Since the 1960s, the most popular and enduring science fiction TV series of all time is easily Star Trek.
From the popularization of big fan gatherings to the mainstreaming of slashfic to the seemingly endless new iterations of the franchise, Trek is not only the little starship that could but also the giant starbase that will never fall out of orbit.
With that said, because there’s so much Trek, it sometimes feels difficult for a newbie or casual fan to catch up on the latest from the Final Frontier. But, the next big Trek series — Strange New Worlds — is poised to change all that.
For fans who have been sleeping on the new Trek shows since Discovery’s debut in 2017, the impending release of Strange New Worlds could be the reboot that Paramount+ and the Trek franchise needs. Here’s why.
Mild spoilers ahead for Discovery Season 2.
Discovery’s new beginning paved the way
After the end of Discovery Season 2, the tone of that series shifted away from some of the darker season-long action mysteries. Season 3 was lighter and more optimistic. This soft reboot for Discovery not only helped the series find its footing, but that season also reintroduced something missing from the Trek formula for a very long time: quasi-stand-alone episodes.
At the end of Season 3, Discovery showrunner Michelle Paradise told Inverse that having some episodes of Discovery Season 4 feel like stand-alone adventures “would continue,” but that “Discovery has that sort of serialized-season-long story baked into its DNA.”
But at the end of Discovery Season 2, the Trek franchise not-so-subtly relaunched the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Focusing on the roughly eight years prior to Captain Kirk taking over, Strange New Worlds will chronicle adventures featuring Captain Pike (Anson Mount), Number One (Rebecca Romijn) — as well as a whole new crew including the actors Babs Olusanmokun, Christina Chong, Celia Rose Gooding, Jess Bush, and Melissa Navia.
While it hasn’t been confirmed who these actors are playing, Chong recently posted a group shot on Twitter seemingly confirming that SNW has wrapped most of its filming on Season 1.
There’s yet to be a trailer for Strange New Worlds, but the Trek hype is growing.
Why Strange New Worlds appeals to casual Trekkies
Although Discovery and Picard are clearly popular enough to warrant additional seasons, it's undeniable that both shows are slightly less accessible to a casual fan than one of the J.J. Abrams reboots.
While that might be an unfair comparison, there is a spectrum of Trekkie accessibility, with the 2009 reboot on one side (very accessible) and Season 6 of Deep Space Nine on the other (you have to do all your Trek homework). Neither Picard nor Discovery is as dense as some of the later-era ‘90s Trek, but there’s still a decent amount of internal continuity one has to juggle to understand events within the two shows.
But Strange New Worlds could be the opposite, and that’s because several sources, including co-showrunner Akiva Goldsman, have confirmed the series structure will be largely “episodic.”
This means, if you miss an episode of Strange New Worlds, you might not be lost the way you would be with Discovery or Picard.
Trek back to its roots
Other than the endlessly syndicated Original Series, the most-watched – and maybe the most popular Trek ever — is likely The Next Generation. At its height in Season 5 in 1991, The Next Generation pulled in on average of 12 million viewers every week. These days, with streaming, it's tough to say which Trek is the most popular, but at least during the time it was airing, it's a safe bet that TNG had the most mainstream appeal.
TNG star LeVar Burton recently backed up this claim, telling Inverse this year: “We were Emmy-nominated as best drama on TV. At that point, it was more than just a sci-fi fringe thing. We were actually a harbinger of things to come, just look at the universe of entertainment we currently live.”
So, what did TNG have? The short answer is accessibility, and like TOS, that came from a no-frills episodic format. Sure, if you just randomly watch an episode like “Family” or “The Inner Light,” you may be baffled as to who any of the characters are. But, most episodes — like the splendid “Data’s Day” — tend to give you everything you need to know about the characters and story to get into the series.
Obviously, TNG borrowed this format from The Original Series, but the difference was, TNG was very successful during its initial run, while TOS only gained a larger following during reruns in the 1970s.
Arguably, as CBS All-Access rebrands as Paramount+, Star Trek needs the episodic format to recreate that Next Generation mainstream appeal. Of all the new Trek shows in development, Strange New Worlds is the easiest to understand for an outsider. It's going to star Spock and some friends on the Starship Enterprise, going to strange new planets every week. What could be easier than that?
If Star Trek is going to continue to live long and prosper, it certainly needs more complex structured shows like Discovery. And yet, if the shows are going to attract a wider audience, Trek needs to be easy to follow, too. And on that front, Strange New Worlds could be just the bold ticket the franchise needs.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is expected to debut on Paramount+ sometime in 2022.