'Star Trek: Discovery' barely achieves liftoff

William Shatner reflects on 'Star Trek' turning 50
William Shatner reflects on 'Star Trek' turning 50

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William Shatner reflects on 'Star Trek' turning 50 04:55

(CNN)The following contains spoilers about the premiere of "Star Trek: Discovery."

Despite being outfitted with some interesting wrinkles, "Star Trek: Discovery" is an unspectacular addition to the existing fleet of "Trek"-branded series. The result, creatively, makes for an awkward liftoff, one perhaps most notable for its commercial mission, which is to entice new subscribers to CBS All Access.
Launched with a cliffhanging hour on CBS, the program's second episode and those thereafter will air on the network's fledgling streaming service, a shrewd way to attempt to hook fans and extract their hard-earned cash.
Still, if that represents a fresh approach distribution-wise, where "Discovery" feels weakest is in the fundamental qualities that have defined the best "Trek" series -- namely, the strength of the interplay among its characters. By that measure, this sixth live-action iteration feels a trifle clunky, especially in patches of dialogue during the initial episodes, three of which were previewed.
    Set in 2256, roughly a decade before the original "Star Trek" embarked on its five-year mission a half-century ago, the program breaks ground by building its plot both around an African-American woman, Michael Burnham ("The Walking Dead's" Sonequa Martin-Green), and a first officer, as opposed to a starship captain.
    Moreover, Burnham's past ties directly into the heart of Trek lore: orphaned, she was raised on Vulcan by Sarek (James Frain), Mr. Spock's father, and thus exhibits a fondness for logic and computer-like mind, despite her rounded earlobes.
    The premiere pairs Michael with a compassionate but no-nonsense captain (Michelle Yeoh), and shrewdly sets up the Klingons -- emerging from years without conflict -- as Starfleet's formidable new adversary. (Although be forewarned: Those with low tolerance for guttural Klingon sounds and reading subtitles might want to bail out now.)
    While the space-faring trappings look fine (for the most part, anyway), it's on the bridge where "Discovery" proves somewhat second tier. And while the show features the customary mix of aliens, such as Saru (Doug Jones), interacting under the franchise's egalitarian ideals, there's a deficiency of both humor and the fuel that has kept "Star Trek" going -- the kind of camaraderie that characterized "The Next Generation" crew, much less the troika of Kirk, Spock and McCoy.
    The series does receive a welcome infusion with the arrival of Jason Isaacs as Captain Lorca in a subsequent episode, but by then it's hard to escape the nagging sense that this is Star Trek Lite.
    To be fair, there are enough elements at play to conclude that the show adequately made it out of drydock, and the timeframe creates plenty of opportunities for knowing winks and flourishes aimed at the faithful going forward.
    That's fun, so far as it goes. Yet one would likely have to be a true "Star Trek" completist to feel sold, based strictly on the opening flurry, on signing up -- and anteing up -- for "Discovery's" full tour.