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Office Space: The Final Frontier

Star Trek Discovery sets phasers to satire.

If you’ve read the Resurgent for a while, you know that I’m something of a Star Trek geek. Heck, I even wrote a few Star Trek books over the years, one of which even got published a little while back. So when CBS All Access launched with Star Trek Discovery as its flagship show two years ago, I was pretty interested to see how they would handle this latest entry in the franchise. Of course, the pilot turned out to be a disaster—but this being Star Trek, a rough start is pretty much par for the course, and over the course of the next few episodes the creative team seemed to really be getting their feet beneath them.

Sadly, that all came to a screeching halt a few more episodes in, when it because readily apparent that the writers didn’t have the first clue as to what made Star Trek really work. Worse than that, the stories were just kind of meh—at least when they didn’t completely trash beloved characters from the Trek canon (I’m talking about you, Harry Mudd) and turn the villains into total buffoons. I gave up on Discovery halfway through the first season, happy to spare myself further anguish—not to mention five bucks a month for the subscription fee.

Since then, however, I’ve kept an eye on the series with recaps on the Agony Booth website—an invaluable resource if there ever was one—all of which have pretty much validated my decision to quit watching. I’ve also read about the chaos that occurred behind the scenes—the original showrunner, Bryan Fuller, quit before the series even premiered, and the co-showrunners who followed got fired for being abusive to the writing staff—which goes a long way toward explaining why Discovery has had such a tough time deciding what it wants to be. Still, CBS has been committed to keeping the show going—which is why they brought on a third showrunner, and attempted to goose its writing staff with at least one fresh new voice.

Seems like a sound strategy, right? Well, apparently that strategy has crumbled in the face of office politics, as this story from The Hollywood Reporter details:

Author Walter Mosley penned an op-ed for The New York Times, published on Friday, in which he revealed that he quit his job as a writer on a television series after he was “chastised” by human resources for using the N-word on the job.

Although Mosley, who is black, did not reveal which show he departed, sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that it was CBS All Access’ Star Trek: Discovery. That series, renewed in February for its third season with its third showrunner, has experienced serious issues of abusive language in its writers room in the past.

Mosley, by the way, is the acclaimed author of the Easy Rawlins detective novels—just the kind of guy you would want to bring new perspectives to a troubled franchise, right? But it seems that the other writers didn’t much care for the cut of Mosley’s jib. As he explained in his New York Times op-ed:

“Earlier this year, I had just finished with the Snowfall writers’ room for the season when I took a similar job on a different show at a different network. I’d been in the new room for a few weeks when I got the call from human resources. A pleasant-sounding young man said, ‘Mr. Mosley, it has been reported that you used the n-word in the writers’ room. I replied, ‘I am the N-word in the writers’ room.'”

Mosley went on to explain that the individual in HR said that while he was free to use that word in a script, he “could not say it.” Mosley then clarified, “I hadn’t called anyone it. I just told a story about a cop who explained to me, on the streets of Los Angeles, that he stopped all n—ers in paddy neighborhoods and all paddies in n—er neighborhoods, because they were usually up to no good. I was telling a true story as I remembered it.”

Mind you, all this occurred in the context of discussing storylines for the show, during which Mosley posited a character who acted out of bad motives but ultimately achieved a greater good. He used the cop he encountered as an example. While the man’s racist attitudes were reprehensible, his goal was to preserve the peace. It’s that kind of moral ambiguity that makes a character a lot more interesting than a straight-up, by the numbers guy—and presents a lot more opportunities for good drama.

But not in Discovery’s writers room.

That absurdity, however, can’t compare to HR’s admonition that while Mosley could write the forbidden word in a script, he wasn’t allowed to say it out loud. How exactly is that going to work when they’re actually shooting the script? Will the actor who has that particular line be allowed to say the word out loud? If not, then what’s the point of including it in the script at all? Rules like that might be perfectly at home in a parody like Office Space. Outer space, not so much.

Mosley, to his credit, refused to indulge in such nonsense:

My answer to H.R. was to resign and move on. I was in a writers’ room trying to be creative while at the same time being surveilled by unknown critics who would snitch on me to a disembodied voice over the phone. My every word would be scrutinized. Sooner or later I’d be fired or worse — silenced.

And so the man they brought on to expand the scope of their stories with his unique voice and experiences ultimately got run out by narrow-minded bots who responded to something new and provocative exactly as they have been conditioned to do.

“It’s worth noting,” the THR article goes on to say, “that Discovery has a particularly inclusive writers room that includes three African American scribes, two Asian American writers, a Native American and Latinx woman, among others.” It seems to me, however, that the writers room lacks diversity of thought—perhaps the most important kind of all. Without that—and without free thinkers like Mosley to push them out of their comfort zones—these writers will keep producing the same safe, homogenized and dreadfully dull stories that have been a drag on the series from the start.

It might be time to change the channel.

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