By Derek Samms
The long and hotly anticipated pilot of Star Trek: Discovery aired Sunday, and now that we’ve seen it (and had a little time to process what we saw), it’s time to discuss it. With a beloved franchise like this, there are bound to be strong opinions on every new incarnation, but in the spirit of diplomacy (that’s what Start Trek is about anyway, right?) I’ll try to be balanced.
So let’s start with the positive…
First, we have a new Star Trek series. The universe dreamed up by Gene Rodenberry half a century ago lives on, and that alone is good news. A fanboy like me will celebrate that fact as long as the show is even remotely good. And you know what? It is.
Second, this new series is fresh, interesting, and clearly designed with a 2017 binge-watching audience in mind. The same episodic model for a Trek series wouldn’t play as well today as it did in 1966 or in the ‘80s and ‘90s, so it’s smart that the minds behind this show have given it the production quality and serialized approach to story that we’ve come to expect in recent years. Possibly the greatest television franchise in history is now a part of this new golden age of television, and that’s a winning combination.
Third, the spirit of Star Trek that really drew us into the old series is alive and well in Discovery. Star Trek is about many things, way too many to list here. But the components that have always drawn us in—things like the imaginative characters and locations, the idea of listening to different viewpoints, and the optimistic view of the future—are alive and well in Discovery. After Beyond seemed to lose some of that personality in favor of more Fast and Furious-style action, it’s refreshing to find it again here. That gives fans like me a lot of hope for this series.
Now on to the negative…
Lots of shows aren’t quite perfect in the pilot, including many of the Star Trek series we’ve had over the years, and like all of them, this show has its shortcomings. Don’t get me wrong: Overall, it’s a good show and may prove to be a great show. But as a lifelong fan of the franchise, I want it to be the best it can be, so there are a handful of issues I’d like to see the remedied.
- The Klingons. They’re different again! From TOS to TNG and then to the Abrams movies, they’ve undergone more reinventions than Miley Cyrus. To be fair, Bryan Fuller did give a somewhat reasonable explanation for the new look in an interview, but the new look makes for another level of cognitive dissonance that’s hard to set aside along with our disbelief while we watch. It’s true we’ve had a little bit of explanation for the difference between the Kirk and Picard/Sisco eras, but another redesign makes it that much harder for viewers to rationalize. Even more distracting is the fact that they look more similar to—but not quite the same as—the Klingons we saw in Into Darkness, which brings me to my next point…
- What timeline are we in? We’ve been assured that Discovery is set in the original Star Trek universe ten years before the Kirk adventures. So why does everything look like the Abrams movies? I realize that 2010’s Star Trek made some clever design choices by making the styles of the 23rd century resemble those of the 1960s. That I get. It makes it all more coherent, and maybe it sets a precedent. But do we really need the lens flares and all the glowing? There’s even a major event in the plot that seems to be there just so we can have more glow! I like that the show looks so sleek and that CBS invested so much in the production value of the series, but we should at least feel like we’re in the same universe as the original show. Abrams did his own thing; let the designers for this show do theirs.
- Hologram calls. What? They don’t have that on a Galaxy-class starship 88 years after this, so why is there better technology now? Again, it feels like the show is sacrificing continuity with the universe for the sake of looking cool on TV. That’s never a worthwhile trade. Also, what the heck was Sarek sitting on? When Michael calls him (an impressive feat when the ship is struggling to get any backup there, but that’s another issue), his projected image walks around the room and sits on HER desk, so I guess we have to assume the room he’s in also has a piece of furniture in that same location at that exact height. I’m already suspending disbelief on a lot of things, here, and that extremely convenient furniture placement was the hardest to swallow.
- The whole deal with CBS All Access. The times are a-changin’. We know. Streaming is the superpower of programming now, and the networks and studios all want to maximize profits by introducing their own streaming services. But is CBS really offering enough to justify asking us all to pay $6 a month ($10 without advertising) for theirs? My wife and I are already paying for Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime, and the Starz add-on for that last one so we can get caught up on Outlander. We can’t keep doing this. It’s just not sustainable. This pilot was good, but I wasn’t SO blown away that I’m ready to add one more monthly subscription to my budget just so I can see another 14 hours that for all I know could disappoint me with elongated monologues and plodding storylines that keep getting stretched out like this sentence (or the past two seasons of Walking Dead) with little or no payoff. If enough other fans feel the same way, CBS is going to have to come up with something else. Supply must meet demand if they’re going to make their money back, and they clearly have a LOT to make back.
Now, none of these issues are nails in the coffin—or if you prefer, magna-locks or whatever in a torpedo thing like they put Spock in at the end of Wrath of Khan. And I doubt they’ll keep a loyal fan like me from finding a way to watch more. But if the writers are smart, they’ll have a clever way to work in the different look for the Klingons when they introduce other tribes. If the production designers are smart, they’ll incorporate more elements over the next few seasons that start to resemble the original series. And if CBS is smart, they’ll find a way to make money on the show without leaving viewers feeling like they’re getting conned (or KHANed).
This show might be amazing. It’s hard to tell from just one episode. But as Star Trek has always taught me, I look to the future with hope.