It was a rocky beginning. The first season of Star Trek: Discovery—the series that, in the US at least, exclusively streams on the deeply annoying, otherwise useless, pay-per-month service CBS All Access—had its share of stumbles, and it wasn't until the season's final episodes that it started to gel. When it it finally did, it started to feel like a promising new Trek—one that embraced both exploration and humanism. Or... whatever the interstellar equivalent of humanism is?

The second season starts next week, and luckily, there's a better place to jump in than having to watch the entire first season, with its interminable scenes of gnashing, subtitled Klingon and tiresome, Battlestar-lite intrigues. That place is with four short episodes—"Short Treks"—that are now available on CBS All Access, each of which takes 15 or 20 minutes to examine a different character or facet of Discovery. They range from the lighthearted ("Runaway," in which Discovery's awk ensign Tilly, played by Mary Wiseman, meets a stowaway) to the expansive (the eerie, bittersweet "Calypso," written by Michael Chabon, is set 1,000 years into Discovery's future).

Original showrunner Bryan Fuller initially envisioned Discovery as something of an anthology show, and though it ended up just being a straight prequel to Star Trek's original series, there's something of that welcome, grab-bag spirit in "Short Treks." On one hand, watching these mini-episodes feels like an easy way to reacquaint oneself with (or get to know) Discovery, but on the other, they feel fresher and more daring than Discovery was in its first season. It's a sensation not unlike flipping open an old sci-fi pulp magazine and finding a slew of stories that range in tone and subject. Don't like one? Start another. Experience them all in order, or skip around.

It's a ridiculously good time to be a sci-fi fan watching TV, with the great The Expanse, the continually surprising The Orville, and Jodie Whitaker's excellent new Doctor on Doctor Who. True, in its first year, Discovery felt as it if it was still finding its footing, but these "Short Treks" imply that the show's found both confidence and originality. Fingers crossed for season two—and more "Short Treks" in the future.