Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Pleasure and Pain of a New Star Trek Series



I am going to be blunt with you people.

Since late college, I've liked Star Trek more in theory than in practice.  The last Star Trek movie I remember enjoying on its own merits was The Undiscovered Country, and possibly First Contact.

Admittedly, my exposure to Deep Space 9 was deeply hampered by the fact it ran while I was in college in the 90's (and often cash-poor) so I had a lack of things like:  television, cable, free time and Saturday afternoons, which is when I think the show aired in Austin.  Voyager I tried on, but literally disliked everyone but Janeway - and a recent attempt to watch the series again bore that out.  An attempt to watch Enterprise was hampered by a terrible theme song, pandering cat-suited Vulcans and a fairly bland kick-off that I never got into.  But I liked Captain Archer, so, I dunno.  By the time I looped back to try and watch it ("it got good!" people told me), it was canceled.

The new movies have only occasionally even remembered that they're Star Trek, failed to go on any missions, and while I genuinely liked the most recent one, the plot was weirdly inconsequential and could easily be forgotten if they skipped to a movie where they (a) actually went space exploring and (b) didn't destroy the Enterprise again.


There have only been two episodes of the new series as of this writing.  Already I am certain they'll have left longtime Trekkers in vapors trying to resolve continuity issues, from sorting out the exact timeline to figuring out why Klingons have a totally new look (which looks like where they were headed during Into Darkness).  These are all things they have to be aware their built-in fanbase cares about, but they also have to be aware that prior attempts to make everything click for this audience led to some terribly mediocre television.  If budgets negatively impacted the ability for those prior shows to feature cool-as-hell multi-ship space battles or EVA's with rad-as-hell spacesuits, we sure did get a lot of space berber carpet and bridges lit so brightly no one could cast a shadow while people sort of raised their voices to suggest we were on the verge of intergalactic conflict.

I'll put it this way -  Star Trek: Discovery has some issues and the pilot isn't perfect (again, I point you to Voyager's pilot if you want to see space clunkiness).  It isn't the amusement park ride version of Star Trek Abrams and Lin cooked up, meant to intentionally never, ever feel geeky and with a weird level of winkiness and self-awareness to every damn thing happening to keep folks who weren't sure they wanted to be seen seeing a Star Trek movie okay with themselves.  Instead, it has the earnestness of early Trek with a flying leap at the mythology building and complex character development of The Golden Age of TV we're supposedly living through.  Plus, rad-as-hell set design, CGI, spaceship battles and whatnot.

We can still have the ideals that Starfleet is trying to live up to and not make it.  Reaching that level of enlightenment can be aspirational for our characters, generating drama and character as they struggle to stay on that target.  And it certainly helps when stories don't reach their conclusion because someone dropped some Trekkian platitudes that leave the opposition furious but gobsmacked (at least the Borg didn't care about platitudes).  In this age of television of Don Drapers and Lannisters, there's a path forward for making this work in a way that gets the audience engaged with both character and plot - and not just as comfort food.  Which is *not* what we've come to expect out of Star Trek in the past 25 years or so, but...  that's part of what I'm excited to see as a whole new crew of people comes in to deal with Star Fleet.

It's stunning how *angry* people are about the CBS All Access requirement for watching this series.  Certainly some of the commentary I've seen seems to focus on the fact that Star Trek traditionally hasn't cost anything to watch.  CBA may have banked on the fact most of the top tier shows people obsess over these days are either on premium or at least cable networks, or received via some delivery mechanism that isn't just being hurled into the atmopshere by antenna.  The problem being, CBS kinda sucks, that's most of what's on All Access, and if people liked what was on CBS, they wouldn't bother paying for better programming.

I'm genuinely concerned for Star Trek: Discovery, because the high-budget of the show (which makes it the best looking Trek ever presented on TV and rivaling the current movies)  is hinging on those premium fees they were counting on.  Now, I just canceled Showtime at the conclusion of Twin Peaks: The Return (a show I've not written about because... hell, man, I haven't got all year) - so I am known to pay for a network for a single show.  I'm not saying anyone *has* to order CBS All Access, but I'll be curious to see what happens if all the people who are saying they won't order it really don't.

I'm a bit puzzled by the lukewarm reaction to the first hour and by those who saw the second hour.  I am aware these are new characters in a familiar setting and we have to get used to them, but the blase dismissal of what was achieved here strikes me as a bit odd.  Star Trek has never looked so good, come as hard out of the gate, delivered as much from a character perspective (for a single character) through a mixture of showing and telling.  But, whatever.  Different strokes.

But, oh my god... stop pretending like the bridge on the Enterprise of the original series was a reflection of actual 23rd Century technology.  Take a deep breath and understand: that was a show made in the 1960's using plywood and lightbulbs.  They did well, they had a great floorplan for a bridge, but there's no sense in slavish devotion to the 60's-tastic take, especially when we've already seen the all-new Enterprise of the current films.  We can deal with the minor cognitive dissonance of the fact that the average automobile in 2017 looks way more hi-tech than than the bleeping and blinking lights of good ol' NCC-1701.  I also don't think it's a bright idea to force female officers into mini-skirts or pretend like the guy in the gorilla suit with a horn was how we're gonna keep doing aliens.

We'll see what happens.  I may turn on the show next episode, but I'm at least curious to see what happens, and after 30 years of following DC Comics, if there are a few continuity issues... meh.  I can roll with it.  

1 comment:

Stuart Ward said...

I like the show, a lot, and am not complaining. I think any changes we've seen so far (re: Klingons, Starfleet aesthetics) are mostly improvements. At the same time, I get the sentiment behind the continuity gripes.

For as long as I can remember, Star Trek fandom in particular has been known for, to put it kindly, attention to detail. I say this not to judge, but to sympathize. At the age of 12 or 13, I carried ragged copies of my Star Trek Concordance, Technical Manuals, Timeline and/or Encyclopedia practically everywhere I went so I could read and re-read them at any time.

If right out of the gate you're presenting a world that appears incongruous with the stated end goal, that kind of undermines the whole premise. This is why I generally think prequels are a bad idea. So I sympathize with the continuity thing. I just think the coolness of what they've presented so far outweighs it.

As to the subject of CBS All Access, I am far less sympathetic.

I don't understand people feeling they're entitled to whatever entertainment they want to consume, in the format and price they want to consume it. Nothing works that way. It's never worked that way. Entertainment is a commodity. Like anything else, the price is either worth it to you or it's not.

Sometimes a TV show or film I want to see pops up on a service to which I'm already subscribed. Sometimes not. When the latter happens, I don't understand getting mad at the producers for failing to cater their format and delivery system to my particular situation. I just wait until it's repackaged in a format or venue I *can* afford. Or skip it altogether.

For me, new feature film-quality Star Trek is worth $5.99 a month for the duration of the season. If it's not for you, that's perfectly fine. Don't pay for it. Don't watch it. Don't whine about it. Full stop.