Awesome Con 2019: Star Trek: The Next Generation – Q&A Panel

Star Trek: The Next Generation Q&A Panel
Awesome Con 2019
April 27, 2019

At Awesome Con 2019, Star Trek fans were treated to a reunion of cosmic proportions.  That’s right, 5 members of Star Trek: The Next Generation came out to relive some memories and chat with fans.  And PopCultureReview was there!!!

The Star Trek: The Next Generation Q&A Panel was a celebration of the iconic sci-fi show that spanned 7 seasons, from 1987 to 1994. The TNG cast members in attendance included Gates McFadden, Jonathan Frakes, Wil Wheaton, Marina Sirtis, and Brent Spiner.

Photo Sheila McGann

Without a doubt, this reunion panel packed the main hall more than any of the other panels at Awesome Con 2019. Even the cosplay competition wasn’t as full as this panel (which, if you’ve ever been to a Con, you know is saying something). The cast’s familiarity with, and affection for, each other was evident in every joke they shared with each other. They had the kind of comfort level you’d expect from a group of people who’ve known each other for 32+ years.

We got some rumors about a potential Gargoyles reboot and news on the original cast’s upcoming series about Captain Picard. This was 45 minutes of pure joy, remembering a show that has endured since it last aired in 1994.

The moderator jumped right into the fan questions. I’m going to preface this by saying that there was a lot of back and forth during the panel about being a woman and became a running joke. The cast’s familial dynamic translated as fun jibes throughout.

Fan Questions.

Gates Looked Different

The first question had to do with how much input and influence did they have on the show and with their characters. Wil joked, sarcastically, that Gates looked really different the second season, that they made some changes with her character (Gates McFadden was written off the show at the end of Season 1 and was replaced by Diana Muldaur and her character, Dr. Pulaski. A fan campaign, plus cast reaction led to McFadden being brought to the show for Season 3 and beyond).

“As a woman, that’s why I wasn’t there the second season because they didn’t like what I was suggesting and they went their own way.” – Gates McFadden

Wil said the writers and producers took no input from the cast, especially with him as a kid on the show. “As a woman they didn’t listen to me either,” Marina said.  Wil added that the love the actors had for each other translated easily into their characters on the show that helped to make the show so memorable.

Photo Sheila McGann

Big River

A fan asked a question about going to see a Broadway play, Big River, in 1985 with his school and asked if that was Brent in the play. Brent started, “As a woman,” which sent the panel attendees and the audience into laughter. He said, “yes,” that was him and that he had replaced Rene Auberjonois. (Known for his role as Odo on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, among many other acclaimed roles – my favorite: Chef Louis in The Little Mermaid, but I digress.) Gates added that she was living with one of the producers on that show, which also included John Goodman in the cast. Marina quipped “TMI, TMI.”

Jonathan threw a compliment to Brent. Jonathan said Data was his favorite and Brent really made the character. “He was given the most limited canvas with which to paint, and did the most elegant and fulfilling painting of anything I’ve ever seen.” Brent replied with a laugh, “I never tire of hearing you say that!”

Photo Sheila McGann

Picard, This Fall

The next fan question was about the cast’s involvement in the upcoming series about Captain Jean Luc Picard, expected later this year. Gates was specifically asked because of the nature of her character’s relationship with the captain. Gates answered she has not been approached. Marina said she’d not been asked either.  Wil quipped that he thought, “They were being more a little more responsible with that show.” Both responses got great laughs from the crowd.

“They’re guarding that show like the nuclear codes.”

Jonathan (who has developed quite a career as a television director) said he was starting his work with the Picard show starting Monday, April 29th, and he would keep them all posted. He is directing two of the episodes, Episodes 3 and 4. Keep in mind, they’ve only just started filming and the writing may not be completed. Also, the cast may have been also sworn to secrecy and can’t divulge anything yet.

Wil was asked if he would be up for a reprisal of his role as Wesley Crusher, but as a Captain in a spin-off series. Wil said he has perfected “the sit” and he can do “the lean.” Jonathan asked about the state of his British accent? Wil replied in a dodgy British accent, “Not very good.” Wil replied that he was going to be 47 this year, to which Brent interjected, ”I’m 47! How is that possible?” Marina chimed in, “I’m 47!” Wil said he caught up to them. In answering the question, he said, very respectfully, that the time to explore that character has come and gone.” Adding there are so many exciting stories happening the Star Trek world, like Discovery, and the upcoming Picard series. He answered, “It’s not our time anymore and that’s fine.” Adding, however, if the right role with the right conditions was offered, he wouldn’t turn it down; it would need to be a good fit because he loves Star Trek so much. He’s up for cameos but to helm a show solo is an entirely different thing. (I’d really need Picard’s voice saying “Shut up, Wesley” if he does take that role, just to check his potential captain’s ego).

Photo Sheila McGann

TNG Book Club

A fan, who mentioned that she is a librarian, asked which book they think each person should read. Wil said two: Autobiography of Malcom X and Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. Wil told the fan that he is a writer today because a librarian took an interest in him as a kid and the things he cared about, thanking her for her work. Gates answered Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States and any book on the Constitution that makes you read the Constitution. Jonathan said Outliers by Malcom Gladwell (I personally agree highly with this recommendation). Brent said Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. Jonathan shot back “it’s no Ulysses.” Gates said she loved the Odyssey or Iliad and Marina retorted that she had to read it in Greek in school. Brent shouted, “Mic drop.” Marina answered said she loved The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, and she was left completely desolate when she finished them. She threw in Pride and Prejudice as well, acknowledging the boys in the room would groan.

“The reason I’m not a writer is because I was once beaten by a librarian.” – Brent Spiner

Fully Functional Android

The next fan to ask a question directed the question to the men on the panel. Wil said, “Oh finally we get to hear the men speak!” Marina retorted, “Yeah, because we haven’t heard men speak enough in history!” The question was a commentary on the men growing up on the show in different ways, like Wil growing up and Data learning to be human. The fan asked if there was a moment that was too, “ABC after school special,” that actually turned out alright for them?

Brent, “I think you’re reading much too much into the show.” Jonathan asked, “Did Data qualify as a man? Did he identify as a man?” Brent replied, with a little giggle, that “Data was fully functional.” There was a chorus from Wil and Marina that Data was fully functional. Brent then intoned a scale going up with his hand moving further into the air. Cheeky monkey.

Root(s)

Wil was asked a question about his favorite table top game? He responded it was a game called Root. Initially created as an asymmetrical war game where you are an occupying army and there are people who hate you and it’s all very real, he says. No one would publish it, so it was recast as a woodland creature game and was released. Jonathan asked quite innocently, “Wasn’t Levar in that? Root?” And the crowd went wild. The guy next to me was legit slapping his knee.

Before the next question was asked, Jonathan offered up a thought, “These panels are so heightened when you are a part of them.” Marina then said she doesn’t get to talk enough because everyone is asking Jonathan and Brent all the questions. She looks at the audience and says, “Hint, hint.”

Part of the Mythology

 The next question was how do they feel about being a part of being part of contemporary mythology? Brent looks over and says, “Marina?” Met with laughter. She replies that her husband is a musician and they were talking about this. She said it’s hard to feel that just as a regular person that you are part of contemporary mythology. Her husband likened that being on Star Trek is like a musician being asked to join The Rolling Stones. It’s the pinnacle of that genre. It freaks her out to think about the things he questioned but it’s hard to reason it through. Gates looks at it as that the show is more of a team approach, the cast and the writers, than as her one performance as an individual. Over time, she says, she’s learned how powerful the show is, through conventions and interacting with fans. She’s learned how they became role models for biologists, engineers, surgeons and empaths, shrugging and pointing to Marina. Then you understand that it’s the fan’s experience as they were watching the show that’s important. That’s the amazing part and she gets how important the show is to fans and THAT’S the mythology. 

Make It So Number One (Director)

Next question was for Jonathan, about his experience directing Star Trek episodes? He asked about the level of support that Jonathan received or was it met with contempt from the cast? Jonathan said the episode involving Data’s offspring was his first ever directing gig. Jonathan had the trifecta of it being a Data episode, spectacular script, and the story has resonated through time. He called it “lightning in a bottle,” a wonderful experience.

Gargoyles

A fan asked a question next about the animated series, Gargoyles. Some of the cast went onto the animated series after Star Trek: TNG ended. Marina asked Jonathan that she’d heard a fan rumor and to correct her if she was wrong. Jonathan: “I’m looking forward to it.” She asked him if referred to “Demona as his supple Xanatos sidekick?” Jonathan was the bad guy and he never had a sidekick. She thanked him for clearing that up and pointed amusingly and accusingly, “Fans, you lie!” Marina added that she doesn’t like voice acting. “It’s acting in a vacuum.” She loved how Gargoyles was recorded, however, all in a room together. So you could talk to the person you were interacting with.

Marina said that she’d heard a rumor that Jordan Peele might be interested in a Gargoyles reboot. He’s a fan of the show. Brent said that’s a great rumor! Wil said it’s the best kind of rumor because it’s plausible, but difficult to verify. Jonathan joked that he heard a rumor that he was making the show later this year. Wil shouted, “To the internet!” Brent said, not missing a beat, “I heard a rumor that Jordan Peele might be remaking Gargoyles later this year.” Wil said, “Yeah I saw that online somewhere.”

Riker and Troi

The next question has to do with Riker and Troi’s non-traditional relationship. The fan wanted Jonathan and Marina’s take on their relationship and if there was some kind of Enterprise Tinder or online dating? Jonathan said at the beginning of the show, during the pilot, it was clear that Riker and Troi had had a relationship. During the first season, the writers had forgotten that, like her accent. They consciously decided to work together to act as though they’d had that relationship throughout the remainder of the seasons and through the movies. He then said fast forward 7 years the writers decide they should get married in one of the movies and he credits that decision to their mutual decision to keep that relationship dynamic alive and consciously working through it.

Music in Outer Space

Fan question. If they were beamed down to a remote planet what musical album would they bring with them. The question was met with laughter from the panel.  Wil said Dark Side of the Moon, then Marina said Help or Rubber Soul. Jonathan said Ella in Paris. Brent said Sinatra: The Capitol Years. They bickered back and forth that Brent is changing the rules. Brent asked, what if they had record stores on that planet?  Gates would bring a Nirvana album and which one would be a last minute decision depending on her mood.

Photo Sheila McGann

Sci Fi Child

What science fiction did they read as a child? Brent didn’t read science fiction as a kid but he loved science fiction movies, such as Forbidden Planet. And he loved Robbie the Robot and look how that worked out for him, playing Data. Jonathan chose Fahrenheit 451, 1984, and Animal Farm. Wil said he’d gone to a library at about 8-years-old and they didn’t have the book he was looking for. The librarian helped him look for another book so she asked him what he liked to watch on TV to gauge his interests? He said, Buck Rogers (in the 25th Century) and Star Trek. She said he was a science fiction fan and gave him the book, Z for Zachariah (by Robert C. O’Brien), to loan. Wil instantly fell in love with science fiction and he credits that conversation with him being able to play a futuristic child on Star Trek.

The English Frenchman

The last question was why Captain Picard was allowed to have a British accent if he was French? Marina took over here, saying excuse me in her charming British accent. She wanted to know if they noticed that whenever Jean Luc did scenes in France, all the French had British accents. She figured it out. According to Star Trek, there are no more French speakers in France. She asked, have you ever heard Patrick Stewart doing a French accent? Gates said that is the real reason; no one would have respected that Captain very much. This drew loud laughter. (This is a true story, the producers did ask Stewart to try a French accent, originally, but it was so bad that they let him keep his natural British accent.)

Wil touched back on the mythology question saying that mythology helps us to understand why things are the way they are. Star Trek inspires us to see things as they can be. There comes a point when our national boundary don’t matter, where we are just human beings.

Photo Sheila McGann

What a great way to end a panel. The cast of the show seemed to really enjoy both each other’s company and the questions from the audience. There was a comfortable, fun atmosphere they fostered that made this a really enjoyable experience. Thank you for reading!

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For more on the panels, the cosplay and general convention mayhem of Awesome Con, follow our coverage at popculturereview.com. Also, follow us on Twitter @popcultureview and @SheilsMcGangsta for more pop culture news!

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