A new Star Trek TV show is an exciting event that only comes around every few years, and you never know when it will be the final Star Trek series. People will get tired of this, yes? Enterprise ended after only four seasons, and that seemed to be the death kneel for any future Star Trek show. But then came the rebooted movies and now, yet another attempt at bringing Star Trek to television.
Although Star Trek Discovery had its premiere on CBS, the series is being shown exclusively (at least in the US) on the CBS All Access streaming service. As a long time Star Trek fan, I figured the show would have to be an incredible crap fest for me not to sign up for the service. Although all networks stream their show content online, CBS seems to be unique in thinking it can compete with Hulu and Netflix by creating original content for their service. It’s already given that a test run with the show, The Good Fight, a spinoff of their long time popular show The Good Wife.
As a strategy, it may not be a bad one. CBS owns a lot of valuable properties and paying to produce original content, such as a spinoff of a popular network show, or a show with a dedicated fan base, might be a winning option. Unlike network shows, streaming services have exact data on sign ups and who’s watching, so if a strategy is working, they will know immediately, and in that vein, CBS News reported that it broke the one day record for new sign ups after the Discovery premiere.
So yes, I signed right up.
Let me say this about the CBS All Access streaming service; I find it incredible that a streaming service that intends to complete with Hulu and Netflix does not have an app for Smart TV’s. That is serious malpractice right there. Yes, it does have apps for Windows and Apple products, as well as Roku and Xbox, but no Smart TV app? So a show with a multimillion dollar per episode budget with movie quality special effects can’t be shown on your average Smart TV?
That inconvenience aside, another issue with the CBS Streaming Access is that there just isn’t much else there I would want to watch. I mean, it’s all CBS re-runs other than The Good Fight and Discovery of course. However CBS did seem to recognize that and added a post-show gabfest for Discovery called After Trek. A post episode discussion show isn’t a bad idea if done right. AMC’s companion show to the Walking Dead, Talking Dead, is a perfect example of how to do it right. In the small universe of after show fan service, Talking Dead’s Chris Hardwick is the perfect post show host. He knows how to keep the conversation flowing, and is knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the source material. Most importantly, he knows how to guide his show guests into talking about their characters, rather than themselves. Not an easy job for Hollywood actors. On the other end of the spectrum, HBO’s After the Thrones was a train wreck. Apparently hosting skills for these particular types of shows are not common.
Watching the first episode of After Trek, I would definitely give it high marks in comparison to the previously mentioned After the Thrones. The show is not in Talking Dead territory, but host Matt Mira is surprisingly good. He has some work ahead of him though in order to pull some character backstory from the actors. When asking actor James Frain, who plays Sarek, about some of Sarek’s motivations, Frain replied that he just says the lines. I can’t decide if that’s a terrible answer or a great one, but I’m leaning towards great.
As for the show itself (and warning, there be spoilers), there is no doubt the title should have been Star Trek Woke: The Current Year. Prior to the premiere, there were reports that the producers were recasting the Klingons as MAGA supporters, Make Q’onoS* Great Again and all that. Well I can report that is the case. Much of the first two episodes have a great deal of Klingon scenes (in Klingon of course) in which the political situation in the empire is one of disarray, and much is made of the mongrelization of the Federation, with all the different Federation races blending in multicultural diversity; something that’s anathema to these red State Klingons. Luckily, the Discovery cast is there to take a knee to racist Klingons.
Of course this is hardly the first TV show that the Trump election has caused breakdowns in the writer’s rooms. Homeland, the Showtime spy series had such a breakdown in which they threw out the outline for their last season half way through and it ended in an incoherent mess. CBS summer replacement show Salvation had a coup d’etat against a female President requiring a counter coup to get rid of that man and put a woman back in charge, all which had nothing to do with a show about an asteroid coming to destroy earth.
As for the plot of the pilot, as one online commenter put it, “Sassy black girl teaches the Federation how to deal with warlike Klingons, gets sent to prison.”
That’s basically it for the two part show opener. For that, just a few observations:
There is a lot of go grrrl nonsense in this show. In one scene the Captain and First Officer, both female, beam onto a Klingon ship and win a hand to hand tussle (at least initially) with a couple of Klingons. I know this is science fiction but come on! Of course after several decades of watching 90 pound waifs’ karate chop 250 pound trained male fighters on television, the scene doesn’t look quite as ridiculous as it actually was. I guess we’re all conditioned to accept that tiny women not only can defeat large men in hand to hand combat, but in almost all circumstances they most certainly will.
In the build up to the show the look of the Klingons is so different from any earlier look of that species that the producers had to explain that Klingons were a very diverse race and there were many types of Klingons depending on which “house” the Klingon belonged to. So in a scene that showed the heads of all the Klingon houses, they all looked the same, the new version. Why not just do a different alien species if you want a new look? Not sure I get that. It definitely breaks canon though.
As far as the characters go, the only really likeable one seems to be Lt. Commander Saru, a weird looking alien ( he’s a “Kelpien”) who manages to do more to inject a little humanity into the show than any of the other characters, including titular star of the show Commander Michael Burnham, played by Walking Dead alum Sonequa Martin-Green. That being said, the unique backstory of the character; orphaned human girl raised by Sarek on Vulcan and graduate of the Vulcan Science Academy, lends itself to being played as a little less human. In that regard, Martin-Green does have the acting chops to carry the lead for a show like this. A flashback to the first time she meets her captain on the USS Shenzhou, introduced by Sarek, gives every appearance of a human trying hard to be Vulcan, contrasted to present day when she has a much more relaxed and “human” demeanor, but still with traces of a Vulcan upbringing. So if anything, the show does have a strong lead.
But that’s just my impressions from the first two hours of the show which really isn’t even a proper pilot; it’s more like a prequel to the set up. The ship Discovery doesn’t even make an appearance. So the third episode is more the actual pilot, and from viewing that, my impressions are that the episode ought to have been called, “Starfleet is the New Black.” Prisoner Burnham is the most famous mutineer in Starfleet and responsible for starting the current Klingon war. When her prison shuttle is accidently waylaid to the USS Discovery, she’s drafted into the crew. Or was it an accident? This was an episode that I actually got into and enjoyed both as a bit of escapist adventure TV and a bit of horror TV as well.
So we’ll see how it goes. As a long time Star Trek fan, I want to see what they do with this and having seen the third episode, feel a bit more hopeful this show will actually be entertaining. Knowing that Discovery will have a Harry Mudd episode and a Mirror Universe episode, the show has the potential to either knock it out of the park or flop. I guess I’ll know by the time we get to the Mirror Universe episode. If they screw that up…
*The Klingon home world for all you non nerds