Screen Test

TV reviews: New Star Trek needs to find legs, Jerry Before Seinfeld doesn't try too hard

There are moments in the first two episodes of Star Trek: Discovery when you almost think you're watching a big-budget movie - the production values are that good.

But although a Star Wars-worthy desertscape introduces the main character, Starfleet officer Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), what follows in the two episodes provided for review is not quite up to scratch - especially in the so-called golden age of television. Viewers now expect prestige-drama-level writing as well as technical flash, especially with an illustrious franchise such as Star Trek.

There are hints of promise, though, beginning with the stirringly nostalgic orchestral opening theme for the show, which takes place a decade before the events of the original 1960s Star Trek series featuring Captain Kirk, Spock et al.

As Burnham and her captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) discreetly fix a drought in a desert world, they speak of General Order 1, which Trekkies will know refers to the Starfleet principle that "no starship may interfere with the normal development of any alien life or society" .

It is a reminder of the philosophical ambitions of this progressive 50-year franchise, which set out not only to make a space adventure, but also to address real ethical issues.

Georgiou's solution for getting them teleported back to their ship in a menacing storm is a little lame, but Yeoh brings an elegant gravitas to the role as mentor and mother-figure to Burnham, who was orphaned as a child and raised by a Vulcan.

In Jerry Before Seinfeld, comedian Jerry Seinfeld returns to perform at the New York comedy club where he got his start.
In Jerry Before Seinfeld, comedian Jerry Seinfeld returns to perform at the
New York comedy club where he got his start. PHOTO: NETFLIX

The pair have a fun chemistry in flashback scenes, a young Burnham bristling with Vulcan froideur as they first meet. This and her workplace banter with science officer Saru (Doug Jones) make up for a rather tepid plot involving a clash with the Klingons, a warrior species.

What bodes less well is Martin-Green's delivery, which is often either over-earnest or leaden, even when she isn't trying to be Vulcan-like. Jargon sounds like a foreign language tripping off her tongue.

  • VIEW IT / STAR TREK: DISCOVERY

  • Netflix (new episodes released on Mondays at 3pm)

    2.5/5 stars

    JERRY BEFORE SEINFELD

    Netflix

    3/5 stars

    SPIELBERG

    HBO (StarHub TV Channel 601), Sunday, 8am and 10pm. Also streaming on HBO on StarHub Go and HBO On Demand

    3.5/5 stars

An exchange about her making assumptions based on the Klingons' race - and propensity for war - is an illogical mess. It is the most glaring example of the show's reach exceeding its grasp in these early episodes.

But the ambition is there, at least, and this would not be the first Star Trek series to take a while to find its feet. Here's hoping it can live a little longer and prosper.

Also a nostalgia-tinged prequel, in a way, is Jerry Before Seinfeld, comedian Jerry Seinfeld's first new stand-up special in two decades, and a part-documentary about his life.

It is not his best work, nor hugely revealing personally. But many of his strengths are on display, notably the way he dissects everyday absurdities, including in our language.

There is relaxed precision in his routine that still hits the mark, even if it is accompanied by a certain devil-may-care attitude suggesting an artist who knows he doesn't have to try so hard any more.

Fans of the man, who arguably invented post-modern observational comedy "about nothing" (and yet about everything), will be delighted by the set-up: Seinfeld returns to perform at the Comic Strip, the New York comedy club where he got his start, well before his eponymous sitcom took off in 1989.

The documentary-like portion of the hour sees him show off reams of paper where he has jotted down every joke he has delivered since and this highlights a sub-speciality Seinfeld has developed since his series ended: He is now more a historian of comedy, dissecting its practitioners, tropes and the craft itself.

A better example of this is his Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee Web series (2012 to present), where he interviews other professionally funny people, or Talking Funny, the 2011 roundtable discussion he did with comics Chris Rock and Louis C.K.

In the latter, he likens the art of stand-up to the skill of a cat burglar dodging anti-theft laser beams. In Jerry Before Seinfeld, we can see the burglar has retired handsomely and no longer needs to be good at this.

With the documentary Spielberg, we get a more thorough origin story - a deep dive into the life and career of legendary film-maker Steven Spielberg.

Documentary film-maker Susan Lacy gets him to open up - and not just about his craft and myriad cinematic accomplishments.

She also coaxes him to talk about how his parents' divorce led him to make films, such as E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977), featuring broken families, bad dads and lonely kids (this is cut with adorable footage showing him make a young Drew Barrymore cry on the E.T. set, before feeling guilty about it).

She reveals the vulnerability of a man left wounded by snarky reviews of his first serious film, The Color Purple (1985), and unravels how his marriage to actress Kate Capshaw helped him reconnect to Judaism and eventually make the Oscar-winning Schindler's List (1993).

It is a surprisingly profound portrait of an artist, and all the more affecting for the connections made to the emotion and humanism of his work.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 04, 2017, with the headline 'Treks into nostalgia and the beginnings of fame'. Print Edition | Subscribe