The second season of Star Trek: Strange New Worldslike the first one, was fun at least in part because the show itself isn’t all that new or strange.
The characters and visuals and specific plot constructs are new, but at its core the show is a painstaking reconstruction of The next generation formula of Star Trek1990s creative and commercial peak: Ensemble cast, mostly episodic storytelling with lightly serialized character development and recurring arcs, and a willingness to mix high-concept sci-fi with just the right amount of silliness. It’s also very good at taking old Star Trek tropes – the transportation accident, the illness on the ship, the chatty courtroom thriller about the nature of humanity – and making them feel fresh again.
Episode 7, which came out early this weekend to coincide with a Comic-Con screening, digs up and expertly executes another store-worn trope, something we haven’t seen in Star Trek since the days when Quark was on the screen of the Enterprise-D: the crossover episode. And despite the wide gap between Strange new worlds and the animated Lower decksthe blending of the two shows’ different styles comes together better than any gimmicky attempt at cross-promotion.
What is this, a crossover episode?
Let me be clear on what I mean when I talk about “crossover episodes.” By its strictest definition, a “crossover episode” occurs when a fictional character from one show appears on another show. But there are nuances.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe (and the general MCU ification of broad swaths of the television landscape) means that broadly defined “crossover episodes” happen all the time, and you’re expected to watch completely separate shows that suck but take place in the same fictional universe to keep abreast of crucial plot developments on shows you want to watch. However, that’s not quite the type of crossover episode I want to discuss. I’m also not talking about the times a character from one show appears on another related spin-off show (temporarily or permanently) after the original show is canceled, like when Worf went to deep space 9, or when Spike moved from Buffy the vampire killer Unpleasant Angelor when signs off cheers occasionally pops up Frasier.
The specific kind of crossover episode that Strange new worlds is performing is an intentionally gimmicky one-off that happens between two established but separate shows, often heavily advertised in the hopes of encouraging cross-fertilization between two shows’ fanbases. They often require bending the reality of one or both shows to work – to the point that they occasionally create paradoxes where an actor plays different characters that exist in the same reality, or where Tony Soprano watches a show where people talk about the TV character Tony Soprano, or where characters from one show appear in another show as fictional TV characters And like real people. I’m talking about The Jetsons meet the FlintstonesI’m talking about characters from Crazy about you appear on FriendsI’m talking about Stewie Family man in conversation with David Boreanaz Bones. That it feels silly and a little forced is part of the fun.