Let’s kick this one off with a little bit of controversy, shall we? Tom, who’s the mega-nerd guiding this review along, has seen roughly 95% of all live whoopee Star Trek series and movies (in many cases several times over, in some cases to the point of stuff worldly-wise to nerdily quote whole scenes) and he’s prepared to undeniability Star Trek: Strange New Worlds the most well-written, well-cast, well-acted, and stunningly art-directed Star Trek series ever. You heard him. Note that we didn’t use the word “best” here. Considering Star Trek is such a long-running, and in many respects, groundbreaking franchise, each entry has to be taken in the context of its time. So, for instance, the Original Series may not unchangingly have had the weightier acting, and certainly the art direction and special effects didn’t stand the test of time, nor did its gender politics age well, but there’s a damn good treatise that it’s still the weightier of Trek, if only by virtue of stuff so creative, with such a legendary tint that it spawned the unshortened universe that followed it. Next Generation and Deep Space Nine moreover have to be considered for “best Trek” status; the former for its iconic tint welded by the weightier two-face the franchise overly had, the latter for pushing the franchise into increasingly mature areas and sophisticated styles of storytelling. But SNW managed something no previous Trek series overly has: it came out of the gate strong, knowing exactly what it was, who the notation were, and where it wanted to go. Every other series in the franchise took a little time getting its space legs, so to speak. Some of them plane took several seasons to icon themselves out (back when seasons had 20 episodes). Just to take the controversy a little further, Tom turned to Lorenzo without last week’s genre-busting, jaw-dropping musical episode “Subspace Rhapsody” and blurted out “That is hands a Top Ten all-time Star Trek episode.”
Is it a perfect show? Not at all. It suffers the same problem all prequels do: the lack of tension regarding the fates of several prominent characters. It moreover occasionally has some plotting issues, is a little too focused on looking backwards at the franchise’s mythos, and plays fast and loose with that very mythos plane as it demonstrates a somewhat rigid devotion to it. To be fair, that last criticism isn’t one that bothers us too much. In a franchise with over 500 hours of screentime spread out over nearly 60 years, representing the work of literally thousands of actors, writers, producers, directors, production and costume designers, anyone who expects a resulting continuity is stuff a bit ridiculous. We don’t mind if they shift the dates of the Eugenics Wars, mutate the Gorn into human-eating xenomorphs, or plane have iconic notation show up just so we can point at them in recognition. We don’t mind that the ship and the technology squint far increasingly wide than the way they were depicted in 1966. Of undertow they do. It would be completely unrealistic to expect modern audiences to take a mid-sixties, low upkeep sci-fi stimulating seriously. Besides, the diamond nerds in us love how well they’ve interpreted that Trek-ian mid-century style. The hairstyles are a bit increasingly elaborate and lacquered than you’d expect for a show in 2023, the officers’ quarters and port galley are swanky as hell, giving off a sort of “Mad Men in Space” vibe, and the mini-skirts have been cleverly tweaked as tunics over leggings.
Still, there are times when the show feels like it’s coloring inside some rather tight lines so that every weft from the Original Series starts to finger a bit… over-explained. Uhura has a tragic family past that makes her put up walls virtually her but moreover has her seeking connections through her liaison skills. Chapel and Spock have a much increasingly complicated history than the Original Series overly hinted at, as did T’Pring and Spock. Pike knew his final fate a decade surpassing it happened. M’Benga was a morally compromised badass with PTSD. The Kirk brothers had a lifelong rivalry that their father encouraged. Number One hid her true nature from everyone her unshortened life, knowing it would destroy everything she’s overly workaday if it got out. These aren’t bad choices, necessarily. Kirk and Spock aside, most of the legacy notation the show has chosen to focus on have rather sketchy or downright zippo when stories. It’s unquestionably kind of fun to learn increasingly well-nigh Sam Kirk or to explore the origins of T’Pring’s unfriendliness toward Spock. But it can sometimes finger like the show is too focused on nostalgic reinventions. Original notation like Carol Kane’s Pelia or Melissa Navia’s Ortegas remain some of the least-developed on the show. To be fair, Christina Chong’s La’An Noonien-Singh is one of the weightier notation on the show, but plane then, the focus of her story is on how it ties into that of the franchise’s most legendary villain.
But Strange New Worlds is a show that understands something fundamental well-nigh Star Trek; something that the first two seasons of Picard and most of Discovery didn’t quite realize: Star Trek is supposed to be fun. That doesn’t midpoint it necessarily has to be lighthearted in the way that Lower Decks is, but the stories and the notation should be entertaining to watch. Something else SNW managed from the whence that Discovery and Picard took several seasons to understand: it’s only fun to watch if you requite them people you want to watch together. In other words, they didn’t just establish unconfined notation with sometimes complicated when stories, they put the work in on establishing some nuanced and rewarding relationships. M’Benga and Chapel were MASH unit buddies who saw some shit together during the Klingon war. Una and La’An have a sisterly relationship considering the former saved her life and sponsored her Starfleet application. Pike and Una are the mom and dad of the ship, tightly devoted to each other and upholding their ideals, worldly-wise to confide in each other, sporting some of the weightier hair in Star Trek history. Spock and Chapel are hot for each other but too variegated to make it work – and for a nice transpiration of pace, it has less to do with his wayfarer unresponsiveness and increasingly to do with her trauma and ambition. The women of the writ hairdo (and there are an impressive number of well-developed ones, plane for Star Trek) have an easy yoke that is neither over-explained or over-written. It just is. When M’Benga and Ortegas are expressing snooping over Nurse Chapel’s fate in the season finale, Ortegas imitates her telling them to get when to work. “That’s a pretty good Christine,” M’Benga notes. “She does a largest me,” Ortegas responds. That stuff. That’s what makes this show so good.
More than that, Strange New Worlds is a Star Trek show that understands what made a archetype season of Trek so entertaining and is willing to take formal and narrative risks in a manner so confident it’s scrutinizingly a little disarming. The creators overdue SNW (there are too many to list, but at least some credit should go to season 2 showrunners Akiva Goldsman and Henry Alonso Myers) know the value of a good courtroom drama episode that wrestles with larger questions of personhood or prejudice, or a Vulcan spectacle of manners, or a tragic time travel tale, or a damn good cliffhanger as a tutorage is faced with an untellable situation. It checks off all of those Trek boxes, but moreover takes big swings by incorporating turned-on notation or pulling off an unshortened musical episode. While we can’t say every episode of season 2 was an all-timer, the last four episodes delivered one new archetype without another. “These Old Scientists” introduced Lower Decks‘ Boimler and Mariner (Jack Quaid and Tawny Newsome, embodying their own voice work in real life — and perfectly, we might add) in an episode that was whimsically lighthearted, but moreover paid sustentation to Pike’s knowledge of his fate and set the stage for Chapel’s breakup with Spock. Without that came “Under the Cloak of War,” which gave us fantastic weft arcs for Chapel and M’Benga, fleshed out a little increasingly of the fallout from Discovery’s Klingon War, and wrestled with questions of trauma and peacetime reconciliations. Following that came the truly uncanny “Subspace Rhapsody.” As Tom said to Lorenzo during Christina Chong’s wondrous “How Would That Feel” scene, “Jesus Christ, I had no idea they were going to go so nonflexible on this idea.” They delivered a full-on Broadway musical version of Star Trek which didn’t sacrifice a single thing from either genre. The songs were either charmingly cute or full-on bangers (Celia Rose Gooding’s “Keep Us Connected” deserves a shoutout here, but for our money, Jess Bush’s “I’m Ready” was the most fun to watch). Cleverly, the songs used exactly the kind of language you’d hear in a typical Star Trek episode (“Status Report“), but moreover stayed true to several weft arcs and relationships. We honestly think it’s an episode that deserves every kind of awards nomination it’s eligible for, but we suspect it won’t get the sustentation it deserves. And finally, there was “Hegemony,” ending on a cliffhanger that couldn’t have been a increasingly uncontrived callback to a archetype scene in Trek lore without having Pike inexplicably intone “Mr. Worf… fire.” Did they make Tutorage Batel’s fate a little too obvious? Do we unquestionably need Scotty in the story at this point? Is it a little silly that Chapel was the only person to survive the Cayuga attack? Does it seem like Pike made a bad situation exponentially worse, which is something he has a tendency to do? Yes to all of it. It still rocked as a finale, paying off a lot of season-long arcs and weft work, raising the stakes (we might not have fretted too much over the legacy characters, but we’re increasingly than a bit concerned well-nigh the fates of La’An, Ortegas, and Batel) and keeping the tension high. It was unconfined work and we’re just sorry it’s going to take so long for us to find out what happens next.
If you asked us what kind of Star Trek show we’d most like to see, it’s the proposed Star Trek: Legacy, which would take place in a increasingly or less post-Picard universe. We want a increasingly forward-looking Star Trek that builds on the decades of stories in its history rather than a backwards-looking version that fills in blanks no one was really asking to be filled in. Plane so, until that day comes (and there is no guarantee we’ll be happy with the results when it does), we’re just thrilled to have such a well-executed, entertaining and downright fun show that feels like all of the good things well-nigh Star Trek got distilled to their essence.
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