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(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The Series: Star Trek: Discovery

Where You Can Stream It: CBS All Access

The Pitch: Initially set 10 years before the events of the original Star Trek series, Star Trek: Discovery offers a shot in the arm for a science fiction series that has seemingly done it all over the past 50-plus years. Heavily serialized, lavishly produced, and chock-full of terrific actors taking on potentially goofy material and giving it all they’ve got, Discovery tries to be a show for old fans as well as a jumping-on point for newbies. Despite some early growing pains, it succeeds.

Why It’s Essential Quarantine Viewing: After Star Trek: Nemesis bombed at the box office in 2002 (possibly because it’s just a very bad movie), the Star Trek franchise was in an “evolve or die” situation. The first step in that evolution was the J.J. Abrams-directed 2009 reboot film, which really does work (its sequel does not). The second step was to revitalize Trek on the small screen, and after a bumpy road that saw the exit of the first showrunner and the firing on the second, Star Trek: Discovery has finally stabilized. And despite proving continuously controversial to the core fan base, the series has made the most of its impossible situation: it’s a thoroughly modern TV show that works overtime to adhere to what makes the more important tenets of Trek resonate.

I don’t blame any old school Trek fan who doesn’t like Discovery. It abandons the adventure-of-the-week format of previous shows to embrace full-on serialization. It’s often grim, taking advantage of its TV-MA rating. Much of the cast are not paragons of virtue. It’s more Deep Space Nine than The Next Generation, interested in exploring the difficulties of defending and maintaining an idealized sci-fi utopia rather than providing shining examples of that utopia. It is, quite literally, not the Star Trek us longtime fans grew up and grew older with.

And that’s okay. Certain seasons of Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise showcased what a franchise facing stagnation can feel like. I’d rather embrace a Trek show that is swinging for the fences than one that is playing to its base with a revolving door of greatest hits. Discovery feels wild and sometimes dangerous, like a roller coaster whose owners don’t always check to make sure the track is sound. The series ultimately and always comes down on the side of original Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s better angels, but it’s sometimes a long road, with the serialized storytelling refusing to hold your hand and remind you that the crew members on board the starship Discovery will ultimately do the right thing and fight for a better future, where sentient beings of all kinds will be respected and where peace is king, even during a devastating war.

Season 1 is messy, tossing us into the grinder of a brutal Federation/Klingon war and spinning its wheels a bit too often (there are about 12 episodes of story in 15 episodes). But the show clicks in season 2, with the arrival of season-long guest star Anson Mount as Captain Christopher Pike, a character from the original series (and the Abrams reboot films) who immediately ranks as among the best captains in all of Trek, which is no small feat. Mount’s commanding, hopeful energy refocuses the entire series, making the entire regular cast around him better. Thankfully, that positive energy carries forward into the ongoing season 3, which sees the series continue to take one major swing after another. Sometimes successfully. Sometimes not. But at least Trek is alive and kicking and trying to be something new. Franchises this old should fall into formulaic ruts and Discovery is shaking off any easy classification.

It’s a strange time to be a Star Trek fan – there has never been more of it, and fandom has never been more divided over whether any of it is good. Star Trek: Picard, Star Trek: Lower Decks, and Star Trek: Discovery all offer unique flavors, each of them set in a different era of the franchise’s timeline. The upcoming Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is giving Anson Mount’s Captain Pike his own series, which promises must-see TV. But Discovery is the flagship of the bunch and also the black sheep. It’s the new show that that had to break the mold so the larger franchise could live, the one that had to bravely fall into the deep end and learn to swim in the modern TV landscape. It’s not perfect, but few things are. And imperfect Trek is better than lazy Trek.

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