Star Trek : Prodigy
Star Trek Prodigy is back after its brief holiday hiatus. I kind of lost some momentum with the show during the break, so I keep forgetting that it’s on. However, I managed to catch up this weekend, and I’m still a fan.
Star Trek Prodigy is surprisingly episodic, though there is an overarching story with the bad guy who’s mining colony they escaped from. He’s still searching for them and more importantly, for the ship.
But that’s really not the big news. That’s not the thing that makes this work. It’s far from Star Trek Discovery or Picard, both of which traded optimistic humanism for nihilism and have mistaken cynicism for wisdom and original thought. It’s also not Star Trek Lower Decks which feels like it was somebody learning as much as they could about Star Trek just so they can trash the fans. They’re not laughing with us, they’re laughing at us. Really. They said it out loud.
No, Prodigy feels different… Almost like… Star Trek?
One of the big differences that I’m noticing in the series is that it’s an ensemble. It’s a diverse group of misfits. And in this case, it’s truly diverse. Whereas on Star Trek Discovery, diversity just means no straight white men… (In fact as few men as possible, thanks) In Star Trek Prodigy, we have male and female, each a different race with their own personalities and quirks. Much of the current crop of Star Trek doesn’t bother developing personalities, rather their entire characterization is the superficial… “I’m the black one”, “This is the gay one”, “That’s the black gay one!”… And the only characters getting any real development are their leads. Star Trek Picard is entirely focused on deconstructing Jean-Luc Picard, whereas Star Trek Discovery is all about the almost Christlike perfection of Michael Burnham. They’re definitely the stars of their shows.
Star Trek Prodigy doesn’t have a star. It has an ensemble.
Thing is, this is really were Star Trek shines. It’s the thing that always worked about Star Trek. Even back to the original series, where the idea was to have a star in William Shatner, the show very quickly shifted into team mode… No longer just being about Captain Kirk, but being about Kirk Spock and McCoy as one unit… And even the second string characters each got their moments (especially Chekov and Scotty who really got development in the later seasons). Likewise, Prodigy is very much an ensemble. It’s not just about Dal, the purple captain. It’s not just about Gwyn, the albino white girl with the AWSOME thought metal sword-armlet-thing, or big rock girl ( Rok-Tahk is consistently my favorite character on this show, although gelatinous Murph comes in as a close second). It’s not even about hologram Janeway, arguably the most recognizable element of the series. She’s not the lead, but she’s also not just a supporting character. Everyone has equal weight, everyone gets equal development, everyone has equal importance. They work together to make something really special.
I mentioned in a previous post, because it’s set and the far-flung reaches the universe, and I don’t even know what time period it is, it’s not quite so burdened by the continuity. It allows it to restart. That’s a smart thing. This is very much intro to Star Trek, a good way to ease new viewers into the series. The characters act as our avatars, as they discover things like the holodeck, the transporter, the replicators, and more importantly… they’re discovering the heart that always drove Star Trek. The character, and the engaging storytelling. Unburdened by continuity, or the preachiness of current year politics, We go on adventure after adventure, experiencing first contact for the first time. We’re dipping our toe in the Kobyashi Maru, and experimenting with phasers and communicators and tricoders and discovering a few secrets that this long lost ship just might have its own.
Also because they’re experiencing all these things for the first time, because it’s all new to them, it doesn’t quite feel like just gratuitous ‘member berries when we see a hologram of Spock show up, or a picture of one of the old ships, or note that phaser designs, while streamlined, or awfully familiar (and, man…what IS it with the fetishization of the arrowhead/delta insigina in all these new series?).
In shows like Star Trek Picard and Star Trek Lower Decks, it feels like they’re just throwing as much of this stuff at the screen as possible to try and remind you “Remember how you used to like Star Trek? Remember the Klingons? You love the Klingons! Remember 10 forward? You love 10 forward!“ It’s all very shoehorned in there. Here, it feels more natural. They are discovering these things with the audience, and it feels new. The fact that there’s Klingon writing on the side of that cloaking device in the junk pile? That’s for the old viewers. Something for us to spot (but with no attention drawn to it) while the new viewers get to discover what a cloaking device is in the first place. It’s organic and natural.
I’m surprised at how much I’m enjoying this. Along with a lot of the traditional Star Trek designs and tropes, we get some stunning alien designs, and some real innovation. One of the bigger shortfalls of Star Trek in the late 90s, was everything started to look the same. You had the same people working on the show for 20 years, and the alien computer started to really resemble the federation ones. The lines of the ship were kinda distinct, but still felt a little too similar to everything we’ve seen before. Prodigy goes out and creates wild creatures and landscapes, trying very hard to go where no one has gone before… While still trying to maintain a reasonably familiar, comfortable look inside the Federation ship. Everything around it though, it’s so new and fresh, that the protostar ship almost feels out of place, The Federation vessel becoming the alien itself.
We’re better than halfway through the season, and we’ve had some good episodes and some filler episodes. We’ve had some things that were shocking, like watching the bad guy sneak onto the ship in the most innovative way possible, and these bad guys are genuinely frightening. We’ve had some real character development in just about everybody, and watching this team start to gel, and really become a crew.
Look, if you’re not watching Star Trek Prodigy, this is the one to really give a try. So far I’ve enjoyed everything about it. I gave both Star Trek Picard and Star Trek Discovery a good long chance (and I’m disappointed that my faith wasn’t justified – though you can actually see the cracks even as far back as my earliest Discovery blog posts https://argocitycomics.wordpress.com/2019/01/21/star-trek-discovery/ ). And it didn’t take long for me to realize these are not good shows. That they’re just not Star Trek. Honestly, I’ve been burned so much at this point, I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, but it never does. Star Trek Prodigy is solid Star Trek, and the absolute best thing to come out of Paramount+ and Secret Hideout.