Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Pilot Error

I know close to nothing about television, but it seems to me that a TV pilot is made for two reasons: 1) to sell a network on your show, or, if it's a put pilot, to show the network what the show will look and feel like, and 2) to hook as many viewers as it can from the very start.

Well, "Star Trek: Discovery" premiered this week, and as it was not only sold as a series to CBS, but was ostensibly going to be the flagship to CBS All Access (much like "Voyager" was for UPN what seems like two or three years ago, but was actually more than twenty), all it really had to do was number two.

Gosh, I was excited to watch this thing.  "Star Trek: Discovery" was so long delayed that my friend Jeff signed up for CBS All Access (their evil streaming service) in early 2016 and assured me we'd be able to see every episode that way (he did use it to watch "NCIS," though, so all was not entirely wasted).  Even though I only had to wait two days to watch it with my cousin, I was tempted a couple of times to just watch the first few minutes, just to whet my whistle.  Can't remember when I last anticipated a show that much.

Also, in the spirit of full disclosure, the gigantic, unscrupulous, no-tax-paying organization that used to own the channel the pilot aired on sold the station, so I was forced to watch it not only in Standard Definition, but in a cropped substandard definition that reminded me of how I used to watch TOS on Channel 20 adjusting rabbit-ears to try and get a clearer picture.

I really ought to sit down and watch it a second time, to fill out this review better.  But I won't.

So, there was a lot of positive in the pilot (called "The Vulcan Hello"): it looked good, must have cost a fortune, had lots of lenseflares, and was two-thirds in English.  But, as a longime Trek fan, it didn't speak to me, even less so than the Abrams movies (which were all quite enjoyable, say what you will about the scripts or treatment of the material).  And if you were a newcomer to the franchise . . . jeez, would you even be able to make heads or tails of this?

Aside from the ridiculously familiar main theme, there wasn't any moment where my heart swelled, knowing that THIS is "Star Trek:" positive, optimistic, fun Science Fiction with a lot of wonder thrown in.  Sure, there were wheelbarrows of diversity and conflict in this thing . . . but great, what else you got?

I didn't hate it, don't get me wrong.  But as the second reason stated above to make this pilot, it absolutely failed.  Not only am I not going to sign up for CBS All Access (something I considered doing once Jeff moved away, so that my cousin and I could watch it each week when we got together), but the episode, such as it was, ended on a cliffhanger, and I'm not even all that excited about watching the next one.

Part of that his due to the weirdness of the pilot's setup.  The ship and crew we are meeting here is not The U.S.S. Discovery.  It's a different ship, The Georgiu, with a different captain (though she does have a bit of noble gravitas).  It introduces TWO characters that will go on to be regulars on the rest of the series, and we don't even meet the ship or its captain in this first hour.  So why show just the first hour, why not show the introductory two hours, and let those who are hooked go on to greater adventures with the "real" ship and her valiant crew?

It's a brave, Psycho-like move to introduce a bunch of characters at the start and then kill them all off (which is what I assume happens in Part Two), but it doesn't work as an introduction to the world, characters, and series itself.  It's like one of those prequel novels you always find for big blockbuster movies now, where you can read all about where the characters came from, or how the universe got to be where it was the the movie's opening credits rolled.  And I kind of like reading those . . . but not before seeing the movie or knowing anything about it, and certainly not instead of.

Could we at least meet (and hopefully) like our new captain and starship, so we'll want to see these people again and find out where they're going?

I was actually tempted to scrap this blog post and, I don't know, go look for worms in the backyard or check to see if the internet has any gifs of Reese Witherspoon vomiting, but I'll make myself type just a little more.

It's funny how a little thing can bother you to the point where it starts to not feel like a little thing anymore.  I often use a friend of mine's dislike of SPIDER-MAN 2 due to its depiction of the isotope Tritium, but an example for me is the song "Come Dancing" by the Kinks.  It's a lovely, fun tune, with nostalgia and . . . and the following line:

"My sister should've come in at midnight,
And my mom would always sit up and wait;
It always ended up in a big row,
When my sister used to get home late."

And once I heard that line, and really heard it, I couldn't help but focus on that part, and how the inexplicable substitution of "row" for "fight" made the rhyme no longer work.  It frustrated me, then did more than that.  And today, I can't even listen to that song, even though it's such a little thing it should embarrass me to mention it on here today.  But it doesn't.

"Star Trek: Discovery" has a couple of those little things.  A lot of folks complaining online focused on the redesign of the Klingons, which seemed to take J.J. Abrams's reimagining of them in INTO DARKNESS (or the cool deleted scene in STAR TREK '09) and continued running, like Forrest Gump leaving the Touchdown line far behind.  This bugged a lot of people (and this is just one example; a lot of stuff bugged a lot of people), and though I tried to keep an open mind, I felt like a third of the episode focused on the subtitled machinations of these ugly, indistinguishable, personality-free creatures.*

The main character ( was hard to like.  It made me wonder if Spock himself could've been unlikable if he had been played by a different, less-charismatic actor.  I think he could have.  She came across as smug, impatient, brash, and a bit of an asshole.  She questioned her captain's orders in front of the crew after serving seven years under her, then physically attacks her in her ready room and lies to the crew about it?  Tom Paris did less than that on his whole run of "Voyager," and he got demoted and placed in the brig.  Obviously, we're supposed to like Burnham--she's our main character and this isn't the last season of "Breaking Bad"--but I wonder.

Okay, let me nickpick.  Her name is Michael.  Yeah, that fuggin' bothers me.  I know it's not entirely unheard-of (there was an actress on "e.r." called Michael Michele) and Bryan Fuller does it on all his shows, but dude, eff you.

And speaking of eff you, there has been a lot of talk that this new "Trek" wants nothing to do with the folks like me, that saw that borefest THE MOTION PICTURE in the theater, or were watching "Encounter At Farpoint" when it aired, or even a fan of 21th Century "Trek" before the reboot. I find that hard to believe, even having lived through the "This is not your father's Star Trek" era of the franchise.  But . . . well . . .

I did feel a little bit like the show was not for me, and that it would prefer not to have someone who knows what "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra" means watching week to week.

The uniforms were pretty ugly and GALAXY QUESTy.  But there was a scene with the ship's doctor, and his uniform kicked ass, so I'm not even going to complain there.

Dammit, I've wasted too much time on this.  The kids went out and caught worms without me, and you guessed it, no luck on the Reese Witherspoon thing.

Oh, it wasn't the worst pilot I've ever seen (I remember one a few years ago starring Vera Farmiga that I hated so much, I sorta vowed never to watch anything with her in it after that.  Hell, I even had a hard time watching "American Horror Story" at first, because Taissa Farmiga was in it).  But it should've been engaging, should have been addictive, should have been moving.  Should have been "Star Trek."

Rish Tiberius Outfield

*Oh, so there's a white one.  Guess he's the one we're supposed to notice.  Still doesn't make him palatable to look at.


spaceVulture said...

I don't have "regular TV." I am not buying CBS all access. I really want to support and like this show, because I think we could all use some of that Rodenberryesque hope in our lives right now.
Damn you CBS for not even letting me buy the series on Amazon.

Rish Outfield said...

If the half of the first episode that they showed us had been more compelling, I think I'd "seek out" the show in other, more shadowy places. It could easily become the second-most pirated show on television (after "Game of Thrones"), if people just cared a little more about it.