'Star Trek Discovery': Why So Serious?

Discovery has a tone problem which clashes with Star Trek history.

Star Trek Discovery

Discovery has a tone problem which clashes with Star Trek history.

Star Trek: Discovery marks the first Star Trek series in some time, so perhaps that would explain why the series has changed its tone so much. In the time since the last series, shows like Lost, Game of Thrones, and Breaking Bad have dominated the airwaves. Audiences crave more adult entertainment and Star Trek has gone right along and adjusted to suit those audiences.

That’s all well in good when it comes to matching the status quo, but Star Trek was never about that. It always paved the way to new exciting creatures and well discoveries, through how smart and enduring the programming always was. This led countless families to the franchise where they could get together and enjoy some space travel with the entire family in tow and not have to worry if the series was ever going to get too frightening for the young ones or too serious for grandma. At least that was the case pertaining to classic series such as TOS and TNG, this writer, unfortunately, does not have that much experience with DS9 or series thereafter.

The fact of the matter is the series always had a playful tone among all of the exploration and action. There were times when the show got serious such as the famous two-part episode in TNG, The Best of Both Worlds, but even in the darkest moment for the crew of the Enterprise, someone was there to add some brevity. Star Trek: Discovery really hasn’t had that same kind of emotional balance. At least initially it has been dark and grungy all the time, and while that might be fine for audiences in the year 2017, there is something lost in alienating family audiences. Imagine families gearing up to enjoy a brand new series with their children, but soon realizing this is not the Star Trek that they’ve grown up with, but rather something that has been morphed to suit popular culture today.

There is no questioning the quality and care put into Star Trek: Discovery. Apparently, each episode runs in the neighborhood of $10 million and the performances thus far have been uniformly great. They’ve just lost something in the transition to grab the big ratings and new subscribers. Perhaps this is mostly Star Trek flexing its muscle in a space where it doesn’t have to be confined to broadcasting restrictions, but that isn’t the Star Trek I know. Here are some examples of how the show has changed significantly from what we’ve come to know and love of Star Trek.

Exhibit A: So long captain, we hardly knew thee.

There are a lot of changes in Star Trek: Discovery for sure. We aren’t following a captain, but a mutineer. The show is also following a serialized format, so each episode is a continuation of that last. This is unlike many of the episodes of TOS and TNG because well once the catastrophe of that week ended, everyone was back to normal. For Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) her time among the stars was cut short and well she wasn’t going to be coming back the following week. She isn’t just killed from an explosion and something cute off-screen, Captain Georgiou is impaled with a Klingon weapon. Star Trek has often toyed with killing major characters, but then brought them back when it was convenient. This isn’t going to be the case here.

Exhibit B: Characters are killed off at a frenzied pace a la Game of Thrones.

Death is a constant fact of Star Trek: Discovery. Unlike classic Trek where many of the characters were telegraphed of exactly who was going to bite the bullet (the classic red shirt), Discovery treats its universe exactly how they started it, as a war zone. Forget about the countless lives and vessels that were destroyed in the Discovery two-part premiere, what about the gruesome deaths that occurred in episode three? This kind of material would never make it in classic Trek and is something that even the latest movies have often kept away from.

Exhibit C: Where no Trek has gone before, the dreaded F-Bomb.

There is little doubt that Discovery is trying to match audience expectations of a television show in the year 2017. But the show that it perhaps has the most in common with is not the previous series of Star Trek, but rather the new iteration of Battlestar Galactica. The hit science-fiction show also brought about new rules that benefited the series greatly for current times. The show often used the word Frak as curse substitute, even in its earliest incantation to get by censors.

Discovery has gone one step further and for the first time the history of Star Trek, they dropped the F-Bomb. Anthony Rapp, in an interview with Indiewire, was well aware of breaking the 51-year-old franchise’s PG-rated anti-profanity streak. Rapp who plays Lt. Paul Stamets, said that getting to echo the F-bomb initially dropped by Cadet Tilly (Mary Wiseman), was very much in the spirit of scientific discovery, of Star Trek. Let’s face it when you have a eureka moment the first thing that will come to your mind is likely the F-Bomb. The only issue here is that is not Star Trek, no matter how hard Rapp and company try to justify that it is. The series has always existed in a realm that constituted entertainment for all audiences. Star Trek is abandoning the audience that was with it for countless years, just so they can chase the current trends.

Star Trek: Discovery is a winner in both ratings and generating subscription dollars for CBS. Perhaps that is good enough because it guarantees more Star Trek since we will be getting a season two of Discovery and perhaps the suits will realize that we need another Trek movie. The big issue here is that Discovery doesn’t feel like any Trek that has come before it and in that case just how much Star Trek is it actually? With its latest iteration, Star Trek has abandoned what made it a classic television show and instead adapted new principals that just don’t feel right in Trek. Perhaps the show will eventually lighten up since previous seasons rarely reached their pinnacle in season one. It’s just shame that Discovery felt it needed to lose so much that made Trek family entertainment.

News Writer/Columnist for Film School Rejects. It’s the Pictures Co-host. Bylines Playboy, ZAM, Paste Magazine and more.