Whenever I catch a new episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, I ask myself two questions: “What are the showrunners drinking?” and “Where do I get some myself?”
Just take a look at the final four episodes of Strange New World’s just-concluded sophomore season to see the incredible mojo the showrunners are working with. In succession, the show staged a time-traveling crossover with its animated sister show, Lower Decks, in “Those Old Scientist;” went extremely dark in a wartime story with a morally dubious ending in “Under the Cloak of War,” went all Rodgers and Hammerstein with the franchise’s first musical in “Subspace Rhapsody;” and wrapped up the season with a tension-filled disaster film complete with cliffhanger.
Looking at how dramatically different each episode synopsis is will give you emotional whiplash. But if you sit down and actually watch the episodes, you’ll find that, shockingly, they work, and work extremely well.
And that’s the beauty of Strange New Worlds, by far the most popular of the modern Paramount Plus era of Star Trek shows, and for good reason. As a direct prelude to the original Star Trek, it exudes a reverence and respect to the franchise. But at the same time, the show is unafraid of swinging big and doing things differently. It has a boldness and confidence that seemingly comes out of nowhere, but at the same time makes perfect sense.
On the surface, the show is an amalgam of those old ‘60s Star Trek vibes, dressed up in the more modern look inspired by J.J. Abrams’ rebooted film. But delve deeper into each episode and you’ll find it’s so much more.
That Strange New Worlds is able to deftly handle so many genres – comedy, horror, drama and, of course, musical – is a testament to a stellar cast seemingly game for anything. The first season more closely followed original Enterprise Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount), delving into his backstory and his eventual tragic fate – which sets up James T. Kirk as the star of the original series.
In the second season, the show takes the time to give its entire cast more love. Pike actually takes a backseat in multiple episodes, re-emerging at times as a surprising – and inspired – source of comedic relief. Episodes take the time to develop the rest of the cast, from an ill-fated romance between security officer La’an Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong) and pre-Enterprise Kirk (Paul Wesley) in an alternate timeline to Dr. M’Benga’s (Babs Olusanmokun) drug-enhanced Klingon-killing backstory.
That focus on the characters is key, and is a big reason why Strange New Worlds can get away with these risks. Even as it wildly shifts tone and stories from episode to episode, the show does a remarkable job of serializing character arcs, emotions and relationships that help viewers buy into this world and the baggage these Starfleet officers are carrying with them.
For instance, one throughline of the season is the burgeoning relationship between Spock (Ethan Peck) and Nurse Chapel (Jess Bush). You see it develop from episode to episode and with different characters, whether it’s a visit from Spock’s fiancé and overbearing parents or a time traveler from Lower Decks. It’s never the focus of any one episode, but is an undercurrent narrative that builds over time.
And that’s just two characters.
The show takes bold risks, and sometimes they don’t pay off (the musical one is…debatable), but Strange New Worlds earns a fair share of goodwill by sticking to the original series’ hopeful outlook. Things get grim and even dark, but many of the main characters, from Pike to Celia Rose Gooding’s Nyota Uhura and Rebecca Romijn’s Number One, are stubbornly optimistic and committed to doing the right thing. It’s been able to strike that delicate balance between dark and light that other modern Star Trek shows have struggled to achieve. Strange New Worlds makes it look easy.
There are too many standout moments from this second season, including the courtroom drama-inspired episode “Ad Astra per Aspera,” which compares favorably with The Next Generation classic “The Measure of a Man.” Everything about “Those Old Scientist” and intermixing of two live-action versions of animated characters shouldn’t work, but somehow does.
“Hegemony,” the season finale, introduces a key original series character amid the horrific disaster and the return of a vicious antagonist, and like many classic Trek finales before it, leaves us hanging for next season.
Many Star Trek fans already love and appreciate Strange New Worlds, but it’s worth a look even if you’re put off by traditional sci-fi. Who knows, it might make a Trekkie out of you.
If you’re interested in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, you can catch it on Paramount Plus.