Star Trek: Strange New Worlds premieres on Paramount+ on Thursday and we will have our regular detailed and spoiler-filled recap and review up that morning for the first episode. Paramount has shared the first few episodes with members of the media in advance and there are a few SPOILER-FREE thoughts worth sharing about this highly anticipated new series that should have fans applauding. (NOTE: if something has been in a promotional video or interview, this is not considered a spoiler).
Something old and something new
Strange New Worlds follows Discovery and Picard in this new streaming era of live-action Star Trek under executive producer Alex Kurtzman. And for many fans, this third time will be the charm as the series hits its stated target to bring back beloved elements of classic Star Trek, from both the TOS era and the TNG era. But Strange New Worlds isn’t just an exercise in nostalgia, it is also a very modern series. And the show doesn’t forget where it came from, as the new series carries over plotlines and character arcs from Star Trek: Discovery season two. In fact, the series kicks off with the USS Enterprise leaving spacedock for the first time following the battle in the Discovery season two finale.
From the first standalone episode, you get the sense this series has a lighter tone. While taking the job of exploring space seriously, this show remembers to have some fun, along with maintaining a healthy level of optimism and even wonderment. Each episode also finds its own balance, allowing for variety. You see this too with the style of each episode. While the pilot strikes a middle ground, following a somewhat standard get-the-band-back-together for a vital mission structure with plenty of action and adventure, follow-ups vary including one episode that plays as an intense submarine-style cat and mouse thriller, and the next turns to an almost slapstick character comedy, but it works. Each of the stories of the early episodes will feel familiar and perhaps even too familiar at times, yet there are still moments where they find some unique scenarios and solutions.
Strange New Worlds does not shy away from making commentary on important issues. As is traditional with Star Trek, the show uses alien drama to explore contemporary issues, with varying degrees of subtlety, not unlike TOS. What shines through each episode are the essential Star Trek themes of a hopeful future, cooperation, scientific curiosity, and family. Speaking of which, this is a show that can be shared by the whole family. While this is a prequel to The Original Series, one does not need to be steeped in Star Trek lore to follow the stories, especially as the show is making good on the promise to be exploring fascinating new worlds and interesting new aliens each week.
A crew worth knowing
While each week the crew faces a new sci-fi challenge, the character stories are highly-serialized. Each episode tends to shine a light on one or two characters, giving them a little arc for that week, all of which ties into their larger season arc. And this is where, even with all the trappings of to TOS era, the show feels more like the TNG-era shows or the modern Trek shows, with very nuanced explorations of these characters. In fact, you learn more about most of these characters in the first five episodes than you would for most characters in a full season of a classic Trek show, especially for characters outside of the big three (Pike, Spock, and Una/Number One).
Each member of this ensemble feels unique, and each has their own quirks and issues. Some of the issues they struggle with can be quite serious, notably Captain Pike himself has his arc dealing with learning his eventual fate through a time crystal (as seen in Discovery season two). And while the various backstories can be tragic, and even downright horrifying in one case, these are not broken dysfunctional characters wallowing in their pain and overindulging in their problems. Each is a dedicated professional, who is good at what they do. This comes through starting with the pilot episode which spends just as much time showcasing the crew as it does telling a first contact story and contemporary allegory. Like the other modern Trek shows, this strong ensemble is enabled by an exceptional group of actors, each perfectly cast for their roles.
Anson Mount, Ethan Peck, and Rebecca Romijn already impressed fans enough to mount a campaign that got the notice of the powers that be, but each comes to this series raising their game even more. Peck may be a standout here as he is threading the difficult needle of creating a Spock that has grown since Discovery but isn’t yet the one we know in TOS. He also has some new angles to explore: adding a struggle between his personal life and Starfleet duty to the classic battle between his Human and Vulcan sides. The rest of the cast is also quite impressive, either creating their new roles, or adding new angles to established roles. It’s hard to know which characters will pop, but a guess at a potential favorite would be Hemmer (Bruce Horak) the Aenar engineer, a lovable gruff in the style of Odo. Celia Rose Gooding should also be a favorite, especially for younger viewers, with a recognizable Uhura, but one still finding her way in Starfleet.
On the frontier
Where Strange New Worlds is entirely a modern series is in the production. The USS Enterprise is very much a character on this show (as it should be), and it looks fantastic inside and out. While evoking the designs of The Original Series ship, this show takes advantage of modern techniques and a significant budget to give the ship a sense of scale previously only seen in the feature films. Although some fans may be taken aback at the size of a few of these sets, from the cavernous cargo deck, to Pike’s big bachelor-pad quarters, to the well-sized restaurant/lounge with beautiful views from the front edge of the saucer.
The most modern element is how effectively this series is using the AR Wall technology, improving on the work started in the fourth season of Discovery. In this series, the virtual sets are less obvious and more dynamic. This is a game-changer for this show, bringing us breathtaking alien environments almost every week.
Jeff Russo’s opening theme can already be heard, but the real musical star of this series is episode composer Nami Melumad, who brings a lot of the active style of the TOS-era scores and combines it with the cinematic scope of the modern Star Trek feature films. She honors what has come before but shows freedom to have some fun too. And that is the sense you get from every element of the production, a love for the source material combined with a master level of their crafts.
Worth the wait
Like any television series, and certainly a Trek TV show, results from episode to episode vary. Strange New Worlds is not perfect by the first half of its first season. Most of the laughs lines and bits land, but some fall a bit flat. Canon is respected, but sometimes it is strained. The commentary is thought-provoking but in at least one case approaches the preachy. But what matters is that Strange New Worlds is always fun, entertaining, exciting, heartwarming, inspiring, and most of all, very worthy of the name Star Trek.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds debuts on Thursday, May 5 exclusively on Paramount+ in the U.S., Latin America, Australia and the Nordics. The series will air on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel and stream on Crave in Canada. In New Zealand, it will be available on TVNZ, and in India on Voot Select. Strange New Worlds will arrive via Paramount+ in select countries in Europe when the service launches later this year, starting with the UK this summer.
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