The Marvel-ization of major franchises — wringing as much IP out of fictional universes, be they Star Wars, DC, and of course Marvel itself — has led to some very uneven results. I’ve been underwhelmed by every Phase 4 production except for Ms. Marvel, while Obi-Wan Kenobi felt kind of unnecessary.
One happy exception for me has been Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, which manages to combine the best of the original series with The Next Generation, while adding in plenty of new twists. It's currently airing on Paramount Plus, and its season 1 finale drops today (July 7).
Spoiler warning: Set your phasers for stunned if you haven’t seen any episodes, because there are many spoilers ahead.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds plays fast and loose (and dark, too)
The penultimate episode of the first season saw the untimely death of not just Random Crewmember Whose Name We Just Learned, but also of Hemmer (Bruce Horak), who had played a fairly significant role in the first few episodes. While this presumably sets the stage for the arrival of one Scottish-brogued chief engineer, it was definitely shocking to see a larger figure killed off as quickly as Ned Stark.
Strange New Worlds is not afraid to mix in homages, both to earlier series as well as classic sci-fi movies. The aforementioned episode has some heavy references to Aliens, complete with an orphaned girl in a similar situation. And, it’s no less thrilling. I was hoping that The Serene Squall (episode 7) would show a bit more of Spock taking on the role of Captain Picard/John McLane in the Starship Mine/Die Hard nod, but it certainly offered a great twist — I hope to see more of Jesse James Keitel in future episodes, as she was great, if a little hammy. Then again, William Shatner wasn't known for his subtlety.
It’s also one of the darkest Star Trek series since Deep Space Nine. Apart from the body-dismembering Gorn (which they needed more than a makeshift cannon to kill), there’s also a society whose survival depends on sucking the life out of a small child. And then there’s Pike’s premonitions about his grisly fate.
That’s not to say that there isn’t some levity mixed in. Captain Pike has some serious dad energy, and the banter between Spock and T-Pring, his bride-to-be, is funnier than any Vulcan has a right to be.
Outlook: Strange New Worlds wins by finding humanity (and Easter eggs) in the galaxy
Mostly, I’m stuck by the — and forgive the lack of a better term — humanity of the series, aliens notwithstanding. A number of the major characters have had a real chance to develop in between the adventure of the week. Rebecca Romijn has morphed into the role of Number One role as easily as Mystique changed shapes, and Jess Bush (Nurse Chapel) and Celia Rose Gooding (Uhura) have also delivered strong performances.
The show is also fairly clever in referencing other Star Trek characters, be it Noonien Singh or Sybok. The only one that seems forced is George “Sam” Kirk, the
future father brother of one James Tiberius.
I should say that while I enjoy Star Trek, I’m not its most obsessive fan. I’ve seen all of the movies, as well as most of the original series, The Next Generation, Picard (season 1 was better than season 2, IMO), and bits of Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise. But I wasn’t motivated enough to watch Lower Decks or Discovery, though I’ve heard good things about them.
While Captain Pike has yet to have his shirt ripped off — though anything can happen in tonight's season 1 finale — this is definitely a series I’m going to beam back to when it returns.