Opinion

A TV adventure definitely worth the Trek

Critics say 'Star Trek: Strange New Worlds' goes back to the future and finds gold

Star Trek is boldly going where the original series went before, and critics are loving it. 

Premiering May 5, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is the sci-fi franchise's latest Paramount+ streaming series following shows like Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard. But more than any other recent Trek, this one is a throwback to the 1960s series that started it all. It's a prequel centered around Christopher Pike, captain of the USS Enterprise prior to James T. Kirk (William Shatner), who was seen in Star Trek: The Original Series. Anson Mount stars as Pike after a turn playing the same role in Star Trek: Discovery, and other iconic characters from the original series are involved, including Spock (Ethan Peck), Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding), and Number One (Rebecca Romijn). 

A refreshing throwback 

An even bigger throwback, though, is the way the show is structured. Recent Trek series like Discovery and Picard have embraced serialized storytelling. But Strange New Worlds returns to the original format of telling more standalone stories that wrap up by the end of each episode. Critics say that decision really pays off, making for what CNET's Richard Trenholm calls a "playfully retro romp."

At Rolling Stone, Alan Sepinwall writes that both Discovery and Picard found themselves bogged down by "season-long arcs that simply couldn't sustain themselves for such an extended period." But going back to the adventure-of-the-week formula of the original Star Trek was a wise move, Sepinwall says. "It's almost startling how effective the old format is after all this time," he writes. "The early episodes of Strange New Worlds have a little bit of everything the franchise has tried over the years: exploration, diplomacy, action, even comedy." 

By embracing this classic format, Strange New Worlds "moves with such a rapid clip that it is free to bounce between tones and genres as it leaps from one adventure to the next," writes Gizmodo's James Whitbrook, who says it's "incredibly exciting" how unpredictable the show is as a result of the creative freedom this provides. Variety's Zack Handlen also says Strange New Worlds "avoids [Discovery's] struggles with serialization and scope," even if the tradeoff is it's ultimately less ambitious. "While the more episodic style may be old-fashioned," Handlen writes, "it's refreshing to watch something that isn't pretending to be a 10-hour movie." 

The best modern 'Trek' show? 

On the other hand, Dave Nemetz at TVLine hopes "these new worlds get a bit more strange," praising the format but arguing the early storylines are "just OK" and "pretty standard sci-fi fare." Still, Nemetz says the show boasts "maybe the strongest crew of the current Trek series." 

In particular, critics praised Mount's performance as Pike. "The Enterprise could seemingly be powered by Mount's charisma alone," writes IGN's Scott Collura, while IndieWire's Christian Blauvelt says he's "one of the finest additions" to Star Trek in recent years, "a character who's just as expressive when he isn't talking as when he is." The Wrap's Thelma Adams also wrote that Ethan Peck "nails" the character of Spock while "being sexy and unflappable in his own unique, boyish way." 

While the show is a throwback, "it's not mere nostalgia that's powering Strange New Worlds' warp core," says NPR's Glen Weldon, though Rolling Stone's Alan Sepinwall does say that to some extent, the show may be "looking backwards a bit too much," and Entertainment Weekly's Darren Franich says that despite its title, Strange New Worlds isn't especially strange nor new.  

But The Hollywood Reporter's Daniel Fienberg concludes that after the "gritty darkness" and "twisty mythologizing" of the franchise's last few shows, Paramount+ may have finally "cracked the Star Trek code" with this series that's "bright, optimistic and fundamentally episodic in nature." Indeed, Paste's Terry Terrones says Strange New Worlds "feels more rooted in the DNA of the Star Trek mythos" than any recent series, and Slashfilm's Witney Seibold goes as far as to call it the "best Star Trek show in decades." 

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds' premiere is now streaming, and Paramount+ will beam up new episodes on Thursdays. The show has already been renewed for a second season, which will see Paul Wesley take over Shatner's role of James T. Kirk.

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