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Star Trek: Discovery taps classic fun, adventure to woo old-school Trekkies

From the return of Spock to the lighter tone, this IS your father's Star Trek.

Jan Thijs/CBS

The new Star Trek: Discovery trailer, unveiled at New York Comic Con on Saturday, packed in plenty of spectacle, mystery and even a bearded Spock for good measure. But a handful of blink-and-you'll-miss scenes of Klingons in action may offer the best hint about where the second season is going.

The Klingons have -- gasp -- hair.

Star Trek: Discovery

Ethan Peck as the new, bearded Spock. 

Michael Gibson/CBS

It's a tiny detail, but one that suggests that the showrunners behind Star Trek are making tweaks to the show to woo longtime fans of the franchise. Discovery made the controversial decision to change the look of the Klingons to incorporate a sleeker, balder look.

The move rankled hard-core Trekkies used to seeing Klingons in a certain way, and underscored the broader mixed reaction to many of the changes made in Discovery. It felt, to some fans, that the showrunners were so busy trying to subvert audience expectations and offer a darker, more mature take on Star Trek that it stopped being Star Trek.

Get ready for a big change.

"We get back to a flavor that might remind you more of the original Star Trek," said Doug Jones, who plays the Kelpian first officer Saru, a sentiment echoed by many of his fellow cast members, in an interview on Saturday.

The second season's embrace of adventure, exploration and, yes, humor feels like a response to Trekkies who felt reluctant to jump aboard the Discovery bandwagon the first time around.  In the era of peak television, where sophisticated science fiction shows like Westworld and The Expanse exist, Discovery is trying to balance modern storytelling with the qualities that made Star Trek great in the first place.

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The importance of Discovery can't be understated. With the fate of the next Star Trek film up in the air, Discovery has become the standard bearer for this storied franchise. It's also the flagship show for the fledgling CBS All Access streaming network, which is vying with an increasing number of competitors for eyeballs and subscription dollars. (Disclosure: CNET is owned by CBS.)

But none of that matters to diehard Star Trek fans -- as long as the Klingons get their locks back.

A more recognizable Trek

At one point, Captain Christopher Pike, played by Anson Mount, says in the trailer, "If there's anyone down there, I'm not leaving them to die."

That's as far as you can get from last season's Captain Gabriel Lorca, who not only would've left you to die, but probably hit the airlock eject button himself.

Pike, the original captain of the USS Enterprise before James T. Kirk, represents the prototypical Federation Starfleet captain, one of the ways the show is getting back to its roots.

"He knows his greatest asset is his crew," Mount said during the Comic Con panel. "He's not afraid to admit when he's stumped."

As for the Klingon hair, Mary Chieffo, who plays the newly installed Klingon Chancellor L'Rell, explains that the warrior race cuts its hair in times of war and grows it out during peacetime.

Star Trek: Discovery

Rebecca Romijn as Number One on the upcoming season of Discovery. 

Michael Gibson/CBS

The postwar state of the Discovery universe has ramifications elsewhere. Instead of a darker, conflict-driven story, the show gets back to its exploration roots. Sonequa Martin-Green, who leads the cast as Michael Burnham, says the central driving force of the season is the mystery of seven red signals powered by an unknown source.

"[The different pace] allows us to explore some of the philosophical questions that great Trek has explored, that you don't have time to explore when you're at war," Executive Producer Alex Kurtzman said in an interview on Saturday after the panel.

Get ready to laugh more

Kurtzman and many of the cast also talked about the injection of more humor into the second season. While there were a few moments of levity throughout season one, most of them were drowned out by the more serious backdrop of the war.

"Tonally, we can have more fun," fellow Executive Producer Heather Kaden said in the same interview. "With season two, you can enjoy the characters a lot more."

Star Trek: Discovery

Mysterious red lights make up the central driving force of the season two plot. 

CBS

Mary Wiseman, who plays Ensign Tilly, often the source of much of season one's humor, said the characters are more settled into. "There's the deeper depth of emotion and lighthearted humor that exists in the original series," she said in an interview.

"The humor comes from the characters knowing each other better now," Kurtzman said. "So much of what we love about Trek is funny."

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Stepping into Spock's shoes

Captain Pike isn't the only figure from the original series making his way onto Discovery.  The other major addition is Spock, played by Ethan Peck. The actor said he quipped he had a panic attack when he realized he might be playing this iconic character, and said he sat down and cried for 15 minutes when he first heard he was getting the role.

"As an actor you work for so long to have a moment like that," Peck said.

Peck warned that fans may not recognize the version of Spock that first shows up on Discovery. And that goes beyond the beard

"The ultimate destination for this Spock is Nimoy's Spock, but we have to come from somewhere," Peck said in an interview. "Over the course of the season, you see him become the Spock that we love and know."

Peck said the season will focus on the relationship between Spock and Burnham, and answer why Burnham has never been mentioned before in the show's canon, despite the close familial connection.

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They know where this is going. Really

Star Trek: Discovery

Michelle Yeoh as Philippa Georgiou, the latest addition to the clandestine Federation group known as Section 31. 

Michael Gibson/CBS

Between the Klingon hair and the great Burnham mystery, Discovery has vowed to answer many of the lingering issues with the show that appear to stretch the continuity of the franchise's canon.

But Jones insists that the writers who came up with Discovery had the entire series planned out. Anthony Rapp, who plays Lt. Commander Paul Stamets, said there's been a plan all along.

"Knowing that there were going to be things established in season one that fans were going to go, 'How does that fit?' there was always this plan to unravel how it fits," Rapp said. "That is the part that's going to really satisfy fans who are wondering. It will come together in a meaningful way."

No Picard ... for now

One element of older Trek not showing up on Discovery will be Captain Jean-Luc Picard. 

Patrick Stewart, who plays Picard, will be back in the Star Trek universe with a show focused around his character. 

When Kaden was asked about which classic Trek character she would want to see back on Discovery, she mentioned Picard. 

But she and Kurtzman noted that the two shows are set in different timelines, and that there were no plans to have him appear on Discovery. 

Kaden did open the door a little.

"I'm learning that Mary Wiseman is such a fan of Sir Patrick Stewart that she might have a fever dream and pull him in," she quipped. 

Discovery premieres on Jan. 17 on CBS All Access in the US.

Star Trek: Discovery: Everything we know about the upcoming season.

Mary Wiseman on Short Treks: A chat with Ensign Tilly as the show returns with online mini episodes.