4 out of 5
Created by: Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman
covers season 1 and 2
While Discovery had to navigate its way through a rough first season of expectations and tone – trying to balance being a modern show (i.e. gritty; sweary) without losing the spirit of Trek; trying to find a way to justify bringing in new concepts to what was supposed to be a prequel series – it did enough to make its way to a second season, which took a lot of positive steps toward finding a good balance of season-long plotting plus episodic mirth, and not a little of that had to do with the presence of Anson Mount. Still, the thing suffered for some of its “serious” carryovers – relationship b.s.; Michael Burnham being a constant sourpuss – and never quite gets past feeling like mostly pseudo-sci-fi, when nowadays I feel like we’re internet savvy enough to be able to expect more, or, in lieu of that, some more thoughtful storytelling. But I do get it: any new Trek bears the weight of fandom, especially post- the movie rejiggers making it unclear what people do or do want to see, and so Discovery has had to fight for its identity. Season 3 was even better.
Anyway, there are talented people in front of and behind the camera on the show, and so if you strip away the need for multiple-episodic storytelling, and don’t have to worry so much about navigating through canon, or necessarily developing a character arc, you can just play around in the Star Trek world, with the Discovery toys you’ve brought along. Praise the anthology, and praise Star Trek: Short Treks.
The biggest addition here, across both mini-seasons, is humor. Even with Mount’s charm in season 2, Discovery has erred toward being somber more often than not, and the shorts allowed everyone – even Spock – to get some smiles in. This goes to point of indulgence, perhaps, if we look to the Tardigrade animated episode – a slapstick battle between the ‘grade and a robot – but the short format is the ideal place for such swings, as long as the misses don’t come too frequently. (Which they don’t.) Elsewise, that inclusion of a bit of joy makes a huge difference, and encourages the writers to be cleverer than they seem to allow on the ongoing series… although here we can probably thank writer Michael Chabon for being involved in several eps.
This isn’t to suggest that yuks are the sole success, though, as the second episode, Calypso, is as heavy as anything in the main series, but it’s written infinitely more maturely than the same-toned stone in the full-length episodes, and packs in more character development in 15 minutes than we’ve gotten across 30+ shows. Some maudlin indulgences can probably be cited here as well, but such stuff is tons more tolerable when it’s bite-sized.
Accepting that the total runtime of two seasons is only like 2 hours, it goes by a lot quicker than that if you’re watching them together, which is liable to happen, considering I willingly rewatched the shorts… versus the parent show, which I’ve occasionally felt like I’ve suffered through to get to its better moments.