For the first time in over a decade, Star Trek is on TV. The new CBS and Netflix-backed series is called Discovery—following in the Star Trek tradition of naming series after the spaceship that most of the action takes place on—and reportedly costs more than $6 million per episode to produce. Four episodes have been aired so far and the only question left to ask now is: Is it GOOD, or BAD?
In today's installment of "GOOD or BAD?" Motherboard writers Kaleigh Rogers and Jordan Pearson—both Star Trek fans and Canadians, incidentally—face off about whether Discovery merits all the money and hype.
Star Trek: Discovery is GOOD
Confession: I became a Trekkie late in life. Though I enjoyed the reruns of The Original Series on the Space network as a preteen, it wasn't until I was began dating a lifelong Trek geek that I truly got indoctrinated into the fandom. But this enabled me to develop a pure affection for the franchise, not one based on nostalgia or romanticism—I just genuinely dug it.
That's why I feel particularly qualified to judge the latest Trek offering, Star Trek: Discovery, objectively and, let me tell you, it is good.
For starters the new series feels fresh in the way that The Next Generation felt fresh when it debuted in the late 80s, to the chagrin of diehard TOS fans. It was the same future the show's creator Gene Roddenberry had envisioned, of a post-war, post-capitalism, egalitarian humanity, but it told different stories, focused on different kinds of characters, and asked different questions. TNG moved away from the more space-cowboy-focused original series and presented a world where being intergalactic anthropologists was just as exciting as lunar fight sequences. Not everyone was on board with this, and some felt it was disloyal to the original show, but the beauty of Star Trek has always been that you can be loyal to the Trek ethos without telling the same kind of stories.
Take Deep Space 9, which debuted in 1993, a year before TNG wrapped its final season. DS9 is grittier, darker than TNG. Rather than being set on a constantly voyaging starship, DS9 has a fixed stage of a space station next to a planet struggling to rebuild after decades of enemy occupation. It tells stories of conflict and chaos, with the recent history always leaking into the current sagas. But it's still Star Trek in its idealism, its humor, its adventure.
That why I'm firmly in the "GOOD" camp for Discovery. As a serial, it takes a different approach to storytelling than previous Star Trek series, but that's a good thing. It's been 16 years since we've had a new Trek series debut, so it was time to really rethink the kind of show it would be. But while Discovery is slicker, darker, and more modern, it retains the essence that makes Star Trek great. It is joyful, even in dark moments, it is experimental, and it is optimistic in spite of itself. It portrays a future where, even if an intergalactic war is breaking out, humans are brave, clever, compassionate, and don't think twice about following a woman of color as leader. It's the kind of future Roddenberry always hoped we'd be able to achieve, and it's captured in a fresh and inviting way with Discovery.
No, it's not exactly like its past counterparts, but that might be the most Trek thing about it.
- Kaleigh Rogers
Star Trek: Discovery is BAD
Here are some things that you can do with $6 million dollars, every week.
You could fund a federal government program week after week. You could feed the entire population of a small country. You could drop that kind of money out of a blimp every Sunday while blaring "Who Let the Dogs Out?" from a loudspeaker and it would still be a better use of it than producing an episode of Star Trek: Discovery.
It's all just an immense waste, basically, because Star Trek: Discovery has no discernable purpose for existing. It doesn't surprise or particularly entertain me, and I'm willing to bet it's not even doing many favours for CBS Access, the online-only content portal that CBS is essentially mortgaging Discovery to promote in the US at the cost of millions. It's a glob of inert capital on your screen, asking you to appreciate it for existing.
When Star Trek is at its best, it's smart and fun. And when it's not smart, at least it's fun. The finale to The Next Generation, for example, featured a one-off plot involving time and "anti-time" colliding to create a time-explosion that reveals to the series protagonist that he will be responsible for the end of humanity. "Anti-time" is cringey fake science (dumb) but it was also a lot of fun. Every episode should promise a novel and occasionally thought-provoking surprise.
Discovery, instead, feels like a death march through a Reddit /r/science comment section. Tardigrades? Elon Musk? It's all name-checked. Instead of reaching for new and far-out possibilities, Discovery seems to be mining web analytics in order to be "relevant." The result is a Star Trek that Fucking Loves Science but fails (so far) to tell a compelling social narrative about what life in the future can be like. Discovery seems to wallow in today's debates and controversies—anxiety about a government without oversight, for example—and it's just, like… OK?
To be clear, I would be fine with a Star Trek that is all flash and little substance, as long as it's fun. Because Star Trek should be fun! Justin Lin's recent installment of the film franchise made up for what it lacked in head-scratchers with genuine fun and excitement. Discovery just sloshes around in the mushy middle.
Discovery has some things going for it, particularly Jason Isaacs' menacing captain, and I'll probably keep watching in the hopes that it improves. But at the end of the day I just think of all the things you could spend $6 million a week on that aren't Discovery.
- Jordan Pearson
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