Since the dawn of television, most action-adventure TV shows have tended to become default family shows. Families watched Bonanza together, or The A-Team, or, perhaps most recently, The Mandalorian. This isn’t to say that action-adventure TV is for families. More often than not, it’s very much not, and one notable thing about most of these famous shows is they almost always require a gunfight in each and every episode. However, for over five decades, one action-adventure TV franchise, namely Star Trek, has made gunfighting violence optional in its bold adventures. And in the debut episode of the newest Trek TV series, Strange New Worlds, not a single member of the Enterprise crew shoots anyone. Suddenly, new TV Star Trek is pseudo-family viewing again. No spoilers ahead.
Although some of the newer live-action Star Treks have gotten a bit darker and more grown-up in recent years, Strange New Worlds — debuting on Paramount+ on May 5 — is a very specific turn toward the light. This isn’t to say that there aren’t some serious themes, nor does this show pretend like the newer, more mature Treks haven’t happened. Because this series is technically a spinoff of Discovery Season 2 (and a prequel to the classic ’60s show simultaneously), the pilot episode does contain some references to a few ominous things coming in Captain Pike (Anson Mount’s) future.
But, this isn’t a literary character drama like Star Trek: Picard, nor is it a multilayered political study like Star Trek: Discovery. Instead, Strange New Worlds is much closer to a PG-13 action-adventure show which you could argue is “for the whole family” in a way the other new shows are not. As someone who loves all the new Treks, I would never let my 5-year-old daughter watch most of Discovery or Picard, simply because those shows are way too scary for kids. However, I feel like she could easily watch the second episode or the fifth episode of Strange New Worlds, and that it would fit right in with her perception of the rest of the franchise; a fun space adventure in which heroic and deeply thoughtful people wear colorful matching space pajamas. And, if you have a kid that is 7+ the show is great, and possibly a more fulfilling family viewing experience than watching the actual new Star Trek show made for kids, Prodigy.
The reason why Strange New Worlds feels like a Star Trek “family show,” is that the format of the series has returned to what, arguably, made the franchise so famous in the first place. For the most part, Strange New Worlds has jettisoned the prestige TV format of season-long arcs, and gone back to having a big idea of the week. This is why ’90s kids loved The Next Generation, and also why our parents loved the ’60s show.
In most of its TV incarnations, Star Trek is the rare franchise in which you can have a serious starship nailbiter one week and a broad comedy involving a sci-fi conceit the next. And, as each episode ends, there’s plenty left to talk about, that’s not just theorizing about the next episode. Each piece is a complete adventure for Pike (Anson Mount), Spock (Ethan Peck), Number One(Rebecca Romijn), Uhura(Celia Rose Gooding), Dr. M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun), Nurse Chapel(Jess Bush), and some wonderful new characters including Lt. Ortegas(Melissa Navia), Hemmer(Bruce Horak), and La’an(Christina Chong). And this ensemble feels like an instant space family in the mold of the ’90s Trek shows.
To be clear, Strange New Worlds is still a contemporary series aimed mostly at adults. That means that like The Mandalorian or the various Marvel shows like Loki or Hawkeye, this series isn’t designed for children. That said, I’d argue that kids will get more out of an individual episode of Strange New Worlds than they might from the endless fight scenes in the current TV Star Wars and Marvel fare. There is plenty of action, violence, and danger in Strange New Worlds, but the outcomes of the stories are not reliant on who is going to “win.” Sure, there are some good guys and bad guys, but thankfully, most of these adventures aren’t about figuring out how to beat down our enemies.
The entirety of Star Trek has always been at its best when it presents big ideas in quirky action-adventure packages. In the ’60s, Captain Kirk punched up those stories with several literal punches. In the ’90s, Picard, Sisko, and Janeway were more ruminative. With Captain Pike and the Strange New Worlds gang, it’s a little bit of everything: Something borrowed, but also, something strange, and new.
Strange New Worlds hits Paramount+ on May 5, 2022, and drops new episodes each Thursday for ten weeks.