I Just Finished – Star Trek Discovery (Episode 1)

“Shoot big now!”

Okay, that really doesn’t mean anything, other than it was my family’s reaction to the first hour (read: first 40 minutes) of the new Star Trek series. I mean, really, CBS, 40 minutes? You’re asking people to pay to watch this show, and you can’t give its fans a full hour? Maybe they’re afraid its fans wouldn’t have the patience to sit for 60 whole minutes? The pacing of the show is so lightning-quick, one wonders.

Which leads me to a special request: can anybody quantify for me, or point me to good, scholarly piece which does quantify, how TV scripting works differently now than it did when Star Trek was first on the air in 1966? I know it does work differently. Scenes are shorter, pacing is faster, there’s more action, and, of course, no story is ever resolved in a single episode. But I’d like to see and down-and-dirty discussion of what all the changes are, and how and when they happened.

Back to “Shoot big now!” Commander Burnham’s gung ho desire to shoot the Klingons first (and of course she’s right!) did seem a bit comical. I was expecting Bugs and Daffy to show up: “Shoot him now, shoot him now!” So I guess that’s how we decided that that should be the tagline for the new series.

I did not hate it. It has a good cast. I find Burnham a better lead than, say, Janeway or Sisko, and I was never much of an Archer fan. My wife, Renee, was the first in our house to say what others are saying: that the series creators were trying to invent a character who was both Kirk and Spock. Problem is, most Trek creators haven’t understood who James T. Kirk is since The Search for Spock came out. Since then, even with gifted writers like Harve Bennett and Nick Meyer working on him, he’s been a thrill-seeking buffoon. James T. Kirk, in his own words, was largely a serious guy. (“Serious? I don’t mind telling you, Bones, I was positively grim!” Quoted from memory. If I got a word or two wrong, please just chill.)

So I think most writers today aren’t equipped to write Kirk, much less a character who’s half him, half someone very different. Burnham’s wild hunches and impulsive, mutinous actions, therefore, come way out of left field.

Putting character aside and talking tone, it’s no more action-driven than your average Marvel movie, or JJ-Trek, which I overall enjoy. But I still find myself asking, “Which new worlds were discovered? What new life and new civilizations were shown to us in ways that opened our minds and made us embrace difference? Who went where no one has gone before, and where was that?” The epitome of Trek is the 1967 episode, “The Devil in the Dark.” If you want to understand Star Trek, watch that episode.

Strange new worlds? Check
New life and new civilizations? Check
Boldly going where no [one] has gone before? Check
Klingons? Not a one in sight
Kirk diddling body-painted women? Nope
Forced humor? Nada
Boring? I don’t think so. In fact, it’s scary as hell.

And it’s never been topped. Discovery? Well…

Strange new worlds? Nope, unless you count Q’on’os, which is not new.
New life and new civilizations? Nope, unless you count Klingons, since now they’re just the Tea Party in Christmas lights
Boldly going where no [one] has gone before? Does into a debris field in a spacesuit count?
Klingons? Wayyyyy too many.
Kirk diddling body-painted women? No, obviously. And I missed it.
Forced humor? Okay, no, because there wasn’t much humor at all.
Boring? If I’m honest? A bit.

Still, despite what it lacked, I didn’t hate Discovery. I just didn’t love it enough to want to pay to see more. If I had loved it, I would pay. I’m not offended by CBS’s “All Access” scheme, just dubious about its potential.

I don’t need to watch Discovery. Is it Star Trek? Of course it is. It says so right in the credits. Is it MY Star Trek? Here’s what I said when commenting on that discussion on my friend Dave Galanter’s Facebook wall:

I long ago (midway through NextGen) stopped worrying about whether or not each new offering was MY Trek. MY Trek ended in 1969, and got a great cartoon and some nice reunion films. [Okay, one utterly awesome, history-making reunion film among them!] All the rest is just someone else’s Trek. Like some other culture’s holiday traditions, it can be fun and interesting. But it’s not mine, and I think it’s silly to expect it to be.

So best of luck, Discovery. I’ll be over here trying to finish watching Parenthood.

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