‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ Review: Retro Adventure Sets Phasers to Fun


The USS Enterprise is back and boldly returning to its original-series roots in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. Beaming down to planets! Weird illnesses! Submarines in space! Shirts coming off!

Strange New Worlds is streaming now on Paramount Plus, with episode 1 released May 5 and new installments beaming down every Thursday. Right from the start, it’s a rollicking return to the traditional Trek that longtime fans may’ve missed in the recent wave of mold-breaking Star Trek shows like Discovery, Lower Decks, Prodigy and Picard. From its stirring new take on the memorable Star Trek: The Original Series theme tune, to chunky bridge consoles, a square-jawed captain and weekly episodic adventures, the series is a playfully retro romp.

That said, Strange New Worlds takes the traditional Trek formula and stirs in more-modern elements, like deeper character backstories and overarching storylines. But that’s far looser than in Discovery and Picard, which were powered almost entirely by ongoing plotlines.

The series begins with Captain Christopher Pike hiding out in the snows of Montana after his misadventures in Star Trek: Discovery. You don’t need to have kept up with Discovery: All you need to know is he’s haunted by visions of his own death and it’s made him sprout a massive beard. Adventure quickly intrudes on Pike’s introspection, however, as a Starfleet shuttle sweeps in and whisks him back to the Enterprise on a rescue mission to save his trusty first officer.

Celia Rose Gooding as endearing young Cadet Uhura in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.

James Dimmock/Paramount Plus

And then it’s off to the races. In the first five episodes made available to press, the Starship Enterprise has a new adventure each week, doing classic Trek stuff like investigating comets and negotiating treaties. Allegories are unsubtle. Lessons are learned in personal logs. And the production design also sidesteps one of my personal bugbears about Discovery, that it was meant to be a prequel yet looked more technologically advanced than any of the Trek that supposedly came after. Strange New Worlds tempers this with its satisfyingly chunky starship aesthetic, all fire engine red surfaces and physical control consoles. 

Following the bold but somewhat divisive departure from the Trek formula in Discovery and Picard, it’s tempting to see Strange New Worlds as an olive branch to disgruntled fans. Within minutes the show mentions Bob April, the USS Archer, Lieutenant Kirk and various other bits of continuity which will make a Trekker’s pointy ears perk up. Cleverly, though, some of these references offer a bait-and-switch to keep you on your toes.

While there are several new faces, the show takes its cue from the movie reboots to bring us new takes on classic characters like Nurse Chapel and Cadet Uhura, led by Captain Pike and Number One (who appeared in the very first 1960s pilot episode before being replaced by the crew we know and love). And the introduction of troubled young officer La’an Noonien-Singh is an inspired setup for future drama. I’m particularly intrigued by a teasing glimpse of an original series enemy given a heightened air of menace and fear.

The new Enterprise crew: Celia Rose Gooding as Uhura, Melissa Navia as Ortegas, Ethan Peck as Spock, Bruce Horak as Hemmer, Anson Mount as Captain Pike, Rebecca Romijn as Una, Jess Bush as Chapel, Christina Chong as La’an and Baby Olusanmokun as Dr. M’Benga.

Paramount Plus

At the heart of the show is Anson Mount’s Captain Pike. Sort of a new character but also sort of an old one, Pike suffers from being a little too similar to Captain Kirk. Dispensing down-home, Western-inflected wisdom from the captain’s chair, Pike is basically Kirk with gray streaks. His country retreat even looks like Kirk’s dream home in Generations. But the square-jawed yet twinkling Mount is an immensely charming leader, and generously shares the spotlight with a crew of officers who are more rounded than previous bridge crews.

Celia Rose Gooding is particularly endearing as young Cadet Uhura, while Christina Chong gets the meatiest drama as La’an. For my money, Ethan Peck isn’t as Spock-y as the smoldering Zachary Quinto in the movies, but his dynamic with the rest of the crew is fun to watch. Rebecca Romijn has a bit of a thankless task playing a stern first officer who isn’t Spock, but the show gives her enough space and attention to slowly develop a character of her own.

While Strange New Worlds definitely evokes Star Trek: The Original Series, that doesn’t mean it’s staid or overly reverent. It’s playful, zingy stuff, driven by a diverse cast having fun running around in their sleek Starfleet uniforms. When I say the series takes its cue from the movie reboot (starring Chris Pine as Captain Kirk, Zachary Quinto as Spock and Zoe Saldana as Uhura), I mean that these are younger versions of the familiar characters. Younger, and sexier. Spock has his shirt off in the first 10 minutes, and is quickly tractor-beamed toward a love triangle with Chapel’s adorkable flirt, sparkily played by Jess Bush.

And like the movie reboots and recent TV shows, the overall tone is playful and quippy. These Starfleet officers somehow find time for Joss Whedon-esque banter and soul-baring emotional confessions even at life-and-death moments. This keeps things lively, though your mileage may vary with a relentless barrage of lines like, “We definitely pissed them off!” while they’re meant to be busy dodging photon torpedoes. Also, you may roll your eyes at each successively more melodramatic revelation of overwrought tragic backstory for seemingly everyone on the ship.

Still, Strange New Worlds is the Paramount Plus Trek show that finally relaxes and embraces the classic Trek format, while still feeling fresh and modern. It reminded me of the 2005 Doctor Who revival: Clearly made with love by fans of the original series, it jazzes up the theme tune, looks deeper into the emotional dynamics between characters and whisks you off your feet with fast-paced action. If that bugs you, well, go back to your starbase and your TOS VHS, Admiral Fun-Sponge. 

It remains to be seen how this new series will develop its ongoing plot threads through its episodic format. But at first glance, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is enjoyable, irreverent hokum. Sure, beam me up, why not.


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