Copyright © 2015-2019 Michael R. Keller
archive by Andres Gleixner from the Noun Project
archive by Andres Gleixner from the Noun Project
Star Trek Canon
So much discussion of culture these days pivots on the detestable concept of nerd cred, but I'm going to dispense with that here. I won't discuss how many Trekkie gamerscore points I've earned, because people who think like that are loathsome and should go away. Even someone who has never heard of Star Trek before this show is entitled to watch and have an opinion on it. If they weren't, CBS would force you to take an online quiz proving your worthiness before allowing you to stream it. If they're willing to take your money, you have every right to speak about their product.
But I do want to say that over the years, my allegiance to the holy gospel of canon, regardless of fictional franchise, has all but disappeared. Canon is useful only in the sense of helping consumers understand the context of a piece of fiction by using already familiar related pieces of canon as a jumping off point. The canonical notions of warp drive, phasers having a stun setting, and Starfleet's mission are useful because it means that every new piece of Star Trek fiction doesn't have to re-explain those concepts.
On the flip side, canon for canon's sake is silly. James T. Kirk's birthdate may be "canon" somewhere, but if a new movie needs to change it to April 1st for a plot point, why the heck not?
All of this means I long ago stopped caring about the Star Trek "official" timeline. I don't care when the Klingons got forehead ridges or what they looked like. Neither of those points is important to helping me understand what the Klingons' motivations or methods are in the new show. So, while my time spent enjoying previous incarnations of Star Trek certainly guides how I view and interpret this show, I won't examine deviations of this show from the franchise's canon.
What I mean by that is that starting with The Next Generation, Star Trek was an ensemble story. The Original Series had two main characters, Kirk and Spock, with a third, McCoy, whose primary role was someone for the other two to bounce off of. All other named characters were set dressing with occasional throwaway storylines given to them.
The Next Generation was no longer so singularly focused on the captain of the ship. Quite often, the captain stayed on the periphery of storylines. Most of the recurring cast grew and developed significantly over the course of the series. This was helped by running for seven years, but even early episodes had the focal character shifting around. This is a formula that was more or less followed for each series since.
By halfway through the first episode, I was convinced that this show was more like the original series. It had two main characters, the captain and first officer (though in a shift the first officer was the focal point, not the captain). It had a third character, the science officer, whose purpose is to contrast against the captain and first officer in different ways. I'm not even sure any other crewmember was even mentioned by name more than once. This was interesting enough.
But at the end of the second episode the show pulled the rug out from under me. It now looks like this is a singular character study of the first officer. This is something no Trek show has done before. Even when Deep Space 9's Sisko took larger and larger chunks of screentime in the later seasons (to mostly good effect), it was still an ensemble show with characters having full storylines that didn't always intersect with Sisko. It's possible the show will pivot again after the second episode back to an ensemble story, but right now this looks like something new.
Parts of these first two episodes are told from the Klingon antagonist's point of view. At first, it was somewhat disappointing that they would so quickly go to the Klingons instead of something new. However, the show does well in establishing the presumed series villain's motivations, goals, and plan for achieving them. Their story makes sense without falling into the generic evil rage that marred the villain in the 2009 reboot movie. The only downside of these scenes is the pacing. Some great lines are dragged down by a too-slow delivery. This was probably to safeguard against viewers not being able to keep up with the subtitled dialogue while still appreciating the visuals, but it still hurt what could have been genuinely interesting villainy.
From a technology standpoint, the CBS All Access service is... meh. The streaming quality on a Monday night in primetime was good. No graphical artifacts or slowdowns. The phone app takes 5-7 seconds to load up, which I can deal with. It works perfectly with my Chromecast Ultra
What is not acceptable are the ads. I'm not talking about the top banner for shows on the service. It has actual, unrelated, ad network ads at the bottom of the screen when you open up the app. I'll remind that this is a service I am paying for. And I am specifically paying for the "No Commercials" option. And while commercials are not being inserted into the stream I am watching, the placement of a third-party ad inside their subscription app is ludicrous.
The design of the app is something very clearly made by a TV network. There's no way for me to make a to-watch list or queue. The other shows it highlights have nothing to do with what I watched. Instead, they show you other shows that THEY want you to watch. The website suffers the same problems.
To sum up: the streaming experience is fine. Everything surrounding it is hot garbage.
What drives me most crazy about this is that there is even a separate service. Now, I have no problem with additional payment. If I could add CBS All Access shows to my Netflix subscription for the same amount of money, I would jump for joy. But having to have a separate service, a separate app, a separate login, a separate... This way madness lies. If I wanted to buy a dvd online, I would go to Amazon and just buy it there, and then Amazon gives Paramount their money. I don't have to create an account on Paramount's own DVD selling website. Streaming should be the same. This isn't about cost. I'm fully willing to have to pay more to get more content. I just don't want to have to pay it to 20 different companies in 20 different places. I fear that's where we're headed with television streaming, and it's a shame.
And the craziest part of this is that people outside North America do get to watch this new Star Trek show on actual Netflix! It boggles the mind.
Given all the problems I have with CBS All Access, why did I decide to fork over a year's worth of money in advance?
Because while the service is maddening, the content is good. And the first two episodes were good enough I want to make sure the show doesn't get cancelled midway through the first season. Hopefully my watching just those two episodes and then signing up shows up as a blip on their internal decision-o-tron and keeps this show going for now.
Pirating the show wouldn't do that. VPN-ing to Netflix from a German IP address wouldn't do that. Money will do that. Toss mine on that firey pile, CBS.