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Review: Welcome back, 'Star Trek'


A new "Star Trek" series called "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds" debuts today on the Paramount+ streaming service. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says it boldly goes where a certain other classic science fiction TV series also went with spellbinding results.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds" is the third live-action version of the "Trek" franchise to land on Paramount+. And it is by far the most similar to the original show that kicked off this 55-year-old franchise way back when the adventures of Kirk, Spock and Bones first debuted on old-school broadcast TV. If you have any doubt, check out the show's opening credits, which feature Anson Mount's Captain Christopher Pike delivering a familiar speech.


ANSON MOUNT: (As Captain Christopher Pike) These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission - to explore strange new worlds, to boldly go where no one has gone before.


DEGGANS: Here's what's most amazing about watching "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds," especially for this longtime "Trek" fan - how much I enjoyed a series that recaptures the sentiment, adventure and rhythms of the old show but with a sparkling new sensibility. I didn't know how much I missed old-school "Trek" until this show gave it to me again. Technically, "Strange New Worlds" takes place many years before the era of Kirk and Spock, when a different man, Captain Christopher Pike, commands the Federation Starship Enterprise. Fans who watched the first modern "Star Trek" series on Paramount+, "Star Trek: Discovery," know that Pike showed up there and saw a terrible vision of his future. That vision now haunts him as he explains to a science officer, Mr. Spock.


MOUNT: (As Captain Christopher Pike) I saw my own death, Spock. And I didn't just see it. I felt it, every agonizing second. I can't stop seeing it.

ETHAN PECK: (As Spock) I would suggest knowledge of death is vital for effective leadership.

MOUNT: (As Captain Christopher Pike) Knowledge is one thing, Spock, but I experienced it. How will it live in me?

DEGGANS: That question hangs over the series as we meet younger versions of beloved characters given a modern twist. Christine Chappel is transformed from a lovesick nurse with a crush on Spock to a brilliant medical expert. Spock, played by Ethan Peck, is changed by his connection to a character from "Discovery," who is his adopted sister. And we also meet a young version of another cherished "Trek" character.


MOUNT: (As Captain Christopher Pike) Communications, the prodigy; Cadet Uhura on communications rotation - very happy to have you aboard.

CELIA ROSE GOODING: (As Nyota Uhura) Thank you, sir. Enterprise is cleared for launch.

DEGGANS: A later episode detailing how Uhura, now played by Celia Rose Gooding, first came to Starfleet is a wonderful highlight. But the true appeal here is seeing a return to the adventure-of-the-week format that previous Paramount+ "Trek" shows abandoned. In the first episode, this involves Pike disregarding Starfleet regulations, like they always do, to stop a less advanced alien species from plunging into war. He tells them about Earth's history of conflict.


MOUNT: (As Captain Christopher Pike) We call it the Second Civil War, then the Eugenics War and finally, just World War III. What began as an eruption in one nation ended in the eradication of 600,000 species of animals and plants and 30% of Earth's population. You'll use competing ideas of liberty to bomb each other to rubble just like we did, and then your last day will look just like this.

DEGGANS: Sounds a little too close to today's times for comfort, but it's also a refreshing return to the days when "Star Trek" was about a diverse, charismatic group of explorers having new adventures every week while proving the value of unity and peace among the stars. Welcome back, "Star Trek." Your return to classic form is needed by TV fans now more than ever. I'm Eric Deggans.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEON INDIAN SONG, "SLUMLORD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.
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