TV review: Star Trek returns to small screen with new series, ‘Discovery’

After an absence of more than a decade, Star Trek is returning to the small screen…well, sort of. Although CBS has launched a new series in the long-running science fiction franchise — titled “Star Trek: Discovery” — the series is only available on the network’s new streaming service, CBS All Access.

CBS is offering a free trial period to entice fans to its new service, and I took advantage of this to watch the first three episodes of “Discovery.” I definitely have opinions about how CBS has decided to market and release this show, but first let’s take a look at the show itself.

Also, full-disclosure — while I am a proud Star Trek fan, I am actually more familiar with the movies than the TV shows. The 2009 reboot film was my first real entry point into the franchise, the moment when Star Trek really connected with me. Since then I’ve gone back and watched a number of the Original Series episodes and the movies featuring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and the rest of the original cast. I’ve seen a handful of episodes from the other Trek series and would like to watch more, and I’m a bit ashamed I haven’t gotten to them yet. The Original Series characters remain my favorites, at least from what I’ve seen.

To me, “Discovery” feels like a blend of the past TV shows and the new Kelvin timeline movies. The special effects and cinematography are slick and quite good for a TV budget — I’d say nearly film quality. The show runners made the interesting decision to set the show back in time, before the Original Series (I know some fans had hoped the show would keep with Trek’s typically forward-looking theme and set this new series at a point in the future, beyond what we’ve seen before). This new series also feels more serialized, with apparently one overarching storyline this season, as opposed to the more episodic feel of some of the other series.

The main character is First Officer Michael Burnham, played by Sonequa Martin-Green. Burnham is the first human to have been educated at the Vulcan Science Academy. At first I wasn’t sure about this plot point, since it seemed like it could become a bit gimmicky, but I actually really like how the show highlights Burnham’s inner war between human emotion and Vulcan logic, yet in a different way than Spock. I hope the show continues to delve more deeply into this. Martin-Green is definitely an actress to watch, and I hope they give her character some meaty material to work with this season.

It’s difficult to talk plot without delving into major spoilers, but the events in the first three episodes involve Burnham making a costly mistake that has huge ramifications for the future of Starfleet. She becomes an outcast but might find her shot at redemption on board the mysterious U.S.S. Discovery.

The pilot felt solid but not groundbreaking, with a mix of action and discussion between characters. The Klingon redesign felt a bit “off,” at least to me. However, the story definitely got stronger in the second and third episodes. “Discovery” feels a little different than some of the Star Trek shows that have come before, but I’m intrigued enough by the new characters and the top secret mission of the U.S.S. Discovery to want to learn more. Another character that stood out to me is Saru (Doug Jones). He comes from a species that is hunted as prey on their home world, and I think it’s really interesting how his background influences his interactions with other crew members. I’m also liking what I’m seeing from Jason Isaac’s Captain Gabriel Lorca, who seems more than willing to bend a few rules.

However, I decided that I won’t be signing up for CBS All Access. I really want to support this show because it’s Star Trek; with the future of the films perhaps in limbo, I have a feeling if this series doesn’t fly, it’s going to be a long time before we get new Trek. I’d like this show to be a success, and to pave the way for another Trek series that is set in the future. Still, I don’t like the fact CBS has decided to restrict “Discovery” to their streaming service. My fear is that more and more networks will begin pulling their content off aggregate sites like Netflix and Hulu, and people will end up having to subscribe to a dozen streaming services, just to access the one show on each service that they actually want to watch. Right now I’m planning to wait until all the episodes have aired, and then either buy a one month subscription to All Access so I can binge all the episodes at once or just buy the show on DVD. I’ve heard from many fans who are planning to do the same.

So, what did you think? Have you been watching “Discovery?” How do you feel about CBS’ streaming service?

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