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Star Trek: Strange New Worlds review: Old school is new again

It might not have a big movie on the horizon, but Star Trek is still in a pretty great place right now. The long-running sci-fi franchise has multiple critically praised series currently in production, spanning a wide range of audience demographics and formats, from family-friendly space adventures (Star Trek: Prodigy) and serialized cosmic drama (Star Trek: Discovery and Picard) to raunchy animated comedy for adults (Star Trek: Lower Decks). That covers a lot of ground, but the latest addition to the franchise — the Paramount+ series Star Trek: Strange New Worlds — still manages to find plenty of fresh stories to tell in fascinating ways.

Created by Akiva Goldsman, Alex Kurtzman, and Jenny Lumet, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is ostensibly a spinoff from Star Trek: Discovery chronicling the adventures of Capt. Christopher Pike and the crew of the USS Enterprise after their appearance in season 2 of Discovery. The series brings back Anson Mount (Hell on Wheels) as Pike, along with Ethan Peck as Spock and Rebecca Romijn as Number One, Pike’s second-in-command.

Rebecca Romijn, Anson Mount, and Ethan Peck walk in the hallway of the USS Enterprise in a scene from Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Mount impresses as Pike

Unlike Discovery, however, Strange New Worlds takes an episodic approach to the Star Trek universe, with Pike and his crew tackling a new dilemma in each chapter of the show — much like the Enterprise’s crew did in the original Star Trek series and many of its successors. While there are a few significant, overarching narratives, they take a back seat to the mystery-of-the-week format of Strange New Worlds, which often feels more closely aligned with the franchise’s original spirit than the modern, decompressed dramas of Discovery and Picard.

Strange New Worlds owes much of its existence to the positive buzz Mount generated in his debut as Pike in Discovery, and over the first five episodes of the series, he does nothing to suggest that  thewarm reception wasn’t deserved.

Every Star Trek captain has a set of traits that defined them in their respective series, from the brash confidence of William Shatner’s Capt. James T. Kirk to the resolute calm under pressure that Patrick Stewart brought to Capt. Jean-Luc Picard. In Discovery, Pike proved to be a brilliant judge of character, innately aware of whom he should trust, what wisdom he can glean from those around him, and how to make the best use of that information. Strange New Worlds continues to use Pike’s relationships to those around him to elevate the character, and Mount’s performance is as steady and inspiring as the role demands.

It might seem like hyperbole, but it’s easy to imagine just one season of Strange New Worlds delivering enough memorable moments and stirring performances from Mount to put Christopher Pike in the conversation when discussing the franchise’s most revered captains.

Anson Mount as Christopher Pike stands on the bridge of the USS Enterprise in a scene from Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Spock’s inner life

The series’ other featured cast members rise to the occasion, too, with Romijn and Peck both adding an impressive amount of depth and nuance to their characters over the course of the season. While Peck received plenty of screen time in Discovery, it’s in Strange New Worlds that we’re given our best look yet at Spock’s life outside Starfleet — not just his childhood on Vulcan (which we learned a lot about already), but what the half-Vulcan icon does when he’s not on duty.

The series brings in plenty of compelling new characters and new faces playing familiar characters, too. Celia Rose Gooding manages to walk the line between embodying what we know of communications officer Nyota Uhura from Nichelle Nichols’ original portrayal of the character and expanding the space she fills in Star Trek lore. As Christine Chapel, the Enterprise nurse originally played by Majel Barrett, Jess Bush does a similarly impressive job of juggling the expectations for an established character and the need to give the Chapel the additional depth she deserves.

The aforementioned, episodic formula of Strange New Worlds is a welcome return, too. While Discovery and Picard rely on fascinating, far-reaching stories that deliver a drip-feed of high drama and escalating stakes, Strange New Worlds offers a reminder that compartmentalized adventures still have a place in the Star Trek universe — and can offer just as much entertainment and satisfaction as a season-long arc.

Christina Chong, ethan Peck, and Anson Mount talk while standing in a room of the USS Enterprise in a scene from Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The episodic format of Strange New Worlds also offers storytelling opportunities that wouldn’t be possible in Discovery or Picard, which need to maintain a more consistent tone across a full season. The original Star Trek series — as well as Star Trek: The Next Generation and the other episodic series in the franchise — occasionally offered up some memorable, lighter stories that showed a softer, humorous side to the franchise and its stars. That tradition is picked up again in Strange New Worlds, which finds some clever ways to poke fun at itself and the seriousness of its world on occasion (particularly in the season’s fifth episode, playfully titled Spock Amok).

It seems bizarre to suggest that the decision to embrace the formula that made the original Star Trek series so successful is what makes Strange New Worlds stand out from the pack now, but it’s true. In recent years, the Star Trek franchise has proven itself to be surprisingly malleable for all manner of storytelling, and the projects that have come out of this renaissance period for the sci-fi saga have each brought something new, fresh, and entertaining to Star Trek’s legacy.

Amid all of that, Strange New Worlds is a welcome reminder of both how far the franchise has come, and how much it still has to offer.

Season 1 of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds premieres May 5 on Paramount+ streaming service.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (2022)

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
1 Season
Sci-Fi & Fantasy
Anson Mount, Ethan Peck, Rebecca Romijn
Watch on Paramount+

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Rebecca Romijn, Anson Mount, and Ethan Peck walk in the hallway of the USS Enterprise in a scene from Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.

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