TV Review: Star Trek Discovery

EPISODE 1: "The Vulcan Hello"

SYNOPSIS: Set roughly ten years before the events of Star Trek: The Original Series, the show sees the Klingon T'Kuvma look to unite the 24 great Klingon houses, leading to a cold war between his race and the United Federation of Planets that involves the crew of the USS Discovery.

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REVIEW: Star Trek Discovery is the series that CBS plans to anchor their new paid streaming service as well as the medium to revitalize Gene Roddenberry's optimistic science fiction franchise for the small screen. When Bryan Fuller was at the helm, I was incredibly invested and excited to see what the man behind Pushing Daisies and Hannibal could do to differentiate Discovery from the five series that preceded it. J.J. Abrams had already rebooted the original characters on the big screen, so what could be done by examining a chapter before Kirk and Spock? Tonight saw the premiere of the first episode of Discovery on CBS during primetime and needed to make the case for paying a monthly fee to watch the rest of the first season of the show. My review will answer both the question of how is Discovery and whether or not it is worth your money on yet another streaming service that doesn't offer anything aside from CBS programming.

Believe it or not, Star Trek Discovery lives up to the promise of being unlike any Trek series or film that has come before it. Whereas every film and TV show to bear the Trek name has been hopeful and inclusive, the first episode of Discovery somehow feels xenophobic and depressed. The debut hour of the show plods along lifelessly from scene to scene and somehow looks cheaper than any other Trek series since the 1966 original. Even FOX's homage to Star Trek, The Orville, feels better produced than Discovery does. Set ten years prior to the adventures of the USS Enterprise, Discovery looks nothing like anything we have ever seen on Trek. For a franchise that has done a damn fine job of maintaining continuity between their shows and films, the drastic change in technology, uniforms, and alien design is not lost on anyone who has even a cursory knowledge of Trek lore. Discovery feels incomplete and rushed, an ironic result considering how much this series was pushed and delayed after being announced years ago.

I will give the series kudos for trying something different with Trek. By telling a serialized story, Discovery has a different cadence and style from it's predecessors. But, when launching a show like this, you need to anchor the viewer to what is going on. Opening with a disconnected glimpse of the newly designed Klingons preparing to reveal themselves to the Federation after a hundred years in hiding, the show quickly jumps to the scenes shown in the first trailers for the series with Michelle Yeoh and Sonequa Martin-Green on a desert planet. They talk and walk and for a while it seems like they are going to reveal something significant, but instead it is all a poorly scripted ploy to show the USS Shenzou descend into the alien atmosphere and pull back to show the two officers footprints made the shape of the Starfleet insignia. It is groan-worthy and forced and doesn't really feel genuine in the least. That may be the other big issue with this first episode:none of the characters feel like more than caricatures. Doug Jones' alien character serves as comic relief but never seems to really be enjoying the jokes. Martin-Green's character, Michael Burnham, is meant to be our entry into this show but may be the most unlikeable lead character from any Trek property.

The moment I knew this show was in trouble was when the decision is made to investigate a mysterious and potentially dangerous alien object by taking a spacewalk. Michael Burnham volunteers for the extremely dangerous mission which she acknowledges it entirely unnecessary. With less than 20 minutes before the radiation from the nearby star kills her, the spacewalk was perfectly poised to be a dramatic sequence. Instead, an ensign gives a goofy pre-flight announcement like a standard airline pilot followed by a full countdown from 10 before the launch. The flyby then results in a confrontation where Michael kills a Klingon in an exosuit on the mysterious craft and we learn that not only was she raised by Spock's father, Sarek, on Vulcan, but was sent there after her family was killed by Klingons. Setting up Burnham to be wary and hateful towards Klingons may have seemed like a daring plot direction but instead just fuels a very anti-Trek doctrine for the rest of the episode. We also have no logical explanation as to how Burnham survived being out in the radiation well past the 20 minute mark that was announced as a drop deadline, literally.

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By the end of the first hour, I really had no idea what was going on. The hour closed with Burnham being locked up in the brig, a fleet of Klingon ships arriving to face off with the USS Shenzou, and not a single mention of the USS Discovery. What we do manage to get is a lot of shots of outer space and more lens flares than JJ Abrams featured in either of his STAR TREK feature films. There is alot of Michelle Yeoh talking like Yoda and restating all of her officers in slightly different words than they used. We also get some of the worst CGI I have seen on a Trek series. Revisiting any of the prior Trek shows, even the lackluster Enterprise, and you will find much more convincingly executed special effects shots. For all of the money supposedly poured into Star Trek Discovery, it doesn't show in the acting or the direction.

As a lifelong Star Trek fan, I am interested to see where this show will go from here. It may be unfair to judge a series on the pilot alone,  but if a show doesn't grab you with the first episode, it is usually not worth investing a whole season. If the show were airing on CBS, I would DVR it and tune in weekly to stay up to date. But, Star Trek Discovery does not offer nearly enough incentive to make paying for CBS All Access. As someone who has forgiven the Star Trek canon for everything from NEMESIS to THE FINAL FRONTIER, I cannot excuse what I saw in this first episode. I encourage all of you to check out the first episode while it is being offered for free but I cannot endorse anyone shelling out dollar one to see where the story goes from here.

NEXT ON STAR TREK DISCOVERY: The rest of the debut season of Star Trek Discovery will be available for streaming on CBS All Access with episodes premiering weekly.

Source: JoBlo.com



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