October 24, 2017
(4 out of 5 stars)
For over 50 years, “Star Trek” has shown what television could be by going where no one has gone before.
Now, the year after Trek’s 50-year anniversary, the new series “Star Trek: Discovery” graces our screens, nearly a decade since the last television-format show in the franchise.
I believe that “Discovery” has something for everyone, from the casual viewer to the hardcore Trek fan (I fall in the latter category).
Regardless of if you’re viewing “Star Trek” for the first time or are a superfan, I will split this review into two parts: one for the casual viewer, and the other for the seasoned Trekkie.
Taking long-form television to heart, “Discovery” has 18 episodes, each 50 minutes in length, in its first season, far more than many other television shows of equivalent episode length.
One major downside is the fact that “Discovery” is featured exclusively on CBS’s relatively new streaming platform, CBS All Access. At $6 a month, a subscription could be costly for many potential viewers.
If you can afford that cost, I do believe that “Star Trek: Discovery” is a great introduction to the franchise for anyone who hasn’t seen any Trek.
For the casual viewer, the show offers excitement, great writing, brilliant characters and brings the far-away future of year 2255 closer with futuristic items such as clean view screens and holograms.
These aesthetic changes accurately match how we see the future in 2017, as opposed to the one depicted in the original 1960s “Star Trek.”
“Discovery” takes place about a decade before Captain Kirk’s five-year mission, as depicted in the original “Star Trek” series from the 1960s.
Viewers follow the fearless and inquisitive Michael Burnham, portrayed by Sonequa Martin-Green, who is part of the highly skilled USS Discovery crew.
Burnham works alongside her mentor, Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), longtime colleague Lieutenant Commander Saru (Doug Jones), the devoted Lieutenant Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp), the rambling and loveable Cadet Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman), and the enigmatic Captain Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs).
Through these characters, the writers of “Discovery” portray a future in turmoil. We see the oft-forgotten infancy of the United Federation of Planets. With that, the show explores moral ambiguities that the franchise is not accustomed to showing.
Now, for the more experienced Trek fan, “Discovery” is not even close to any of the other installments to the franchise. At the time of writing, there are only five episodes out, so it is hard to see how “Trek-y” it is, but already I can see some of that classic Star Trek-ian humanism.
The show does a good job of displaying the persistence of hope and triumph in a dark time.
“Discovery” has made some slight alterations to Star Trek canon. Aside from aesthetic canon, which many Trek lore experts agree isn’t that important, not much has changed.
Because it is 2255, the show takes place at the start of the first Federation-Klingon war, which means that the Klingon race is a vital aspect of the show. This does also create contention in many Star Trek circles, as the Klingons have been modified to be different from their Original Series counterparts.
The “Discovery” Klingons have a different head shape and there are changes to their iconic ridges.
This could either be an aesthetic change, or a very integral part of the Star Trek lore, seeing as there are several TOS episodes having to do with the appearance of Klingons.
This aesthetic change does challenge the Klingon actors, changing the way they can pronounce their lines, making the letter “S” sound like a hiss, and so on. This can annoy a listener, but personally I don’t see it as a problem, in fact, I think it makes it easier for the actors to make Klingon noises.
Now for the elephant in the room: the feel of Trek. Star Trek episodes have always had a sort of feeling that nearly every franchise tends to follow. However, “Star Trek: Discovery” does not follow this trend.
Because of the modern television format of long-form story telling over entire seasons, “Discovery” has followed this trend, in other words, gone are the days of slice-of-life episodes in Star Trek.
All of the characterization takes place in the middle of the action, in the way that the characters follow orders: how they eat lunch and what they do in their quarters in the brief pauses of their duty.
You won’t see any episodes where Paul Stamets is locked in a turbo-lift with kids for 45 minutes (as Jean-Luc Picard was in “The Next Generation”).
I don’t think the serialization of the Trek franchise has done any damage. I believe it has enhanced it. In other series, like “Deep Space 9” and “The Next Generation,” episodes have always been made so that viewers can watch them whenever, and so that TV stations can re-run them.
Since “Discovery” is hosted on streaming platforms, there is no need for the standalone episode format, and it does free up the writers to create a great and engaging story that lasts longer than 45 minutes per episode.
I do think that “Star Trek: Discovery” is a valuable addition to the Star Trek IP, although it is far different from what we know as “Star Trek.”
It has taken the franchise to somewhere it has never gone before, and I think it’s worth the trip.
“Star Trek: Discovery” is available on CBS All Access, with new episodes available every Sunday at 6:30 p.m., Mountain Standard Time.