Tuesday, February 27, 2018

To Brazenly Reboot... Star Trek Discovery Review (Part 1)

I finally got around to watching the full first season of Star Trek Discovery and decided to post a rambling review.  I'll start out by addressing what I expected from the show as there unfortunately is a common strawman argument/insult that comes up in discussions.  As a fan of classic Trek, I expect a new show set a few years before The Original Series (TOS) to absolutely have modern special effects and "future" technology but I also expected those asthetics to be inspired by and reminiscent of the originals.  I typically use the JJ Abrams Trek movie uniforms as an example of that.  Sadly, the most common response to a critical analysis of this recent show by fans is to instantly dub the critic a luddite who wanted the show to stay exactly the same as the 1960s version.  Also, in case it's not obvious...  *SPOILER ALERT!  CONDITION RED!*  The review contains spoilers for the first season.

The Good

The special effects are top notch and well they should be given the rumored budget of over $8 million per episode.  Simply put, they're probably the most consistent and best quality effects in technical terms that I've seen on a TV ever.  I'm particularly sensitive to needless greenscreens and there were only a few scenes in the entire season where the quality or proficiency of the special effects made me raise a Vulcan eyebrow in disappointment.  While I dislike the chosen asthetics on the show for different reasons (see The Ugly below), their implementation on the show was done very professionally.

I'm also a fan of many of the secondary supporting characters like Cadet Tilly, Captain Lorca, Doctor Culber, and Commander Saru.  They add alot of depth to the show that the main character lacks and portray the width and breadth in personality that someone in Starfleet could display.  Cadet Tilly is the wide eyed stand in for the fans who geeks out awkwardly when cool things happen.  Captain Lorca was (at least initially) a TNG Jellico style no nonsense hardball captain who is willing to occasionally skirt the rules and regulations for the greater good.  Doctor Culber is in a way the opposite to Lorca in that he represents the veteran character who likely has seen much but still espouses the caring and ideals that underpin the Federation.  Commander Saru feels like the link to the previous TNG/DS9/VOY era of exemplary Starfleet Officers leading by example despite his inner turmoil.  Unfortunately, I don't expect to see much of some of them in the next seasons (spoilers! see below).

 The Bad

First up here is the delivery service for the show in the U.S.A., CBS All Access.  Unfortunately for those of us here in the country that created Star Trek, it's being used as a ham fisted way to get people to join a streaming service with literally nothing else in terms of new unique content to offer.  I subscribe to both Amazon Prime and Netflix streaming services and have access to almost everything else that I might want to stream from the CBS library already without paying for largely the same (old) shows yet again.  On top of that, the show wasn't delivered in normal Netflix style "bingeable" season lumps but instead drip drabbed out over the course of 5 months to inflate subscription revenue.   The cherry on top is that the quality of the app on my xbox was absolutely horrible.  Out of the dozen discrete times I watched the show, only once did the app actually work on the first attempt.  Almost every time, I had the initial video missing (while the audio played) necessitating a restart which led to a crash and another restart where hopefully it would finally work.  One time, it took almost 10 attempts/crashes and 15+ minutes to actually get any video signal.  Once it worked, it then worked for the rest of the viewing session though but the initial stat up was very frustrating.  And, no, it wasn't an issue with my internet as I was able to surf the web looking for advice while it was screwing up and the xbox itself had been online and working with other apps/games both just prior.

Next up is the story line.  I expected a darker tone in the new show in this post BSG reboot era of scifi television but what I didn't expect was the shoehorning in of a mutiny and subsequent war with the most contrived ending after the writers realized their mistake.  The show gave us no time to get to know or appreciate the characters before mutilating, killing, and ruining their lives supposedly before convientently reversing some of that by the end with no real reprecussions.  The main character directly caused the death of thousands in the hours after her mutiny and then likely millions to billions in the subsequent year and a half of galactic war with the Klingons in which the Federation took heavy losses.... and yet all was forgiven by the end with her good name and rank restored along with a rousing speech and medal on her chest for deus ex machina'ing the end of the war that she started.  Michael Burnham is ironically the main character in a mainstream Star Trek series but feels like she is lifted right out of bad 1970's fanfiction.  There has always been an element of lack of reprecussions in Star Trek for the main character(s) but starting a galactic war and getting a 6 month sentence takes that leeway orders of magnitude further.  Simply put, I think the show would have been better without Michael Burnham and had instead focused on the supporting cast I mentioned above.

I was quite disappointed with the fate of two of my favorite characters, Captain Lorca and Doctor Culber.  The captain went from a nuanced portrayal of a hardnosed but loyal officer to a moustache twirling villain and allegory for modern US politics.  Doctor Culber was simply wasted as a needless death midway through the season.  In the meantime, the unlikeable main character portrayed by an actress who seems to be phoning in the performance despite displaying obvious talent in a supporting role in the Walking Dead is given a tons of screen time and a free plot pass for crimes against the galaxy while better characters are either misused or tossed to the wayside.

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