Star Trek Discovery debuted Sunday night to generally strong reviews. The show had a troubled path to launch, with delays and showrunners bowing out. Earlier this month, CBS announced it wouldn’t allow anyone to publish reviews of the TV show before it aired. Normally when a network or studio refuses to allow critics to review a TV show or film beforehand, it’s a sign it knows its own content is awful, but it’s hoping to recoup its investment before audiences stop showing up or tuning in. Discovery is, by most accounts, a pretty good TV show, even if it succeeds in spite of itself in some places, and fuses aspects of the 2009 Star Trek reboot into a series that supposedly takes place in the original or “Prime” timeline.
Under different circumstances, I’d have been watching Sunday. I’ve been a Star Trek fan since I was a child. I was eight when Picard took command of the Enterprise-D and fell in love with the show immediately — and let me tell you, the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation isn’t easy to fall in love with. While there are some genuinely good episodes and flashes of promise, there’s also an awful lot of terrible writing and groan-worthy scenarios. Discovery, so far, seems to have avoided this trap.
There’s the really racist episode, the naked people want to kill Wesley episode, the “Hey, didn’t this one air back in 1966?” episode… and that’s just off the top of my head.
But thanks to CBS’ decision to lock Discovery behind a paywall going forward, I won’t be watching it. If you want to watch Discovery, you’ll have to pay $6 per month for a subscription with commercials or $10 per month without commercials. That might be fine, if CBS All Access carried its entire back catalog and offered additional content from other sources the way Netflix does, but it doesn’t. If you don’t watch anything on All Access except for Discovery, you’re effectively paying a minimum of $21 (plus tax) for the first eight episodes, and another $21 for the last seven (assuming CBS starts broadcasting in late January and runs through February and March). You can buy a 1080p remastered season of Star Trek: TNG for $21 on Amazon or the entire remastered series for $80.
Adding insult to injury, Star Trek Discovery is available via Netflix in every country except this one. Why? Because screw Star Trek fans, that’s why. It’s the ultimate irony–a show that imagines a post-scarcity future in which resources are available on demand and rampant laissez-faire capitalism is represented by an alien species most of the rest of the galaxy detests can’t be watched in the country that created it because CBS thinks you should have to pay it $7-$10 per month for the privilege. One wonders if they’ll accept payment in gold-pressed latinum.
“To Boldly Go” indeed. Instead of watching the first new Star Trek show in over a decade, I’m left half-hoping it fails. If it succeeds, it’ll send a message to other networks that they, too, can cash in on this bonanza and effectively charge people per-show rates with commercials, using services that offer a fraction of the content you’ll find on Amazon or Netflix. That’s one final frontier I’m not interested in exploring.