Gene Roddenberry produced a television series in the 1960s about a dashing space Kennedy (Captain Kirk) who introduced space democracy to the galaxy and space lust to the galaxies’ ladies (Kirk was pretty democratic about this too, in fairness).
When it truly should have been called something like Star Strut or Star Boogie to better reflect its swaggering western uniqueness, Roddenberry dubbed it Star Trek for reasons he alone knows.
In any case, the crew of Space Kennedy/Kirk performed their space proselytizing while seated in a “bridge,” which was just an open-plan office with a captain’s throne in the middle.
They were dressed in bright primary-colored jumpers like a musical ensemble for toddlers (similar to The Irish Times newsroom).
They would then teleport to a subpar planet with an alien civilization that represented a philosophical conundrum, as well as kissing and perhaps a greased, topless hand-to-hand fight with Kirk brandishing a trident (those colorful jumpers clearly chafed his delicate skin).
History recognises that Star Trek: The Original Series was ahead of its time in its portrayal of a universe in which all peoples would come together as equals with an American in control.
In addition to adhering to a similar formula, later iterations of Star Trek also reflected the times in which they were produced. The magnificent Star Trek: The Next Generation debuted in the late 1980s with a diplomatic, end-of-history optimism.
It did so in the belief that in the distant future, Frenchmen, English Shakespearians, and space would all primarily be American. Patrick Stewart played the role of a technocratic Frenchman in the film.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine mainly adhered to its guns about the future being good, while including a space war and even space racism as pessimistic elements.
Star Trek: Voyager provided us with a lost ship in peril and the chance for a female captain (Kate Mulgrew as the superb Janeway) to take charge since everything had gone wrong.
But after that, when television reached its peak, producers wanted all of their shows to resemble The Wire, The Sopranos, and Mad Men, although with less-expensive writing. So for a decade, all that was broadcast on television was grumpy anti-heroes struggling in a world gone mad.
Characterization during this time required highlighting a DSM-IV diagnosis, followed by the addition of a job title and a drinking issue.
Recent Trek excursions emphasized this. Star Trek: Picard provided the title character with a private sadness that he had never needed before. Regarding Star Trek: Discovery, it was simply unclear, gloomy, and confused, much like the times (by which I mean the era in which it aired, not this newspaper).
Thank goodness, that pattern is changing. There’s a new Trek on a brand-new streaming service (Paramount Plus), and it’s a return to the optimism of yore.
If you’re launching a new streaming service, you probably need optimism (In this economy? People may soon have to decide between keeping their most obnoxious child or having all the streamers).
They don’t necessarily believe that everything will turn out well in the near future.
One of the characters in the first episode asks, “Are you familiar with the United States of America?” Another person responds, “Yes, I am aware of both their civil wars and the tragic outcome.” They just believe that in the very, very long run, everything will be fine. These days, that qualifies as astonishing optimism.
The new captain, Commander Pike, who is actually a very seasoned captain, establishes the more optimistic tone.
He represents the idealistic spirit and primary-colored jerseys of the first season fairly literally. He is Kirk’s canonical predecessor and made an appearance in the first Star Trek pilot.
In Discovery, where he was reintroduced and was portrayed by Anson Mount, he gleamed amid the darkness. To be honest, Pike too has a deep grief. He has anticipated his awful demise.
But he doesn’t become a mopey anti-hero as a result. Instead, he is charming, idealistic, and adventurous. He is Captain Kirk, but without the inescapable legal battles over se*ual harassment.
Pike is inclusive, paternalistic, and sensible rather than lustful. If he were my boss, I would frequently refer to him as “dad” and seem uncomfortable, but I would actually be relieved that I had expressed my feelings.
Basically, Captain Pike is a Reasonable Space Dad. I would have been fine with the title Star Trek: Reasonable Space Dad.
Three of the four new episodes’ narratives center on cultural misunderstandings that are resolved thanks to Pike’s common sense rather than evil aliens that despise our liberties. He is a positive team player as well.
I can picture his words printed on motivational posters, possibly next to a picture of an American eagle in a business suit or a stallion rearing up on its hooves atop a skyscraper or maybe just a sepia photo of a shirtless Anson Mount cradling a fat baby.
He says things like “I believe in Enterprise” and “We survive this by working together” in the most recent episode when the ship is under attack.
His crew includes a few other well-known characters from the original series, including Spock, Uhura, Nurse Chapel, and Number One.
They portray younger versions of those characters in this scene, something akin to Star Trek: Muppet Babies.
It significantly enhances these personalities in many ways.
For instance, a cliche that appears in practically all previous Star Trek incarnations uses an extremely analytical character to explain emotional beats to viewers who are just watching to see Kirk kiss someone with antennae (Spock), an android (Data), or a cyborg (Seven of Nine).
A character can add, “And that Seven of Nine, is the power of the human emotion, “love,” as if teaching it to a helpless infant.
But I’ve never understood this. Spock is actually more emotionally sophisticated than his human shipmates in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds thanks to his enhanced analytical abilities, and he frequently explains their own emotions to them.
Additionally, he is more commonly referred to as “Spock” than “Mr. Spock,” as he is in the original series. I had hoped he would say that at some time, perhaps in the shirtless love scene from the first episode (a nod of respect to Kirk).
In the meantime, Nurse Chapel gets a fleshed-out personality to work with (one that is intriguingly terrifying with a hint of Kathy Bates in Misery), Uhuru gets to actively use her linguist skills in the field rather than spending her time as a desk-bound phone operator, and Number One has a backstory, some sort of superpowers, and an actual name in addition to just being a number.
For the reason that this is Star Trek and not The News, there is also a grouchy blue guy with wiggly things on his head. However, now that I mention it, he probably works as a broadcaster for GB News. I did not check.
The fact that Star Trek: Strange New Worlds isn’t only about nostalgia, despite all the legacy themes, is what I like about it the most in the end.
It delivers interesting science fiction tales that take place in “fresh” and “strange” planets that aren’t just flashbacks to earlier events. Readers, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds makes me feel that peculiar emotion we call “hope,” all in all.