If the modern Star Trek shows have all felt a little off to you, Strange New Worlds may be what you’ve been waiting for.
The modern era of TV Star Trek has been more than willing to experiment with what a Star Trek show is. Discovery and Picard both focus on heavily serialized season-long plotlines. Lower Decks is an animated sendup of (and love letter to) Trek‘s cultural peak in the ’90s. And the computer-animated Prodigy aims for a younger audience, with simpler storylines, a lighter tone, and tween-y interpersonal melodrama aplenty.
What none of these shows has explicitly tried to do is replicate the format of older shows like the Original Series or The Next Generation—monster/alien/glowing-godlike-being-of-the-week stories where no matter how bad things might look for our heroes, everything will be more or less wrapped up at the end of the hour.
Strange New Worlds faithfully follows the episodic template developed and perfected over many seasons of television and many hundreds of episodes of Trek shows of years past, and the result is a comfortable, old T-shirt of a show. Familiar plotlines, storytelling beats, and crew dynamics quickly emerge over the course of the show’s first five episodes, and Strange New Worlds is executing on all of it remarkably well. It’s also by far the safest, most retread-y of all of the new Trek shows, for better or worse.
Familiar old crew
Strange New Worlds benefits from the work done to establish Christopher Pike (Anson Mount), the latest iteration of Spock (Ethan Peck), and Una “Number One” Chin-Riley (Rebecca Romijn) in the second season of Discovery. Mount in particular has successfully cultivated a Cool Hot Space Dad vibe for Pike that is nowhere to be found in Trek’s original failed pilot-turned-cost-cutting-flashback sequence.
Even most of the “new” characters—Cadet Nyota Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding), Nurse Christine Chapel (Jess Bush), Dr. M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun), and Chief Security Officer La’an Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong)—are either lifted from the Original Series or directly inspired by established characters. Because it’s not starting from scratch, Strange New Worlds hit the ground running, avoiding the awkward first-season break-in period that most Trek shows suffer from as they attempt to fill in backstories and depict mind-bending sci-fi scenarios at the same time.
Strange New Worlds picks up where that season of Discovery left off, with a few scenes to remind everyone exactly what happened on Discovery in the first place—Discovery‘s plotting is convoluted at the best of times, and any pre-pandemic television season feels as distant to me as the burning of Rome. Pike has glimpsed a grim vision of his own future, and he decides to carry on captaining the pre-Kirk Enterprise in spite of it.
After establishing that, though, the show makes only occasional nods in the direction of serialized storytelling, and most episodes follow a pattern that even casual Star Trek fans will recognize: A threat or unknown anomaly is introduced, the crew puzzles over the situation together in ways that help to establish their characters, and then the situation is resolved by some combination of diplomacy, phasers, and good-old-fashioned know-how.