Exploring ‘Strange New Worlds’

Published 5:47 pm Friday, June 16, 2023

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When Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek first began airing in the 1960s, no one knew just how much the franchise would continue to grow over the years. But now there are several spinoff series, more than a dozen movies, a library’s worth of novels and novelizations, countless video games, merchandise, and much more.

In fact, there are so many spin offs that the first Star Trek series picked up the moniker “The Original Series” (or TOS for short) to distinguish it from the rest. TOS aired three seasons on NBC from 1966-1969 until it was canceled because of low ratings. (Proving that sometimes it takes a while before popularity really hits.)

My introduction to the franchise happened in the 90s. With a love of watching adventurous people fly through space meeting new aliens every week, I gobbled up every episode I could find of the spinoffs Voyager, Deep Space Nine, and The Next Generation. In the decade after, I had the opportunity to dive into the movie series as well to catch up. (My favorite, of course, was “the one with the whales” and fun time-traveling shenanigans. Also known as “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.” I still recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good comedy, regardless if you’re really into Star Trek or not.)

But I’d never had much opportunity to watch The Original Series until much later. I’ve still never seen the series in full yet, though maybe one day I’ll finally catch up. From what I have seen so far, the plots range from thought-provoking to deeply silly, as any good science-fiction series should. Unlike some of the later Star Trek series, this one relies more on standalone episodes than ongoing storylines. And, of course, one of the things that made Roddenberry’s series stand out was its unwavering optimism about the future. Things weren’t perfect for humanity (or their alien neighbors in the galaxy) but there was a sense that any problem could be tackled with some ingenuity, kindness, and teamwork.

It always made me wish things worked more like that in the real world.

The Star Trek franchise has had somewhat of a resurgence in the past few years. Now there are several new spinoff series, including Discovery, Picard, Strange New Worlds, Lower Decks, and Prodigy. Those last two are actually animated, something the franchise hasn’t done in a very long time. Each series offers something a little different for the franchise: Picard tugs on people’s fond memories of The Next Generation for a nostalgia-filled tale; Prodigy is the family-friendly series if you want to introduce your children to the franchise; Lower Decks is full of the in-joke humor for long-time fans to enjoy.

All these series, however, are only available with a subscription to Paramount’s streaming service, so I haven’t had a chance to watch much of the newer series yet. But luckily for me, Paramount decided to release the first season of “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” on Youtube for free for a limited amount of time. (That is, until the end of June!)

And I’m writing this whole column just for an excuse to tell everyone about the opportunity to watch Strange New Worlds. Though I’ve only watched seven out of ten episodes so far, the series is delightfully entertaining and a return to the optimistic vibes of The Original Series.

That’s fitting, I suppose, since this series focuses on Starfleet’s flagship Enterprise in the decade before Captain Kirk was in charge. Even the opening theme tune is a nice homage to TOS’s classic catchy tune.

This Enterprise is captained by Chris Pike (portrayed by Anson Mount), a charming leader who’s sobered by an accidental glance into his future.

Those familiar with TOS will recognize a few other familiar names among Pike’s crew including Science Officer Spock (portrayed here by Ethan Peck), Nyota Uhura (in her younger cadet years, portrayed by Celia Rose Gooding), and Nurse Christine Chapel (portrayed by Jess Bush).

Rounding out the cast are other crewmates La’An (Christina Chong), Ortegas (Melissa Navia), Dr. M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun), Hemmer (Bruce Horak), and “Number One” (Rebecca Romijn).

In the episodes I’ve watched so far, the crew has had to navigate itself out of quite a few strange and sticky situations. They balance the classic science-fiction feel of questioning our place in the universe with entertaining adventures. Some storylines pack a punch that leaves the viewer reeling as the end credits begin to roll; others will leave them breathless from laughing. (Yes, there is an episode involving body-swap hijinks, and yes, it is hilarious!)

Occasionally, the plotlines may be a little on the nose, but that’s kind of what I’ve always expected from Star Trek. It’s a fictional franchise featuring aliens with pointy ears or funky foreheads; it’s not always going to be gritty, dark Emmy-winning television. Sometimes, you just want to sit down for an hour and have fun!

So if you have a chance this month, check out the first season of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds while it’s available on Youtube.

It’s a nice reminder of why the Star Trek franchise has endured in popularity for so many decades since the first time the Enterprise flew across our television screens to ‘boldly go where no one has gone before.’

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7206.