Just a couple of days after our first look at The Orville, Seth MacFarlane’s upcoming Star Trek parody sitcom, we’ve gotten a response from the genuine article. After a series of production delays and internal changes — including the worrisome loss of Pushing Daisies creator Bryan Fuller as showrunner — CBS debuted the trailer yesterday for Star Trek: Discovery, the first new Trek series to hit the airwaves since the early ’00s yawn-fest Enterprise. And it looks… well, it’s a bit of a mixed bag.
First, the good: the casting on this show is spot-on. It’s great to see two badass women of colour in lead roles — Sonequa Martin-Green earned her genre stripes as Sasha on The Walking Dead, and I’ve been willing to follow Michelle Yeoh into battle since at least her turn in Police Story 3: Super Cop. The choice to set the show in what appears to be the rebooted J.J. Abrams-verse was a wise move too, both in terms of making it recognizable for casual fans and the relative narrative freedom it provides.
But using the Abrams movies as a template is also where Discovery runs into trouble. From a visual standpoint, hewing so closely to the look of the blockbusters only serves to make the show feel like a low-budget fan production. You can toss in all the lens flares and twisting camera angles you want, but they won’t do much to cover up the B-grade CGI you’re using. And story-wise, it’s even more problematic: the trailer is full of pulse-raising action, and it attempts to set Martin-Green’s character up as a central hero with a complicated past, à la Kirk and Spock in the 2009 movie. But that points to a fundamental misunderstanding of what makes a great Star Trek show.
Unlike in the movies, Star Trek on television was never about the battles — which mostly consisted of laughable, set-shaking reaction shots — and it certainly was never about the personal development of one or two main characters. At its best, ironically enough, Star Trek is about, well, discovery. It’s about the crew, in its plurality, coming together to face the Issue of the Week, be it philosophical, moral, scientific, or political. (Anything happen in politics lately that Discovery could allegorize, tho? *thinking face emoji*) I mean, it’s right there in the title sequence: the mission is to explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, and boldly go where no one has gone before — not to go lukewarmly into the troubled protagonist waters so many prestige (and prestige-aping) dramas have ventured of late.
But, hey, this was just one trailer, and I’m just speculating and overanalyzing here (which, frankly, is what Trek fans do best). There’s enough good stuff in those two minutes to keep me cautiously optimistic — as if I wasn’t going to tune in this fall either way. Plus, I hear Discovery is mainly shooting right here in Toronto, so: if y’all are looking for a redshirt to get blown to smithereens on an away mission, you know who to call.