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.

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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.

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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.

THE NOTES

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. The Klingons bury their dead on their ship? Huh.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

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Posted by Kelly Konda

Grew up obsessing over movies and TV shows. Worked in a video store. Minored in film at college because my college didn't offer a film major. Worked in academia for a while. Have been freelance writing and running this blog since 2013.

38 Comments

  1. I just watched Eps 1 and 2 and I was actually quite enthralled throughout.

    I agree that the Klingons were very badly done — both the prosthetic and even morose the language. That was painful.

    But, I totally bought into the bond between the captain and the first officer.

    As for the first officer’s bouncing between human emotion and Vulcan logic, that seems extremely plausible. She’s fully human and only grew up with Vulcan culture. Makes perfect sense she’d try to be as Vulcan as possible but that emotion would take over whenever it wanted to.

    I also loved her scenes with Sarek. This is a man who married a human. He was the first Vulcan embassador to earth. He had a soft spot for humans. I loved how he was portrayed here — even better than I liked the TOS Sarek (who was too dour, which felt so anti-emotion as to BE an emotion, for me). THIS is a man I could see raising Spock.

    I would never pay for a new streaming service just to watch this, but since I have other avenues, I plan to keep up with it. I’m very curious to see where it goes. Other than the poorly done Klingons, I thought this was near-perfect story-telling.

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  2. After seeing Michelle Yeoh in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, I was really hoping we’d see he do better in her fight with the Klingon.

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  3. They were beaming aboard a massive ship full of who knows how many Klingons. They couldn’t send over more than just the two of them?

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  4. What was that bit in the flashback (where the captain and Burnham first meet) about the transporter technology? Something about the Vulcans no longer using it for certain types of transports and that the Shenzhou was older technology and that Star Fleet was now using new technology?

    Anyone know what that was all about?

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  5. Is it a bit laughable that a ship with a Chinese sounding name had a Chinese captain?

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    1. I don’t think Michelle is Chinese. I think she’s from Taiwan, but maybe the character is supposed to be Chinese? In which case, that is pretty funny.

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      1. China seems to think Taiwan is part of their country, so I’ll give myself a pass on this error. 🙂

  6. This happened 10 years before TOS. Burnham left Vulcan 7 years prior to this, so 17 years before we saw Spock for the first time. BUT, we don’t really know how long Spock was in Star Fleet before we meet him on Enterprise.

    I’m just curious if Burnham and Spock had any home time, together, as step brother/sister. Or if Spock was gone before Sarek adopted her.

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    1. I was curious about that as well. My only memory of us ever seeing anything about Spock’s childhood in the Original Series timeline is that Spock has to fix a causality paradox by traveling to the past and save his younger self in an episode of The Animated Series. There was no hint of a sibling, adopted or not. But, of course, we learn in Star Trek V that he has a half-brother.

      But none of that really matters, I guess, because the question is not if Burnham was there in the past (she wasn’t; she’s newly created for the show) but where exactly the Discovery people are saying she falls in Spock’s timeline.

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      1. I agree. BTW, in Episode 3 (which I thought was great), Michael mentions that her mother used to read Alice In Wonderland to her and her brother. She doesn’t specifically say that was Spock, though. Actually, now that I think about it, I don’t think she considered her time on Vulcan as being with family. Sarek referred to her as his “ward”. She never referred to Sarek as “father”. So, the “mother” she was referring to was probably her actual mother and it was prior to her being taken in by Sarek. So… nevermind! 🙂

  7. You’re treating this like the Kobayashi Maru test: two no-win scenarios.

    There’s a third option: watch something else such as re-runs.

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    1. You’re right. I framed this conversation all wrong. It’s not an either/or proposition. It’s not even a “do you want these?” kind of thing. We have the option to simply watch something else.

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      1. Despite what I typed earlier, I ended up watching three episodes of Discovery and kinda watching episode 4 of The Orville (I listened to it while doing the dishes.)

        I think The Orville is going for the same mainstream demographic that Two and a Half Men/Big Bang Theory hit. I didn’t find it very funny. I would probably laugh if they had a forced laugh track over it.

        I like Discovery more. It doesn’t feel much like a traditional Star Trek series. That is a good thing. We’ve already had four series with the general format of a crew doing “wagon train amongst the stars”.

      2. Oh my gosh! I am SO GLAD there’s not laugh track. I can hardly stand laugh tracks, anymore. I’ve stopped watching some shows simply because of their laugh track. Much better to let the humor stand on its own.

      3. The laugh track is alive and well on TVLand, Disney Channel and CBS, but everyone else seems to have moved on, although it does pop up from time to time through revived shows (Will & Grace, Full House) or odd Netflix experiments (Disjointed, The Ranch).

      4. Not all laugh tracks are terrible. It’s when they do them badly or when they abuse them that I have to change the channel.

        For example, when a character says something mildly amusing or attempts to do so (and fails) and the laugh track sounds like it came from after Robin Williams told his funniest joke. I hate that with a passion.

        The other one that drives me batty is when they seem to have only one laugh clip and they use it on every joke.

      5. “I think The Orville is going for the same mainstream demographic that Two and a Half Men/Big Bang Theory hit. I didn’t find it very funny. I would probably laugh if they had a forced laugh track over it.”

        That is a fair assessment of Orville’s mostly failed attempts at humor, but that’s not all the show is going for. Aside from the humor, it is basically a fifth version of “the general format of a crew doing ‘wagon train amongst the stars'” you referenced. It’s classical Star Trek just by a different name.

        Which is probably why it’s ultimately for the better that Discovery is doing something different. It’d be really awkward if it was just another familiar Trek show at the same time as Orville.

        Either way, I will be signing up for the CBS All Access trial to catch up with Discovery soon. I’ll weigh in with my updated opinions then.

      6. Well, it’s not very funny so it needs a laugh track to give it some performance enhancement.

      7. Oh, yeah. The jokes are absolute groaners. They did a bit with practical jokes in their most episode that had a payoff which made me laugh because it was so shocking. Other than that, laughs have been in short supply.

  8. I actually liked the show, and subscribed to watch it. I really got into it, but then the show has an emotional resonance for me that it might not have for you. I found it beautiful and suspenseful and Burnham has entered my pantheon of favorite Trek characters.

    I still hated the Klingons though. I ve never been a fan of theirs , despite the existence of Worf, and if this show is any indication, I guess I aint ever gonna be.

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    1. The look of these Klingons is horrible — in both design and production quality. Some of them totally looked plastic.

      Unforgivable is the way they talk, because it’s the easiest to fix.

      It sounded like they were talking behind their prosthetics. Stupid. Just do voice overs. It’s one of the most common tasks in nearly all movies.

      And it sounded like they were reading off a teleprompter that could only show one word at a time. I hated listenting to them. TNG did Klingons native speaking far better.

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      1. Klingons have never really been one of my favorite parts of Trek lore. I (probably lazily) always regarded them as a Cold War Russia stand-in and didn’t pay them much mind, except for when DS9 did some interesting stuff with them.

        That being sais, wow would I ever take any of those old iterations of the Klingons over these new ones. It’s not even the new look that does it; it’s the, as you and so many others have pointed out, absolutely brutal exercise of watching these poor actors struggling to get out their lines from under those prosthetics. Ugh.

  9. So why have they changed the klingons again? I thought tng designed them and the movies kept them that way then enterprise explained why they dont look like that in tos. So why change them again? From what i hear. Discovefy brings nothing new? Gonna pass on this then. Can someone tell me what colour shirt does the captain wear and ths doctor? Just woukd like to know where they steered the coliur coding of uniforms this time round? Do they have tos original weaponary and intercoms and screens and controls? Does it look like the enterprise was designed by apple like the movie reboot films were designed? Are we done with star trek??

    Reply

    1. I think the color coding is silver, gold, and copper. I think if they have silver decorations on their uniforms it means they are in the sciences. Gold on the uniform is for Officers. The bronze or copper color on a uniform is for security and maintenance, I think.

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      1. wow they gone all 70s discos or battlestar galactica orginal series then. Ok thanks for sharing. Even more disappointing now.

    2. Part of the reason to change the Klingons might be history; i.e., each new iteration of Trek seems obligated to offer a new take on the Klingons. The Original Series had them as mostly human-like. The movies changed that and TNG and the rest of that era followed suit. Star Trek ’09 originally had new Klingons, but when that scene was cut they saved them for Into Darkness, revealing a very Enemy Mine-inspired look for the old baddies. Discovery’s version is most beholden to that version, but even then they’ve made some changes for the sake of making changes, I guess.

      “Does it look like the enterprise was designed by apple like the movie reboot films were designed?”

      Not quite, although they have a similar issue in that the reboot films had an enterprise deck which looked too bright and the ship seen in the first 2 episodes of Disocvery is way, way too dark. They just can’t find the right balance, apparently. I haven’t seen episode 3 yet, though, which where we finally see the actual Discovery ship. So, maybe that one looks bettter.

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  10. I’ve been thinking more about Discovery over the past several hours and realized that I’m rather torn about whether I want it to succeed.

    On the one hand, I thought it was very good story telling and I enjoyed it.

    On the other hand, I really, really, really don’t want anything encouraging the concept of separate, exclusive streaming services.

    If this succeeds, more networks will likely try that direction and it’s a horrible direction for consumers.

    I think I’m falling on the side of wanting it to fail for that reason alone.

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    1. I dont want the show to fail but I do hope other networks dont do this crap. I really loathed the idea of signing up for a new streaming service, and waited until the last possible second to sign up.

      CBS doesn’t have a good enough track record for me to be signing up for their service. I find their shows to be pedestrian and uninteresting, with a lack of diversity, so I’ve never been a CBS fan and if it wasn’t for this show I would’ve ignored all of this.

      I was seriously pissed to hear this was the only way to watch this show (and quite frankly, if there was a way to get around it I would. I hate CBS), and this show better hold every ounce of my attention too because I’m still contemplating dropping the service, despite liking the first two episodes..

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      1. The only reason Discovery is on CBS is bullshit corporate synergy. Otherwise, it is so, so, so completely off brand for them.

  11. Saw this review and realized I don’t disagree:

    Based on all the news and reports on the show we’ve received over the last year, we know the rest of the series is significantly different from last night’s prologue. Which makes it impossible to judge the show by its pilot, because we know so much is going to change. But we can say this: To be a good Trek series, it’ll need to give us more than we got last night.

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  12. I’ve always wanted a more realistic Tom Paris style character in a Trek. I guess that was Ro Laren, so I probably already got my wish, but if a character tries to stage a mutiny, I kind of wish they were someone I’d want to root for.

    Captain Georgiou was so likable and engaging and interesting, and seeing a character not trusting her (even though they’ve served together for years) and then mutiny against her just seemed like a terrible way to gain the audience’s trust. Rebellious characters are fine (great even!) but when their character motivations make no sense, it doesn’t bode well for the show.

    I also hope they tone down the nightmarish camera style. There don’t need to be THAT many Dutch angles and glaring lights to create atmosphere.

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    1. “Captain Georgiou was so likable and engaging and interesting, and seeing a character not trusting her (even though they’ve served together for years) and then mutiny against her just seemed like a terrible way to gain the audience’s trust. Rebellious characters are fine (great even!) but when their character motivations make no sense, it doesn’t bode well for the show.”

      Perfectly put.

      “I also hope they tone down the nightmarish camera style. There don’t need to be THAT many Dutch angles and glaring lights to create atmosphere.”

      Apparently, one of the early big fights Bryan Fuller had with the network was over the director for the pilot. They wanted the person they ultimatley ended up hiring. He wanted someone else. I don’t know if that means the direct was acting out their own visual design, which mostly just looks like they watched Trek ’09 and decided to match that completely, or if this is really what Bryan Fuller wanted it to look like. Either way, one assumes the remainder of the episodes, which are the ones Fuller really had nothing to do with, will have a more confident visual style.

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  13. Ok I watched a couple of episodes and this doesn’t feel like star trek at all. I get that its been years since the last show so they are trying to make it compete with modern shows. Take the klingons out and it seems like another show and given the long gap I thought they could easily keep to formula. I was getting quite into Michelle Yeoh as captain then thought to myself wasnt there a lot of hype about Jason Isaacs being captain then “oMG” she is dead. Except it wasnt OMG because once I remembered I was just waiting. Wish they had done more to keep that secret. I think the influence is Battlestar Galactica here. Not sure they should have leaned towards that. It now feels like there is no possible crossover you could imagine with the other shows. The other shows felt slightly plausible to be connected but this one doesn’t. No I am not a die hard trekki. I enjoyed Trek growing up so have a lot of time for it and watching it with my mrs I had to endure questions like “there are no lightsabres in this version” or “will Michelle Yeoh regenerate into Chris Pine?” So maybe I just had a bit of a hard time watching it for other reasons.

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    1. I’m not quite a Trekkie, but I did attempt to watch every episode of every ST series. What I don’t do is go back and rewatch.

      After so many ST shows, I can sympathize with the challenge of creating another one. Make it too similar to the previous ones and fans get annoyed that there’s nothing new. Make it too different and fans get annoyed that it doesn’t feel like Star Trek.

      I’m finding I’m pretty happy with the show — other than the Klingons, as I posted, above.

      It feels enough like Star Trek to me. While it’s true there’s a lot more animosity among the crew, and that’s not something we’ve seen much of in the other series’, I can accept that there are decent reasons for it.

      This is a special ship and crew tasked with dealing with a war the Federation isn’t certain it can win. Being something of a Black Ops ship, it’s reasonable for so much of it to be different from what we’ve seen.

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      1. They should have left the Klingons alone and created a new species like they promised in the teaser trailers.

  14. The movie reboots bothered me FAR more than the changes in theme on Discovery.

    For me to enjoy those movies, I had to NOT think of it as Star Trek. To me, it’s unforgivable to change whole personalities and skillsets of canon characters. None of the crew in the rebooted movies had any resemblance at all to TOS. I hated that.

    I also hated, hated, hated that Abrams had to destroy Enterprise in every dang movie. One of the overriding themes of TOS was that the crew could always count on Enterprise to get them home. In the rebooted movies, you have to wonder why any crew member would dare even serve on Enterprise. It’s a cursed ship. It’s the Titanic stuck on Groundhog Day.

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  15. –> They should have left the Klingons alone and created a new species like they promised in the teaser trailers.

    Yeah, that would have been better. But I’d have been okay with seeing how the Federation dealt with Klingons prior to TOS. If only the producers had done a decent job on them.

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  16. I agree about Captain Georgiou. I thought she was great as a captain and I really enjoyed her relationship and interactions with Michael. It was such a shame they killed her off. She would have been a great addition to the show.

    Reply

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