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How Dear White People Season 4 Was Influenced By Star Trek: The Next Generation And An Unexpected TV Classic

Sam, Lionel, Troy and their friends at Winchester University are preparing to say goodbye, as Netflix’s Dear White People is set to drop its fourth and final season next week. The first three seasons were filled with sharp humor, biting social commentary and genuine heart, and Season 4 (or Vol. 4) appears set to carry on that grand tradition. However, the show will be changing up things by injecting a musical vibe into this last stretch of episodes. Some may be quick to assume music-based shows were the main inspirations for the new episodes but, as it turns out, the creatives actually drew from Star Trek: The Next Generation and another unexpected TV classic.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Dear White People showrunners Justin Simien (who is also the show’s creator) and Jaclyn Moore about the upcoming season. And based on our conversation, it’s apparent that the creative duo put a lot of thought in care into how they wanted to wrap up the show. During our chat, I couldn’t help but ask Simien, major TV fan, about his personal influences for Vol. 4, and I was pleasantly surprised when he mentioned Star Trek: The Next Generation. On the surface, the two shows may not seem to have a lot in common, but there’s certainly a connection:

There absolutely was. So another series that is episodic and they didn’t know they were coming back when they put out a season for the next season but still managed to create this sort of event that made the whole thing make sense in a new way was Star Trek: The Next Generation. That final episode, which is like a two-and-a-half hour movie where you get to see the crew in the future, in the present and in the past, and it recontextualizes the whole show. It actually was the first episode of the show I’d seen. It made me go back and watch the whole show. And so that was a big inspiration.

Star Trek: The Next Generation’s two-part series finale, “All Good Things...”, sees Captain Jean-Luc Picard jumping through different points in time. It serves as a fitting sendoff for the beloved show but, as Justin Simien mentions, it also manages to reframe the series in a fresh way.

Those who have seen the full trailer for Dear White People Vol. 4 likely know that part of the season takes place in the future and sees the characters navigating life post-Winchester. With this, TNG was quite invaluable for Simien and his colleagues and, as he further explained, the approach meshed with their musical ambitions:

And I knew that I wanted it to be a musical and that there was like this idea that we never quite got around to doing each season. And I felt like, ‘Well, it’s the last season. Let’s go out with a bang. Let’s make the whole season a musical, not just do an episode.’ Which, to me is always jarring because it’s like we’re out of the reality of the rest of the season, and we only got ten episodes. So I basically, literally took the kind of ‘putting on a show’ template that I think Singin’ in the Rain is probably the best example of, and I took the last episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation to the writers’ room, and was like, ‘This, plus all of my trauma… what we do.’ Basically, my first directive [laughs]. And that’s where we came out.

As previously mentioned, the folks behind Dear White People are TV watchers, so Star Trek was not their only guiding light. Jaclyn Moore went on to confirm that a fan-favorite HBO series also had an impact on the final season:

There was a little hint of the Six Feet Under finale, too, I would say. That is the other one that some of our future bits were, you know… It’s one of the all-time greats.

Years ago, the critically acclaimed Six Feet Under also used flashforwards during its final season. Writers tend to employ these in order to give viewers a better sense of the present-day narrative’s impact down the line. And if you’ve seen the show, you’ll know they were used to great effect there.

It’s bittersweet knowing that this will be the last time fans will get to check in with the students of Winchester. However, Dear White People’s imminent conclusion is easier to fathom knowing that Justin Simien, Jaclyn Moore and their team have something special planned.

Dear White People Vol. 4 premieres on Netflix on September 15.

Erik Swann

Covering superheroes, sci-fi, comedy, and almost anything else in film and TV. I eat more pizza than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.