Star Treks” whether needed or not, but its latest, “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds,” draws more heavily on the original series than perhaps anything in the fleet. A direct prequel populated by younger versions of characters like Spock and Uhura, it’s hardly a bold construct but it’s mostly an entertaining one.
The series is built around previous USS Enterprise captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount), who of course would meet an unfortunate fate during the original series (the actual product of a passed-over TV pilot, but never mind). Here, Pike is alive, well and in command, with his First Officer (Rebecca Romijn), young science officer Spock (Ethan Peck, the grandson of Gregory Peck) and newly minted cadet Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) among those joining him on the voyage.
Other familiar names, if not faces, pass through this “Trek’s” orbit, from Nurse Chapel (Jess Bush) to some of the alien threats to even Spock’s intended mate T’Pring (Gia Sandhu), with whom he and Captain Kirk had a memorable run-in over those unorthodox Vulcan mating rituals.
While the characters build a bit over the five episodes previewed, “Strange New Worlds” goes back in time in more ways than one, in part by employing an episodic format that largely hinges on facing individual threats that are resolved within each installment. It’s a departure from the serialized template of something like “Picard,” which is wrapping up its second season and, while every bit as immersed in “Trek” nostalgia, hasn’t really improved from its rocky start.
Viewers wholly immersed in “Star Trek” lore will surely find some swoon-worthy aspects in the throwback approach and loving references to the 1960s granddaddy of them all, as well as amusing wrinkles like Uhura, as a newbie, being playfully pranked by her crewmates.
Still, “Strange New Worlds” is so enamored with those callbacks as to somewhat limit its appeal, at least among those who can’t identify individual episode titles or thrill to more obscure references, like remembering Chapel’s crush on Spock.
Introduced as Pike in “Star Trek: Discovery,” Mount is an earnestly likable version of a modern starship captain, graced with a welcome of sense of humor to go with a square-jawed presence that allows him to snap off lines like, “You let me worry about Starfleet.”
Paramount, for its part, doesn’t appear to have any worries about saturating the “Trek” market, although perhaps it should, as the service continues using new series iterations as an obvious means to help power its streaming enterprise.
From that perspective, “Strange New Worlds” is basically mistitled. Because while it offers a credible and polished extension of this venerable brand and greater exposure to different parts of the “Trek” universe, because its mission relies so heavily on building off of the original series, there’s not much that’s strange or new about it.