After half a season, ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ is worth paying for
Star Trek: Discovery launched in September to anticipation and questions, but more than that there was grumbling. After all, the show wasn’t easily accessible in the United States. In Canada, it aired on the Space channel, and in the rest of the world, it was available on Netflix. But in the US, you needed CBS All Access, a standalone subscription service, to watch the show. Predictably, there was outrage. For months leading up to the show, people (myself included) railed against CBS’s decision to sequester it in this way. But now, half a season in, one thing is crystal clear: The model might be frustrating, but the show is good enough to justify it. It’s time to accept that this is the reality of the situation and enjoy Star Trek: Discovery for what it is.
The bottom line is that Star Trek: Discovery is going to stay on CBS All Access for the foreseeable future. There were hopes that CBS would cave and put episodes on Netflix for the second season or move the show to broadcast. It’s safe to say that won’t happen. The show is a success right where it is; the network knows that Star Trek: Discovery isn’t for everyone. “Not everyone’s going to subscribe to every premium network,” according to Marc DeBevoise, the president and COO of CBS Interactive, in an interview with Engadget.
The service was originally designed for cord cutters who still wanted access to CBS and its vast library, but the vision has grown from there. All Access is being positioned as a fully premium service, rather than an add-on to broadcast. DeBevoise told Engadget, “We are looking to be the premium version of the number one broadcast network. So how do we thread the needle of delivering for a lot of people but also enabling ourselves to be viewed as the premium service? I mean, people would pay for some of those other premium networks out there.” In other words, how is this different than cord cutters who subscribe to HBO Now to watch Game of Thrones? The challenge here is launching a new streaming service, rather than relying on an existing one.
Discovery is a show that was created, developed, scripted and produced exclusively for this streaming network. And that’s evident in the way it tells its story. “It’s a more involved form of character-based storytelling,” said DeBevoise. “You can go much deeper in the characters. You can go much farther with each smaller storyline and really peel back the layers that are there.” Being able to produce the entire season at once, as streaming services do, allows for a different kind of story, which has become increasingly clear as the show progresses.
On Sunday, CBS aired the midseason finale of Star Trek: Discovery; the show will return on January 7th. Over the course of these first nine episodes, viewers have been treated to complex and intriguing characters, fresh reinventions of sci-fi tropes and a moral ambiguity that hasn’t been front and center in previous incarnations of the show. As a life-long Star Trek fan, I’m enamored and engaged with the franchise in a way I haven’t been in years.
That’s not to say the show is for everyone. There are clearly plenty of people who have valid issues with it, from continuity quibbles to the appearance of the Klingons. It’s not perfect, and I don’t think any type of media should be held to that standard. But it’s delivered incredible character development and relationships, and in an era when I’m constantly driven to distraction by the overwhelming amount of entertainment at my fingertips, it has me in a chair at 8:30 PM ET every Sunday. That’s not an easy feat, and frankly, no other show on television right now does that for me. And I’m clearly not the only person who feels that way.
In late October, CBS All Access announced that the show would be coming back for a second season, which was a surprise after only six episodes. It’s clear the service has faith in the show, but also that it’s meeting the goals that All Access has set out: The service is already halfway to its goal of four million subscribers by 2020. DeBevoise said, in unqualified terms, “[Star Trek: Discovery] is absolutely a success.”
It’s time to stop blaming Star Trek: Discovery for the way its content is being served. It’s certainly frustrating to see subscription-based services fragmenting, but the trend is going to continue, at least in the medium term. It’s time to stop derailing every conversation about the show, whether on Twitter, Facebook or comments sections, with complaints about CBS All Access. That’s not an endorsement of the model; it’s simply an acceptance of the fact that this is the reality we live in, and sometimes we aren’t going to get our content the way we want it.