Below are musings I wrote in August 2016 about the latest (at that time) on Star Trek: Discovery, which is set to premiere sometime in 2017, unless it's delayed again. Older comments can also be seen on this article from November 2015 when the series was first announced.
The show is being run by Bryan Fuller, of Hannibal and Pushing Daisies fame. Also on board are high-profile Trek veterans Nicholas Meyer, Joe Menosky, and others.
This is, obviously, great news. While I have not seen Hannibal or Fuller's other shows, I am aware of them and their ambitious creative visions. I'm glad that a showrunner was selected who has both previous experience with Star Trek and also has been distinguished creatively in the auteur vein in the ensuing years since his Trek tenure. That's probably exactly what this franchise needs — a balance between Trek knowledge/experience and creative visions that are more individually driven. Bringing on Meyer as a consultant will hopefully ground the series in the sort of humanity seen in The Wrath of Khan while also being allegorically relevant like The Undiscovered Country. And, of course, Menosky strikes me as a writer that knows the Trek universe but also has his own individually unique ideas. So this looks like a promising team of Trek-specific writers.
This will air on CBS All Access. Will that be a viable home for a Star Trek series?
That's the multi-million-dollar question. CBS All Access is a streaming service that currently offers the library of CBS content on demand, as well as live CBS programming. I have no idea how successful it is and have done no research to that point. It's definitely a gamble putting the new Trek series there, but if you're committed to putting your streaming service on the map, you need high-profile original content that isn't offered anywhere else, and putting something there with a built-in fanbase probably makes more sense than debuting something unknown. At the very least, they are going to pick up a not-insignificant portion of the core fanbase. This is CBS's gambit, and who knows if it will be successful enough to make this more than a single-season experiment. The Netflix model is so unique (and murky, given that they never disclose how many people actually watch their ever-expanding myriad of shows) that I don't know that it can be replicated. Maybe this is more like the Hulu model.
As a viewer, I'd probably prefer just to see this show on CBS in the first place. I honestly don't care if CBS All Access as a concept is successful apart from it being the home to the new Trek. This effort might be smart for CBS, but that remains to be seen. To my own viewing habits, I have no desire to watch this show on a phone or tablet, so I don't care about the on-the-go convenience of a streaming service that has only one show I'll probably ever watch. I want to watch this on my 55-inch screen in my living room with my wife, so the key point for me will be a quality HD viewing experience with ease-of-use for streaming it to my large screen. CBS All Access is available on Chromecast, Roku, FireTV, and others, so that should make it reasonably easy, albeit not as easy as getting it through my cable set-top box. And if I'm paying a subscription fee for it, I would hope there would be no in-program ads, but from what I gather that's not likely to be the case, which is unfortunate.
The new series will be set in the prime universe, not the reboot universe, and will take place about 10 years before the TOS five-year mission.
I like the decision to go back to the prime universe. It just allows for this to feel more of a piece with what Star Trek has been for 50 years rather than an extension of the still-bareboned universe of the films or, worse, a third universe under a second reboot. I wonder how they will establish the return to the prime universe onscreen for those who don't follow such things behind the scenes. I'm guessing those people won't care, or will have heard about it already, but to canonize it, maybe it's simply a matter of casually mentioning something simple, like the continued existence of Vulcan? Star Trek 2009 had the luxury of Spock Prime giving us the exposition to establish the timeline reset. Discovery won't likely have that luxury, so it will probably be pretty straightforward.
As for the time period, I do wonder if setting the series before TOS will box the show into limitations of what it can do with the existing history, a la being a Star Trek: Enterprise prequel, as opposed to moving it later in time (to, say, the 25th century), which could've explored new avenues within the all-encompassing history of the latter-day Trek series. Then again, working within parameters doesn't mean you can't creatively do any number of new things, and one could argue that setting the show after DS9 and Voyager could actually box the series into even more limitations because of the additional documented history the show would be beholden to.
This one simply comes down to what they choose to do and how they execute it.
The show's lead character will be female, but not a captain. She'll be a lieutenant commander.
I'm guessing this means she is not commanding the ship, which presumably still has a captain, and the captain is merely not the main character. If this is the case, this could allow a fresh perspective on the typical assumptions made of Trek, where the lead is typically assumed to be the commanding officer. If we're instead seeing this from the perspective of someone in "middle management," that could be an interesting take on the lead character's point of view. And this doesn't necessarily need to represent a seismic shift. After all, the Trek series since TNG have tended to be ensemble casts with the captain being the first of many, but not the sole POV. Making the main character a non-captain need not change that by too much. That is, unless she's a lieutenant commander and in command of the ship, in which case I have no idea what this actually means.
The season will be 13 episodes long, and will highlight a continuing arc storyline.
A 13-episode limit is probably a good move, especially if the season is primarily a single arc. While the limit to 13 episodes was likely more a financial decision given the risk in putting this on CBS All Access, I think shorter seasons are simply the better (and more realistic) TV reality of today, especially for serialized shows. With as many choices people have, giving them more than 13 episodes in a season seems like a risky move for keeping people interested, and a risky move in a writing staff creatively sustaining it. Myself — I'd rather have short seasons that are of a high quality than more episodes.
I think telling a story arc is the inevitable move, and probably more interesting than the anomaly-of-the-week route. Though splitting the difference and doing both serialized and standalone episodes like Battlestar Galactica's first season could be very workable. It just all depends on execution. A show doesn't have to be completely serialized to respect the continuity that came in previous episodes. The audience just needs to know that these things matter, especially from a character standpoint. But season-long arcs are common for TV lately, and they're not without precedent in Trek. DS9's later seasons, while episodic, had a long-term arc in the background even when it wasn't explicitly doing multi-episode stories. The same goes for Enterprise's third season.
Given the audience and the delivery method — appealing to a lot of completists using an on-demand service that will make all the previous episodes easily available — a season-long arc is the logical choice. Hopefully they will write a good story that can maintain momentum through the entire season.
The story arc driving the season will be an incident in Starfleet's history that has been referenced but never fully explored. Die-hard fans "should be very happy. It's something I want to see," Fuller said.
Cool. I wonder what it will be. The speculation has already started. Good to know that it will tie back into the existing canon while telling its own story.
Fuller says sex and profanity might have a place on the show, which will probably be "slightly more graphic."
I think this is a fine line to walk, especially with Trek. Whatever is slightly more graphic or sexy or profane will need to be carefully modulated to seem natural, rather than gratuitous. I think of recent examples, Battlestar is probably a good example of getting the balance right, but that was specific to its tone and subject matter. Will being more explicit work for Trek? I'm sure it could, but like all things, it's all about the execution. Just because CBS All Access will be more permissive doesn't mean the creators need to take advantage of it. But if it appropriately fits their storytelling, then sure.
How about the Discovery starship design?
I must say I'm not a fan of the design as seen in the early Comic-Con teaser video. The proportions seem off to me. But Fuller has said the design is a work in progress and that the final design is still evolving, so we'll see where it goes. Also, as with anything new, whatever it ends up being will probably grow on me.
Will Jammer be reviewing Star Trek: Discovery?
At this point, I think the question isn't whether I will be reviewing the show, but how, when, and to what extent. I think it's fairly safe to say that I won't be able to stay away from the first new Trek series in over a decade and that I will be getting a CBS All Access subscription and watching the show weekly as it becomes available. To then not comment on it would be a pointless oversight on my part. It's probably going to be hard for me to review this show with my schedule as a parent, and probably even harder for me to do it in a timely fashion — but probably even harder still for me to not review it in some manner at all. So I'd say the chances are pretty good that you'll see my take on it.
What that will look like is the bigger question. Ideally, my reviews are going to have to get much shorter and be posted much more quickly (perhaps in the TNG review model) if I don't want my thought process to be continuously dragged into the commentary that happens in my absence. The commenting board soldiers on whether I weigh in or not, and that presents something of a challenge for me as a procrastinator. Administratively, I'm likely to have a real mess here if I don't figure out a simple way to structure the comment threads around the weekly release dates, and figure out how then my reviews fall on top of that. So I'll be thinking about that in the coming months.
As always, don't consider this a promised announcement for my plans around Discovery reviews, but merely an indication of what I'm thinking at this very moment. All things are tentative. We'll see where it goes as the premiere gets closer.