'Star Trek: Discovery' Is A Refreshing Triumph The new CBS series has eye-popping special effects and a classic Trek adventure story that has been updated for today's sci-fi audience.
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'Star Trek: Discovery' Is A Refreshing Triumph

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'Star Trek: Discovery' Is A Refreshing Triumph

Review

Television

'Star Trek: Discovery' Is A Refreshing Triumph

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The first new original "Star Trek" TV show in a dozen years debuted on CBS last night - "Star Trek: Discovery." NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says the show goes where no "Trek" show has gone before. It's a prequel to the original "Star Trek" series which also moves the saga forward.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Space may not be the final frontier for "Star Trek: Discovery." Instead, this show's most challenging frontier is the skepticism of all us nerds who couldn't wait to see a new "Trek" series but also feared how badly producers might mess the whole thing up. I'm happy to say, after watching the first two episodes on CBS's streaming service All Access, "Star Trek: Discovery" is a triumph. It's a series that connects to the traditions of "Trek" while blazing a brand new story that refreshes a 50-year-old TV franchise. It starts with the character Michael Burnham played by Sonequa Martin-Green.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "STAR TREK: DISCOVERY")

SONEQUA MARTIN-GREEN: (As Michael Burnham) First officer's log starting 12:07.3 - on Earth, it's May 11, 2256, a Sunday.

DEGGANS: Burnham serves as First Officer on the USS Shenzhou. It's about 10 years before the time of Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock from the original "Star Trek." Her captain, Philippa Georgiou, is played by Hong Kong action star Michelle Yeoh. The first scene between the two is on a desert planet. It's a little stilted, but it makes history. We see an Asian captain and black first officer, both female, leading a "Trek" TV show for the first time.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "STAR TREK: DISCOVERY")

MICHELLE YEOH: (As Philippa Georgiou) What will you do if you were stuck here for 89 years?

MARTIN-GREEN: (As Michael Burnham) As a xenoanthropologist, I could reveal myself to the natives. And you, Captain - what will you do if we're trapped here for 89 years?

YEOH: (As Philippa Georgiou) That's easy. I'd escape.

DEGGANS: And they do. Though the episode starts too slowly, momentum builds steadily and inexorably. The Shenzhou is confronted by a mysterious ship from the warrior race the Klingons. Burnham insists to an admiral that they will attack.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "STAR TREK: DISCOVERY")

MARTIN-GREEN: (As Michael Burnham) They're relentlessly hostile, Sir. It's in their nature.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As admiral) We've had only fleeting run-ins with them for a century, and now you presume to know their motivation. Considering your background, I would think you the last person to make assumptions based on race.

MARTIN-GREEN: (As Michael Burnham) With respect, it would be unwise to confuse race and culture.

DEGGANS: This is a "Trek" that's aware of the history that it's making diversity-wise, though it was odd as a black man to see the bad guy T'Kuvma and many of his followers were the darkest-colored Klingons we've seen yet, as if darkening their complexion makes them more menacing. There's also a nod to contemporary issues. T'Kuvma is a charismatic populist, uniting the Klingons by manufacturing a threat from an outside culture - make Klingons great again.

Burnham is a human who has some history with Klingons. Her parents were killed by them, and she was adopted by Spock's father, Sarek, a Vulcan. Starfleet officials were skeptical when Burnham suggests shooting at the Klingons first. She says that's how Vulcans won the Klingons' respect.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "STAR TREK: DISCOVERY")

MARTIN-GREEN: (As Michael Burnham) They said hello in a language the Klingons understood. Violence brought respect. Respect brought peace. Captain, we have to give the Klingons a Vulcan hello.

YEOH: (As Philippa Georgiou) Starfleet doesn't fire first. That's our number one.

DEGGANS: Burnham eventually clashes with her captain in a way that turns her into an outcast - new territory for "Star Trek." CBS broadcast "Discovery's" first episode, but to see the rest of the series, you have to subscribe to its streaming service CBS All Access, which is a shame because the first two episodes are really one story ending with tragic twists that define the series. Alone, the first episode doesn't have the same impact.

"Discovery" has eye-popping effects and a contemporary feel, showing a "Trek" universe where complex characters are still fighting to build the federation that "Trek" fans have known and loved for 50 years - mission accomplished, at least so far. I'm Eric Deggans.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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