Star Trek in 2017 has the potential to be vital and important. Gene Roddenberry’s original vision of inclusion, hope, acceptance and prosperity is one that feels antiquated and tragically lost amidst today’s dour headlines, and a new take on the legendary sci-fi franchise seems deeply necessary. Is Star Trek: Discovery — provided on CBS All Access, the broadcast channel’s new, growing streaming service — the show that we need, though?
The answer to that question is not quite – based on its pilot, at least – but it’s a refreshing, invigorating and ultimately promising new series which attempts to bridge the gap between the original TV programs and J.J. Abrams’ recent films. The results are mixed but hopeful. The show doesn’t go where no man has gone before, but it’s still good to be back inside the ship. Let’s just pray this new team gives it all they’ve got.
Alas, Star Trek Discovery is opportistic and plucky, if still also brooding and bleak. Set ten years before the events of the original series, Discovery follows First Officer Michael Burnham (the charmastic Sonequa Martin-Green), a Starfleet Officer with experience and conviction, the kind of woman that follows her brain but isn’t afraid to listen to her heart. Raised by Spock’s father, Michael was brought up to resent the illogical side of her feelings, but that type of advice gets ignored when it’s revealed that the Klingons are back and ready to unleash Hell. It takes her a considerable amount of time to convince Phillipa Georgious (the capable-as-always Michelle Yeoh), the captain of the USS Shenzhou, and Saru (the scene-stealing Dough Jones), the ship’s science offer who isn’t merely lightly inspired by Spock, that the imposing threat of the Klingon is real, and one they’ll need to worry about with great interest.
The road to the small screen certainly wasn’t easy for Star Trek: Discovery. In fact, between losing its creator and its multiple production delays, there seemed to be a window of time where it was almost veritably impossible to imagine this series ever coming into fruition. So now that it’s here, how does it hold up? Well… it holds up fine, but it never quite lives up to its worth. With its high-end special effects and astonishing production values, Star Trek: Discovery certainly looks nice, though its clunky dialogue and awkward pacing in this opening episode are both discouraging and par the course for the franchise.
There is a sincerity to Star Trek: Discovery though that’s disarming and rather charming. It’s clear that the creators are coming into this project as fans first, and that loving affection for the series should hopefully give it life and personality. As it stands with this opening episode, however, Star Trek Discovery is perhaps a little too dull and a little too indistinguished to really make that impact.
The performances are all routinely good, and there’s nothing about its production values that’s easy to fault, but it’s also hard to find a lot to celebrate in full. That said, the leads definitely have fine chemistry together, particularly Martin-Green and Yeoh. You do feel as if they’re known each other for a few years, wondering the outer limits of space. Their friendship isn’t necessarily as warm and heartfelt as Spock and Kirk’s, though that could come with time. There’s also some simply extraordinary make-up work for a variety of supporting characters, though namely the looming Klingons, and such brushed mastery is easily among the show’s best virtues. What would a Star Trek series be without great make-up? Not much of one, I suppose.
But the big question remains: is Star Trek: Discovery worth the monthly $5.99 fee? To which I say, not yet. After its second episode airs on television, Discovery will be available exclusively on CBS ALL Access. Therefore, the network really needs to sell this show as nearly the second coming of Christ. There are so many streaming services, after all, and it’s an uphill battle to make us want to subscribe to yet another. In that specific sense, then, Star Trek: Discovery is currently a failure, though that might certainly change. Here’s hoping the next few episodes can blast their way directly into our hearts.
The pilot for Star Trek: Discovery isn't quite good enough to make us immediately want to subscribe to CBS All Access, but it's enough to pique our interest.