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Justin Simien Reviews ‘Star Trek: Discovery’: ‘One of the Best Shows on Television Right Now’

After watching the first "chapter" of the CBS All Access sci-fi drama, the "Dear White People" creator is happy to celebrate all the things the new series does right.

Sonequa Martin-Green, "Star Trek: Discovery"

Sonequa Martin-Green, “Star Trek: Discovery”

CBS All Access

This is not the most important thing Justin Simien has to say about “Star Trek: Discovery,” but it does matter. “I need the boots that they’re wearing. Like, so bad,” he said. “They’ve got to put out a line because I’m obsessed. I’m obsessed with the clothes.”

The creator of “Dear White People” (the indie film hit, now the Netflix series entering its second season this spring) has never hidden his nerdy tendencies on Twitter and elsewhere — including a memorable homage to “Star Trek: The Next Generation” in the first season of his critically acclaimed comedy. And amongst his new favorite shows is the CBS All Access continuation of the 50-year-plus franchise.

IndieWire spoke to Simien before the Sunday, Jan. 7 premiere of the second half of Season 1, but after he’d watched the first half of the series. “I was blown away by it,” Simien said. “I think when I went into it I was sort of expecting it to be like they took ‘Star Trek’ and then made it like ‘Game of Thrones’ or something. But what I thought was so interesting about it is that it really preserves the DNA of ‘Star Trek.'”

Not only that, he noted that “they really updated the science fiction concepts that they’re dealing with. So you know, we’re not just dealing with time loops now. Now we’re dealing with quantum mechanics, and we’re dealing with multiple timelines and a spiritual quality emerging from the latest in how they understand the quantum world.”

Justin Simien

Justin Simien

Stewart Cook/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

For him, it was “like a magic trick, cause I was just expecting it was either going to be a version of the ‘Star Trek’ that we’ve always seen, but with new people and better special effects, or this is going to be a different kind of show and they found a way to just be right in that sweet spot. So I love it. You know I grew up on ‘The Next Generation,’ but it’s definitely the most satisfied I’ve been by a ‘Star Trek’ series since ‘The Next Generation.’ And I’ve watched all of them, multiple times.”

(Because IndieWire respects multiple points of view, in accordance with IDIC, it did not mention that it’s “Deep Space Nine” that is the best “Star Trek.”)

Another thing Simien loves is the fact that Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) is a more interesting character than he initially anticipated. “I think I’m a little jaded, but in the current climate of network television, I sort of expected her to be a strong black woman and that’s about it,” he said. “But no, she has so many interesting dimensions and layers. If she were to transfer from this ship to another ship, I would follow her. I’m so captivated by that character.”

Simien also noted that while he was aware of the behind-the-scenes moves that led to a change in showrunners during production, “I was sort of waiting for the shift, and I never felt it.”

This might have been due to the fact that the show’s tone changes from episode to episode, something that felt consistent to Simien, because “that’s what ‘Star Trek’ has always been to me, you know? Especially again, ‘The Next Generation,’ it’s like one week you have a political thriller, the next week you have a comedy, the next week you have kind of a starry-eyed purely conceptional science fiction story. That, to me, is the magic of ‘Star Trek.'”

Star Trek Discovery Sonequa Martin-Green

Additional observations by Simien:

  • “It’s just a bright colorful world. The color story in the show is so exciting because pretty much ever since the original ‘Star Trek,’ we’ve gone down to kind of muted and blacks, and gritty, we try to keep it grounded in the ‘Star Trek’ universe and in this one they really embrace color.”
  • “I love the operatic nature of the Klingons and the way that they communicate with each other and they just kind of ridiculousness of them. I ate it up like candy.”
  • “The time loop episode [Episode 7, ‘Music to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad’] is my favorite episode. I thought it was so smart.”
  • “They just really nailed it in the first season, and that has never happened in ‘Star Trek’ in my opinion, including ‘Next Generation.’ Most of the ‘Star Treks’ need that first season to figure out what they are, and this one came out the box ready to go.”
  • “Usually with ‘Star Trek,’ you always trust the captain. The captains are always going to pull us through, the captain’s always going to win. Which is fascinating because they allowed the actual captain, Jason Issacs, to be really mysterious and possibly nefarious, and possibly quite wise and kind you don’t know who he is, really and I just think that’s such a cool point of view to have of the captain. It really raises the stakes of the show.”
  • “You know, racism is over in the ‘Star Trek’ future, but they found a way to comment on sexism and racism in the present day, in such a subversive and smart way, you know? You can’t help but feel wow, isn’t it interesting that the smartest person in the room is a black woman and no one’s listening to her. You can’t help but translate that to what’s going on in culture today.”

As someone who doesn’t just consume content, but makes it, Simien ultimately noted that “I love great prestige television, but because I make television, sometimes I don’t want to like you know fall into a very heavy cerebral drama. Even if I’m going to think the world of it, when I come home from a 19-hour day, I’d much would rather ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ than some of its cousins.”

Added Simien, “I just hope more people watch. I mean, obviously I don’t know any of the statistics” — similarly to Netflix, CBS All Access doesn’t report numbers. “But this is one of the best shows on television right now, and I just hope people find it.”

New episodes of “Star Trek: Discovery” are available on Sundays at 8:30 pm E.T. on CBS All Access. 

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