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Tag: Science Fiction

Why Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is So Good

Another “Star Trek” series? Yep! And this is the one we’ve been waiting for. Here’s my review…

I’ve been a “Star Trek” fan since I was a kid, when I watched reruns of the original series. (My mom would often organize dinner with my dad around me watching Kirk, Spock and Bones at 6pm on WPIX.)

I’ve stuck with the entire Trek universe across all of these decades, and I’ve generally enjoyed every iteration.

Born from “Discovery”
“Star Trek: Discovery” has been the main “Trek” property over the past few years. It’s felt heavy at times and has gone through narrative course corrections in each of its seasons.

Honestly, it’s been a bit too dark and stiff for me. Universal destruction is always just around the corner. Yes, the writers keep adding lines about how the crew is family and how much they love each other. Yes, there’s a lot of hugging and tears. But, I just don’t feel it. Not really.

When a younger Starship Enterprise showed up in season 2 with Captain Christopher Pike, played by Anson Mount, the positive change in energy was dramatic. Sure, it was a gamble giving us another Spock, played by Ethan Peck, but it worked. Plus, we saw Pike’s bold Number One, played by Rebecca Romijn. And instantly, I wanted the storytelling to stay with this younger pre-Kirk Enterprise.

And clearly, I was not alone.

Hit It
Now, we’ve got “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds,” a new series on Paramount+, which follows the voyages of the Enterprise in the decade before Kirk took over. If you’re a Trekkie, you know that Captain Pike and his crew were introduced in “The Cage,” the first pilot for “Star Trek” way back in 1965. (That footage was eventually repurposed in the two-part “Star Trek” episode “The Menagerie.”)

After watching the first two episodes of “Strange New Worlds,” I’m happy to say that this series perfectly captures the energy and fun of the original show.

Yes, fun.
Saving the galaxy used to be fun, right?

There are lots of complementary elements that are helping this new series to hum at warp.

The Strong Cast
Though Pike is now (minor spoiler alert) burdened by knowing his future, Anson Mount continues to give us a compelling Starfleet captain who’s collaborative, funny and also a tad irreverent.

The writers are quickly focusing on exploring the supporting cast. We’ve already got a nice sense of Nurse Chapel played by Jess Bush, and the second episode focuses on Cadet Uhura played by Celia Rose Gooding.

The producers have taken some creative license to update these younger versions of these famous characters, and it’s all for the better. I’m not going to hold the producers to perfectly reflect every detail of the original “Star Trek.”

Better Special Effects
The same goes for the Enterprise. Yes, it’s the same ship, but there are subtle differences on the outside and major enhancements on the bridge. And thanks to modern CGI effects, this ship can really fly. And I cannot tell you (Geek alert!) how much fun it is to watch the Enterprise in action.

The more advanced special effects are a welcome improvement.

Back to the Future
“Strange New Worlds” also benefits from a healthy dose of nostalgia. Sure, there’s a lot of runway for the missions of this previously unexplored crew, but everything feels so familiar and immediately comfortable. The communicators, the tricorders, the transporter beams, and all of those techie sounds… you know all of them!

“Star Trek” series have spent decades trying to differentiate themselves from the original show. “Strange New Worlds” doesn’t need to. These are actually the first chapters of the same Enterprise story.

It’s refreshing that we again get to see the Federation during its peak years, when everything seemed possible.

No More F-Bombs
And I am so happy that this is again TV-PG Star Trek, void of all that unnecessary bad language and occasional F-bombs that have plagued “Discovery” and “Picard.”

“Star Trek” doesn’t need to be so dark and “edgy” to connect with it’s 2022 audience. I think especially these days, we need a reminder that being bright and optimistic is achievable.

I’m looking forward to inviting my 12-year-old son to watch “Strange New Worlds” with me. (He’s not yet connected with “Star Trek” the way he has with Marvel and “Star Wars.”)

Time to Enjoy
No, it’s not groundbreaking “Trek,” but it’s not trying to be. “Strange New Worlds” still succeeds on many levels. It firmly represents “Star Trek’s” core, gives us a great Captain Pike (Thank you, Anson Mount), and most of all… it’s simply refreshing.

And fun.

It’s exactly what we need.

Feeling Burned by Star Trek: Discovery’s Season 3?

After watching the season finale, this Trekkie’s got some thoughts to share about the latest season of “Discovery.” Here’s my review:

You can’t blame “Star Trek: Discovery” for not trying. Season 3 attempted to envision a universe 930 years into the future, tackled big social themes and finally decided to give a little more screen time to its supporting cast of regulars.

This CBS All Access series originally insisted that is was not your parent’s “Star Trek.” It tried to be darker, edgier and bolder. Characters used four letter words, though not very convincingly (and far more awkwardly than in “Star Trek: Picard”).

The writers spent much of season 3 trying to return into the fold. There were multiple references and story devices from the old “Star Trek” manual. And in the end, we found ourselves right back where we started, with the same closing music as the original series.

This return continues a long overdue course correction. It was so obvious that there was no real need to separate itself from its heritage when we saw how the best episodes from season 2 focused on Captain Pike from the original Enterprise.

And you can’t say “Discovery’s” season 3 wasn’t earnest. No way. There was so much hugging and crying. Crying and hugging. I lost track how many times “I love you” was in the script. The writers were clearly working hard to finally evolve this crew into a “Star Trek” family.

And “Star Trek” at its core has always been about family. I just don’t know that I needed the “Discovery” writers constantly telling me that.

Warning Signs
As the credits rolled at the end of season 3’s finale, I’ve got to admit, I wasn’t pumped. But I didn’t feel burned either. Season 3 was… fine. For me, “Star Trek” is always better than no “Star Trek.” But I can’t deny I’m still a wee disappointed.

It’s not that season 3 was bad. It just couldn’t quite elevate itself beyond its own unremarkable storytelling.

The writers put a huge effort into building a diverse and inclusive set of relationships. In fact, in many ways, that’s really what season 3 was about. The Burn and (minor spoiler) rebuilding the Federation was just something for this group of Trek characters to focus on. And that’s all great.

But then, the writers ran out of steam (Dilithium?) when it came time to come up with some cutting-edge science fiction storytelling worthy of the “Star Trek” universe.

Why So Far?
Moving the story 930 years forward is a huge leap. Unfortunately, this future doesn’t look all that different. Sure, personal transporters are cool and organic tech is nice, but I would expect something more dramatic a millennia out. And that requires more writing muscle… not special effects.

Yes, I understand that the writers needed to warp Discovery into a new era that was not burdened by existing Trek canon where the Discovery doesn’t exist. (A downside of creating a prequel series.) But a hundred years forward past Picard is all they really needed to do.

Back to the Future
And it’s ironic that the writers ultimately created a new “Star Trek” future that in many ways had gone back in time.

They were pulling on the same storytelling threads as the creators of “Star Trek: Enterprise” when space was truly the final frontier… again.

Missed Opportunities
I’m happy to allow a series some leeway in plot development as long as the writers stick their landing by the end. Over the course of 13 episodes, I feel that season 3 was not entirely successful. (Spoilers ahead.)

Tilly
“Discovery” has painfully stuck with this character and promised some future payoff. I understand that Ensign Tilly (Mary Wiseman) is evolving, but after three seasons, it’s not fast enough. When Tilly finally got her big chance and sat in the captain’s chair, she essentially blew it. Later, her moment of redemption wasn’t all that satisfying.

The Mirror Universe
You know there’s a problem when “Discovery’s” best episodes focus around the linked alternate universe. But by now, this Trek storytelling device is feeling a bit tired. Even though it was the main reason that Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) had anything to do in season 3, watching the alternate versions of our other characters as two-dimensional opposites grew boring. Sure, Georgiou evolved, but her own universe wasn’t able to.

The Source of the Burn
Really? I expect we’ll see some therapy sessions in season 4 for someone.

The Discovery’s Big Brain
Remember when Discovery’s computer acquired 100,000 years of data from the alien sphere in season 2? The only influence from that upgrade was when the computer pointed Discovery to meet up with Carl. There’s a lot of untapped plot potential that the writers ignored.

Carl
Again… Really? You can’t recycle a classic Trek plot device like that and simply rewrite it as Carl. A ‘Q’ character would have been better.

The Bad Guys
A 1960’s biker gang with a really big ship. Is that what capitalism eventually evolved into? Osyraa (Janet Kidder) needed more screen time to develop beyond her two-dimensional antagonist.

Saru
Captain Saru (Doug Jones) sits at the center of the heart of “Star Trek: Discovery.” His humanity, even in Kelpien form, shines bright. He’s the perfect Federation captain on paper.

But his evolved and balanced perspective isn’t ultimately suited for this future frontier. Not as captain of the Discovery. It’s a bittersweet conclusion.

The Good News
So, I wouldn’t be a Trekkie if I didn’t prove how geeky I am by nitpicking. Sure, season 3 could have been better, but it still had a lot going for it. The special effects were great, although I would have appreciated a few more closeups of the new starships.

It benefited from a generally strong cast. (I really liked the addition of Book’s character played by David Ajala.)

Of course, Sonequa Martin-Green is the star of the ensemble. Her Michael Burnham has often created more problems than she’s solved, but her passion and sense of purpose and drive to do what’s right has continued to power this entire series forward. Martin-Green provides almost limitless emotional and physical energy in this regard.

As it turns out, breaking the rules in the 31st century is seemingly okay as our new Prime Directive. It’s an odd conclusion that doesn’t quite fit with what the writers have otherwise been trying to accomplish. But it continues to fuel Burnham’s success. So, in what has become a season-ending Discovery ritual, it’s time to switch up the captain’s chair again.

Let’s Fly?
I’m happy that “Discovery” is embracing his own heritage.

And I’m always pleased to be watching more “Star Trek” after all of these decades. It hasn’t gotten old. In fact, its familiarity is more comforting than ever, especially in today’s unstable reality.

There’s also something to be said for watching science fiction and not feeling depressed as a result. You can count on “Star Trek: Discovery” for maintaining its sense of Trek-infused optimism.

I don’t think season 3 is the best of the series. (I prefer season 2.) It’s certainly not the boldest. But “Discovery’s” imperfections ultimately didn’t prevent me from still enjoying the ride.

Oh… and that last line in the season finale…
“Let’s fly.”

Really?
(Just go with it.)

Locutus, Is that You?

“Star Trek: Picard” is going back to the future by drawing heavily on its past. But not how you’d think.

Nobody escapes the ravages of time without stacking up some serious scars along the way. It doesn’t matter which future ‘enlightened’ century you’re from.

That’s the major premise of “Star Trek: Picard.” And after watching seven episodes of the first season, it’s entirely clear what’s going on here. And I’ve increasingly enjoyed what the writers are doing.

Core Damage
Forget the story… Good Romulans. Bad Romulans. Data’s daughters. Abandoned Borg. Federation conspiracy. That’s not really what’s important.

This new “Star Trek” series is essentially about broken people, just trying to hold it together. Trying to figure out how to play the cards they’ve been dealt. Trying to make the right choices.

And as for Picard, we don’t get the great captain we once knew. Oh no… Since the last time we saw him, he’s made a few bad decisions (for the right reasons).

So, now the great Jean-Luc is having a tough time getting out of bed in the morning, and I’ve got to admit, I was interested in what the heck had happened!

I think it’s a great premise for this new series on CBS All Access, as opposed to more standard-fare plots that focus on new alien species each week.

Reunion
Yes, something is definitely rotten in the state of Denmark. But, all is not bad. We are still in the same hopeful galaxy that all Trekies have grown up in.

“Star Trek: Picard” also gives us a chance to reconnect with some of our favorite “Star Trek” characters… Seven of Nine as well as Riker and Troi.

Everyone here has their own demons to deal with. And as we already care deeply about these characters, how they’re coping is especially interesting. But even when our heroes from back in the day are down, they’re not out. Come on… this is still “Star Trek,” right?

Unfortunately, the reunions are short-lived as the larger plot focuses on the newer characters. Nevertheless, as a viewer, it still feels like enjoying a cup of hot cocoa on a cold day.

“Shields Up!”
“Nepenthe” (episode 7) with Riker and Troi was an especially healing experience to watch.

No, the band’s not getting back together, but seeing that they actually could after all of these years is an affirmation to Trekies, who have remained committed to the core of “Star Trek” (just substitute the dinner table for the old Enterprise ready room).

Honk if You Like the Borg
This enduring emotional connection is a solid reminder why “Star Trek” is not “Star Wars.” It’s the journey that matters, not the next light-saber sequence. That’s what “Picard” really focuses on. Traveling through life can often be the most challenging journey of all.

(Minor spoiler alert)
In one moment mid-season, a former Borg spots Picard rushing through a hallway and calls out hopefully, “Locutus, Is that you?!”

You can detect a hint of desperation in his voice.

Yes, even the Borg (some of them) are having a rough go of it here. They’re not the bad guys anymore.

I smiled. Not because it was funny, but because it was so unexpected. Yet so perfect.

It’s an insignificant moment in the larger story, but it’s a gem, because it successfully taps into the deep culture of Star Trek, built across decades.

The series may have started off a little slowly, but it’s this attention to the many details from past “Star Trek” series that’s making “Picard” particularly delightful.

Family
If you’re a Trekie, and you haven’t tried “Star Trek: Picard,” you really should. In so many ways, it’s successfully returned to the core of what makes “Star Trek” great.

It’s always been about family.

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