‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ Cheerfully Returns to the Roots of Its Franchise 

Everyone else is getting sequels and prequels, might as well include one of TV’s most iconic franchises. Paramount Plus’ “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” is one of the most faithful reboots to its source material. After going through multiple shows that were dead serious and three movie cycles that stretched from grandiose to space opera, this one returns to brainy camp. Creators Akiva Goldsman, Alex Kurtzman and Jenny Lumet  feel genuinely inspired by the original Trek of the 1960s, where Gene Roddenberry’s sci-fi creation was colorful and hopeful. While “Strange New Worlds” is updated with modern slang and inclusivity, it wouldn’t seem out of place in a living room during the Johnson years.

Instead of crafting one huge storyline, this show returns to the episodic roots of “Star Trek.” Of course we get some essential intros in the pilot. It seems like the idea is to set the action before the Roddenberry show’s own timeline. We’re back in the USS Enterprise, but James Tiberius Kirk is not at the helm. For now the show’s captain is Christopher Pike (Anson Mount), who secluded himself in his snowy Colorado ranch after an incident where he foresaw his own death (as featured in “Star Trek: Discovery” for those who want to catch up). Pike is called out of vacation by his Starfleet colleagues when a crew goes missing on a planet which has not yet experienced “first contact.” Back in his yellow uniform, Pike returns to the Enterprise and we get to meet his crew, many of whom are instantly familiar. There’s science officer Spock (Ethan Peck), Una “Number One” Chin-Riley (Rebecca Romijn) and newcomer Nyota Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding). Saving a planet whose inhabitants are unaware of alien life is the first in the crew’s mission to boldly go where fans keep wanting to go again.

If you’re already a “Trekkie” then “Strange New Worlds” will feel like a welcome, if familiar snack. For newcomers this might still be an enjoyable first “Star Trek” series to start watching every week. Its cosmic road trip style and crew keep it engaging. This is also a fun show to look at, keeping the slick aesthetic established by J.J. Abrams’s 2009 movie. Most of its charm is in the spirit of the writing. There’s a classic preachiness to the material where it wears its ideals on its sleeve. In the pilot Pike, Spock and new crew member La’an Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong), wander in disguise through the uncontacted planet where a Starfleet crew went missing. Not only has this new civilization discovered warp technology, it is using it to make a dangerous bomb and is tittering on the edge of civil war. Pike and Spock point out that this is exactly the same situation as 21st century Earth! The message is what counts, so you’re not supposed to wonder why a planet many light years away kind of looks, dresses and talks like Earth circa 2022. 

Other episodes feature more of those welcome “Star Trek” plots where the writers almost make it look too easy. The Enterprise has to stop killer comets and negotiate with tough alien civilizations. Alien infections run rampant onboard and make the crew members act in strange ways. Other crew get injured and nearly stranded on dicey locales (like a killer comet). The ride is worth it since the cast is also very well assembled. “Star Trek” as a franchise has always been at the forefront of pop inclusivity, so along with Uhura hailing from Africa, we also get Erica Ortegas (Melissa Navia), who is Latinx and entrusted with running the deck by Pike. Other characters are simple “Star Trek” necessities, like nurse Christine Chapel (Jess Bush). The writing still contains plenty of little treasures for the diehard Trekkie. Noonien-Singh’s last name links her to one of the franchise’s most famous villains, Khan. When we first see Pike, he’s cooking breakfast for someone in a ranch living room that looks suspiciously like Kirk’s digs in “Star Trek: Generations.” 

But let’s not linger too much on fandom chatter. “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” is revamped old-fashioned TV updated to our current reality, but keeping alive a spirit from the ‘60s classic that has been somewhat lost in what followed. Newer “Star Trek” titles, like “Picard,” have been skillfully made, but can be more somber than escapist fun. It’s easy to lose count of how many times we’ve seen an Enterprise captain face off with some alien warrior on the deck screen, waiting to see who will fire the first beam. You already know that the command to raise the shield is uttered continuously. Yet we also like to ponder the future and no franchise has defined that aspect of sci-fi like this one. “Strange New Worlds” simply remembers that it’s just as essential to laugh and have a good time.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” season one begins streaming May 5 with new episodes premiering Thursdays on Paramount+.