Star Trek: Prodigy Is Shockingly Good

I have not, as a rule, been terribly impressed with the newer crop of Star Trek shows. Discovery starting out appallingly bad, and after years of improvement has only clawed its way to “watchable, just barely.” Picard had some very high highs, but also some major lows, and overall it felt too bleak and cynical to really feel like Star Trek. I watched one episode of Lower Decks, and that was one too many.

A promotional image for Star Trek: ProdigyI’m also not generally a fan of shows aimed at younger audiences. I can make occasionally exceptions, but usually I find them dull.

So it goes without saying that I had pretty low expectations for Star Trek: Prodigy, a new cartoon aimed at bringing a new generation of kids into the franchise. It’s perhaps a bit surprising that I even gave it a chance at all.

But what’s even more surprising is how incredibly good it turned out to be. As of the mid-season finale, I think I’m ready to declare it the best Star Trek show since Enterprise.

It’s not perfect, of course. There is a lot of very forced humour aimed at young kids that I find just plain cringe-worthy, and the half-hour format does leave some of the stories feeling a bit rushed (though somehow still less rushed than most of Discovery). It also tends to play fast and loose with the continuity of the Star Trek universe — not to an extent that really bothers me, but I know some people are off-put by the show’s fuzzy chronology and geography.

But despite these flaws, it still manages to be a very strong show.

Alone of all the new Trek shows, Prodigy feels like it’s hit a balance of being both fresh and faithful to what’s come before. The fact that none of the characters are Starfleet — none of them had even heard of the Federation before stumbling upon a derelict ship — gives us some fresh perspective on the universe, and allows us to have a more fractious and flawed cast, as opposed to the squeaky clean Starfleet crews we’re used to.

The Diviner, villain of Star Trek: Prodigy's first season.At the same time, we see the crew learning to come together and triumph despite their differences, and nothing could be more true to Star Trek than that. Prodigy is bringing back the franchise’s trademark optimism in a way that feels natural and earned.

I will also make another bold claim: Of all Star Trek shows in the franchise’s long history, Prodigy is doing the best job of balancing episodic stories with ongoing arcs. Every episode feels like its own satisfying adventure and advances the meta-plot in at least some small way. It’s neither the breathless sprint to the finish of Discovery and Picard, nor the “reset button” formula of The Next Generation and its spin-offs. I’m not sure even Enterprise struck this balance so well.

And to all that an endearing and diverse cast of characters, lots of action, and truly alien worlds courtesy of the animation format, and you have a formula for a thoroughly enjoyable show.

I even like Janeway now! I never liked her before. Turns out she’s a solid character when she has consistent writing.

I don’t do reviews on this blog much anymore, but Prodigy deserved some gushing. I’m not ready to declare it the best Trek series ever or anything; it still has a ways to go before I rank it alongside The Next Generation or Enterprise.

But I can say this much: Counting the Abramsverse movies, Prodigy is the fifth new installment of Star Trek since Enterprise was cancelled, but it’s the first time out of all of those I’ve found myself thinking, “Yes! Star Trek is back!”

Processing Lucifer’s Final Season

By the standards of today’s binge-watch culture, I’m already a bit late, but I did want to get in some thoughts on the final season of Lucifer — recently uploaded to Netflix — before it completely fades from relevancy.

The official logo for the TV series LuciferI have mixed feelings on the show’s ending, and I think it will be quite a while before I fully decide how I feel about it. I lean towards being more pro than con, but it definitely has its issues.

The main thing making this so difficult is that the sixth and final season is a massive, jarring change in direction compared to the rest of the series.

Lucifer has always been a light-hearted dramedy with a healthy mix of “case of the week” standalone episodes and ongoing plot. Since moving to Netflix, the balance has shifted a bit more towards drama rather than comedy and plot versus standalone stories (to the show’s benefit), but it’s been pretty much the same show at its heart.

Season six pretty much throws out the case of the week format (no great loss in my book) in favour being almost pure plot. You might think that makes for a breakneck pace, but it’s actually a very slow, meditative season. I do think this was the right choice for the story they meant to tell, but it does take some patience.

Similarly, while there are still some laughs to be had, the final season leans far more on emotion and pathos. Again, not necessarily a bad thing, but it feels very different from what’s come before. Almost like a totally different series. It’s still good — great, at times — but it doesn’t have that tongue-in-cheek sense of fun that so long defined the series.

Rory shows off her wings in Lucifer season six.Ultimately, this is the season where Lucifer finally grows up. So much of the series had him learning lessons, only to mostly be back to his old immature self next episode. This is the moment where he finally learns the lessons for good and becomes a mature, healthy person. It’s pretty gratifying, but again, sudden. It would have been better to spread his development out more evenly over the course of the series rather than have it all happen at once.

To be blunt, the final season is also contrived, corny, and full of plot holes. It’s very much a story that works best if you don’t think about it too hard.

Now, here’s the thing: The above statement could describe every season of Lucifer, and I’ve generally been fine with it. It’s always just been junk food watching, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not smart, but it’s fun and it makes you feel good. That’s a perfectly valid form of art.

But the silliness of the plot becomes harder to swallow when the show makes the shift to towards straight character drama. You can have ridiculous stories in a comedy, but when you’re trying for something more serious, it’s a lot harder to overlook. You can do one, but not both.

It also rankles that we never got an answer on why God created Chloe. I guess it’s meant to be some “so all of this could happen thing,” but it really feels like they just abandoned that plot thread. Come on, guys, it’s only the single biggest question in the entire series…

Chloe and Lucifer in the final season of Lucifer.However, if you are willing to overlook the over-complicated plot and the various things that just don’t add up, it is a pretty satisfying season emotionally. We get to see Lucifer finally grow up and become the Lightbringer he was always meant to be, and that feels good.

Most of the other characters get really satisfying conclusions to their story too, with the possible exception of Ella, whose story deserved more screen time than it got. But I’m an Ella fanboy, so I’m biased.

Dan especially stands out as perhaps the best part of this season, and in hindsight perhaps one of the best parts of the series as a whole. I’m a pretty harsh person, and redemption arcs often wrankle me because I rarely feel they’re deserved… but this is a redemption arc done right.

Who would have thought Detective Douche would have turned out to be such an incredible character?

All in all, I do think the final season is more good than bad, but it’s not so easily digestible as the rest of the series has been. I suppose in some ways it’s good that it provokes so much thought — I definitely wouldn’t have expected to still be mulling the ending weeks later like I have been.