STRANGE NEW WORLDS avoids nearly every OUTDATED COMPLAINT in its SEASON 2 debut! (editorial review)

Pick a complaint…any complaint! A complaint about what? About any of the new CBS Studios-produced Star Treks. Goodness knows, there have been many—complaints that is, although there have been five series. Granted, LOWER DECKS and PRODIGY have been generally well-received, but DISCOVERY and PICARD have certainly struggled.

And while most fans would argue that Picard’s third and final season was the best and strongest Trek effort thus far of the “new era” (I will forgo using the term “Nu-Trek,” as it has taken on a negative connotation in certain circles), even Picard‘s latest masterpiece drew a few complaints along the way (cough, too dark).

So pick a complaint. And let’s see how the season two debut of STRANGE NEW WORLDS, “The Broken Circle,” measured up…


Oh, why not give me something harder to start with! While SNW isn’t as brightly lit as TNG was, it’s by far brighter than either Discovery or Picard. The amount of care and detail that went into building those beautiful SNW sets and wonderfully colorful costumes is never hidden from view. And honestly, Star Trek has always had very strong lighting—perhaps a little too strong on TNG from time to time—and even the later “darker” series like DS9, Voyager, and Enterprise still showed wonderful detail and vibrance….harkening back to the days of TOS when color television was just emerging and bright lights and color saturation the cinematographers’ prime directive.

Discovery was too dark from the moment we first saw that bridge, and Picard certainly didn’t help alleviate the problem. But SNW checks (or Treks) the light box perfectly. Next!


Oh, don’t make me laugh! Or rather, DO make me laugh! However, Star Trek has always been about more than just the big gags like Scotty saying “Hello, computer…” or Troi getting drunk with Zefram Cochrane. Star Trek has also been about the little bits of casual levity that define the easy-going camaraderies among the characters. Chekov telling Scotty that scotch “…vas invented by a little old lady from Leningrad…” or McCoy, upon seeing Martia passionately kiss Kirk in his bunk on Rura Penthe, asking, “What is it with you?”

Like the best of Star Trek, this latest episode of SNW cleverly and casually gives fans both kinds of humor, albeit sparingly. This isn’t an all-comedy episode like “The Trouble with Tribbles” or any episode of Lower Decks or SNW‘s “Spock Amok” romp from season one. But we did get a couple of really fun chuckles at the expense of Spock (always the perfect straight man for any set-up). Anyone who saw the trailer knew that Spock’s special command was going to be “I would like the ship to go…now.” And of course, Spock’s chugging of bloodwine with the Klingon at the end was priceless. But just as priceless but much more subtle were the friendly barbs between M’Benga and Chapel, especially when the doctor discovers that Spock’s heartbeat increased when the nurse walked into Sickbay. And don’t even get me started talking about the new chief engineer Pelia!


Okay, okay, let’s talk about Pelia! Despite my absolute LOVE for actress CAROL KANE and her five-decade career on the big and small screen (and Broadway stage!)—from her Emmy-winning years on Taxi to her uproarious-but-too-short cameo in The Princess Bride to her masterful portrayal of Penguin’s mother on Gotham—I was honestly uncertain about casting her on Star Trek. After all, she never even watched a single episode of any Star Trek series! (No lie…look it up.) She is, of course, a brilliant performer. But can Star Trek handle such a big presence, especially one so renown for comedy, in a recurring role? Has that EVER worked for Star Trek? Well, actually, it has! Can you say “WHOOPI GOLDBERG”? I knew you could! (Actually, TIG NOTARO counts, too…although I wish she’d become more recurring.)

But could lightning strike twice…or even three times? I wasn’t so certain.

And NOW I am certain. I fell in love with Carol Kane’s Pelia from her first lines upon walking onto the bridge. Yes, she totally owned the scene from that moment on, but I didn’t mind. This character was so INTRIGUING, so MYSTERIOUS, so COMPELLING! She’s an instructor at the Academy, and she’s obviously brilliant. She immediately sees the plan, unravels and explains it, but she doesn’t report them to the higher-ups or try to stop them, Indeed, she actually gives them an even more clever method to be ordered away from Starbase One by Admiral April himself! She knows about Vulcans, and hey, she even knows Spock’s mom! She’s poised, confident, funny, and very amiable. I want to see and hear LOTS more of her…especially that accent. You can tell that Carol Kane really, really prepared for this role. Bravo!

(Now we just have to hope that engineers on Pike’s Enterprise aren’t like drummers in Spinal Tap.)

Anyway, Pelia isn’t the only character on SNW whom I now care about. While I wouldn’t lose any sleep if the entire crew of the U.S.S. Discovery disappeared into a wormhole, and I wasn’t enraptured by every character in Picard‘s first two seasons, there is not a single crewmember on NCC-1701 that I’m not rooting for…even Transporter Chief Jay, played genderqueer actor NOAH LAMANNA, despite the fact that they were only on screen for 10 seconds!

How do they manage this? It’s hard to say other than these characters are given some decent screen time to develop (even those 10 seconds, which Noah really made count with just a short moment to act), are addressed by name (remember how long it took us to learn the names of all the bridge officers on Discovery?), and they all seem to be good, decent people. In fact, the only character I don’t love on this show is also the most glum: La’an Noonien Singh. Everyone else just feels like someone I’d like to hang out with, chat with, work with, and get to know better. I can’t really say that about Picard‘s Raffi Musiker or Discovery‘s Paul Stamets. The actors, yes. The characters, no.


Obviously, neither Burnham nor Picard is part of the cast of SNW, so this complaint is an arrow that’s easy to dodge, right? Well, not exactly. Y’see, the complaint is about the lead character hogging the spotlight at the expense of the other members of the cast. Discovery is obviously “The Michael Burnham Show” in disguise, and Picard is the titular character for his series. But think about how little character development there’s been for Detmer, Owosekun, Rhys, and Bryce. Do you even know which one is Rhys and which is Bryce? (No cheating!) Do you even know these characters’ first names?

Picard isn’t quite as bad, although I did find Raffi and Seven terribly undeveloped in season two, and Elnor was quickly killed off that season but didn’t really get much to do in season one other than play ninja knight. And perhaps Picard‘s most fascinating character—the Romulan Laris—was vastly underserved both in terms of screen time and meaningful stuff to do.

Granted, most of TOS’s stories revolved around Kirk and/or Spock and a bit less of McCoy (but still significant). However, “secondary characters like Scotty, Sulu, Chekov, and Uhura had their episodes, as well. We got to know them. And of course, by the time of TNG, DS9, Voyager, and Enterprise, each of the main characters would get at least two or three A-stories per season plus additional B- and C-stories. Not so with Discovery—Rhys and Bryce are lucky to get lines!—and a bit better with Picard (especially in season three). LOWER DECKS and PRODIGY, by the way, are very balanced among the various characters getting significant stories focused on them.

So how does SNW stack up? Quite well, thank you! We’ve gotten to know all of the main characters in some way, and each has had at least one or two focused stories in season one that expands our understanding of who they are. This first episode of season two was no exception. In fact, in order to give the “secondary” characters more of a chance to shine, Pike and Una appeared only briefly in the teaser, quickly getting out of the way, allowing for Spock, Chapel, M’Benga, and to a slightly lesser extent, La’an, Uhura, and the new character of Pelia to get some decent screen time.

This is actually a pretty gutsy move by the writers—to have an episode almost entirely without the main star only eleven episodes in. It took TOS sixty-four episodes to do the same thing with Kirk (“The Tholian Web”). Pike and Number one will, I am certain, shine in the next episode, but their absence provided a magnificent opportunity for the writers to show us more of who these other characters are…and color me intrigued! M’Benga’s history during the Klingon War gives him such great depth. And the fact that Spock is starting to “feel” things opens him up to some, shall we say, fascinating opportunities. Oh, and Pelia’s history (both personal and her race itself) MUST be expanded, as well!


This was a particular pet peeve of mine during the first two seasons of Discovery. Fast-moving storylines rushed the characters from beat to beat without giving them (or us!) a chance to catch our collective breath. For example, after the crew returns from the Mirror Universe, they never get a chance to deal with the fact that they’ve been following the orders of a sadistic sociopath for the past several months…AND he just tried to kill them all. The only “reaction” we saw was an angry Admiral Cornwell shoot a phaser at an utterly innocent and defenseless bowl of fortune cookies, atomizing them! Discovery has gotten a little better at showing the crew dealing with their issues in recent seasons, but all to often, the scenes are either Michael crying or long-dark-teatime-of-the-soul deep-dives into introspective rabbit-holes, as with Detmer’s emotional breakdown. In other words, to solve the problem of not enough reactions to traumatic events, and writers vastly overcompensated in the other direction…from one extreme to the other.

SNW, on the other hand, approaches these character explorations in a much less forced, more natural and casual way. M’Benga dealt with his daughter’s illness in season one and is dealing with his PTSD from the Klingon War in season two, but we’re not being hit over the head with it. Spock and Chapel’s mutual interest is also being explored slowly and deliberately. Unlike Discovery, the SNW characters aren’t nearly as busy jumping from beat to beat in their storylines. So the characters can take the time to gently and casually become more real to us.


This got to be so much of a problem early in Discovery‘s fourth season that I actually counted SIX storylines going on simultaneously in a single episode (leaving only about 7-8 minutes of development time for each story to be told)! Usually, TNG and the other broadcast Trek series would have an A-story and a B-story, and occasionally a C-story (like “Family” had Picard back at the vineyard on Earth, Worf with his parents on the Enterprise, and Wesley dealing with watching his late father’s holo-message). More simultaneous plots than that, and there’s not really enough time in 45 minutes to develop any of them decently…unless it’s a two-part episode.

SNW is not suffering from this issue, and this latest episode was particularly straightforward, allowing a lot of story to be told. Although the teaser briefly dealt with Pike and Una, that was simply a framing sequence to get them out of the episode. The main plots were A) Spock’s first command and the stealing-the-Enterprise mission to help La’an, B) M’Benga and Chapel getting captured, escaping, and then blowing themselves out into space, and C) La’an’s (minor) story dealing with the little girl and her parents, which was more of a plot exposition tool. You could argue that Pelia was a D-story, but it served more as a new character introduction. And frankly, her presence was more a part of the “Spock’s-first-command” storyline, as was his growing fondness for Chapel.


I didn’t hear a single F-bomb or S-bomb in the entire episode…imagine that!


This has been a major complaint with Discovery since its first episode. Obviously, by Picard‘s third season, canon was being respected so much that fans cried tears of joy! But Picard was set in the future while Discovery was rewriting the established past of TOS…especially those damn hairless Klingons. Would SNW follow the precedent of Discovery? Or would it try harder to adhere to established continuity? After all, we’re now barely seven years from the start of TOS!

With this episode, the answer became clearer than ever. Ignoring the look of the Klingons even after they were given hair in the second season of Discovery, this episode showed us the Klingons exactly (mostly) as we knew them from the Paramount-produced Treks of the 80s, 90s, and 00s. Even their outfits, complete with shoulder sash, followed established norms.

Really, CBS, was that so hard???

But more than the Klingons, “The Broken Circle” introduced another familiar part of Trek canon almost exactly as it appeared in TOS: Spock’s Vulcan lyre. We saw it in only a handful of episodes of TOS, but Spock played it as Uhura sang in “Charlie X” and while jamming with the Space Hippies in “The Way to Eden,” and the musical instrument has become a part of Spock’s mythos. But we never discovered when exactly Spock first began playing it.

Now, I’d always assumed Spock had learned the Vulcan lyre as a child, like a violin or piano, and SNW could easily have gone in that direction and just showed him having or playing it at some point. But it makes things SO much more interesting to have the lyre be a gift from Dr. M’Benga as a way for Spock to alleviate some of the stresses his human emotions are creating for his Vulcan side. Indeed, if Spock is using the lyre for this purpose, it makes this simple musical prop into something significantly more important. So now not only is SNW honoring canon, it is also EXPANDING it! Huzzah!

Of course, I can’t ignore the giant lizard in the canonical living room. When it comes to honoring canon, the Gorn are the proverbial gunpowder and shot ball, waiting to go off. As any good Trekkie knows, Kirk and the Enterprise encountered a “new” alien species in the first season TOS episode “Arena.” Kirk’s log didn’t say, “Starfleet’s old nemesis, the Gorn, are back and attacking our outpost.” In fact, in that episode, the Federation didn’t even know that Cestus III was located in Gorn space. So any encounters with the Gorn that happen in SNW need to be effectively “erased from history” and memories wiped sometime in the next seven years. And if these aggressive reptiles aren’t “Gorn with the Wind” by then, we’re gonna see a discontinuity canon ball shoot a giant hole through the fabric of established Star Trek. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see which way the wind blows…


Too be honest, this isn’t really a complaint so much as just a fact of life for streaming television when a single season is only 10 or 12 or 13 episodes long. It’s just the way of the world these days. That said, the first season of SNW did, in fact, manage to create an episodic (rather than serialized) season for the most part. Sure, there were some continuing storylines like Spock’s relationship with T’Pring and M’Benga’s daughter. But there was no “BIG THREAT” to the Federation like evil A.I. (that’s today’s problem, apparently), the Burn, Species 10-C, Romulans and a giant mechanical kraken from beyond our dimension, a dying Q, or even a Changeling/Borg alliance.

Now, however, it appears that we might have one of those threats-to-the-Federation a’ brewing with those pesky canon-shooting Gorn. Again, though, we’ll have to wait and see. But even if they do end up becoming the “threat of the season,” I’ll be okay with it…just as long as there aren’t too many “to be continued” moments. I do prefer my Star Trek episodes to be able to stand on their own with a bit of ongoing storyline thrown in every now and then…as opposed to vice-versa.

But for now, the important thing is that I’m enjoying each episode of SNW, my wife and son are enjoying each episode with me, we really like these characters and stories, and Star Trek is inspiring us again. After six seasons of heavy-handed Discovery and Picard episodes that were loaded with things to complain about, we’ve just had a wonderful final season of Picard, a super-satisfying first season of SNW, and a second season premiere that suggests the series is off to another very strong start.

In other words, my friends, although it’s taken a while, Star Trek seems to finally be headed in the right direction once again—out there…that a’ way!

6 thoughts on “STRANGE NEW WORLDS avoids nearly every OUTDATED COMPLAINT in its SEASON 2 debut! (editorial review)”

  1. Ok, I’ll concede most of your points, but, the new engineer’s voice is like nails on a chalkboard. Sorry. Her acting was perfectly fine though. Now for a big spoiler of sorts, Robert Meyer Burnett has seen the first 6 episodes, and spouted off on Twitter about #4, and I think someone took away his flame thrower, because, that first tweet was deleted & replaced with another. To say he’s NOT happy, is the understatement of the year. Explosive outrage is the way I’d phrase it. So, buckle up, you’ve been warned.

    1. Interestingly, RMB and I agree on many things when it comes to Star Trek, so I will take the warning to heart. That said, if episode #4 is the only one of the season that’s a clunker, then they’re batting 90%. If it’s just a portent of disappointing things to come, then this blog will quickly find itself fading into the rearview mirror. We shall see.

  2. I guess I must be different. I’m old enough that I watched the original series on our rabbit eared color tv. I watch all these Star Trek shows not necessarily with an eye for critique but entertainment. My main question is does it entertain. Sure I notice some things but not to distraction. But in all honesty, I’ve refused to watch the two animated series. Just can’t do it. Main rule for watching trek is: don’t take anybody else’s word for it.

    1. Oh, you certainly don’t need to take my word for it, Clay, although I personally have Lower Decks in my #2 slot for favorite Star Trek series (just above TOS and SNW). As for Prodigy, if you start watching it, you’ll stop after one episode and say, “This isn’t Star Trek.” And you’d be right. On the other hand, by the time the 20-episode first season was over, I realized I was watching the sequel to Voyager.

      Both series are very entertaining but for very different reasons. Lower Decks takes the established canon we all love and have memorized and both honors it and makes fun of it…much like a celebrity roast. Such things are an acquired taste, to be sure. I used to not be able to get the point of a roast. They were so cruel. It was like getting bullied while waiters served dinner. But then I realized that the whole idea was to “say the quiet part out loud” in good fun with the understanding that the person being roasted had achieved so much and given so much that no amount of jibing could ever bring them down. And of course, at the end, the roastee gets to fire back at the roasters. But as I said, it’s totally an acquired taste and not for everyone.

      As for Prodigy, as I think back on the series as a whole, I totally get what they were going for. Kids today have no idea what Star Trek is or how much history it represents. Dropping the kids into the middle of it like birds being tossed out of a nest would just wind up with a ton of disinterested, overwhelmed young viewers with short attention spans moving quickly onto something less intimidating. So, much like teaching kids fractions or algebra, you need to ease them into it, scaffold the learning into small, digestible bites that build on each other. That’s what Prodigy does. By the time the U.S.S. Protostar finally reaches Federation space and encounters Starfleet, both the crew of the ship (who are kids themselves) and the viewers now have the tools and knowledge that they need to truly appreciate what is happening.

      But totally don’t take my word for it! ;_)

  3. Speaking of excessive emotional content on Discovery, how about Culber and Stamets constantly slobbering over each other, while they’re on duty. Take it back to your quarters, guys. Oh, by the way, the “shoulder sash” is called a ‘baldric’.

    1. Tomato, red-vine-ripened fruit used in sauces. I’m fine with either term.

      As for officers kissing in front of their shipmates, I’m guessing you were equally aggrieved when Odo kissed Kira on the Promenade and all the times Tom Paris and B’Elanna smooched in the corridors of Voyager, yes?

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