Strange New Worlds Is Classic Star Trek at Its Best

Pike, in his orange captain's uniform, smiles in front of a computer display of the Enterprise.

Image: Paramount

It is a strange feeling to get excited about a show I technically don’t care about. Or at least I shouldn’t. Star Trek is a franchise that I’ve never been particularly into, and what I know about it has mainly been gleaned by osmosis during 20 years of covering nerd news. It was just enough to make me consider jumping into Trek when Discovery kicked off its new era, and again when Patrick Stewart returned as Picard for Picard, but both felt like they required years of lore I just didn’t have.

But the newest series, Strange New Worlds, has made me more interested in Star Trek than I have been… ever?

I’m sure part of the show’s appeal to me is its clear, concise premise—it follows the crew of the Enterprise during “its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.” The fact that SNW features the same mission, the same ship, and some of the same characters as the original 1960s Star Trek TV series also certainly held some allure. But, having watched the first two episodes, I can tell what has made Strange New Worlds one of the highlights of my week: it is incredibly easy to watch, understand, and enjoy.

This is no small feat for a show in a franchise as big and with as devoted a fanbase as Star Trek. Much like all of Marvel’s TV series and movies are tied together into one inextricable saga, newer Trek shows like Discovery and Picard have built on existing parts of the franchise, using them as load-bearing pillars to prop up their stories. Although Strange New Worlds has connections to the broader franchise, they are superfluous. For instance, I know (through that osmosis) that Strange New Worlds is a direct continuation of the adventures of Captain Pike (Anson Mount) after he starred in Discovery’s second season. And I obviously know that SNW serves as a prequel to the original 1960s series, given that Pike was the first captain of the Enterprise, seen in the show’s first pilot before being replaced by Captain Kirk. That, and SNW stars younger versions of original series mainstays Spock (Ethan Peck) and Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding). But I haven’t needed to know any of that to understand and enjoy the series.

As far as I can tell, the only major development that carries into SNW from either series is that in Discovery’s second season, Pike learned he was fated to get caught in a radiation leak that would leave him disfigured, unable to communicate, and almost wholly confined to a life support chair, a future seen in the original series episode “The Menagerie, Part 1.” But Strange New Worlds explains this quickly, succinctly, and fully without becoming beholden to any other part of the Trek franchise. I have seen neither Discovery nor that TOS episode, and SNW gave me everything I needed to know in the pilot episode’s first few minutes. I’m sure there are plenty of Easter eggs for Trek fans throughout the series; for instance, Spock’s fiancée T’Pring (Gia Sandhu) briefly pops up for a scene. But the scene isn’t dependent on knowing whatever encounter she and Spock will have in the future. Maybe it helps, or gives things an extra layer of meaning, but it wasn’t necessary.

Image for article titled Strange New Worlds Is the Star Trek Show I, a Non-Trek Fan, Have Been Waiting For

Image: Paramount

To say this is refreshing is an understatement, but Strange New Worlds takes its simplicity even further. As showrunner Henry Alonso Myers promised, the show is episodic, which means each episode tells a self-contained story instead of a chapter of one continuing, season-long narrative. To put it another way, Strange New Worlds follows the classic model of The Original Series and Next Generation as opposed to Discovery and Picard. In each of SNW’s first two episodes, they have encountered one sci-fi conundrum, solved it, and moved on. An entire adventure—a complete short story—told in 50 minutes.

The result is that watching SNW is easy to watch in a way most nerd franchise series simply aren’t. What was the last Star Wars anything you read that wasn’t predicated on knowing at least the original trilogy in some fashion, or featured a surprise character from the comics or animated series? What’s the last Marvel product you consumed that didn’t require you to have watched other movies or TV shows, or read certain comics, to fully make sense? There’s nothing wrong with that, and those long-form narratives can be immensely satisfying when told when. But there’s also something supremely satisfying about sitting down to watch an hour of TV and getting an entire story—beginning, middle, and end—told during the course of it.

As any fan of classic Trek TV series knows, these short stories don’t have to preclude character development, and Strange New Worlds doesn’t either. The self-titled pilot sees Pike wrestling with how he should spend his present when he knows his horrific future, while this week’s episode, “Children of the Comet,” focuses on new cadet Nyota Uhura as she comes to realize the Starfleet career she arbitrarily chose might have more to offer her than merely an escape from her tragic past. I look forward to seeing what Strange New Worlds holds for other classic but largely unexplored characters like Number One (Rebecca Romjin) and Nurse Chapel (Jess Bush), as well as its new characters.

Honestly, I just look forward to new episodes of the show, and seeing it actually explore the universe of Star Trek instead of going back over old ground—even if it is set in some of the oldest ground Trek has to offer. I don’t know if the show will be enough for me to consider myself a Trek fan, but even though a mere two episodes have aired on Paramount+, I’m absolutely a fan of Strange New Worlds.


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