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Thursday, August 20, 2020

Star Trek Reviews: Streaming Trek

This is the seventh and final(?) review for all of the Star Trek shows and movies, split across several posts for each “stage” of Trek:

  1. Early Trek (TOS, TAS)
  2. TOS Trek Movies (ST MP through ST VI)
  3. ’90s Trek TV (TNG, DS9, Voyager)
  4. TNG Trek Movies (Generations through Nemesis)
  5. Enterprise
  6. Trek Reboot Movies
  7. Streaming Trek (Discovery, Picard, Trek shorts)

See the first post for an explanation of my letter-grade ranking system. The short version: C is average, something I have no strong feelings about one way or another. To avoid uncontrollable rage, please remember: Average is not Bad. It’s just average.

This post is all about Streaming Trek shows available on CBS All-Access. It does not include Star Trek: Lower Decks. I’m holding off on watching that until at least three, possibly four, episodes are available, for reasons I’ll explain when I do that review.

Star Trek: Discovery

Rating: B

I watched Discovery’s first episode when it was available as a sneak preview, as a way to lure people into subscribing to CBS’s new streaming service. It looked well-crafted visually, but there was nothing in it that made me think “Man, I want to pay money to see more of this.” It wasn’t until Picard’s preview came out that I decided I’d be willing to pay for CBS All-Access.

This now seems like a big mistake on the part of CBS, because the first two episodes really don’t include the ship or many of the regular characters we’re actually going to see and care about in the series. It would be like, if the original series were coming out today, the sneak preview was “The Menagerie”, but what you paid to get was the series as it actually aired.

The series turned out pretty good once I actually got to see it, but there two things I did not like about it:

  1. The mushroom drive. I’m sorry, but that just did not seem plausible. It broke my suspension of disbelief, and seemed a complete mismatch with the rest of Trek. They might as well have used the Infinite Improbabitity Drive instead. I was really tempted to lower my grade rating because of this, but didn’t.
  2. The mirror universe plot arc. I am not fond of the mirror universe at all. It was OK as a one-off in the original series, but I really disliked all the DS-9 mirror universe episodes. An extended plot arc focused on the mirror universe was not something I was hoping to get from Discovery.

The best part of Discovery was probably Captain Pike, but it’s still strong enough that I’m willing to watch future episodes.

Star Trek: Picard

Rating: B+

I watched the first episode of Picard when it was a teaser/preview. Unlike Discovery, I thought the set-up was interesting. It was the series that made me decide to get CBS All-Access, which Discovery was unable to hook me into.

Picard has a strong multi-episode arc throughout its first season. You may have noticed by now that I tend to like those kind of Trek shows less than ones that are more episodic, with only an occasional short arc. Still, I like Picard a lot, certainly more than TNG or the TNG movies. I also liked that the appearances of Riker, Troi, and Data didn’t feel like fan service but actually helped complete their stories. And Seven of Nine’s treatment may seem harsh, but on further thought does fit as a possible evolution of her story after her return to the Alpha quadrant.

Some of the new characters felt a little weaker. I was less concerned about what happened to them or finding out more of their story. Honestly, I was more interested in Picard’s Romulan house servants. What was going on there? Not fully explained.

My first rating for this was A-, but that was when I still ranked TOS as an A. When I lowered TOS to A-, I lowered Picard one step as well to B+. It’s still just below TOS, but better than TNG, and I like it even better than DS9 or Voyager.

Short Treks

Rating: varies, but generally C+

These short films are all between 5 and 20 minutes long. They are all technically well-done, but vary in quality. Most of them fall in the C+ category: better than average, good for at least one watch, but they are kind of trivial. I haven’t looked into the background of how they were conceived, but a lot of them feel almost like Star Trek fanfic with a big budget and access to good actors and directors.

Take for example “Q&A”, which involves Spock’s first meeting with Number One. There’s nothing really wrong with it, but did it really add anything to the story of either character? Or was it just some fan’s homage to the first Trek pilot and expressing their enjoyment of those two characters?

Another example are the two animated shorts, “The Girl Who Made the Stars” and “Ephraim and Dot”. The first one isn’t even a Star Trek story, it’s just a story framed as being told to a Star Trek character by her father. The second is just someone having fun with some ideas taken from Trek. Both are entertaining enough, but basically just filler material while people wait for actual Star Trek episodes.

I’d rate “The Trouble with Edward” and “The Escape Artist” higher, at least a B. I liked those films for themselves, rather than as Trek-flavored filler. “Children of Mars” is either a B- or B. People have told me they really like “Calypso”, but I’m kind of baffled by it, so… maybe a B-, but maybe a C+?

What’s Next?

I originally only planned seven parts for this review, thinking I’d finish everything already released, and that no new Trek would come out for at least several months. However, Star Trek: Lower Decks came out as I was finishing this series, plus I was unable to find Star Trek Beyond on anything I already have access to, unless I pay extra just for that movie. I want to take a break from Trek for at least a week or two, so I’ll save those reviews for later.

I also haven’t watched much fan-made Trek. I know I’ve seen one “episode” about another starship (Excelsior, I think?) with an Andorian officer that everyone treated as a whipping boy. I also saw a really fancy fan episode about the Guardian of Forever and something like three or four versions of the Enterprise. I saw these several years ago, so I don’t remember much. I don’t think I’ll seek out too many fan-made episodes, but I do have some RiffTrax “Just the Jokes” tracks for two episodes of Star Trek Continues, so I will probably be reviewing those.

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  1. I watched the first two episodes of Discovery, but it didn't engage me enough to keep watching. Picard was good, I enjoyed it. But it didn't really feel like Star Trek to me. It felt more like it was set in the Kelvin timeline of the Abrams movies than the same universe as TOS through Voyager (never watched Enterprise).

    1. Yep, the first two episodes of Discovery are a serious problem, because they have almost nothing to do with the main story, which is about the crew of the starship Discovery -- which you literally don't even see in those first two episodes. It's backstory, and not very exciting backstory at that.

      Picard's not in the Kelvin timeline, but it does suffer from the same lame attempt to tie the Kelvin timeline into the main timeline, thus making both timelines "canon". The Abrams movies start when Spock from the original timeline travels back after a supernova, while Picard happens in the (unaltered) timeline after Spock leaves.

    2. I understand that Picard takes place in the OG timeline, just that the show's aesthetics and tone seemed more like the Abrams movies to me than Roddenberry Trek.