There's a lot of pressure and expectation for the upcoming Star Trek: Discovery series, just about more than any other show due to premiere this fall. It's the first official TV series in the franchise for more than ten years, and it's the first official return to the "Prime" timeline since before the release of the JJ Abrams' Star Trek reboot back in 2009.
On top of that, there's the additional burden in utilizing that original timeline, and the story elements the show is willingly taking on. These include an era not long before the Classic #StarTrek series, a number of recognizable figures from that beloved show, and the largely unexplored period of the Federation and the Klingon so starkly at odds.
Various delays and departures have only added to the fervor of a fan-base divided and frustrated over the rebooted films, and jaded by a seeming lack of respect for the franchise for its 50th anniversary.
Perhaps the most difficult challenge facing Discovery is the not-so-simple task of adapting this much-loved franchise for the 21st century. An era of television and film that already looks significantly different than it did when Star Trek was in its heyday of the 90s.
It Will Have Some Comedic Competition
While Star Trek is premiering on CBS All Access, over on Fox, Seth MacFarlane is debuting a new space opera series of his own called The Orville. Described as a dramedy, based on trailers The Orville looks to be a not-so-subtle parody explicitly of the Star Trek brand. Not unlike how the 1999 film, Galaxy Quest spoofed the original series and films.
How the two show stack up against one another could have a significant outcome on the fate of both series; if one succeeds and the other fails, it could well set the tone for forthcoming projects in the genre. Which is to say, if The Orville is a hit and Discovery is a failure, it may not bode well for the future of Star Trek.
One of the biggest difficulties in adapting Star Trek into our modern era is that of tone. Various genre outings over the last few years (not least of which include The Dark Knight, The Avengers, and Batman vs Superman) have pulled the industry one direction or another in regards to how light or how serious these kinds of movies and films are. Gritty and grim prestige films? Light-hearted fare with strong entertainment value? Overly serious considerations of character and concept?
This has been further complicated by the rebooted films, which have similarly struggled under this question. The 2009 Star Trek reboot succeeded in no small part because it was driven by sense of fun, which gave it an accessibility that allowed mainstream viewers to turn out in droves. The film was a hit, and it became the new standard for the franchise.
But many a fan would likely argue the problem of a film like the Star Trek reboot are that, while entertaining, it missed much of the heart and core that makes the franchise so beloved. This in turn further exposes many of the inherent difficulties of adapting thought-based, idea-driven science fiction for mainstream audiences in this modern era.
Can 'Star Trek: Discovery' Find The Right Tone?
There are many valid concerns to be addressed in the days leading up to Discovery’s release. These include the question of how much Bryan Fuller’s departure as showrunner will hurt the series; or if it might be borrowing too much of the flash of the rebooted films, in place of the heart and soul.
Yet at the same time, when standing alongside The Orville, it's never become more clear the value of Star Trek taking itself seriously. Because, like so many others in the genre, Star Trek is at its very best when it's considering interesting topics with an appropriate level of gravitas.
In this kind of franchise, there's certainly room for that sense of fun — but it shouldn't be a defining aspect. Rather it should be used as just one of many within the canon. Because the best of the best from Star Trek — moments and episodes and movies remembered with the most distinction — were ones based not on pure entertainment value, but effective, emotional storytelling. Moments crafted around character drama, considerations of war, the moral complexities of the universe and other such vividly drawn topics.
Because that foundation, more than anything else, is what makes Star Trek great. And claims that Star Trek needs more fun in order to succeed is the root of what's wrong with the rebooted films, which were rather notorious in prioritizing action over thought-provoking story.
If we’re lucky, both of these shows will be successful. Discovery can give us some great, serialized science fiction that television has been so desperately lacking, while The Orville can complement it with a more lightweight, goofy approach to the concept. In an industry as large as this one — with such a broad diversity of audiences and fans — there’s certainly room for the serious as well as the fun.
What do you want to see in Star Trek: Discovery? Sound off in the comments below!