In part 1, I pointed out how many, many Trek fans have warmly and enthusiastically greeted STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS in a way they didn’t for DISCOVERY and PICARD. It’s not that those other two CBS Studios-produced series have been universally panned—in fact, a good number of fans (including me) enjoy both series much of the time.
But from reading reviews and comments on social media and websites, fans seemed to feel almost immediately that SNW felt like “real” Star Trek. I put “real” in quotation marks because “real” likely means very different things to different people. But in general, “real” Star Trek seems to be anything produced by Paramount prior to 2005, with the stuff debuting on CBS All Access (now Paramount+) from 2017 onward seemed to miss the mark. And I’ve decided to exclude the J.J. ABRAMS Star Trek movies in to avoid turning this into a three-part blog!
Anyway, I wondered what is what about SNW that made it feel like “real” Star Trek…which is such a vague and undefined term. So I decided to list some very specific reasons—obviously in my personal opinion. Here were my first five items (counting down from ten) from Part 1…
10. THE MAIN TITLE SEQUENCE
9. ESTABLISHING SHOTS ALLOW YOU TO SEE THE SHIP
8. NO SEASON-LONG STORY ARCS
7. A TRUE PREQUEL
6. MUCH LESS OF A “MANIC/DEPRESSIVE” PRESENTATION
Now let’s move up to the “top” five…
5. “WOKENESS”…IN MODERATION
And here’s where I get myself in trouble right out of the starting gate! Be advised, I am all for “wokeness” in Star Trek, and I applaud Discovery for introducing prominent LGBTQIA+ characters—along with a Black female lead and a solid mix of ethnicities including Asian, Latino, and Middle Eastern. Likewise, I support Picard in deciding to include a same-sex couple…even if the cast isn’t as ethnically or racially diverse as Discovery‘s.
And as we all know, Star Trek has never shied away from “wokeness” and progressiveness, with racially diverse characters dating back to Sulu and Uhura on TOS, Black admirals commanding Starfleet in the early Star Trek movies, a Black leading man on DS9, a woman commanding Voyager, and a fair range of other characters of color across the various TV series.
But for every super-woke episode like “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” and “A Private Little War,” there were many, many non-woke episodes like “The Tholian Web,” “Dagger of the Mind,” and “The Immunity Syndrome” (to name but a few)…and even some anti-woke episodes like “Turnabout Intruder.”
And indeed, when we talk about LGBTQIA+, nearly everyone mentions TNG‘s “The Outcast” and DS9‘s “Rejoined,” both of which made strong statements about homophobia. But beyond that? There wasn’t much for the gay or trans crowd to celebrate…even though something was certainly better than nothing.
All of this is to make clear that while, yes, Star Trek IS a “woke” and progressive franchise at its core, such things are typically done in moderation and in matter-of-fact ways. For example, Ben Sisko was Black, but so what? Kathryn Janeway was a woman, but who cares by the 24th century?
So in this way, Star Trek normalized what once seemed controversial. It took TOS three years to acknowledge that Uhura was Black when Abraham Lincoln refers to her as “a charming negress.” And when that happened, it was a MOMENT. And even Lincoln apologizes, “Oh, forgive me, my dear. I know that, in my time, some used that term as a description of property.” And Uhura explains, “In our century, we’ve learned not to fear a word.” Seventy-nine episodes, and only one scene like that because, in the future, a Black woman on the bridge wasn’t as big a deal as it was in the late 1960s.
So let me ask you something: which character(s) on Strange New Worlds are gay or bisexual or trans? I’m sure some will say Lt. Ortegas, and possibly so. But are we certain? Yeah, there was that brief scene with Number One in “The Elysian Kingdom” where it’s implied that their fantasy characters had a romantic history. But those were personas. And indeed, if Una and Ortegas had had a previous relationship, there would probably have been more discussion or at least another reference to it at some point in the season. If anything, there was an implication that Una and La’al might have some kind of history.
But my point is: we don’t know! The show isn’t making a big deal of it—like TOS didn’t make a big deal about Uhura being Black or Sulu being Asian. Sure, Pike and Spock are obviously heterosexual, although that was established in TOS, as was Chapel’s attraction to Spock. M’Benga had a daughter, so he’s probably straight, but we don’t know for sure. And that’s because SNW doesn’t consider it necessary to call attention to anyone’s gender or sexual preference unless a script calls for it…much like Star Trek prior to 2005.
In other words, SNW lets the “wokeness” happen when it needs to rather than pushing it to the forefront, like Discovery and Picard do. Not that the latter two series are inherently “woke” or overly progressive every single episode. But the progressive message can often become more prominent and noticeable than on SNW.
Neither is right or wrong. Indeed, many LGBTQIA+ and minority ethnicity people applaud the prominence of characters and actors on those series who are representative of segments of viewers who their often invisible and too-frequently persecuted . And indeed, all I am saying is that I believe that one of the many reasons that SNW feels more like “real” Star Trek is that it’s more, shall we say, “reserved” in calling attention to the progressiveness rather than wearing “woke” on its sleeve like a rank braid.
Okay, let’s move onto something less controversial…
4. NOT TOO MANY SIMULTANEOUS STORYLINES
As I mentioned in part 1, SNW is the first of the live-action CBS Studios-produced Trek series to opt for an episodic format rather than season-long arcs. And of course, over the course of five Paramount-produced series (six if you count the animated series) spanning over two dozen individual seasons, only one season was ever dedicated to the resolution of a single main storyline (the Xindi arc of Star Trek: Enterprise).
But that’s only part of the story when it comes to why SNW feels more like “real” Star Trek. Another is how many stories are being told simultaneously during each episode. TOS usually had only an A-story (for example: “The Return of the Archons” or “Patterns of Force”) or at most a simultaneous A-story and B-story (like “The Galileo Seven” and “The Paradise Syndrome”). I’m not sure if TOS ever had an episode with a C-story (maybe “Shore Leave,” but not really).
TNG usually had a minimum of an A-story and a B-story, with C-stories quite common, as well (for example, “Family” where Picard is back on the Vineyard with his brother, Worf’s parents visit the Enterprise, and Wesley deals with a holo-message left for him by his late father). And every so often, you’d get a special episode like “Disaster” where the crew is split up and there’s more than three simultaneous stories (Picard trapped in the turbo-lift; Troi, Ro, and O’Brien on the Bridge; Geordi and Beverly on the hangar deck; Worf with a pregnant Keiko in Ten Forward; and Riker and Data crawling through Jeffries tubes to engineering…did I miss anyone?). That’s an A, B, C, D, and E-story! But with TNG, DS9, VOY, and ENT, those kinds of “crowded” episodes were definitely the rare exception.
On Discovery and Picard, episodes limited to just an A-story and B-story are the exceptions. Usually, there’s at least a C-story, as well…and often a D-story, too. In fact, there were a couple of Discovery episodes this past season that pushed the counter all the way to an F-story! As I recounted in this blog, one episode featured…
1) Book’s emotional devastation over the destruction of his planet and loss of his family, 2) Michael’s struggles balancing command with personal feelings, 3) Saru’s return to Discovery, 4) Tilly’s problems adjusting to her new normal, 5) Adira’s uncertainty about Gray getting a new Soong-synth body, 6) Stamets’ feeling of inadequacy and struggles relating to Book…plus there was the anomaly to learn about and the fact that flames and rocks are spontaneously erupting onto the bridge during red alert!
Of course, one of the reasons that Discovery and Picard juggle so many storylines simultaneously is because, in addition to having a major season-long story arc, they also have character arcs that develop over multiple episodes. On Discovery, this often results in what I like to call “Meanwhile…” scenes that cut to sickbay, engineering, Adira’s quarters, etc. that show something important happening with a character who might not have anything to do with the main A-story or B-story or even C-story. But because their story arc is currently “in play,” the scene becomes necessary.
Keep in mind, previous Star Trek series (other than TOS) have included continuing character arcs—for example, Worf’s discommendation, Gul Dukat’s descent into madness, Tom and B’Elanna getting together. And SNW has them, too. But on SNW, there aren’t “Meanwhile…” scenes that seem to almost interrupt the episode. Instead, the main stories “trigger” the character development scenes in specific episodes.
For example, Dr. M’Benga’s daughter Rukiya first appears in “Ghosts of Illyria” when Hemmer discovers that the emergency transporter in sickbay is sucking down a lot of power to the pattern buffer. Her next appearance is in the episode “Lift Us Where Suffering Cannot Reach“, when it appears that the inhabitants of the planet Majalis might be able to help cure her (but it doesn’t happen). Rukiya’s final appearance in “The Elysian Kingdom” brings her story to a bittersweet end. So each time we saw Rukiya, it was an important part of the main storyline.
For this reason, SNW doesn’t tend to juggle as many simultaneous storylines in most episodes, giving the stories that are featured more time to breathe and develop.
3. MORE LIGHT-HEARTED MOMENTS
Remember when Star Trek used to take time out to laugh? Kirk or McCoy or Scotty would crack a joke, and the bridge crew would laugh. Data would try to crack a joke and fail, but the crew would still laugh. Even in the darkest days of the Dominion War, there were still opportunities for episodes like “Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang” and “Take Me Out to the Holosuite.” Neelix was constantly trying to lighten things up on Voyager, as was Tom Paris.
Now think about Discovery. In the first season, there were almost no light-hearted moments other than awkward ones when Tilly provided the desperately-needed comedy relief (and occasional F-bomb). Pike lightened things up a bit in season two, but all too often, Discovery had to carve out time for scenes of “breaks” or “celebrations” when the crew gets together specifically to let their hair down. I shudder to think what would happen if Discovery were to try to do comedy like the aforementioned DS9 episodes or “The Trouble with Tribbles,” “The Outrageous Onoka,” “Deja Q,” or “Bride of Chaotica.”
As for Picard, the one truly light-hearted episode they had was “Stardust City Rag” in season one. And while the series has had a few lighter moments—most of them involving Seven and Raffi, as well as Rios and Dr. Teresa, in season two (plus Wesley’s fun cameo)—the overall story of Picard is dark with a slightly elevated ending each season. Even Q, who has been known to be quite comedic at times, took on gravitas and intensity during most of his scenes in season two.
Neither of those two series could have done an episode like “Spock Amok” or “The Elysian Kingdom” and retained its integrity. But SNW established early on that “anything goes.” Like the Paramount-produced series from 1966-2005, the creators of SNW effectively demonstrated that they could do serious, playful, suspenseful, dramatic, emotional, and even horror episodes. Discovery and Picard lack that range.
And while I’m beginning to sound like a broken record, there’s nothing wrong with that! You don’t need to have scenes where your captain is making omelettes or your first officer and security chief are sneaking around the ship on an ensign-level scavenger hunt. You don’t need to do comedy. The Battlestar Galactica reboot and The Expanse got along fine without a “Spock Amok” type of episode.
So it’s fine to establish an identity and a series of expectations from the viewers. It’s simply that TOS, TNG, DS9, VOY, and ENT all tended to span a wider range of tones and genres of episodes, meaning that a show like SNW feels more like Paramount-produced Star Trek than either Discovery or Picard.
2. THE TITLE IS WHAT THE SHOW IS ABOUT
A “star trek” is a journey through the stars, and that was exactly what the original series was about. The second live-action series showed us the “next generation” of officers to go on that same trek. (Actually, I’d consider Dimora Sulu to be the next generation, so TNG was probably a few generations later.) Deep Space Nine was, of course, the name of the space station where the next series took place. Voyager voyaged. That series could have also worked if the lost starship has been called Pathfinder, Valiant, Explorer, or even Intrepid. It would NOT have worked had the series been set on the U.S.S. Repulse! In the same way, an “enterprise” is a challenging project that takes a lot of work, which very accurately described the NX-01 (as well as the first space shuttle orbiter prototype back in 1975)…much more so than naming the series Star Trek: Columbia.
And speaking of space shuttles, Challenger would have been a decent Star Trek series name, as would Endeavor (although Star Trek: Atlantis would have created all sorts of lawsuits!). But Discovery…man, what a perfect name for a Star Trek starship and series! Discovery and exploration is what Star Trek is all about! And yet, what did the crew of the U.S.S. Discovery actually discover? Not much!!! The first season was set during a war. At best they “discovered” the Mycelial Network and the Mirror Universe, but I suspect that wasn’t what fans had in mind going in when they saw the title. (And although Picard is, in fact, about Jean-Luc Picard…it was also about a lot MORE than just aging Frenchman with a British accent.)
But Strange New Worlds has, so far, visited a fair number of strange, new worlds. They are seeking out new life and new civilizations. (Sadly, one of those races seems to want to eat the crew and use their bodies to gestate their young, but don’t get me started on that!) However, if you want your series to feel like “real” Star Trek, then be sure it delivers on its TITLE!
1 CHARACTERS YOU’D LIKE TO HANG OUT WITH
When I was a kid growing up in the 1970s, I used to imagine myself on the U.S.S. Enterprise, wearing a blue shirt, doing science with Mr. Spock. And most likely, you imagined something similar…either on the original 1701, the refit, the Enterprise-D, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, or even the NX-01. And why? Well, yeah, those starships and that space station were cool, and we loved the uniforms. But what REALLY made us want to be on those particular ships (and/or space station)?
If you guessed “the people serving on them,” give yourself a cookie!
The officers and crew on each of those series were good people, decent, admirable, trustworthy, loyal, dedicated, and with very few exceptions, nice! Yes, even Worf, Tuvok, and Odo were just ol’ softies underneath it all. And I knew I could trust any of them with my life…except maybe Quark.
Remember when Discovery premiered and, just three episodes in, Michael Burnham was like the new kid in school that nobody wanted sitting next to them (literally)? And the only kid who would be nice to her, Tilly, was the awkward on-the-spectrum cadet that no one else seemed to like either. Captain Lorca was cold and mean. Paul Stamets was grumpy. The original security chief Landry (the one who got mauled by a giant tardigrade) was meaner ad grumpier than both of them put together. Back then, Saru had a huge chip on his shoulder and always seemed to be afraid of something bad happening. And don’t get me started on how much I totally didn’t want to be anywhere near Michael Burnham! Heck, I didn’t want to be around ANY of them…that ship was totally dysfunctional!
Fast forward to Picard, and while the ol’ man had earned my eternal respect and admiration, he was beginning to lose it upstairs a bit in season one. Raffi was a recovering addict, depressed and angry at the universe. Rios had his own demons to fight (and the demons were winning). Seven-of-Nine had turned into an angry, haunted ronin with PTBD (Post Traumatic Borg Disorder). And Agnes Jurati killed her boyfriend, Bruce Maddox, in cold blood! Honestly, the only main character who didn’t creep me out in some way was Elnor, and he sliced people’s heads off! Do you honestly think ANY kid is going to daydream about joining the crew of the La Sirena???
And the rest of Starfleet in Picard wasn’t much better! The commanding admiral was a hard-ass who curses out and dismisses our hero, while the Starfleet chief of security and her assistant are BOTH spies. The Federation has panicked and outlawed synths like Data and refused to help the Romulans in their hour of greatest need. Yeah, they’re the enemy, but if there were a huge earthquake in Iran right now, you know the U.S. would be the first to rush in with humanitarian aid. How the mighty had fallen in Picard season one! If it hadn’t been for the brief detour to Nepenthe to check in with the Riker family, I would have lost all hope for the 25th century.
And that brings us to, what I think, it the biggest and most important reason that SNW feels like “real” Star Trek again: I want to hang out with this crew. Sure, Number One’s a bit of a cold fish, and La’al can be a piranha. But Pike is the nicest captain ever! Ortegas is just plain fun. Uhura is impressive and humble (kinda the opposite of Burnham, who could use some humility!). M’Benga and Chapel really know their stuff. Even Hemmer, who was anything but humble, was still dedicated to his ship and crew, AND a character I really wanted to get to know better. You killed Hemmer, you bastards!!!!! And of course, Spock is Spock (and hats off to ETHAN PECK for really nailing the character and making Spock his own…totally blowing past ZACKARY QUINTO).
Anyway, between the good people serving on the Enterprise, the luxurious-looking rooms on the ship, and the captain cooking up delicious omelettes, waffles, and bacon…why would anyone NOT daydream about serving with this crew on this ship in this show (unless you have an egg allergy—which M’Benga and Chapel can probably cure anyway)?
And that, my friends, are my ten reasons that Strange New Worlds feels like “real” Star Trek. Do you know other reasons? Please share them in the comments below…