'Star Trek: Strange New Worlds' Is the Best 'Trek' in Years
A return to form that feels both familiar and brand-new.
Since Star Trek: Discovery premiered in the fall of 2017, Paramount has treated us to a veritable wealth of Star Trek stories on our small screens, from Disco's epic that took us through the Klingon war and beyond, to the hilarious animated comedy Star Trek: Lower Decks, to catching up with a fan-favorite retired captain in Star Trek: Picard. There's something for everyone in all of these, but despite all the love the fans seem to agree that there's something missing from the format, particularly in the live-action shows. It's a fatigue we're all feeling now that so much streaming television plays as if a season is more like an 8- or 10- or 13-hour movie meant to be binged over a weekend: What happened to episodes? Part of the joy of a Star Trek show, from the very beginning, was the anticipation of seeing something completely new every week as the USS Enterprise bounced around the universe meeting alien races and soaking up the rays from distant suns. We're aboard an exploration vessel, after all. As the title of Paramount+'s fantastic new Star Trek: Strange New Worlds suggests, we're finally going back to basics.
First, a little bit of background. Strange New Worlds is set directly after the events of Discovery Season 2, which first introduced the new iterations of Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount), Vulcan science officer Spock (Ethan Peck), and Number One (Rebecca Romijn), and ended up being so popular that they were granted their own spinoff show. It also takes place a few years before Star Trek: The Original Series, and chronicles Pike's captainship of the Enterprise before the show that started it all turned the job over to one Captain James T. Kirk.
If you know who Captain Pike is, you already know why this is a particularly fun concept for a Star Trek show, but in case you don't, here's a fun fact: Pike is actually the first captain at the helm of Enterprise in the very first Star Trek episode ever, the pilot titled "The Cage" that NBC originally rejected, which wasn't broadcast on television until 1988 (though bits and pieces were used for the follow-up two-part episode "The Menagerie" later in the first season). Pike has shown up in various Star Trek properties since then, but has never gotten his own show until now. In a way, Strange New Worlds is Star Trek finally making the show they had planned from the beginning.
That's not the only way in which the show feels cozily retro: Strange New Worlds is, at last, a return to the episodic self-contained storytelling that made this franchise so much fun in the first place. The crew of the Enterprise disguise themselves as pre-Warp aliens to explore a new planet, they communicate with religious zealots protecting a deadly comet, they hide from a classic Trek villain and turn the ship into a haunted house, there's a hilarious shore leave episode and an episode where the crew has to fight a viral outbreak. The possibilities for this show are, quite simply, endless.
Part of the reason why it works so well (and probably the reason why it got a series order in the first place) is the cast and the way the show follows all their charming interpersonal relationships. Pike is reluctant to get back into the swing of things but game once he's in the captain's chair, trading familiar quips with his towering Amazon Number One, who makes the 1960s high ponytail look natural in 2022, somehow. Ethan Peck's rendition of Spock is shockingly good, down to reproducing a very close cousin of Leonard Nimoy's vocal range. A particular treat is Celia Rose Gooding as Ensign Nyota Uhura, playing the iconic character with a youthful uncertainty, yet still able to whip out a tone-perfect flourish with a touch of her communications earpiece. There's not a weak link among even the other members of the crew, which include Jess Bush's enthusiastic take on Nurse Christine Chapel, Babs Olusanmokun as the soft-spoken Dr. M'Benga, Christina Chong as stoic security specialist La'an Noonien-Singh (uh-oh!!), and legally blind actor Bruce Horak playing gruff warp core engineer Hemmer, a member of canonically sightless alien species the Aenar.
Though there is no main narrative arc, there are a few thoughtful throughlines the show follows with some of the crew, particularly concerning the terrifying fate of Captain Pike, which fans have known since the first Trek series and which was revealed to the character at the end of his tenure on Discovery Season 2. Anson Mount's Pike has the type of authoritative yet friendly presence we expect from a Starfleet captain, but he's visibly and understandably shaken from having seen a vision of his own death. The pall hangs over the first episodes of Strange New Worlds, which deftly take on the notion of fate and the possibility of choosing our own destiny. It's as if the show is talking directly to the audience and saying, "We know that you know how this is supposed to go, but keep watching, and you might be surprised." If we've learned anything from Star Trek, it's that the universe is full of surprises.