TV Show ReviewsJosh Reviews Star Trek: Prodigy Season One

Josh Reviews Star Trek: Prodigy Season One

The animated Star Trek: Prodigy is set about five years after the series finale of Star Trek: Voyager (the third and final live-action Star Trek TV series set in the 24th century, following Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine).  A group of young people in a far-off alien prison colony find an abandoned starship, an experimental Starfleet vessel called the U.S.S. Protostar.  The kids band together and use the starship to escape the prison and the clutches of the villainous Diviner.  Looking for a better future, they set off to locate this mysterious “Starfleet”…

I was not interested in this show when it was first announced.  The show was developed for Nickelodeon and promoted as the first Star Trek show aimed at kids.  Right off the bat, this felt like a mistake to me, as the best Star Trek has been enjoyable by both kids and adults alike.  I grew up watching Star Trek: The Animated Series from the seventies, and I loved it.  While the storytelling in those half-hour animated shows was of course simplified from that of the Original Series, it was still serious science-fiction featuring adult characters.  I object to the premise that the only way to interest kids in Star Trek is to create a show with a group of kids as the main characters.  The basic description of Prodigy, as being about a group of kids who find an abandoned starship, seemed dumb to me.

But this was new Star Trek, so of course I watched.  And I’m pleasantly surprised that the show was far more enjoyable than I’d ever expected it to be!  I still think the basic premise is dumb, but I’m pleasantly surprised by how well made the show wound up being.  Yes, the main characters are all young people, but the series has done a strong job of developing them all as interesting characters who I’ve enjoyed following on these adventures.  Better yet, the show has been surprisingly connected to established Star Trek continuity!  As I have written endlessly on this site (in my reviews of all the live-action Star Trek series, from Discovery to Picard to Strange New Worlds), modern Star Trek has often seemed ignorant and dismissive of Star Trek continuity.  This new series, at first, seemed like more of the same, being set in an all-new area of space with all-new young characters.  It seemed designed to be a show that could easily ignore all previous Star Trek continuity.

And yet, to my delight, the show has been steeped in Trek continuity!  This feels like a show made by people who know and love Star Trek, which is a pleasant surprise!  While at first its location and time setting seemed completely separate from all previous Trek shows, as this first season unfolded, it turned out that the show was deeply connected to Trek’s history.  In fact, it’s basically a stealth sequel to Star Trek: Voyager.  Now, I freely admit I’m not a huge fan of Voyager.  Before the disastrous modern Trek shows overseen by Alex Kurtzman, Voyager was always my least favorite Trek show.  But it’s been a lot of fun to see Janeway and Chakotay on this show!  Janeway in particular has been wonderfully well-used (more on this in a moment), and it’s been fun to see other characters and connections to Trek history on the show.  Some examples?

  • After the awful-looking, generic starships in Picard season one, I was overjoyed to see so many familiar starship designs when the assembled Starfleet appeared in Prodigy’s two-part finale.  Getting to see Sovereign-class ships (that’s the class of the Enterprise-E from the TNG movies), Defiant and Centaur class ships (from DS9), and Akira class ships (first seen in Star Trek: First Contact) made me joyously happy.
  • I loved that they brought back Ronny Cox to play now-Admiral Jellico on the show!  (Jellico appeared in the two-part TNG episode “Chain of Command”.)
  • I loved the mid-season revelation that the huge, rock-like Rok-Tahk was actually a Brikar (a species created by Peter David for his wonderful New Frontier series of novels! Now that’s a deep cut!).

It’s been surprisingly great to have Kate Mulgrew reprising her role as Janeway from Voyager on the show.  The main Janeway on Prodigy has been a holographic version, an “Emergency Training Holographic Advisor” who the kids activate when they find the Protostar.  I thought the idea that a holographic Janeway can be found on a post-Voyager starship was a bit of a stretch (though the series did eventually give a bit more explanation to that when they revealed that Janeway had supervised the Proostar’s original mission and that her friend Chakotay was the captain), but I could roll with it.  And I quickly wound up loving holo-Janeway on the show!  The series took the best aspects of the Janeway character — her intelligence, her devotion to Starfleet’s values and core mission, and the care and connection she showed to her crew — to create a wonderful guiding light for the characters and the show itself.  Holo-Janeway on the show represents all of the ideals that Star Trek at its best has embodied.  That’s wonderful to see on a modern Trek show.  And I loved how this hologram grew and developed as a character!  (The climax — for now at least — of that character’s journey at the end of the season was actually emotional for me!)  I was also over the moon when they brought the “real” Janeway, now an Admiral, onto the show in the second half of the season.  I loved getting to catch up with the real Janeway.  And when the two Janeways finally met in the season’s penultimate episode, it was every bit as satisfying as I’d hoped it’d be.  Kate Mulgrew is a wonderful actress, and she was a pleasure in both roles.  She really anchored the show.  (And I can’t believe they got Robert Beltran to return to voice Chakotay!  Mr. Beltran was very public with his unhappiness at how poorly Chakotay was used on Voyager — and by the way, he was 100% correct, in my opinion — so I’m shocked to see him return to the character.  We didn’t get to see too much of Chakotay this season; I hope he has a more substantial role in the second season.)

I’ve complained a lot about how poor the look and design of more starships have been on modern Star Trek.  (Even Lower Decks, which has shown the most attention to continuity and has done super-cool things such as showing us Will Riker’s U.S.S. Titan, looking EXACTLY the way the ship looked on the covers of the Titan series of novels, has a main starship whose design I don’t love.  The look of the Ceritos has grown on me, but I still think the solid-looking pylons connecting the nacelles to the saucer are dumb-looking, making it seem like it’s impossible for characters to get from the saucer to the secondary hull.)  But the Protostar actually looks pretty cool!  It’s a fun new starship design that is very distinct-looking and original, while still feeling very “correct” for what 24th century Federation starships should look like.  (I do, of course, have a few complaints.  The whole idea of the super-nacelle hidden within the secondary hull seemed dumb to me.  I don’t like how the ship is often animated with engine trails coming out of that big super-nacelle — one of the cool things about Star Trek ships has been that they’ve avoided that space-ship cliche.  I also don’t like how, when the ship lands, the front of the secondary hull opens up into a landing ramp.  Again, classic Star Trek starships have always avoided that cliche design idea, and also, on Star Trek starships, that’s where the main deflector is, so it shouldn’t be able to open up like that.  Finally, I don’t love the clear dome over the bridge; yet again, this sci-fi design cliche has heretofore been avoided in Star Trek ship designs.  But, despite these complaints, I like far more than I dislike about the design of the Protostar.)  I also quite enjoy the look of the ship’s interiors.  It looks crisp and modern while also fitting in nicely with established 24th century Starfleet design.

I also quite liked the look of the Dauntless, the ship Admiral Janeway commands to look for the lost Protostar.  It’s very reminiscent of the shape of Voyager, which is appropriate.  But where Voyager was designed to look sleek and fast, the Dauntless looks more bulked up.  That makes sense for that ship, which is hunting the show’s heroes on the Protostar.

I’ve grown to enjoy the main ensemble of characters on the show.  Dal is the fast-talking, confident main character, who leads the prison-break and eventually becomes the captain of his little band on the Protostar.  Dal’s impetuousness can be a little much at times (I feel like Dal has to learn the same lesson over and over again during this first season, about being more responsible and trusting his crew, which gets a little tiresome), but Brett Gray’s vocal performance keeps Dal fun and likable.  More interesting to me was Gwyn (Ella Purnell), the daughter of the villainous Diviner.  I really enjoyed the way the show explored Gwyn’s torn loyalties, between her friends and her desire to live her own life and explore, versus her loyalty to her father and her people.  Jason Mantzoukas (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Good Place)‘s very funny and enthusiastic performance brings life to the role of Tellarite engineer Jankom Pog.  Mr. Mantzoukas makes this character a lot more fun than it might have been.  I wish this Tellarite character actually looked more like a Tellarite; but on the other hand, I like this redesign, so I’m not complaining too much.  (And I admit that the classic Tellarite look was a little silly, though the makeup of the Tellarites on Enterprise was pretty great and modernized those classic TOS aliens.)  I loved the inclusion of a Medusan character (a deep-cut TOS reference, from the classic episode “Is There in Truth No Beauty?”), and the gentle, empathetic Zero (voiced by Angus Imrie) was an interesting addition to the team.  So was the sweet, child-like Rok (voiced by Rylee Alazraqui), whose innocence belies her hulking look.  I’m not a huge fan of the mysterious slime-worm Murf, whose purpose on the show alternates between juvenile comedy and a can-do-whatever-the-plot-requires writers’ aid.  Murf’s silly presence reminds me that this is intended to be a kids’ show.

John Noble (Fringe, Denethor in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films) is great as the villainous Diviner.  Mr. Noble is creepy and menacing and resists the sort of chew-the-scenery impulses one might expect from the voice of a villain on an animated show.  Jimmi Simpson (The Newsroom, Westworld) is solid as the robotic Drednok.  Jameela Jamil (The Good Place) is great as Ensign Asencia (the Vindicator).  It looks like this character might take center stage in the second season, which I’d love to see.  Jason Alexander (Seinfeld) is fun as Noum, a Tellarite doctor who runs afoul of the Protostar crew.  And I was delighted to see Billy Campbell reprise his role as Thadiun Okona (from the second-season TNG episode “The Outrageous Okona”)!  That was another terrific deep-cut Trek reference on the show.  (I just wish Okona had more to do!  I thought we’d see him again after he seemed to abandon our heroes in the lurch.  I wish we had!)

This first season had an interesting release pattern.  Last year we got a block of five episodes, then a break… then another five episodes… and then another long break, until the final ten episodes were released this year.  (I assume the lengthy time it takes to create the animation is the reason for this weird pattern.)

As I talk more about the story of this season, there will be some SPOILERS ahead, so beware!

The first five episodes were a solid start to the series, though the show gets much better in the second block of five.  (Also, I wish the show’s opening credits sequence hadn’t spoiled the “reveal” at the end of that first block of five episodes that the Protostar had a hidden third super-nacelle.  I rolled my eyes that this was intended to be a surprise to viewers at the climax of that first arc.)

But right away things picked up in the second arc, which began with the episode “Kobayashi,” a highlight of the series for me so far.  In that episode, Dal accesses the Kobayashi Maru simulation on the Protostar’s holodeck, to use to train on how to actually be a captain and a leader.  Dal assembles a holographic crew consisting of classic Star Trek characters from across the franchise: Spock, Uhura, Scotty, Odo, and Dr. Crusher.  I was shocked to suddenly see all these great classic Trek characters on this show, and even more delighted that their dialogue was all pieced together from lines they’d actually spoken throughout the shows and movies, so that all of the characters were actually spoken by their real original actors — despite the fact that all of those actors, save for Gates McFadden, have all passed away.  This was beautifully done.  This second arc of episodes contained other connections to Trek history as well, such as introducing the Ferengi who raised Dal.  That arc concluded with a two-parter that returned to the Tars Lamora prison where the show began, and provided a nice wrap-up to this first batch of stories.  Introducing the real Janeway at the end of episode ten was a great cliffhanger.

I loved the way the second half of the season was more focused — instead of just fleeing the Diviner, the Protostar crew was now more focused on finding Starfleet to return the ship and begin new lives.  I liked the complication when the crew learns that the Diviner has infected the Protostar’s systems, so that if they contact Starfleet, they’ll release a computer virus that will destroy Starfleet’s tech.  That provided a nice series of obstacles to allow the show to prolong our characters being on the run and unable to connect with Admiral Janeway and get her help.  I wasn’t so wild with having our crew encounter the Borg in episode twelve (as I continue to think the Borg have been overused nd defanged; now even these untrained kids can escape them??  I’d love to see the Borg re-established as dangerous villains).  But I loved episode 13, a beautiful salute to fans of the Original Series.  In this episode, “All the World’s a Stage”, the crew basically lands on a planet of Star Trek fans.  It turns out that an Enterprise shuttlecraft crashed there years ago, and the aliens have watched and rewatched all the logs (read: episodes) of the adventures of Kirk, Spock, and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, and modeled their society in emulation of them.  (This is based on what Ron Moore has said in interviews was a plot idea the DS9 writers considered as their 30th anniversary salute to Star Trek.  They wound up making the amazing “Trials and Tribble-ations” instead, but Moore had first pitched a sequel to “A Piece of the Action,” in which the Iotians had given up modeling their culture on Earth gangsters and instead had modeled their culture on the heroic crew of the Enterprise.)  (And speaking of deep-cut references, the Enterprise crew member who crashed winds up being revealed as Ensign Garrovick from the TOS episode “Obsession”!  That’s wonderful!)

This third batch of ten episodes has strong momentum, as we follow Admiral Janeway’s pursuit of the Protostar.  The series, throughout, was able to create individual episodes that were stand-alone adventures — a staple of the classic Star Trek approach — but that flowed smoothly one into another and had a satisfying continuity and momentum as the season unfolded.  This right here is the approach I wish all modern Star Trek would take!!  I rolled my eyes a little at the digression into the Neutral Zone (come on, how could this inexperienced crew really evade Romulans, in their own territory??) but I liked the gentle connections with the Picard series.  (The “negotiations” between the Federation and the Romulans must be regarding Federation assistance with evacuating Romulus, right??)  And things escalated nicely in the final group of episodes.

I’m glad that they didn’t stretch out the Janeway-Protostar chase into future seasons, but instead allowed them to connect and for the Protostar to actually reach Federation space.  I’m also glad that, once that meet-up finally happened, Admiral Janeway quickly realized that the crew weren’t villains.  I’m glad they had Janeway act smart and be able to quickly understand the situation, as opposed to keeping her as an enemy of the Protostar gang.

It was awesome to see the assembled Starfleet, as I’d noted above.  Though I did not like that the fleet wound up annihilating itself.  It’s hard not to think that thousands of people were killed.  The show totally avoids addressing that, which robs the sequence of the impact it should have.  To me, the complete loss of dozens of starships is too dark territory for the show to go into.  I wish they’d gone a different direction in the story.  Also, we glimpsed both the Enterprise E and the Defiant.  Were they destroyed too?  I hope not!  Was the destruction of this fleet intended to explain why we’d see all those new, generic-looking starships in Riker’s fleet at the end of Picard season one?  Oy!!  While I’m complaining, it felt like a cheat that all it took to stop the spread of the Diviner’s computer virus was the destruction of the Protostar.  I’d assumed that once the virus infected the other Federation starships, it could continue to spread from each of those ships, making it very hard to contain.  But nope.  That feels like a cheat, and also makes Janeway and the gang look dumb for not just destroying the Protostar earlier, long before they got close to Starfleet and put the entire Federation in jeopardy.  They could have destroyed the ship and just waited for Admiral Janeway to find them and pick them up, right??  Oh well.

I’m intrigued by where the season ended.  It feels correct that these kids would not so easily be accepted into Starfleet Academy, and it also feels correct that Admiral Janeway would want to take them under her wing.  Again, I like this depiction of Janeway!  It’s interesting that the Protostar prototype is now being expanded into a whole class of vessels (though I do want future Star Trek shows to be careful not to allow their ships to magically travel across huge distances too fast or easily.  I don’t like Discovery’s “spore drive” that can jump them across the universe, and the Protostar and its super-nacelle veers dangerously close to that.)  I bought the fake-out and assumed that the crew would get a new Protostar… I wonder what Janeway’s “something bigger” means?  I’ve read guesses online that this will be the Voyager-A.  That could be fun, though it does seem better for this show to have its own ship rather than just another Voyager.  I’m curious to see where things go in season two!

Prodigy is brought to life with 3-D animation, a very different look than the 2-D animation on Lower Decks.  Something about this style feels a little more “kiddie” to me.  Character designs such as the big-eyed Dal add to that.  But I quickly grew comfortable with the animation on the show, and I enjoyed the epic look given to all the starships and space stuff.  The characters integrated well into the starships and all the other tech.  (That’s sometimes a problem with 2-D animated shows when detailed tech or vehicles are involved.)  The designs are simple enough to animated smoothly, but there’s a lot of detail in all the characters, props, tech and settings so as to give the show depth and life.  It’s all very well done!

I’m very pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable this first season of Star Trek: Prodigy was!  It’s not exactly what I’d ideally like a new Star Trek show to be… but for what it is, it’s very well done and I have fun watching it!  I’m looking forward to season two.

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