Entertainment

'Star Trek: Strange New Worlds' Is the Best 'Trek' in Years

A return to form that feels both familiar and brand-new.

Paramount+
Paramount+
Paramount+

Since Star Trek: Discovery premiered in the fall of 2017, Paramount has treated us to a veritable wealth of Star Trek stories on our small screens, from Disco‘s epic that took us through the Klingon war and beyond, to the hilarious animated comedy Star Trek: Lower Decks, to catching up with a fan-favorite retired captain in Star Trek: Picard. There’s something for everyone in all of these, but despite all the love the fans seem to agree that there’s something missing from the format, particularly in the live-action shows. It’s a fatigue we’re all feeling now that so much streaming television plays as if a season is more like an 8- or 10- or 13-hour movie meant to be binged over a weekend: What happened to episodes? Part of the joy of a Star Trek show, from the very beginning, was the anticipation of seeing something completely new every week as the USS Enterprise bounced around the universe meeting alien races and soaking up the rays from distant suns. We’re aboard an exploration vessel, after all. As the title of Paramount+’s fantastic new Star Trek: Strange New Worlds suggests, we’re finally going back to basics.

First, a little bit of background. Strange New Worlds is set directly after the events of Discovery Season 2, which first introduced the new iterations of Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount), Vulcan science officer Spock (Ethan Peck), and Number One (Rebecca Romijn), and ended up being so popular that they were granted their own spinoff show. It also takes place a few years before Star Trek: The Original Series, and chronicles Pike’s captainship of the Enterprise before the show that started it all turned the job over to one Captain James T. Kirk.

If you know who Captain Pike is, you already know why this is a particularly fun concept for a Star Trek show, but in case you don’t, here’s a fun fact: Pike is actually the first captain at the helm of Enterprise in the very first Star Trek episode ever, the pilot titled “The Cage” that NBC originally rejected, which wasn’t broadcast on television until 1988 (though bits and pieces were used for the follow-up two-part episode “The Menagerie” later in the first season). Pike has shown up in various Star Trek properties since then, but has never gotten his own show until now. In a way, Strange New Worlds is Star Trek finally making the show they had planned from the beginning.

Paramount+
Paramount+
Paramount+

That’s not the only way in which the show feels cozily retro: Strange New Worlds is, at last, a return to the episodic self-contained storytelling that made this franchise so much fun in the first place. The crew of the Enterprise disguise themselves as pre-Warp aliens to explore a new planet, they communicate with religious zealots protecting a deadly comet, they hide from a classic Trek villain and turn the ship into a haunted house, there’s a hilarious shore leave episode and an episode where the crew has to fight a viral outbreak. The possibilities for this show are, quite simply, endless.

Part of the reason why it works so well (and probably the reason why it got a series order in the first place) is the cast and the way the show follows all their charming interpersonal relationships. Pike is reluctant to get back into the swing of things but game once he’s in the captain’s chair, trading familiar quips with his towering Amazon Number One, who makes the 1960s high ponytail look natural in 2022, somehow. Ethan Peck’s rendition of Spock is shockingly good, down to reproducing a very close cousin of Leonard Nimoy’s vocal range. A particular treat is Celia Rose Gooding as Ensign Nyota Uhura, playing the iconic character with a youthful uncertainty, yet still able to whip out a tone-perfect flourish with a touch of her communications earpiece. There’s not a weak link among even the other members of the crew, which include Jess Bush’s enthusiastic take on Nurse Christine Chapel, Babs Olusanmokun as the soft-spoken Dr. M’Benga, Christina Chong as stoic security specialist La’an Noonien-Singh (uh-oh!!), and legally blind actor Bruce Horak playing gruff warp core engineer Hemmer, a member of canonically sightless alien species the Aenar.

Though there is no main narrative arc, there are a few thoughtful throughlines the show follows with some of the crew, particularly concerning the terrifying fate of Captain Pike, which fans have known since the first Trek series and which was revealed to the character at the end of his tenure on Discovery Season 2. Anson Mount’s Pike has the type of authoritative yet friendly presence we expect from a Starfleet captain, but he’s visibly and understandably shaken from having seen a vision of his own death. The pall hangs over the first episodes of Strange New Worlds, which deftly take on the notion of fate and the possibility of choosing our own destiny. It’s as if the show is talking directly to the audience and saying, “We know that you know how this is supposed to go, but keep watching, and you might be surprised.” If we’ve learned anything from Star Trek, it’s that the universe is full of surprises.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Emma Stefansky is a staff entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.

Entertainment

'Top Gun: Maverick' Is the Perfect Adrenaline Rush

Tom Cruise's sequel brings the charms of the original classic into the modern era.

Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

What does it take to make a great action drama? Fighter jets. Kenny Loggins music. Tom Cruise. In 1986, Top Gun, perhaps the ultimate “guys being dudes” action movie set within a training school for the Navy’s best fighter pilots, patented this formula, and added in a bunch of sweaty guys playing beach volleyball and an iconic love scene to seal the deal. Top Gun‘s massive popularity made the announcement of a sequel seem the most natural thing in the world, if not the most exciting: an elder Tom Cruise handing the reins off to a new generation of elite actors. If that’s what you’re expecting, you’re in for a surprise. Top Gun is a classic. Top Gun: Maverick does everything Top Gun did and more.

It’s been thirty-six years since Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) completed his TOPGUN program, but he’s far from the decorated officer he was destined to become by the end of the first movie. He’s dodged every promotion he could dodge, working as a test pilot flying hypersonic stealth jets for the military, but the specter of unmanned drones looms ever closer, spelling the end for an entire era of warfare. Not so fast, though-Maverick is called back to a certain fighter training school as an instructor, tasked with putting together a team of the best of the best to complete a bombing run involving some absurdly complex flying maneuvers at high speed much too close to the ground in enemy territory. If you will, an impossible mission.

The new crop of airmen, now flying F/A-18 Hornets instead of F-14 Tomcats, are kids in Maverick’s eyes, and he shows up to teach them what’s what, inventing training exercises to test their mettle and teach them how to fly as a team. It’s not going to be easy, with the egos of pilots like “Hangman” (Glen Powell), “Fanboy” (Danny Ramirez), “Coyote” (Greg Tarzan Davis) and “Phoenix” (Monica Barbaro) repeatedly clashing as they struggle to work together. And there are two more problems: He only has a few weeks to train these kiddos up to fly a mission from which they might not all return, and one of his students, sullen Lieutenant Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), is the son of Maverick’s old flying partner Goose, who tragically died in the first movie. Not to mention reconnecting with an old flame, single mother Penny (Jennifer Connelly), who manages the local bar and is not about to fall yet again for a guy who’s left her more than once. You see where this is going.

Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

The movie begins with a collection of the greatest hits of its predecessor, including but not limited to a montage of jets landing on an aircraft carrier lit by the golden light of the sun, Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone,” and Maverick defying orders to do something with an aircraft that nobody’s ever done before. This is, after all, a movie that will have more than a few similarities to the one that came before. After that, though, the engines kick into gear (I apologize if this car metaphor doesn’t also work for planes), and Top Gun: Maverick starts to try out a few new tricks.

The interpersonal relationships between the characters are fun and fully realized (Maverick’s perpetual battle of egos with his commanding officer, a Vice Admiral known as “Cyclone” (Jon Hamm) is a highlight) and there’s just enough downtime between white-knuckle action to really get to know everyone. The sweaty beach game returns, but the macho posturing is toned down, given that we live in a new millennium and one of the main pilots is a woman. Val Kilmer reprises his “Iceman” for a touching scene. All of this is complemented by unbelievable flying sequences that will genuinely leave you breathless, each lightning-fast dogfight game and training simulation grander and faster than the last. This is the type of film to see as big and loud as possible.

But, as the original was, Top Gun: Maverick is also simply a straight-up great time at the movies. It makes the act of being a good movie look like the easiest thing in the world, with director Joseph Kosinski showing off everything he’s got. (Yes, you should give Tron: Legacy another shot.) Because “the enemy” is never named, as in the first movie, it is comfortably apolitical (if you disregard the fact that the jets Maverick eventually goes up against are Russian, and what a boon the original Top Gun was for U.S. military recruitment programs), and even though the whole movie is working towards a life-or-death wartime mission, it never forgets that its purpose is to thrill and excite. Great action movies aren’t going anywhere any time soon. Like a good wingman, Top Gun: Maverick swoops in to save the day.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Emma Stefansky is a staff entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.

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