It looks like ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ will lighten up after all.
There hasn’t been a Star Trek series on TV since Star Trek: Enterprise went off the air in 2005. Over the next decade, J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek movies were all fans had to fill the void. Abrams’ big-budget Trek movies present a new take on the original series, offering an alternate timeline where the Enterprise crew always find themselves in chases, shootouts, and space battles. Although Abrams’ movies upset Trek diehards, they also spawned a new generation of fans who are only familiar with his action-heavy, super glossy Star Trek movies.
When it was announced that Star Trek was returning to television, long-time fans assumed the new show would tonally fall in line with the previous five Star Trek series, emphasizing exploration, adventure, and diplomacy. But after Star Trek: Discovery made its debut, it became clear that the show has more in common with Abrams’ films than the classic TV shows. Discovery’s first two episodes are an odd mix of flashy action sequences, odd character motivations, and a cynical tone that’s in direct opposition to the spirit of the series. Making matters worse, events on the show don’t seem to mesh with the 51-year old property’s established canon. Needless to say, fans aren’t impressed.
With the social media hordes ready to storm CBS’ gates, Discovery’s producers have stepped in to reassure their audience that everything is going according to plan. In an article over at CNET, the show’s executive producers, Alex Kurtzman and Akiva Goldsman, address fan’s major concerns, chiefly Discovery’s bleak tone. Kurtzman stated,
“You can not make Star Trek without respecting and honoring the fact that the essential vision that [Gene] Roddenberry had was an optimistic one of the future,”
Kurtzman also added,
“It’s very easy to be optimistic when everything is going well. It’s much much harder when you are compromised in many different ways. We’re saying it’s sometimes hard to hang on to your morals and ideals. But when you do, it’s personally more satisfying.”
Kurtzman’s comment that it’s very easy to be optimistic when everything is going well is the key point here. He’s telling viewers it’s too early in the series to assess Discovery’s themes and the producers aren’t oblivious to viewer’s expectations. The creative team believes there’s no drama in giving fans the version of Star Trek they’re craving right from the get-go. Over time, Discovery will grow into a closer facsimile of the Star Trek fans know an love and when it does, the change will feel more satisfying and each character’s development will feel earned.
Goldsman hammers the point home by adding,
“Ours is the origin of the feeling that is [Star Trek: The Original Series]. We don’t start there. We get there. The name of the show is Discovery not by accident.”
It’s hard to reserve judgment on Discovery after sitting through its rough pilot; at least the show’s producers are saying all the right things. Unlike movies, television plots and their character’s arcs can take years to unfold and regardless of whether shows are good or bad, we can’t properly assess them until we see how all their loose threads tie together. There’s no better example than Game of Thrones, a series that goes out of its way to wring every ounce of optimism out of our bodies. Event’s like Cersei’s walk of shame, the mutiny against Jon Snow, and the Red Wedding are as bleak as TV gets. But after years of waiting, could anything feel more satisfying than watching Walder Frey get his payback or learning the identity of Jon Snow’s mother?
Fan’s have an image of what Star Trek should be and Discovery is deviating from their expectations. A franchise can’t stay relevant for 50 plus years without reinventing itself and when a new show like Discovery steps inside a beloved universe, like Star Trek’s, there is a thin line between reinvention and mishandling. It’s not easy watching the thing we love take a new form and it’s only in hindsight that we can see if that change was for the better. Hopefully, Discovery’s rocky start serves as a launchpad for a more confident, engaging and hopeful show; a program that’s in tune with Star Trek’s look, mythology, and ideals but not a slave to them.