In a trailer released last week, we saw that at least one episode of Star Trek: Discovery will be rated TV-MA. This may be less problematic than you think.
Late last week CBS Entertainment released perhaps the most illuminating trailer for Star Trek: Discovery since the very first one they put forth early in the summer. We heard Captain Gabriel Lorca address crew and First Officer Michael Burnham, we saw the USS Shenzhou engage Klingons, and we also saw a TV-MA rating displayed briefly in one of the clips.
"This program is specifically designed to be viewed by adults and therefore may be unsuitable for children under 17. This program may contain one or more of the following: crude indecent language (L), explicit sexual activity (S), or graphic violence (V)."
The first two words of this quote are important: “This program”. TV-MA is applicable only to the episode in question, which means that we may have seen the content rating for the sole episode that had such content. Considering the effort the writers and showrunners have ostensibly gone to in order to keep Star Trek true to its core, it’s unlikely they’re going to blow it on graphic sex or excessive language (the latter of which we can assume our human protagonists have largely evolved beyond).
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That likely leaves violence, which makes sense considering the focus on war with Klingons, an attack in which a young Burnham is left orphaned and the likely destruction of the Shenzhou, in which we can assume a significant loss of life. This pinpoints “graphic violence” as the heavy favorite to drop this TV-MA rating, which (depending on context and extent) might not be so prohibitive towards a younger viewing audience as otherwise expected.
Star Trek has always had a young viewing entry point, from which much of its charm is derived. Many of us life-long fans started watching various incarnations of the franchise as children, and maybe we wouldn’t have become so devoted without that early indoctrination. With Discovery, a mature rating could make it significantly less likely that the younger generation will be able to get into the series with older siblings and parents like many of us once did.
As I mentioned, though, this may be overblown.
However, a TV-MA rating is far from a death-blow to a series. In fact, some of the best shows in modern television have been largely or entirely rated mature. Game of Thrones, The Sopranos, The Americans, Fargo, Orange is the New Black, Homeland, True Detective, Breaking Bad and so many more are frequently or exclusively rated TV-MA, and while they all featured elements of violence, sexuality and language, rarely were such things used gratuitously used for their own sake. Instead, these shows were able to tell their stories, without being hampered by restrictions to stay away from those things.
A TV-MA rating which recurs may keep kids from watching the show, which isn’t a great result considering where most of us came from in our Trek fandom, but it could be a fantastic tool in the hands of skilled and talented writers. In today’s television landscape, shows which are tailored to kids and adults alike are fewer and farther between than ever, and the days when Star Trek’s “alien of the week” approach are over. Smarter, more creative storytelling in combination with fewer wasted words and no wasted episodes are the way to go these days, and there may be little time for Tribbles and goofy aliens to delight the youngsters in the face of that.