‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ is a Return to Tomorrow
Is Star Trek: Strange New Worlds the classic, episodic series long-time fans are craving? We’ve seen the first five episodes. Let’s talk Trek.
There’s a very famous line from the Star Trek: The Original Series episode “Return to Tomorrow”. “Risk,” Kirk says. “Risk is our business. That’s what the starship is all about. That’s why we’re aboard her.” He smiles when he says this line not only because he knows he’s right, but because he’s proud of being captain of the Enterprise. Captain Kirk loves what he does.
The hallmark of all the greatest starship captains is unmitigated joy at the chance to sit in the big chair. You can feel it every time Jean-Luc Picard points towards the horizon and says “Engage”. You can feel it when Ben Sisko grips his baseball and grins at the opening wormhole. When Katie Janeway announces that, “There’s coffee in that nebula,” she is thrilled at the infinite possibilities despite her crew’s impossible circumstances. And you can feel it – these people love who they are and what they do.
Early on in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Christopher Pike turns to his first officer, smiles, and says, “I love this job”. And with every second of the first five episodes of Strange New Worlds, I could feel it – Pike loves being captain of the Enterprise and showrunner Henry Alonso Myers loves helming this series. That love spreads to every crew member. And like all the best Star Trek shows, it’s going to spread to its audience, too.
Where Star Trek Has (Almost) Gone Before
A lot of hay is going to be made over the episodic nature of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. And that is fair. In fact, we’ll talk a little more about that aspect of the series in due course. But there’s something else I want to call attention to and that’s, for lack of a better term: the vibe. Imagine what Star Trek: The Original Series might have looked like if it had an actual budget – that’s Strange New Worlds.
From the moment Pike strides onto the bridge for the first time, there is no question that the ship he is captain of is the Enterprise. That blocky captain’s chair, the front consoles, Uhura’s comms station, and Spock’s science equipment are all unmistakable. She’s had a facelift, but, aye, laddie: she’s the Enterprise.
The same can be said for the crew’s uniforms. The rick rack is no more, but the spirit of it remains. The transporter room, engineering, and even the shuttlecraft – all of them are instantly familiar and iconic. It’s not just the set and costume design, it’s the way it’s all shot, too. The way the camera’s close in tight on faces – the hero shot. Strange New Worlds is filmed like it’s following the most important ship full of the most important people in the galaxy. And speaking of the crew…
What Are Little Crews Made Of?
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is a spin-off of Star Trek: Discovery. That means that this incarnation of Christopher Pike knows how his story ends. Not only that, but Spock is still a man dealing with the loss of his sister Michael Burnham. And this is still a world where a sentient technology called Control very nearly destroyed the galaxy. All that stuff is in the mix and still matters to some of the crew. The pilot episode, in particular, shares a fair amount of DNA with its parent show.
However, Strange New Worlds is still an episodic show where each story has a definitive beginning, middle, and end. Every episode involves new encounters with new species and often shines a spotlight on a specific character. Let’s run through those characters starting with the ones we’ve met before because this cast deserves their flowers.
Anson Mount plays Chris Pike like he’s the personification of a warm hug. Does Rebecca Romijn’s Una Chin-Riley have the most dry sense of humor in the galaxy? Maybe! Ethan Peck’s Spock hides his emotions less well, but the way he tries is nothing short of adorable. Melissa Navia’s Erica Ortegas is the perfect puckish prankster. Jess Bush’s Christine Chapel brings that deeply chaotic bisexual energy. Christina Chong as La’an Noonien-Singh can eat a lit match, don’t make her prove it! Bruce Horak’s Hemmer is an Odo-level delightful curmudgeon. Babs Olusanmokun as Dr. M’Benga is the much needed adult in the room. And Celia Rose Gooding’s younger, brasher Uhura might just be the breakout character of the whole dang thing. Five episodes deep, I know exactly who all these people are and I like them very much.
A Balance of Terror (and Drama and Comedy, Too)
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is science fiction. That much is obvious. However, each of the five episodes also slots into other genres as well. There are dramatic episodes, there is an episode that is straight up horror, and there’s even an episode which is a laugh-out-loud comedy. Don’t tell anyone I told you, but there might even be some musical stuff in there.
Strange New Worlds is unclassifiable in the best way possible. As its title suggests, the show is a little strange! But that’s good! The worst thing a Star Trek show can be is solidly beige. And one thing I can tell you for certain is that this show swings for the fences in every episode I watched.
In short: I have been waiting 20 years for a Star Trek show that makes me feel the way this one does and I cannot wait for the rest of the Star Trek fandom to see it, too. Star Trek: Strange New Worlds streams on Paramount Plus beginning May 5.