly, not bi-annual, basis.

But the “New OG” cast is still kicking ass. Stewart still commands the screen at 80. Michael Dorn, at 70, is staging complex fight scenes and looks amazing. Frakes still possesses that youthful charm and swagger he had during the TNG years even though he is a decade older than when Kirk and Co. were ruminating about what it means to grow old and perhaps even obsolete.

While Hollywood is much more forgiving about men aging on the screen, I am even more surprised by how the lead actresses in Picard have been written.

Gates McFadden is currently 74 but no one would say she’s too old to fan dance in the desert (Nichelle Nichols was only 57 at the time she did this in The Final Frontier). Most of the other actresses on the show – Ryan (55), Hurd (56), [redacted guest from s3e5] (58), Sirtis* (67) – are beyond what Hollywood considers their “Last F*ckable Day” (see the Inside Amy Schumer sketch with Tina Fey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Patricia Arquette) but are still strong women of agency with THINGS TO DO in the show beyond opening hailing frequencies and commenting on obvious things visible on the view screen. And if anyone tells me that Orla Brady is not objectively hot “despite” being 61 years old, I will challenge them to B’aht Qul to the death.

People seem genuinely happy to see the “new OG” cast back and working together and don’t care that they are well beyond the time the TOS cast was put out to pasture. So there is hope for us. People can remain useful, powerful, and – yes – even sexy into the years once reserved for matrons and crones or old statesmen representing times gone by.

Score one for New Trek!

*Yes, as of S3E5, she hasn’t done much more than play the loving, if exasperated, housewife, but even that’s better than her usual, “I feel something but cannot tell you anything useful” role on TNG.

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