I just finished streaming the first season of Star Trek Discovery with a free week of CBS All Access on Amazon. This is a personal review of the show and thoughts connected to ‘Trek’— spoilers ahead. Let me say up front, lest I sound a bit arrogant or fan-boyish, that once upon a time I pitched stories to Michael Taylor when he was an Executive Producer on Star Trek: Voyager. It’s the closest I ever got to being somebody of note.
Star Trek Discovery is an entertaining show, if even at times I found it annoying for eye-rolling moments and series continuity issues. After 15 episodes, I see it as more of a reboot than a new entry into the old canon. When this crew comes upon the ‘old ship’ at the end—with the war (and the sappy speeches) over—I actually had hope that Star Trek will start being about science and discovery again, like I wanted this show to be when I first heard about it.
Over the first half of the season I found myself constantly questioning the choices the writers had made for the show. Chiefly, I wondered why they decided to set it ten years before the original series. The technology seems to place the show at least fifty years after Kirk’s day and more-likely after DS9 and Voyager. The ship uses a ‘spore drive’ that has never appeared in Trek before. It allows them to be able to jump anywhere instantaneously. I take it they are poking fun at the idea of ‘shroom trips’, but it’s a fantasy element, not a science one. Are we to believe that the federation abandoned this tech and other tech like holographic communication before Kirk showed up?
I also found the rewrites to the old canon and characters annoying mainly because the show has never been touted as a reboot. The main character is Spock’s adopted sister—except Spock was originally an only child with a long-lost half brother (in a movie that people like to ignore as canon). And guest star Harry Mudd is a maniacal criminal here rather than a scheming shyster like in the original. I found myself wondering why they didn’t just make these characters descendants of the old characters and set it further in the future where the tech makes more sense. All of this may have been enough to get me to abandon the show, but the production and the story and the acting were good enough to keep me watching.
By the time I got into the second half of the season, I still questioned some of the writing decisions, but I was willing to suspend my disbelief and see it as more of a reboot. There are annoying little lapses in some of the science that gave me pause. For instance, there’s a race called the Kelpiens who are described as a prey species originally used by another species as cattle and food. Except they are humanoids with eyes on the front of their heads like predators, so some kind of explanation is needed as to why their biology is similar to predators. I see this as a science goof, but more importantly, how does a member of a ‘prey’ species rise up to be captain of a federation ship during war with the Klingons?
The second half of the season finds the Discovery in the Terran alternate universe, and there are some interesting twists to the story. I began to let go of many of my ‘why’ thoughts and enjoy it more. In some ways, this doesn’t feel like a trek show. It goes the way of many recent shows trying to appeal to millennials by being extreme rather than subtle. There are f-bombs and other language, nudity, plus cross-species sex that feel like look-at-what-we-did-that-hasn’t-been-done-in-Trek-before moments. Add to this the show’s opening theme, which uses instruments and a sound registry reminiscent of the Game of Thrones opening, and it feels a little contrived.
I also have gotten tired of Trek being about war all the time. DS9 did a wonderful job with that, so why do we need to have another show about war? Trek was originally an optimistic and hopeful view of the future, and even DS9 adhered to that. While some of the actions scenes are well done, Discovery gets rather bleak with the body counts and level of destruction, and then recovers too quickly. I was relieved that the Klingon war ends with this season and that next season might be more about exploration and discovery.
It’s a shame that this show is only available on CBS All Access and that the run time on some episodes is as short as 37 minutes. Why have a streaming service with commercial and commercial-free versions? If this is supposed to be a new way to deliver a show, why not make it an hour long without the breaks built in? I can’t watch shows with commercials anymore, and it seems retrogressive for a TV episode to be less than 50 minutes. It constrains the story telling. I’d like to see it be an hour long and available as a separate purchase on Amazon, or put it on Netflix like in other countries.
Overall, I enjoyed rediscovering Star Trek with Discovery. I hope they go a new direction with season two. The closing moment of season one presents some interesting possibilities. Once I came to see Discovery as a reboot instead of a new entry in the old canon, I found it easier to accept the show on its own merits. It’s better than Enterprise and has potential, if only it lives up to its name and becomes less about war and more about discovery.