Recently, while watching the second season of the Star Trek sequel/spin-off Picard, something struck me. In the opening episode, we get a brief glimpse of a Starfleet ship called the Stargazer, helmed by Cris Rios (Santiago Cabrera) and staffed by a crew of professionals who all solve unusual problems in the galaxy.
This is really just a nod to Starfleet in general, as Rios, Picard (Patrick Stewart) and their friends are thrown into a complex parallel universe/time travel story shortly after, but one thought lingered. “Why isn’t this just the show?” I thought as I watched the Rios crew at work. “Why can’t they just do a normal Star Trek show anymore?”
Enter the stage on the right, Strange New Worlds (US only for now though – sorry UK fans).
While there are more Trek TV shows right now than ever before, a long-standing complaint from fans has been that none of them really “feel” like Star Trek anymore. Traditionally, this means a crew of professional Starfleet officers on a ship or space station dealing with episodic sci-fi threats and mysteries, with a generally upbeat outlook on the universe.
We haven’t had that for a long time. Over the past decade, Star Trek fans have had either increasingly bombastic films or the “New Trek” that began with Star Trek: Discovery, which takes a different approach, relying on more serialized storytelling spread over the course of a entire season.
Discovery and Picard have their moments, but they feel like any other modern sci-fi show. For a while, animations like Star Trek: Prodigy or Lower Decks (both great) or even Seth MacFarlane’s brazen TNG ripoff/parody The Orville were the closest fans could get to a “classic” Trek series.
But now they finally have it right with Strange New Worlds – a modern live-action series that actually feels like Star Trek. Watching the first three episodes of this show was like sinking into a warm bath and I was reminded of how satisfying this format can be.
Its creation feels like an easy victory — which makes it all the stranger that this show almost didn’t exist. Based on the USS.Enterprise crew from the original Star Trek unaired pilot, Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount), Number One (Rebecca Romijn) and Spock (Ethan Peck) first appeared in Discovery for a Season 2 story and proved so popular that they were brought back for their own spin-off.
In many ways, this allows the show to serve as a prequel to the original 1960s Star Trek series. Ignoring Spock himself, the series also features the early careers of Uhura (originally played by Nichelle Nichols, now Celia Rose Gooding) and minor characters like Nurse Chapel and Dr. M’Benga (Jess Bush and Babs Olusanmokun in this series).
Like the JJ Abrams Trek films, there’s a lot of foreshadowing about the roles these officers will play in the main series, although it doesn’t overwhelm the show – if you were brand new to it, you’d still understand.
And there are plenty of new characters anyway, including a quirky Andorian chief engineer, a brash pilot named Ortegas, and a security officer with ties to a classic Star Trek villain. Given his limited appearances in the main series, Mount’s version of Captain Pike also arguably has something of a clean slate, delivering a fatherly performance that still seems distinct from William Shatner’s superficially similar Captain Kirk.
Pike has something of an arc on the series – during the events of Discovery he learned the events of his grisly future (something cataloged in The Original Series) and is aware that his days are numbered. But alongside it, Strange New Worlds manages to tell episodic, upbeat stories about the Enterprise crew discovering new civilizations, solving ethical dilemmas, and encountering strange creatures. And if you’re wondering if sometimes these missions eerily reflect a personal issue a crew member might be grappling with that week… oh boy, we’re in business.
In a world where television is made to be binged and streamed, rather than aimed at random audiences on broadcast networks, telling a story like this feels positively retro (even Doctor Who was filmed in brought into series). But it also feels great – not everything has to be so intense, universe-ending, and emotionally driven. Sometimes it’s okay to just tell satisfying, self-contained stories, and that’s exactly what Strange New Worlds delivers.
During the episodes I’ve watched, we’ve had new alien races, Prime Directive/General Order One debates, weird alien eggs trying to communicate, space fanatics in love with a comet, and a (slightly current) energy bug , which caused some strange effects among the crew. There are some things you wouldn’t see in the “classic” Trek – a bit more sex appeal, a more modern visual style and analogies that reflect the real world we currently live in better than the 60’s, 80’s or 90’s – but the basic principles feel the same.
It’s not a perfect show. A few of the cast give slightly wooden performances, and despite an extensive backstory in the third installment, Romijn’s first officer still feels a little underdeveloped and alien – like Kirk, Pike seems to prefer hanging out with Spock.
But that feels like normal trouble for a series to function in a timely manner (remember, it took Jonathan Frakes a while to grow his beard). Overall, Strange New Worlds absolutely nails the basics of what made Star Trek great – and I can’t wait for them to boldly embark on a quest for new civilizations (i.e. officially announce when it’s coming out in the UK) so I can can see more. hit it!
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds arrives May 5 on Paramount Plus in the US and will air in the UK at a later date. For more news, reviews and features, visit our dedicated Sci-Fi page or find something to watch now with our TV guide.
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