Star Trek: Prodigy Review: A Lovely Series Skewed Towards A New Generation

"Star Trek: Prodigy," the newest series in the long-running science fiction franchise, is a rare rhetorical bird for the "Trek" world. It isn't the first animated franchise entry (that honor belongs to "Star Trek: The Animated Series," to be followed by the decidedly more humorous "Star Trek: The Lower Decks"), but it's the first franchise animated series aimed specifically for a younger audience. 

As the "Trek" introduction to younger audiences that it's intended to be, the series (or at least the episodes provided for advance review) is successful, finding an enjoyable baseline to introduce young protagonists to the world and values of the Federation through the eyes of a band of outsiders.

"Prodigy" follows a very non-Starfleet group of six youngsters (of various non-human species) who commandeer a derelict Starfleet vessel and escape the hostile tyrant the Diviner (John Noble) and his robotic enforcer Drednok (Jimmi Simpson) en route to the Alpha Quadrant. On board are Dal (Brett Gray), the Medusan Zero (Angus Imrie), the eight-year-old Rok-Tahk (Rylee Alazraqui), the Tellarite Jankom Pog (Jason Mantzoukas), the sentient blob Murf (Dee Bradley Baker), and Gwyn (the Vau N'Akat daughter of the series villain, herself played by Ella Purnell). 

Perhaps the biggest virtue for long-time Trek fans is the introduction of a hologram Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) who adds a great guide to the series (and to "Trek" fans, it's great to hear Janeway once more). It's a series of "Star Trek"-ish adventures outside the traditional institutions and knowledge base of the franchise as a whole, making it a perfect introduction to newer potential fans or those who want to see the galaxy with new eyes. But it's unclear in these initial episodes how much the series will retread territory for long-time fans.

Trek for younger audiences? Make it so...

The first episodes of "Star Trek: Prodigy" establish the would-be crew, their place in the galaxy, and the path that they'll be treading. As mentioned, the youngsters have each long been stranded on a coercive mining colony in relatively uncharted space when they uncover and board a derelict Federation starship. The first two episodes establish the series' antagonists, the youngsters' desperation, the former's pursuit of the latter, and the complex position of their pursuant captive, Gwyn, a daughter of her totalitarian father who yet longs to reach the stars and seems morally conflicted over her loyalty to a bad father. 

The third episode sees the isolated crew, now in space aboard the Prodigy, struggle with the high stakes and dangerous decision-making that space travel requires, with Dal striving hard to lead despite knowing nothing. The series boasts some talented voice actors. Brett Gray's "Dal" is a wonderful, desperate, foolhardy, yet good-natured kid with a chip on his shoulder that could become captain's shoulders one day. Ella Purnell is great as the conflicted Gwyn, torn between duty to her father (more habitual than dedicated) and her desire to be better and see so much more. The rest of the cast excels as well; Kate Mulgrew is exceptional as Hologram Janeway, with a similar enough feeling to the real thing to entice fans, but of course less emotional (she's an AI-powered hologram after all).

Aside from the series' big-swing potential and strong voice cast, "Star Trek: Prodigy" is also a stunningly gorgeous animation. Gone is the comedic 2D style of "Lower Decks," and in its place is detailed computer animation that would fit in any feature film. Its a lovely series that fits the grandeur of its stories' subject matter. 

In terms of story, the first two episodes (effectively one episode longer than traditionally length) are well-paced for modern audiences with a strong set of character introductions, good action sequences, and a lot of open-ended potential. It strikes as ably accomplishing its goals to introduce younger audiences to the world of "Trek," finding a strong path to do so with its young characters' guided trip through the galaxy. At the same time, it's unclear how much that premise will speak to established fans and how much it will just reintroduce what fans already know. Of course, that doesn't say it won't "boldly go" into new ventures, but that is yet to be seen as the series rolls out.

Can we see into its future? We Khaaaaaannnnnnn't!

Altogether, "Star Trek: Prodigy" is a strong series for younger audiences, though its currency for established "Trek" fans is ultimately hard to say. It's certainly accessible, with well-chosen characters, adept voice performances, a welcome return of Mulgrew to the "Trek" world, and vast theoretical potential to deliver new experiences and worldbuilding to those of us with a deep track record in the franchise. It's also a visual treat, with gorgeous animation that would hold up on a large screen, and which really exhibits the vast beauty of the digital cosmos. At the same time, it's not clear how much traction the series will gain outside the "Trek" novices for which it is intended or the limitations it will find therewith. 

This is a double-edged sword. A double-sided phaser? I'll stick with a Bat'leth ... it's a poorly swung Bat'leth. It does what it intended to quite well, which is commendable, and it does it in a gorgeous and enjoyable way. On the other hand, the joy, beauty, danger, and responsibility of exploring the cosmos has been a recurring theme since the franchise's inception, and it's difficult to say how much of that will be enjoyed beyond the series' explicit young demographic. That's fine, it's great to encourage younger audiences to boldly go themselves, but it also makes it difficult to pin the series' longevity and its utility beyond franchise newbies. 

Altogether, still an engaging and gorgeous series with cute characters and a top-tier Kate Mulgrew as always. As Spock reminds us, we should then withhold full judgment in advance of complete knowledge, as "insufficient facts always invite danger" ... this "Trek" fan hopes they live long and also prosper. 

"Star Trek: Prodigy" premieres on Paramount+ October 28, 2021.