For the last several years, it has been an interesting time to be a “Star Trek” fan. There has almost been an embarrassment of riches when it comes to new entries in the almost 60-year long history of the franchise. “Star Trek” is pretty much a core part of Paramount’s attempts to be a major player in the streaming service, first on CBS All Access and now on Paramount+.
While that has led to a nearly non-stop barrage of new projects, the results have been fairly mixed. “Star Trek: Discovery” was an attempt to be an ambitious reimagining of the core elements of a “Trek” series, with season-long arcs and a stronger emphasis on propulsive action. The show has fans, but has also faced criticisms as it favors heart on your sleeve stories that also don’t seem to worry about logic or consistency.
“Star Trek: Picard,” with the return of Sir Patrick Stewart, faced similar problems. It focuses on massive galaxy-spanning stories that move so fast, they become almost convoluted. While both of those shows have struggled from a critical standpoint, animated series have filled in the gaps by being more like the original shows, but with an anarchic sense of humor. “Star Trek: Lower Decks“ targets more adult-oriented fans while “Star Trek: Prodigy“ is a more kid friendly show for younger viewers unfamiliar with the franchise.
What none of these shows seemed interested in was simply being a “Star Trek” show in the classic vein, where a crew goes to a new planet, solves a problem in under an hour, and then moves on to the next planet. It appears that the feedback they had received over what the shows had become led the higher ups to try to do something more traditional. The result is “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds,” which premiered on Paramount+ earlier this week.
The groundwork for the series was laid out way back in Season 2 of “Discovery,” when we were reintroduced to Captain Christopher Pike, a character whose history goes all the way back to the original pilot of “Star Trek.” Pike, who appeared on “Discovery,” was introduced as a temporary captain to replace season 1’s Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs). As played by Anson Mount (“Hell on Wheels“), Pike proved to be a welcome addition to the cast, as he was able to project authority while still being warm and empathetic to those around him. About a year after his first appearance, it was announced that Pike would get his own series.
Other guest actors who had joined “DISCO” in smaller roles were added to “Strange New Worlds” as well. Ethan Peck, who took on the iconic role of Mr. Spock for television, would return along with Rebecca Romijn, who popped up as Pike’s Number One. From the announcement, producers made it clear that “Strange New Worlds” would be in the vein of classic “Trek,” with the original USS Enterprise moving through the galaxy and getting into hijinks.
Now that the pilot is out, producers have stuck the landing in recreating what made “Star Trek: The Original Sieres” so popular. Mount and Peck haven’t lost a step in taking their interpretations of existing characters and making them wholly their own. Peck especially is given more room to just be Spock- we get nice moments of him juggling the weight of neither being fully Vulcan or human, especially with his love interest, T’Pring.
While “Discovery” tended to focus primarily on protagonist Michael Burnham at the expense of everyone else, “Strange New Worlds” makes sure we get a better sense of how the main team works with each other.
Romijn, whose character got a bit of a short shaft previously (we finally get a name for her in the form of the slightly groan inducing Una), gets the least amount to do, as she goes missing in the opening minutes of the pilot and doesn’t come back more than half way through. We also get introduced to the rest of the crew, and even their brief appearances already feel like the strongest and most cohesive cast of any of the new Treks so far.
Standouts in the pilot include Celia Rose Gooding as cadet Uhura, who gets to show her skill at being good at learning other cultures quickly and using that to help diffuse a tense situation. Jess Bush as Nurse Chapel also gets to bring an air of quirky swagger as a civilian who is skilled at genetic manipulation. Christina Chong as La’an has the more serious role as the emotionally guarded chief of security with a dark past, but Chong is able to project vulnerability along with the tough exterior. The rest of the cast also seem strong, but they have much less to do in this episode.
The episode itself is a classic “Trek” plot to a tee. Una goes missing investigating a planet that recently developed warp technology, and the Enterprise is sent on a search and rescue to find her. Along the way, it’s discovered that the planet is on the brink of a catastrophic civil war, and it’s up to the crew to stop it while saving Una. It wouldn’t be new “Trek” without a streak of darkness, in the case they add some drama to Pike’s characterization as he struggled with his mortality.
Back on “Discovery,” he received a vision of the future where he saw exactly when and how he was going to die. Still shaken by that revelation, much of the episode parallels Pike coming to terms with his knowledge while still being a good leader. You better believe that both of these plot threads will collide in a neat and tidy fashion, with the crew saving the day and Pike’s will to live being affirmed.
The whole thing is very sincere and full of noble speeches about the importance of peace and understanding. They also go out of their way to tie in current day political strife to underline why unity is so important. Cynical viewers should stay very far away, but it would be hard to know why you would ever watch “Star Trek” in the first place if you didn’t enjoy clean morality plays.
For this viewer, the pilot is like a warm blanket, where all the things that made the original series work is on display. Wacky technology, silly makeup, crew boardroom meetings to form a plan of action, corny dialogue: it is all here. The point is that it is all done well, and with strong production values to make it all nice to look at. Time will tell how the show does as it goes along and if it can move beyond just repeating tropes and references. However, the potential and possibility is on full display, and it feels good to have a show unafraid to play into what makes “Star Trek” a cornerstone of pop culture.
Catch all “Star Trek” series and films on Paramount+.