Widescreen: New 'Star Trek' tainted by CBS' app-happy sales pitch

Posted9/29/2017 6:00 AM
  • "Star Trek: Discovery" guest star Michelle Yeoh, right, poses alongside a radically redesigned Klingon character from the show at last week's premiere of the new CBS All Access series in Los Angeles.

    "Star Trek: Discovery" guest star Michelle Yeoh, right, poses alongside a radically redesigned Klingon character from the show at last week's premiere of the new CBS All Access series in Los Angeles. Associated Press

"Six bucks a month for new 'Trek'? Beam me up!"

-- Sean Stangland, Nov. 4, 2015

"CBS, you greedy sons-a-guns!"

-- Sean Stangland, Sept. 24, 2017

OK, perhaps I toned down my language a bit; this is a family newspaper, after all. But I was livid last Sunday when the premiere episode of "Star Trek: Discovery" ended on a cliffhanger, and without introducing two of its more notable stars (Jason Isaacs and Anthony Rapp) even though they were listed in the opening credits.

We've known that "Star Trek: Discovery" would be exclusive to the CBS All Access subscription streaming app since it was first announced almost two years ago. We've known that the first episode would air "free" on CBS to entice subscribers. What I didn't know is how angered I'd be by the show's marketing.

But first, let's address the show itself: "Discovery" takes place a decade before James T. Kirk meets Spock in the 23rd century, but looks light years beyond the 24th-century adventures of Capt. Picard. The premiere episode has a big-screen sheen thanks to "Pan's Labyrinth" cinematographer Guillermo Navarro. The cast is excellent, starting with "Walking Dead" castoff Sonequa Martin-Green as Cmdr. Michael Burnham. The serious tone is more in line with "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" than with any other incarnation.

So this sixth live-action "Trek" series, helmed by a long list of executive producers including Alex Kurtzman ("Fringe") and Akiva Goldsman ("The Dark Tower"), feels more like a franchise reboot than J.J. Abrams' 2009 film -- especially when it comes to the Klingons, the classic "Trek" baddies who are given a total makeover here. Their makeup is so heavy that the actors underneath struggle to speak and emote. Their costuming is ornate and insectoid.

"Discovery" clearly wants to stand apart from its ancestors while also honoring the "Trek" legacy of thoughtful, diverse sci-fi, and I'd love to watch all 15 episodes after the promising premiere.

But I do not want to give CBS my money.

Add the premiere's abrupt cliffhanger ending to the parade of ads for the app, and you get one of the more brazen cash-grabs in recent memory. CBS' Twitter account promised two "back-to-back" episodes on Sunday, but failed to mention we'd have to sign up for a streaming service to see the second one. The basic subscription to CBS All Access costs $5.99 a month and comes with one week free. For that price, you have to endure commercials -- some Twitter users Sunday were reporting as many as 10 ads in one break. For $9.99 a month, you can upgrade to the "Commercial Free" subscription, which is actually a misnomer: "Live TV includes commercials and select shows have promotional interruptions," the signup page says.

"Discovery" is not the only show on CBS All Access -- you also get the entire CBS lineup, every "Star Trek" series and old favorites like "The Twilight Zone" and "The Brady Bunch." But many of these programs are readily available through other means, starting with free TV of course, but also Netflix.

No, $10 a month doesn't sound like a lot of money. But when you add it to cable, internet, cell service, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Seeso ... where does it end?

I'm waiting it out. I want to see if CBS All Access is a success, or if "Star Trek: Discovery" winds up airing in full on CBS next summer. Can I afford the 10 bucks? Probably. But for now, "The Orville," the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" clone from Seth MacFarlane and Fox, will get the job done.

• Sean Stangland is a Daily Herald multiplatform editor who absolutely loves Bruce Broughton's opening title theme for "The Orville." Follow him on Twitter at @SeanStanglandDH.

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