I had already posted my impression of the first preview of Star Trek: Discovery, and having finally gotten to see the pilot episode tonight (Sept. 24) I think that based only on the first show, Discovery is pretty good for what it is. My problem is with what it is.
The good part is that the lead character, Michael Burnham, is very good and very well-played by Sonequa Martin-Green. At the series start she is actually the first officer aboard the USS Shenzhou but is supposed to be transferring to the ship in the show’s title. First however, the Shenzhou has to survive a confrontation with a particularly fanatical sect of Klingons. And apparently Burnham was raised by Spock’s father Sarek after her parents were killed by Klingons, so this may be a bit personal for her. In the course of the episode, Burnham’s relationships with other bridge crew including Science Officer Saru (Doug Jones) and her captain, Phillipa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) are established, and another strong point of this show is the chemistry between the crew that is obvious even at this point. Said chemistry helps to heighten the tension when Burnham attempts a pre-emptive strike on the Klingons and everyone else (especially the captain) is warning her against it.
As I said in my other post, I like the relationship between the Burnham and Georgiou characters. But I have problems. If I could boil them down to one point, it would be that the producers are trying to make their own material with a tangential connection to Star Trek, without even resembling it as much as the retro-Trek of JJ Abrams’ movies. This is especially important given that this show, like Enterprise, is supposed to be set in the main timeline (specifically, ten years before the Original Series). And yet, the overall look, from the blue suit uniforms, to the darkened bridge, to the heavy use of lens flare, makes the show resemble AbramsTrek (specifically the scene on the USS Kelvin) more than the deliberately old-school Enterprise.
To quote the relevant part of my last piece, “Continuity is always an issue when you’re using established intellectual property, because while it defeats the purpose of creating something new if you don’t go off in a new direction, it defeats the purpose of saying that X is X when the new thing departs from the setting of X to begin with. It would be less irritating if Star Trek: Discovery had simply taken the parallel-universe of the J.J. Abrams series, or set the show within the past of that timeline. But the implication is that this is the universe of the original series, which already has quite enough problems with “retcon.” It’s not quite so bad with comic book properties, where a superhero series gets rebooted from scratch every decade or so and nobody questions this.. But even then, continuity matters. You can say that your Superman has no continuity with the Christopher Reeve Superman, but if you want to say that he IS Superman, don’t act surprised when people wonder why he needs to kill somebody.”
So again, given that this is supposed to be the same setting as Enterprise and TOS, you have stuff like Abrams lens-flare scenes, and you have the Klingons who have been retconned to look more alien YET again. Continuity in Doctor Who is easier to keep track of. And then it turns out that the scenes with Sarek were not with a younger Spock but with a child Burnham (the relationship between the two not being clear in the previews). The use of Sarek seems gratuitous; it’s not as though another Vulcan elder couldn’t have been substituted without giving this character the baggage of being associated with Mark Lenard’s character. Because he isn’t. He’s played by James Frain. And when you’re playing a Vulcan, there’s a difference between “unemotional” and “creepy.” When I think of James Frain, I think “creepy.”
As a side note, I am thinking there might be a practical reason that future episodes of this show are only going to be accessible on the CBS All Access streaming site. A practical reason other than greed, that is. Streaming services like Netflix allow the production of original programming with “adult” language and concepts that wouldn’t be possible on a broadcast TV show. The pilot of Discovery doesn’t have anything that I would see as “mature” or objectionable. However the publicity for this show has had a lot of articles in liberal outlets like Vox making much of the fact that this is the first show in the Trek franchise to have a regular character (played by Broadway star Anthony Rapp) who is openly gay and in a committed relationship with another crewman. However, these characters were not in this pilot, presumably because they’re on the Discovery and not the Shenzhou. It could be that some people at CBS, especially its Standards and Practices department, thought that such a concept might damage people’s fragile eggshell minds. This is my speculation. But again, I don’t see much reason why this program needs to be on a premium source outside broadcast TV. Besides greed, that is.
Of course given that CBS All Access is a streaming service, Star Trek: Discovery doesn’t really have to worry about ratings. But as much as this show intrigues me, I’m not sure if I’d shell out $5.99 a month just to see how it develops. Which is another point of ironic contrast between this show and The Orville, a broadcast series on Fox, which is notoriously fickle about SF shows. The Orville is basically old-school Trek with the serial numbers filed off, but despite having to be different for copyright purposes, it “feels” like the same spirit. Star Trek: Discovery is official Trek product- and again, pretty good for what it is- but what it is goes out of its way to NOT feel like Trek.