Back at the turn of the Twentieth Century, before gas was four dollars a gallon and regular folks could afford their medicine; back before Dick Clark died and nobody but nerds knew who “Iron Man” was, I wrote and published comic books of my own invention and penned a column for Comic Book Resources called “Loose Cannon” where I opined about pop culture issues of the day. As was my wont then and my preference now, I would draw together seeming disparate narrative threads in a jocular if not disarming way to illustrate a deficiency or a laudable point in movies or TV, or comics. Writer Matt Fraction, a brother-in-arms then and a bigshot now, used to call my ruminations How Larry Thinks Comics Are a Broken Stoplight and I used to love that. What better a perfect description for digging deep into something that has an obvious fix? Anyway, I was reminded of that quip when sitting down to write about this week’s return-to-form of the shared hallucination that is Star Trek: Discovery.
Back when I wrote and published comics of the type of which I just reminded you, gentle audience, and referred to a paragraph ago, there were two kinds of comic books. There were the old-skool New York publishing superhero houses of Marvel and DC; your Superman and Spider-Man and your Batman and your Captain America. Then, there was everyone else. Independent houses, rogue newsstand stalwarts, your occasional Archie Me, though; I always loved the iconoclasts doing their thing. Dave Sim, Wendi and Richard Pini; Mike Freidrich and Jack Katz and Eastman and Laird. Buncha names that might not mean anything to you, but they do, to me. Those folks doing their thing inspired me to do mine, and when the chance came, I looked around at mass media and I saw that no matter your reach, no matter your available resources; no matter your intention or reception or view, there were only two philosophies that drove extraordinary content.
Ordinary online content is easy: we give you what you want. TMZ is a good example; they give you bread-and-circus. Porn is probably the purest. Do I have to explain? They give you what you want. But pop culture entertainment is a weird thing. It’s not exactly of the churn but it is not exactly in it, either.
But there were the two sets of smarty-pants: there were the folks who gave you not what you wanted, but what you needed, and the folks who gave you not what you wanted, but what they thought you wanted.
That’s Star Trek: Discovery.
Not only are they not confident enough in the story they want to tell; they’re not confident enough in their capacity to tell it. Hey, let’s do a two-episode set-up and air it on national television, and then finish it on some kind of computer app regular folks who might be interested in our show might have to jump through future hoops to enjoy. If you liked those characters we’ve asked you to buy into in the first couple episodes? Too bad; they’re all dead. Or, a version of them, I guess. After ten episodes of the new Star Trek, let’s bring in the mirror universe thing they invented for network television in 1968. No one wants new creative forty years later; they want the old familiar.
No one over thirty in your audience is going to be surprised crazy-ass Lorca is already from the mirror universe. No one over thirty in your audience is going to be surprised that Captain Michelle Yeoh is the shadowy Emperor of the Terran Empire.
The only thing the audience is going to be surprised about is how everyone in the writer’s room got their jobs when everyone who has ever watched three of the seven hundred-plus hours of Star Trek has already written more amazing stories in their heads. The remit of Discovery should have been BLOW THE SOCKS OFF instead of RETAIN THE COPYRIGHTS.