Star Trek: Strange New Worlds S2: alongside the best of the franchise

Anson Mount as Pike in ‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’. Michael Gibson/Paramount+

When Paramount announced in 2020 that they had green-lit yet another Star Trek series aboard the classic USS Enterprise, I had serious reservations. Where each of the other new Trek shows produced during the franchise’s streaming era showed off a unique twist on the time-tested format, Strange new worlds was sold as a deliberate return to form, with a familiar setting, crew and episodic structure. What would a new series about Captain Pike and a young Mr. Have anything else to offer Spock beyond an apology to fans who didn’t like how much Star Trek had changed over the past decade? I was worried that this new prequel would either lack its own identity or be filling in the lore of the universe and fade into the shadows of the series it was supposed to emulate.

What a thrill to be so wrong. Star Trek: Strange New Worlds has become not only the standout series in the modern franchise, but also an affirmation of the flexibility and accessibility of episodic television. The series bounces week after week from light-hearted adventure to cosmic horror to screwball comedy, showcasing not only imaginative ideas and spectacular visual effects, but also one of the most charming and versatile ensembles in the business. And rather than getting bogged down in the mythology of the franchise, it’s gleefully self-contained and friendly to new viewers. After a flying start last year, Strange new worlds returns with a confident second season that can stand alongside the franchise’s best entries.

Ethan Peck as Spock in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. Michael Gibson/Paramount+

The first season of Strange new worlds marked a return to the format of Star Trek: The Next Generation, in which most episodes highlight one or two characters while highlighting the week’s sci-fi issue. This wandering eye left each of the Strange new worlds a chance to thrive not only by giving their characters time in the foreground, but by establishing their chemistry and dynamics with each of their shipmates during their respective turns. In just ten episodes, an intricate web of relationships provided that sense of home and family that fans love so much in ’90s Trek, the serialized, star-focused series Discovery has not performed in four seasons.

Season two benefits directly from this investment. Most episodes still have a central character, but since they each have a number of attachments, their stories naturally spill over into the rest of the crew. For example, an episode centering on First Officer Una Chin-Riley (Rebecca Romijn) has immediate interests not only for herself and for her friend and commanding officer, Captain Pike (Anson Mount), but also for her mentee, Lieutenant Commander La’ an Noonian. -Singh (Christina Chong).

Strange new worlds also shows a clear trust between the writers’ room and the cast. Rather than being dear to established legacy characters such as Mr. Spock (Ethan Peck) and Nurse Christine Chapel (Jess Bush), this series allows them to live lives of their own as if there were no established precedent for how to used in a story. Season two still puts Peck’s Spock at the heart of the show’s broadest comedy and most thrilling romance, because regardless if that’s something you’d do with Leonard Nimoy’s Spock, it clearly works here.

This confidence is equally evident when it comes to the show’s own characters, like La’an and Ensign Erica Ortegas (Melissa Navia), who continue to evolve even as Star Trek icon James Kirk (Paul Wesley) and true comedic legend. Carol Kane joins the cast in recurring roles. Each cast member has found their groove, able to contribute to the show’s broad spectrum of tones, allowing each character to be more than one thing. Dr. Joseph M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) is both a compassionate doctor and a seasoned war veteran, while Ensign Nyota Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) is the franchise’s richest and most complicated “enthusiastic young space cadet”. This is without a doubt the strongest Star Trek ensemble since Deep Space Nine.

Jess Bush as Chapel and Babs Olusanmokun as M’Benga in ‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’. Michael Gibson/Paramount+

Of course, it’s not just the on-screen talent at work. Star Trek should be about big ideas as much as it is about big characters, and in this regard, Strange new worlds is also fully functional. While still guilty of Trek’s notoriously heavy-handed allegory and occasional genre cliché, most of the six season two episodes that Paramount pre-provided to critics feature more than one interesting sci-fi concept or use one. idea for more than one thematic purpose. . For example, a planet with memory-suppressing properties becomes a way to explore nature versus nurture, class stratification, the grieving process, and one character’s tumultuous love life. Nearly everything from the individual episodic thought experiments to the long-term character subplots to the additional levels of dramatic viewer irony studied throughout the show’s fictional history work together, and rarely in an indulgent or smug way.

The comparison with the lore-filled, nutrient-free fan candies from the latest season of Star Trek: Picard is day and night. So much media in this era of perpetual franchise expansion feels like it could have been written by an AI, absorbing the previous hundred hours of a saga and extrapolating what the next hundred hours might look like, without the benefit of any real imagination. It’s not new, it’s just more. Strange new worlds was created by a campaign of fans craving the familiar, yet it feels fresh and vital. It has the unmistakable taste of real human investment. The Spock/Chapel/T’Pring love triangle may have been suggested by The original seriesbut it’s part of it these serialsand to these storytellers. The Ensign Uhura honors the memory of Nichelle Nichols, but she is her own entity and a joy to watch on her own merits. If Strange new worlds would suddenly deviate completely from Star Trek canon and veer into its own continuity, never reconciling with the classic series, nothing of value would be lost. That’s, for my money, the biggest compliment you can pay a prequel.

'Star Trek: Strange New Worlds' S2 Review: Alongside the franchise's best entries

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