September 24, 2017

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Star Trek: Discovery”


STAR TREK:  DISCOVERY – Episodes available each Sunday at CBS All Access – In the Quene

There are quite a few perils to reaching a judgment about the new STAR TREK: DISCOVERY based on its opening hour, the only episode that will air on the CBS broadcast network before the series begins streaming (1 episode per Sunday) on CBS’s All Access service.  The project went through a tortuous development process, which is reflected in its opening credits:  the team of Bryan Fuller & Alex Kurtzman is listed as creators of the series (and writers of the story for the series pilot), even though both have now left the show; Fuller and Executive Producer Akiva Goldsman (writing separately) receive credit as co-writers of the pilot script; and the actual series showrunners, Gretchen J. Berg and Aaron Harberts, are credited only as Executive Producers.

Add to that the fact that by all accounts, the first hour (and also the second, available now via streaming) is more of a preface to the main storyline than a real initial chapter, one that doesn’t introduce several of the regular characters, nor even the starship after which the series is named.  Those who have seen later episodes also note that not unusually, the spectacular production values of the pilot are toned down in a big way once the series itself gets going.

Also, I confess that I’m not personally a Star Trek devotee.  I have nothing against the franchise, but my knowledge of it comes mostly from the movies, so I’m incapable of entering into a debate about, say, the relative merits of Voyager versus Deep Space Nine, and no doubt there were references in Discovery hearkening back to Star Trek canon that were lost on me.

With all those caveats, it’s perhaps unsurprising that my reaction to Discovery was inconclusive.  (Although to be clear, it’s a hell of a lot better than The Orville, Seth MacFarlane’s appropriation of Star Trek in all but name with the addition of crummy jokes.)  One apparent strength should continue even with the new management and plotline:  as Michael Burnham, Sonequa Martin-Smith is everything one would want in a Star Trek lead, charismatic and with the right mixture of analytic intelligence and impulsive need for action.  She’s a First Officer in the pilot to Michelle Yeoh’s Captain Georgiou, and the latter is billed as a Special Guest Star, which is probably a tip-off to where the plot is going.  Martin-Green seems more than capable of keeping control over an ungainly series.

As noted, the physical elements of the opening hour are exceptional, beautifully shot by director David Semel and cinematographer Guillermo Navarro (the latter was behind the camera on Pan’s Labyrinth, among others), and filled with wall-to-wall CG and prosthetics.  Whether those will continue to be assets on the lower-budget episodes is questionable.  The writers steered the pilot to the most familiar parts of the Star Trek mythology, even to me, which is to say evil Klingons and imperturbable Vulcans (in flashbacks, we learn that the orphaned Burnham was raised by the Vulcan Sarek, AKA Dad of Spock).  The heartbeats of fans may quicken at the scenes of Klingons barking at each other in subtitled disputes, but for me they were a familiar kind of glowering villain.

The dialogue throughout–whoever actually wrote it–is flat in a way that isn’t unusual for the incarnations of Star Trek, with lots of Starfleet policy invoked and debated, and much sci-fi engineering jargon.  Apart from Martin-Green and Yeoh, the only featured performer was Doug Jones (another Pan’s Labyrinth veteran) as Saru, the ship’s non-human science officer and a much more cautious advisor than Burnham.

Truth be told, for a non fanboy, the most fascinating thing about Star Trek: Discovery is the size of the bet CBS is making on it.  While the broadcast network launches seemingly routine hours like Seal Team and Wisdom of the Crowd, CBS has put its most high-profile (and almost certainly most expensive) new show onto its streaming platform, because that’s how important it is for the company to succeed in that business.  Since streaming numbers are almost never released, the only way we’ll really know how big a hit Discovery is will be by its renewals.  But it’s certainly going boldly where no broadcast network has gone before.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."