Review by C.J. Bunce
Did we just need to wait for the constellations to re-align? The second season of last year’s brilliantly fun series Strange New Worlds has had an up-and-down sophomore season. And although some of us may be dreading the musical episode coming next week, there’s more to love than not this year. Two episodes in, the series seemed flat, but from the third to the seventh it’s gradually reclaimed the flare it had last year. With the current episode “Those Old Scientists,” previewed early because of San Diego Comic-Con, the franchise has struck gold. Like every new Star Trek episode, it taps beats from several stories from the archive: Yes, it’s another crossover with the quality of Trials and Tribble-ations and In a Mirror Darkly Part 2, and borrows elements from TNG’s A Matter of Time and TOS’s The City on the Edge of Forever, but this time it crosses into even stranger new territory–that of the animated series Lower Decks. Yes, you’ll get to see the Strange New Worlds cast in animated form, but most of the episode sees two animated characters jumping into the live-action side.
Animated series aren’t for everyone, but if you haven’t watched Lower Decks, now you will see what you may be missing. Best of all, you might agree Tawny Newsome’s Ensign Beckett Mariner should have her own live-action series. You may have seen Lower Decks′ Ensign Brad Boimler before. Voice and live-action actor Jack Quaid had pretty much the same shtick in both The Boys and Logan Lucky. But Newsome keeps up with a pretty impressive comedy stand-up act as Mariner in this episode. We’ve seen Star Wars bridge the voice-only role to live-action lately, with Katee Sackhoff moving her voice role as Bo-Katan in Clone Wars and Rebels to live-action in The Mandalorian, while seeing voice actor Ashley Eckstein’s Ahsoka Tano updated to Rosario Dawson for live action. This week’s episode worked because Quaid and Newsome have real experience in live-action. They also clearly like their characters.
The episode finds Boimler and Mariner up to their usual antics, but on a mission where they encounter a giant donut portal like in The City on the Edge of Forever. Of course they get sucked back into the past where they meet their idols, these “old scientists” they know as the original, or er, second, Enterprise crew. Boimler gets to fanboy on Spock and Pike and Una. Mariner saves all her love for Uhura. They are so goofy and silly, and what works for a cartoon shouldn’t work for live-action. But this is where the Trek writers finally landed one right. Boimler channels Matt Frewer here. The duo leaves no stone unturned poking fun about the goofier aspects of Strange New Worlds, like Spock’s seriousness, Pike’s hair, and how the dialogue on the series is always delivered very, very slow.
Special kudos to the sound guy who made a joke out of Mariner dragging her elbows on the table. Fans of animation will love the replaced opening credits for the show. And the costume team nailed those Lower Decks jackets.
But now there really, really needs to be a Star Trek: Mariner live-action show.
Melissa Navia remains Strange New Worlds′ best and most consistently good character as the awesome, cocky young pilot Ortegas. But Anson Mount’s Captain Pike is returning to prime form, along with Ethan Peck–who actually will make you forget anyone else ever played Spock. And that’s a pretty big deal, but he’s earned it. Babs Olusanmokun stands equal to DeForest Kelley’s Dr. McCoy. The three other “old” characters revisited here are making even better strides for their characters, who previously didn’t have as much to do: Jess Bush has made Christine Chapel her own. Celia Rose Gooding has made Uhura her own. And Rebecca Romijn is making her Number One a very Romijn a la The Librarians character. Just the right doses of Carol Kane’s quirky thousand-year-old engineer is icing on the cake. The straight man role Spock had in the original series now goes to Christina Chong’s La’an, and she handles it well.
The writers will hopefully stay on this trajectory and remember the spirited and adventuresome storylines that captured the wonder and excitement of science fiction at its optimistic best, and one day deliver an episode that is not derivative or a mash-up from Trek scripts of the past. We’ve had several decades now of Dark Trek, and Strange New Worlds is back continuing that Gene Roddenberry vision that it made us excited about Star Trek again.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is streaming now with new episodes arriving weekly on Paramount+.