The premiere episode of Star Trek: Discovery just aired on CBS, and I just want to say that, for the first time in many years, there is a TV show that is true to the spirit of Star Trek, that is fun to watch, full of hopeful optimism, yet not afraid to tackle tough issues.
And that show is The Orville.
Screw Star Trek: Discovery. Screw it with one of those pentalobe screwdrivers that you have to buy to service an iPhone. (Possible spoilers.)
Now you might think I’m being too harsh. After all, I’ve only seen one episode of the new Star Trek series, and in my review of the first episode of The Orville, I was willing to reserve judgment.
Here’s the difference:
The Orville was a little bland, but gave me a hint of a future that I wanted to see explored more fully. By now, I’ve seen the first three episodes of The Orville, and that show has delivered.
Episode two, “Command Performance”, is something that would have been believable as a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, but the characters are all much less stiff than the (still much beloved) TNG characters. It’s an enjoyable hour of storytelling, with a fun jab at reality television, and hints at the unaired Star Trek pilot, “The Cage”, without straying into rip-off territory.
Episode three, “About a Girl”, addresses an uncomfortable issue that brings in cultural relativism and medical ethics. And in the end, it doesn’t cop-out with a happy compromise ending. As in the real world, when a contentious issue is decided by a court, one side is happy, and the other side must learn to live with it. So it is here.
Thus, in the space of three episodes, The Orville has demonstrated a significant range of potential, from fun to dramatic.
The one episode of Star Trek: Discovery that I’ve seen is the only one that I’m going to see, at least until it slips out of its CBS streaming service paywall and shows up on Hulu or Netflix. The show had a tall barrier to overcome: if I’m going to spend $5.99 a month on CBS All Access to watch this show, it needs to show me something I want to see.
Not that the show was all bad. The visual effects are beautiful, and obviously the best we’ve seen in a Star Trek television series. The crew of USS Shenzhou shows a diversity of ethnicity, culture, and attitudes that is faithful to the original Star Trek, and sadly lacking in the last Star Trek television series, Star Trek: Enterprise.
But the bad?
It was dull… duller even than the first episode of The Orville. Throughout the episode, the only real conflict was among the crew of USS Shenzhou. The one-sentence summary of the episode might read: the crew of USS Shenzhou encounters a mysterious Klingon artifact, and spends the entire episode arguing about what to do next. Aren’t you at the edge of your seat?
In the entire episode, the only character I enjoyed watching was the captain, who has a very Starfleet “we don’t shoot first” attitude. Yet even this was forced, because throughout the entire episode, there is never any excuse to shoot at all, and the only person arguing for such an action is her own first officer.
The first officer started out interesting: oddly emotional for someone who appears to have been raised on Vulcan (under the tutelage of Sarek no less), fearless, and opinionated. Yet all this is thrown out the window when she assaults the captain and commits an act of mutiny in order to commit an act of war against the Klingons. After that train wreck of events, I don’t care how interesting her backstory is. I hope she spends the rest of the series in the brig.
If the brash first officer is a foil to her calm, considered captain, the cowardly science officer is a foil to the first officer’s bravery. His response to everything is to run away. How this guy ended up as science officer in an exploratory fleet that probably faces six unknown things before breakfast every day is beyond me.
Nonetheless, this sets up a power trio: the diplomatic captain, the combative first officer, and the stealthy science officer. Yet this is empty because, as I said earlier, absolutely nothing actually happens in the episode. The crew is unable to scan the Klingons, and never establishes communications, so there is not enough information to make the should-we-fight vs. should-we-run hand-wringing meaningful.
Nor can any of the other characters shed any more light on this dilemma, because the three characters I mention are the only ones we meet in the entire episode. Ok, sure, there’s Apparently Robotic Helmsman, Alien Navigator, and Background Bridge Officers One and Two, not to mention Doctor White Uniform, but none of them add to the discussion because… well, even though all the other modern shows featured an ensemble cast of characters who could each bring something to the story, in the first episode of Star Trek: Discovery, my brief descriptions are all we learn about any of those characters.
Nor do we learn anything about the Klingons, other than vague platitudes about reuniting the empire, and Kahless, and other stereotypical Klingon stuff. Maybe if the Klingons talked faster, we could’ve had a chance to learn something new and interesting.
So we have a show with cool effects, but no story, no compelling villain, and only three major characters — two of whom prove to be rather unlikeable.
Sorry, CBS. If it aired on network TV, I’d give it a chance. But a $5.99 monthly subscription means that I would have to give up one fast-food lunch per month, and frankly, I saw nothing in the one freebie episode that makes me want to watch any more of this show.