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The Hollywood Insider Star Trek Strange New Worlds Review

Photo: ‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’

New Student in an Old School

The second episode of ‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ is upon us, and after being a bit hesitant with the first episode, I can say that I’m actually looking forward to more adventures with Captain Pike and his crew. ‘Strange New Worlds’ is only the latest entry in what has been a meteor shower of new ‘Star Trek’ content, with five shows premiering in the past five years alone; that’s about as many as all the ‘Star Trek’ shows previously combined in the franchise’s history. Newcomers will likely be confused as to what to watch and in what order, since, like ‘Discovery’, ‘Strange New Worlds’ is a prequel series — a sort of sequel to ‘Discovery’, but still taking place several years prior to the start of the original series.

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If you have even a cursory knowledge of the original series, you’ll know about James T. Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, and the other main crew members of the Enterprise. Uhura was played by Nichelle Nichols (who, along with William Shatner and George Takei, is thankfully still with us) in the show that had started it all, and in that series, she was the ship’s highly professional communications officer. Uhura was a groundbreaking Black character in the history of television, lacking in stereotypical behavior, not to mention being treated by the rest of the crew as a perfectly capable officer; if anything, her unfortunate limitations as an active player in the series were more due to her gender than her race.

‘Strange New Worlds’ gives us a much younger and more uncertain Uhura, played by Celia Rose Gooding, who (at least judging from the first two episodes) is the closest we have to a point-of-view character in this new series. I’ll delve into how this show manages the legacy characters later, but for now, I’ll say that giving us an iconic character like Uhura at the very start of her career was an ingenious move. The Enterprise itself has been quite literally the franchise’s flagship for over half a century, but seeing it through the eyes of Uhura as a rookie gives it a coat of fresh paint.

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‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ – Hailing All Frequencies

Fans of ‘Star Trek’ come in many shapes and sizes, and I suspect a great deal of them will find something at least enjoyable in ‘Strange New Worlds’, which looks to take a more nostalgic route than other recent entries in the franchise. When I say “nostalgic,” I don’t mean strictly a reliance on legacy characters, although there is some of that; rather, I’m talking about capturing a certain spirit in the old shows (namely the original series and ‘The Next Generation’), a sense of hope for the future despite past traumas, and genuine excitement about — well — seeking out a new life on distant worlds. Indeed, the first episode is a classic premise of the “first contact” variety, a real meat-and-potatoes affair about humanoid aliens who are on the verge of destroying themselves — not unlike mankind in its own past. While I was not enthused by the slightly pretentious tone of the first episode, it makes sense to introduce an openly nostalgic series like this one with a type of plot quite familiar to ‘Star Trek’ fans.

‘Strange New Worlds’ occupies a rather precarious place in the franchise’s continuity since in terms of internal chronology, we had first seen Pike in ‘Discovery’, but we also know (from the original series) that things won’t turn out very well for him in the long run. Pike was captain of the Enterprise prior to Kirk, and we (and Pike) know that by the time Kirk takes command, Pike will be bound to a wheelchair, only able to give simple responses. That Pike, who starts out here as being in unofficial retirement, ultimately returns to his post, shows his dedication to the job, not to mention we get more of Anson Mount as arguably the single most charismatic ship captain in the whole franchise. Pike’s days are numbered, but regardless of whether you’re a diehard fan or have only seen a few episodes of ‘Discovery’ or the original series, you’ll find the journey to be a reward in itself.

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There are a few other callbacks (or callforwards?) that I noticed, most obviously at the beginning of the first episode where Spock nearly consummates his relationship with T’Pring, his wife-not-to-be. Anyone who has seen “Amok Time,” one of the most famous episodes (and maybe my personal favorite) from the original series, knows that Spock and T’Pring will never be married, and that T’Pring will run off with some other guy, lending a bitter taste to the otherwise tender scene. Needless to say, you’ll get more out of ‘Strange New Worlds’ if you go into it with more foreknowledge about franchise lore and character details.

Familiar Faces and Situations

I want to get back to Uhura in a minute, because I do think her inclusion in the show shows the most promise, but I want to talk more about Spock, and especially Ethan Peck’s rendition of him, since he is such an iconic character. As you probably know, Vulcans are (along with Klingons, and maybe the Borg) the most recognizable race to come out of ‘Star Trek’, which is ironic considering how little exposure they actually get across the franchise. When someone thinks of a Vulcan, they’re guaranteed to think of Spock — and indeed, with the major exception of Tuvok from ‘Voyager’, every Vulcan of note has been either Spock in all but name or simply Spock himself. After the late Leonard Nimoy, Peck has some mighty big shoes to fill, but I’m happy to say that (so far, anyway) he’s shown himself to be quite capable in the role; whereas Zachary Quinto’s version of Spock from the J. J. Abrams reboot films always struck me as emotionally sensitive to the point of straining believability, Peck’s Spock walks the fine line between stoicism and emotional honesty.

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Then there’s Gooding’s Uhura, who at this point in her life isn’t even sure if she wants to be in Starfleet. I’m not sure about the chronology of a very young Uhura being a cadet on the Enterprise while Pike is still captain, but I also see it as an unspoken and lovely passing-of-the-torch moment, with Pike in the third act of his career while Uhura is at the beginning of hers. All due respect to Nichelle Nichols, who had to make do with her version of Uhura being underwritten, but I do think Gooding’s version of the character comes out stronger, in no small part because of her heightened role as an active member of the crew. We’ve seen rookies in ‘Star Trek’ struggle to prove themselves, from “Lower Decks” in ‘The Next Generation’ to the recent animated series that takes its name from said episode, but with Uhura, we’re given new insight into a character we’re already deeply familiar with.

My one big reservation about the use of legacy characters in ‘Strange New Worlds’ is that they might overshadow those whose origins are more recent; a good example would be Una Chin-Riley, played by Rebecca Romijn, who was previously seen in ‘Discovery’ and who acts as the ship’s first officer. It could just be that she is given very little screentime in the first two episodes, despite her prominent rank (being second only to Pike), but I’ve found Una to be a forgettable presence — which could pose a problem, but it’s hard to tell at this time.

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These Are the Voyages…

If you’re like me and you’re sort of overwhelmed by all the recent ‘Star Trek’ content, not to mention the more self-serious direction the live-action shows have taken, then you owe it to yourself to at least check out ‘Strange New Worlds.’ Of the three live-action ‘Star Trek’ shows currently airing, ‘Strange New Worlds’ is by far the most optimistic, the most charismatic, the most entertaining, and perhaps most importantly, the most Trek-y of the bunch. I admit, I’m biased; I much prefer ‘The Next Generation’ over any of the recent shows, although ‘Lower Decks’ is well worth checking out in its own right. While ‘Strange New Worlds’ does fall prey to the pseudo-cinematic cues of the other live-action shows, taking after the Abrams movies on a visual level (so many lens flares), it feels like classic ‘Star Trek’ on paper. The result is a show that feels like a curious crossbreed between old and new values — classic science fiction mixed with modern-day inclusivity. Some Very Serious People will inevitably take issue with Uhura’s heightened role, not to mention the show’s more egalitarian gender and racial politics, but those people don’t deserve such a fun show anyway.

‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ is available to stream on Paramount+, with new episodes being released weekly.

CAST: Anson Mount, Ethan Peck, Celia Rose Gooding, Gia Sandhu, Jess Bush

CREW: Creators: Akiva Goldsman, Alex Kurtzman, Jenny Lumet, Producer: Andrea Raffaghello, Composer: Nami Melumad

By Brian Collins

Click here to read The Hollywood Insider’s CEO Pritan Ambroase’s love letter to Cinema, TV and Media. An excerpt from the love letter: The Hollywood Insider’s CEO/editor-in-chief Pritan Ambroase affirms, We have the space and time for all your stories, no matter who/what/where you are. Media/Cinema/TV have a responsibility to better the world and The Hollywood Insider will continue to do so. Talent, diversity and authenticity matter in Cinema/TV, media and storytelling. In fact, I reckon that we should announce “talent-diversity-authenticity-storytelling-Cinema-Oscars-Academy-Awards” as synonyms of each other. We show respect to talent and stories regardless of their skin color, race, gender, sexuality, religion, nationality, etc., thus allowing authenticity into this system just by something as simple as accepting and showing respect to the human species’ factual diversity. We become greater just by respecting and appreciating talent in all its shapes, sizes, and forms. Award winners, which includes nominees, must be chosen on the greatness of their talent ALONE.

I am sure I am speaking for a multitude of Cinema lovers all over the world when I speak of the following sentiments that this medium of art has blessed me with. Cinema taught me about our world, at times in English and at times through the beautiful one-inch bar of subtitles. I learned from the stories in the global movies that we are all alike across all borders. Remember that one of the best symbols of many great civilizations and their prosperity has been the art they have left behind. This art can be in the form of paintings, sculptures, architecture, writings, inventions, etc. For our modern society, Cinema happens to be one of them. Cinema is more than just a form of entertainment, it is an integral part of society. I love the world uniting, be it for Cinema, TV. media, art, fashion, sport, etc. Please keep this going full speed.

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