It’s 9:38 PM. I finished Star Trek: Discovery’s pilot 15 minutes ago. In the time since then, I’ve read several reviews, checked out Twitter reactions (sooooo many people hate the idea of paying for yet another streaming service just watch one show) and formulated my own thoughts. More than anything else, though, I’ve just been fighting the urge to re-watch The Orville on Hulu.
I know, I know. I should have already signed up for CBS All Access because if I had I could be halfway through Discovery’s second episode by now. But, wow am I ever finding it hard to care about Discovery.
It’s like Jerry Seinfeld’s bit about how modern sports fandom means really just rooting for laundry. With the players always changing teams and the teams always changing cities the fans in the stadiums, when it comes down to it, are simply rooting for the clothes from their city to beat some other city’s clothes.
That’s me with Discovery right now. Most of the actual people responsible for the majority of Star Trek I’ve seen in my life have nothing to do with Discovery or were pushed out during the show’s troubled production. Several of them are now working over on The Orville, cranking out variations on their old hits and producing an unofficial version of Star Trek that gets to be unburdened by decades of canon. Why can’t I just root for them? Orville’s “About a Girl,” their version of “Measure of a Man,” was classic Roddenberry storytelling in so many ways, albeit with the occasional lewd Seth MacFarlane joke.
Why should I give preference to Discovery? Am I simply tuning in to salute the familiar logo and get all weepy whenever variations on the old Jerry Goldsmith score pop up? Why the heck should I really care about a version of Star Trek executive produced by Alex Kurtzman, the Hollywood hack responsible for multiple Transformers movies and Tom Cruise’s The Mummy (may we speak of it no more)? The Trek movies he co-wrote for J.J. Abrams (Star Trek and Into Darkness) are good, but not so good that I want this guy to be the steward of the franchise now.
Discovery viewing is compulsory, then, not voluntary. It’s a thing you do out of franchise loyalty, and you struggle the entire time to judge the show on its own merits and not constantly compare and contrast to what’s come before. It’s not exactly like CBS’s promotional material to this point has been all that inspiring. Given all the rumors of trouble behind the scenes, I’ve mostly assumed CBS was just happy to finally have something ready to show, regardless of whether or not it was any good.
Of course, I’d be singing a completely different tune if the Discovery pilot was any good. It’s not. It’s not overly bad either. It’s just kind of there, shoving its dutch angles, lens flares and garbled Klingon dialogue down your throat while also hoping to score inspirational diversity points for giving us a Starfleet ship captained by an Asian woman (Michelle Yeoh’s Captain Georgiou) and first officered by a black woman (Sonequa Martin-Green’s Michael). Which, to be fair, awwww, y’guys. Progress.
But you can’t even really call the first episode a pilot, not with the way it clearly forms the first part of a mini-movie (call it “How Michael Went on a Spacewalk and Instigated an Intergalactic War”) that will be concluded in episode 2. Based upon the reviews, it’s not until episode 3 that the series properly begins, finally introducing the titular ship and full cast and establishing more of an idea of what the show will be like on week-to-week basis. This might mean the first two episodes represent Bryan Fuller’s vision for the series while the rest of the episodes are the ones his replacements took over. Or it might mean CBS’s plan really was to always kick off their new Star Trek series with a glorified prologue under the cynical assumption that Trekkies would automatically fork over their money no matter what, even if the first Discovery episode didn’t really let them know what to expect.
If so, it’s a bad move, especially given how annoyed everyone is becoming with all the streaming services they have to pay for. So, other than “rooting for the laundry” what is there in Discovery that’s going to get me to add CBS All Access to my streaming subscriptions alongside Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and HBO?
The oppressively dark lighting? The wooden performances? Uninspired opening credits sequence that looks more like an advertisement for a The Art of Star Trek: Discovery book? Maddenly slow scenes with religious Klingons who are clearly just dudes struggling to get their lines out through cumbersome prosthetics and make-up? Martin-Green’s unpredictable and sometimes awkward “shifts between Vulcan logic and all-too-human rebelliousness”? The mockable background bits like how one of the side characters on the bridge looks like a member of Daft Punk? Random moments of outerspace racism, imperialism and mansplaining? The nonsensical scene of Michael running off to have a space chat with her adopted dad (who happens to also be Spock’s dad) while her ship is in the middle of a standoff with a far bigger and far more menacing ship? Doug Jones being so very Doug Jones as an alien who can empathically sense impending doom?
Actually, that last bit was cool.
What we are left with is the impossibly bizarre situation of having two different Star Trek shows to either choose from or alternate between. Neither are perfect. As someone live-tweeted during Discovery’s premiere:
And both of our options roughly align with the different Trek eras. The Orville is for those people who remember the TNG-Enterprise era; Discovery tries desperately to mix a little classic Trek with its Abrams-inspired cinematic visuals, but mostly comes off DS9 in tone, Trek fan series in exeuction and JJ in appearance. I’d rather not just root for the laundry, though, and instead gravitate toward the show that actually interest me. Right now, that’s The Orville, awkward Seth MacFarlane performance and all.
- How hilarious is it that this episode meant to launch a streaming service was delayed 20 minutes due to football, a classic Sunday night bugaboo for classic broadcast TV? What a perfect reminder of the old school TV scheduling bullshit you never have to deal with on a streaming service.
- Feel very conflicted over Michael’s attempted mutiny. It’s the most shocking and interesting part of the episode. So, kudos. But we’re supposed to root for her after that? And why should we be so certain that Vulcan advice pertaining to Klingons from over a hundred years ago would still apply now?
- The Klingons bury their dead on their ship? Huh.
- The albino Klingon is discriminated against in a society of primary black or brown-skinned men and women? Look at you with your social commentary. I see what you did there.
- Naming a character “Saru” feels like a surefire way to make us constantly think everyone’s actually saying “Sulu.”
What about you? What did you think of Discovery’s “pilot”? Let me know in the comments.