Even though it begins with a “Previously, on…” recap, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds remains primarily an adventure-of-the-week series in Season 2. It’s also by far the closest Trek to the original in style. Of the first six episodes (of ten) provided for review, two overtly deal with social issues by featuring aliens who have to pass as human to avoid discrimination, and one feels like an outright horror fakeout episode in that classic Rod Serling mode. There’s a time travel adventure, there’s the classic trope of a Starfleet guy who made himself ruler of a backwards planet, and even an all-out, sitcom-style, wacky hijinks episode in which Spock loses all control of his emotions right before dinner with the in-laws. It’s a perfect mix of tones, whereas most modern Trek picks a lane and sticks to it.
For what it’s worth, the crossover episode with Lower Decks does not occur in the first six, so we’ll have to wait and see how that fits in.
Space Dad 4 Ever
The most striking thing about these is just how much of an old-school TV leading man Anson Mount is turning out to be. Numerous times, both his actions and his line delivery seem like just the sort of thing Michael Landon would have said or done as Little House on the Prairie’s Charles Ingalls. He’s the perfect Space Dad — sensitive when he needs to be, tough when he has to be, and always righteous. Also apparently a hell of a cook, though who are we to judge Vulcan cuisine? We don’t see this sort of old-school hero much on current TV shows, and there’s something very surprisingly comforting about it.
Where Strange New Worlds most drastically differs from the original series, however, is in letting different characters take the lead week-to-week. It’s a strategy for longevity, as a variety of main characters gives writers more to work with. But it’s also a formula for good vibes, ensuring the current supporting cast members won’t become annoyed at one lead hogging all the glory. Ask George Takei how that feels, or rather, wait until he volunteers it, again. So while there are Pike and Spock-centric episodes, La’an (Christina Chong), Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding), Una (Rebecca Romijn), and Ortegas (Melissa Navia) all shine at the center of their own adventures, while Chapel (Jess Bush) and M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) make strong supporting showings throughout. Carol Kane joins the crew in an occasional guest star role as the new chief engineer Pelia, but she’s used sparingly, for flavor.
Speaking of camera-hogging former leads, James T. Kirk (Paul Wesley) is back, first as an alternate-reality version but later as the prime version, and it’s…odd…MisterSpock. Most actors would try to Shatner it at least a little, but while Wesley tries to slip some of the pause cadence in there subtly, he’s more like a cross between Chris Pine and Jim Carrey. As long as he’s been an alternate-universe Kirk, that’s gotten a pass, but now, he’ll make you wonder how this guy becomes Shatner-Kirk. It’s a problem to a lesser extent with Ethan Peck’s Spock, who’s much more sensitive and understanding than Leonard Nimoy on the original show. However, there’s at least one episode here — the sitcommy one — where we get a hint both of the future, less-emotional Spock and the potential oncoming trauma that may lead him there.
As yet there’s no more mention of Pike’s doomed future, which is for the best. While many of us would probably dwell on such a thing every day of our lives, this is a show that works best with as little continuity baggage as possible. The Klingons are back, looking and acting like proper Klingons, and nobody says anything. (Sybok, at this point, isn’t.) Rest assured that somebody will come up with an explanation in the future for their weird Discovery detour, but save that for someone else. It’s a nice change to have a streaming show that can be watched out of order, or over time.
Verdict So Far:
Nothing here should make hardcore devotees tear up quite like the Enterprise-D’s appearance in Picard Season 3, and that’s okay too. Trek was always meant to entertain, with a side dish of idealism, and Strange New Worlds complies with this Prime Directive. For the second season, it feels like the mandate was more fun, fewer larger arcs, no big twists. Ethan Peck’s Spock — and the rest of us — might just consider that both logical and heartwarming.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 2 begins on Paramount+ Thursday, June 15.