Thoughts on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds and "Nu Trek" in general
I haven't surprisingly written about Star Trek before on this blog despite being an ardent Trekkie since childhood. I complained previously about my disappointment with the new Star Wars Films but I was never as committed to its universe compared to Trek. I grew up on TNG and then moved on DS9 and Voyager (and also the TNG films). The Utopian ideals that were embedded in these shows greatly influenced my own political views on how society should be constructed and behave.
The 90s were the golden age of Trek for me. The beginning of the decline started with Enterprise. It didn't feel like Trek to me (some say the blame lies with the TNG films). The later rebooted films were fun popcorn fares but felt even less close to the spirit of Trek.
I had huge hopes for Discovery when it was announced in the early 2010s but was gravely disappointed with what came out. It was just a mess. I appreciated the talented and diverse caste but the story and the world development was a fiasco. Season 2 in particular was atrocious. The quite, polite and introspective nature of 90s Trek was absent. You could excuse that in the flashy blockbuster films but not here. The whole invention of an intergalactic fungal highway to facilitate FTL was so stupid it was funny. I kept watching because that was the only Trek available at the time.
When I heard about Picard I was ecstatic. The character of Picard was an inspiration to me and I didn't foresee they would proceed to ruin this too. I envisaged Picard living a quite, retired life in his rural chateau, helping inspire youth in his community to also reach for the stars, provide expert guidance on local issues/disputes and maybe solve small local mysteries/crime here and there. The early trailers certainly hinted at this. Like Discovery, what came next was just bad. Season 2 started out strong but quickly devolved into hilarity. The plot arcs were nonsensical and ill-thought. Seeing iconic characters and lore get trashed like this has been very disappointing.
Some comments on the recent cartoons... Lower Decks has been so-so, it's main problem is that it tries far too hard to be funny rather than sci-fi. Prodigy was better and has more potential but still doesn't fully feel like Trek and its clear it is aimed at a much younger audience. What has been missing on all these Nu-Trek iterations has been the absence of the optimistic and utopian ideals of Classic and TNG-era Trek. It's mostly dark, gritty, violent and nihilistic but not in any sort of smart way. Paradoxically there also a lot of cheap, contrived sentimentality and emotional instability among the crew which was jarring compared to the professional demeanor and standards of earlier Trek crews. Great comparison on this from the Red Letter Media folks.
So I didn't have much hope for Strange New Worlds when it was announced. I was expecting more of the same in line with Discovery and Picard. But I have been greatly and pleasantly surprised. This is a show that feels like 90s Trek. The first episode was maybe a bit too preachy but it fully endorsed the classic utopian vision of humanity and intergalactic cooperation envisioned in Classic and TNG-era Trek. The story didn't revolve around a single protagonist but the entire crew working together to solve a crisis. The classic ethical dilemma of whether to break the "Prime Directive" was satisfactorily explored in both episode 1 and 2. The rest of the season generally didn't disappoint and continued in the same vein interspersed with some nice action oriented episodes.
Minor criticism (and spoilers) include needless nostalgia bait (e.g. why make La'an part of the Noonien-Singh tribe?) and the Gorn threat seemed to be clumsily retconned in. But I think I can overlook this. Trek feels like it is back.
PS - I have neglected this blog for a while due to work and family life but aim to get back into regularly writing again.
PPS - I am currently going through Picard Season 3 which is a definite improvement over earlier 2 seasons but I still have the same basic gripes. Maybe I will write on this later.