“Star Trek” received a head begin within the television-universe sport. Four sequence, starting with “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” got here out in succession and ran nearly constantly from 1988 to 2005, nicely earlier than the present iterations of the Marvel and “Star Wars” TV empires have been in place.

And then — nothing. A 12-year hiatus, throughout which Marvel received into TV with “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and Lucasfilm established its trendy TV beachhead with the animated “Clone Wars” tales.

“Star Trek” sequence started to reappear with “Discovery” in 2017, and there at the moment are 5 persevering with exhibits, essentially the most the franchise has had at one time and — relying on what you depend as a sequence, and the way you outline persevering with — in all probability greater than both of its principal rivals. But it nonetheless feels as if “Star Trek” have been attempting to catch up. Outside its loyal fan base, its exhibits don’t draw quite a lot of consideration. Did you realize {that a} new season of “Star Trek: Lower Decks” premiered on Thursday? Didn’t suppose so.

And that’s too unhealthy, as a result of the post-“Discovery” exhibits, all streaming on Paramount+, embody a number of the charms which have at all times made “Star Trek” a contented sci-fi indulgence. The live-action sequence — “Star Trek: Picard” and the latest, “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” — promulgate the cosmic benevolence and earnest philosophizing that characterize the “Star Trek” universe with out taking themselves too severely or getting too tiresome (though “Picard,” in its current second season, skirted the road). The animated sequence — “Lower Decks” and “Star Trek: Prodigy” — take franchise conventions and transfer them, affectionately and cleverly, exterior the starship command construction the place they normally reside.

And beneath the stewardship of the producer Alex Kurtzman, the “Trek” lineup feels much less engineered, much less high quality tuned, than these of the competitors. There’s a calculation to the Marvel and “Star Wars” portfolios — an effort to look edgy whereas alienating as few followers as doable — that may make watching the newest sequence seem to be a compulsory college task. The throw-it-at-the-wall range of the “Trek” exhibits (which, in fact, could also be simply as fastidiously calculated) makes every sequence really feel extra approachable, if much less of a chosen “must see.”

“Discovery,” whose story has time-traveled 900 years previous the occasions of the unique “Star Trek” sequence, is the veteran of the group at 4 seasons and counting. But “Strange New Worlds,” whose first season resulted in July and was tremendously well-liked with the trustworthy, is the actual standard-bearer. It’s the apotheosis of the packaged-nostalgia enterprise these franchises symbolize: bringing again a personality who had turn out to be a TV footnote, “Worlds” primarily recycles the unique present’s method, shame-free.

Anson Mount performs Christopher Pike, who was captain of the Starship Enterprise within the unaired unique pilot of the primary “Star Trek” sequence and is introduced again because the captain in “Worlds,” set a decade earlier than. (Mount additionally performed Pike as captain of the USS Discovery in Season 2 of “Discovery.”) Younger variations of iconic characters like Spock (Ethan Peck) and Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) are on board; James T. Kirk (Paul Wesley), Pike’s eventual alternative, makes a visitor look in a time-travel story line. There is a broad arc involving Pike’s data (gleaned in a Klingon temple throughout an earlier season of “Discovery”) of how he could die, however “Worlds,” like the unique, is strongly episodic, with the Enterprise discovering bother weekly at completely different planets or house stations or nebulae.

As you’ll count on, “Worlds” mirrors the unique present’s weaknesses and strengths. The utopian concepts don’t run deep, and the dialogue expounding on them could be stiff at finest, turgid at worst. The performances are serviceable, reflecting the one-dimensionality of the characters.

But the house journey is stable, and there’s a goofball audacity that’s acquainted and interesting. The aliens and brigands nonetheless appear to be summer-stock extras, and the cannon fodder among the many junior officers can nonetheless be discerned a mile off. A excessive level of the season was an episode through which the crew thought they have been characters in a youngsters’s fantasy e-book, and the solid received to ham it up much more than common. The battle scenes nonetheless embody the foundational “Star Trek” thought you can save the universe by sitting at a desk and typing. (Sadly, Pike’s engage-the-warp-drive catchphrase, “Hit it,” is the franchise’s lamest.)

“Picard,” which fetishizes Patrick Stewart’s efficiency as Capt. Jean-Luc Picard in “The Next Generation” to the identical diploma that “Worlds” emulates the unique sequence, began off with a noirish type and texture that set it aside. But its second season, predicated on the irritatingly all-powerful “Next Generation” antagonist Q, was a regression.

Which results in a proposition that won’t sit nicely with old-school ‘Trek” fans but is borne out by the evidence: The most adventurous and engaging work currently being done in the franchise is in the two half-hour animated series, the heart-on-its-sleeve children’s journey “Prodigy” and the raunchy grownup sitcom “Lower Decks.”

“Prodigy,” whose first season ran this previous winter, is rendered in darkish, tactile, fast-moving 3D animation that feels far exterior the “Trek” canon. (The present was created by Dan and Kevin Hageman, recognized for the Lego sequence “Ninjago” and their work on the DreamWorks sequence “Trollhunters.”) It adopts a definitively outsider viewpoint: A derelict starship is commandeered by a gaggle of nonhuman escapees from a jail colony, who’re taught to pilot the ship and instilled with Starfleet values by a holographic drill sergeant within the type of Captain Janeway from “Star Trek: Voyager” (voiced by the unique performer, Kate Mulgrew).

Hologram Janeway’s lectures are good franchise administration, constituting a crash course in “Star Trek” fundamentals for younger viewers. Older followers can get pleasure from them, too, and can get much more enjoyment out of episodes just like the inevitable Kobayashi Maru training-exercise homage, which incorporates the recorded voices of the original-series solid members James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols and Leonard Nimoy.

“Lower Decks,” whose third season will proceed to reach by way of October — all of the “Trek” exhibits publish episodes weekly — was created by Mike McMahan, who was a author and producer on “Rick and Morty.” It is the least “Star Trek”-like however maybe essentially the most “Star Trek”-besotted present of the bunch.

Focused on a buddy group of low-ranking crew members assigned to an obscure assist vessel, “Lower Decks” practices a lighter model of the transgressive, cynical humor in “Rick and Morty.” (Or conversely, a extra frenetic and suggestive model of the humor in “Futurama.”) Misadventures with dimwitted or comically rapacious aliens are secondary to careerism, resentments and elaborate sensible jokes among the many crew.

And at almost each second, reference is made to the bigger “Trek” universe within the amusingly earnest method of toons who know they’ll by no means get to make a crossover episode with the live-action exhibits. Season 3 begins with a reveal that Ensign Brad Boimler (Jack Quaid) is, like Captain Picard, a winery proprietor again on Earth. Characters from throughout the “Trek” universe drop by, offering voice work for the unique actors, like J.G. Hertzler because the Klingon warrior Martok, now emceeing a fantasy role-playing sport.

It’s not shocking that “Prodigy” and “Lower Decks” provide contemporary takes on the “Trek” formulation; what’s much less anticipated is that they’re, at instances, extra transferring and emotionally advanced than the live-action exhibits. This might need to do with their provenance in gifted creators exterior the “Trek” sphere. But it additionally feels as if the medium of animation, and the peripheral genres of youngsters present and comedy, present a freedom that the makers of the stay exhibits could not have.

Both of the animated exhibits have central characters who’re as fascinating and sharply outlined as any in “Discovery,” “Picard” or “Worlds.” In each circumstances, they’re feminine off-leads or co-leads: in “Prodigy,” Rok-Tahk (Rylee Alazraqui), a large being fabricated from brick who’s revealed to be a shy younger woman, and Gwyn (Ella Purnell), the daughter of the story’s major villain; in “Lower Decks,” Mariner (Tawny Newsome), a blindingly aggressive ensign with mommy points who’s a sly analogue to hypermasculine protagonists like Kirk. When these characters confront their demons, the comedian machinations of “Lower Decks” and the kid’s journey of “Prodigy” could boldly go straight to your coronary heart.



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