Star Trek: Strange New Worlds has a lot of promise. As far as nü-Trek is concerned, the franchise has been in dire straits. Star Trek: Discovery feels like an abandoned show at this point, and the less said about Star Trek: Picard, the better. Only Star Trek: Lower Decks has managed to capture some of the classic energy that made this property a cornerstone of pop culture. Now, after countless seasons of dourness, Strange New Worlds is vowing a return to the more episodic and explorative foundations of the original series.
And it’s hard not to be a little hopeful. The look and mood of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is certainly the most lively live-action Trek we’ve seen since Star Trek Beyond. The cast is up for the challenge – with the exception of Ethan Peck whose Spock is a little too harsh in his flatness at times – and seems to understand the right balance they need to strike with this iteration of the property. There’s a pep in this show’s step that has been missing from most of the modern Trek outings, and although there are moments of fan service that come across as pandering (the Prime Directive one takes the crown for egregiousness), it’s a relieving feeling for Trek to have some threads of cornball warmth in it again.
Naturally, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds won’t be truly standalone as an episodic series. There are serialized elements that will likely rear their head in almost every episode of the season, and that’s the first initial worry about the series. We already have baggage from Star Trek: Discovery when it comes to Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) and his dilemma of knowing about his chairbound future. Spock is engaged in his first scene and it’s clear his relationship with T’Pring (Gia Sandhu) will be a recurring story beat that will define his character for the season. And then there is La’an Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong), a clear relation to the infamous (and overused) Khan Noonien-Singh. As if that name didn’t portend enough, she is given a patented Dark Backstory about surviving against the Gorn that looks like it will be a large factor in her approach to problems in the future.
Here’s the thing: these elements on their own aren’t what makes me nervous about Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. As plot beats on paper, there are potentially interesting directions to take these ideas. However, nü-Trek has proven time and again that it rarely can handle these sorts of dramatic threads with any delicacy or verve. Akiva Goldsman is given the reins here, writing the premiere episode and heading up the series as showrunner. His screenwriting history includes Batman & Robin, The Dark Tower, Rings, and Transformers: The Last Knight. To be fair, he also has writing credits on well-received films like A Beautiful Mind and Cinderella Man, but even those movies reveal a wispy sentimentality that could come across as dunderheaded and reductive when coupled with the classic Trek formula. While the franchise should certainly be aspirational, Goldsman has a tendency to sound more than a little “Hallmark greeting card” when his writing gets starry-eyed. And he often likes getting starry-eyed. Hopefully, the writing team for Strange New Worlds will be able to add some more diverse energy to this initial season.
In all honesty, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is perfectly fine, but that makes it seem way better when graded on the recent curve of Star Trek offerings. At the outset, it feels more in line with the jauntier facets of the Kelvin timeline entries. That’s a plus considering Discovery and Picard felt far more indebted to the horrendous Star Trek Into Darkness and its particular brand of po-faced misery. And the episode’s conclusion to its problem of the week does come across as genuine in its attempt to feel like classic Trek. The pieces are here for something that could effectively hearken back to the original series while presenting itself as modern and flashy. As someone who values the hope that Star Trek can embody, I want to believe that the future is bright for Strange New Worlds. But part of this journey is sailing into the unknown. Let’s see if this new Trek series boldly goes somewhere worth following.