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A confused disc release for a show that hasn’t quite found its footing yet. 3.5 Stars

Star Trek: Prodigy is a show that, in these initial ten episodes at least, hasn’t quite found its footing.

Star Trek: Prodigy (2021–)
Released: 28 Oct 2021
Rated: TV-Y7
Runtime: 1 min
Director: N/A
Genre: Animation, Action, Adventure
Cast: Rylee Alazraqui, Dee Bradley Baker, Brett Gray
Writer(s): Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman
Plot: A group of enslaved teenagers steal a derelict Starfleet vessel to escape and explore the galaxy.
IMDB rating: 7.2
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Paramount
Distributed By: CBS
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, Spanish 2.0 DD
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 3 Hr. 57 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: Keep case with slipcover and character cards in first pressing
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 01/03/2023
MSRP: $25.99

The Production: 3/5

This is a strange release.

Star Trek: Prodigy began airing a twenty episode first season back in the fall of 2021, premiering five new episodes over four weeks, before taking a nearly two month hiatus. The show then returned with five additional new episodes beginning in the fall of 2022, and then took a nearly nine month hiatus before resuming with its final ten episodes, which wrapped up in the final week of December 2022.

All of that is to say, this release, which is comprised of the first half of that first season, is a little bit of a head-scratcher. Released in the first week of January 2023, it arrived too late for anyone looking to catch up with the first half of the season in advance of the second half’s airing, and as a partial season set, isn’t of much use to collectors looking to add the full season to their library. It would seem that the time to have released a half-season set would have been at the conclusion of that partial run in February 2022, or before the resumption of the series in October 2022. Having this release come out at this moment in time seems like too little, too late.

Setting aside the unusual product configuration, Star Trek: Prodigy is a show that, in these initial ten episodes at least, hasn’t quite found its footing. The stated objective for the show was to design an entry-point to the Star Trek universe for young viewers with no familiarity with the legacy content. On one hand, setting Prodigy on the other side of the galaxy far removed from the reaches of Starfleet is a way to accomplish that goal, but on the other hand, having a rag-tag group of mostly teenagers leading the way makes it seem far closer to one of the animated Star Wars programs than Star Trek. Given that there is, in-universe, both a Starfleet Academy where young people train to join Starfleet, and that families are allowed to live on ships with active missions, it seemed that Star Trek lore already allowed plenty of opportunities to show a young audience how Star Trek works without reinventing the wheel. Having the young characters meet each other while trying to escape a prison planet, and finding an abandoned Starfleet ship to be used as a means of escape, was an unexpected storytelling choice. For a show targeted at a young audience (the episodes are rated TV-Y7), the first two episodes are incredibly dark, featuring multiple examples of child slavery and endangerment, parental abandonment, violence, and even hints of genocide. It’s as if Starfleet lost a ship somewhere in the Star Wars universe.

When the show finally does start connecting to the larger Star Trek universe, even the choice of connections can be a little bit strange. It’s absolutely delightful, as a longtime fan, to hear Kate Mulgrew returning to Trek, playing a hologram version of Kathryn Janeway designed as a training tool. Mulgrew slips back into the role like someone putting on an old shoe; it’s as if she never left. For longtime fans, this is a great gift, but that might go unappreciated for new viewers of the targeted age group; they’re not likely to be familiar with a legacy character whose show both went off the air more than two decades ago and was aimed squarely at an older audience than this one. An episode where the young crew attempts the Kobayashi Maru simulation is also baffling at times; Mr. Spock appears in hologram form, with his lines taken Mad Libs-style from wildly disparate archival recordings of Leonard Nimoy. Longtime fans are likely to find the mix of lines taken from episodes and films made decades apart to be jarring, while new fans won’t have the framework to appreciate what the show is trying to do. Why not simply have Ethan Peck, the actor currently inhabiting the role of Spock, record the lines fresh? It’s a bit of fan service that falls flat for this longtime fan. Many of the connections to the larger Star Trek universe in this show are similarly perplexing.

For all of the questions or complaints one might have about the choices made here, one thing beyond reproach is the voice talent of the main cast, who are all able to straddle the line between youthful naivety and wise-beyond-their-years. Fairing best are Brett Gray as Dal, the leader of this motley crew; Ella Purnell as Gwyn, who has connections to the season’s villain but who is determined to turn over a new leaf; Angus Imrie as Zero, a Medusan (of all things to bring back from the Original Series, this silly race utilized in one not particularly good episode is an odd choice, but Imrie’s delivery, at times reminiscent of Roddy McDowell in the Planet of the Apes films, makes it work); and Rylee Alazraqui as Rok, a giant-sized child of a species that appears to be made of, well, rocks. Though its a matter of writing rather than performance, Jason Mantzoukas’ role as Jankom Pog is like nails on a chalkboard, undercut by the writers’ decision to have the character referring to himself in the third person at every possible opportunity (“Jankom Pog thinks this is a bad idea!”). Dee Bradley Baker, a master at creating non-verbal sounds and voices, gives the blob Murf a hint of a personality, a seemingly impossible assignment, while John Noble is reliably evil as the season’s mustache-twirling villain, absurdly named The Diviner. A vocally unrecognizable Jimmi Simpson performs the voice of the Diviner’s robot henchman, Drednok. And as previously mentioned, Kate Mulgrew is a delight voicing the Janeway hologram, bringing some much needed nurturing and warmth to the ensemble.

Though Prodigy has a lot of unrealized potential in these early episodes (potential that, unfortunately, does not seem fully realized in the season’s concluding ten episode arc), it does boast some beautiful animation and a first-rate voice cast. As a longtime Trek fan now firmly in middle age, it may be that I am simply outside of the target group for this show, though I am hesitant to accept that explanation as I’ve had no difficulty enjoying spin-offs from other adult properties aimed at younger audiences (the animated Star Wars shows, for instance, were very easy for me to get into). I think what makes this show occasionally fall flat is that, rather than running head on into the familiar settings and tropes that make Star Trek Trek-y, the show runners come at the subject from a distance, as if they’re playing in a world they’re not fully willing to embrace. It is my hope that, given more time, this show will one day find a groove to settle into, and find a way to better honor the legacy of Trek while appealing to younger audiences.  I hope there are more episodes in the future like the eighth episode (Time Amok), which for me struck the best balance between old-fashioned Trek problem-solving and children’s programming.

(One final note: though each episode ostensibly runs for 24 minutes, nearly two minutes of that time is the show’s unchanging opening titles, with over a minute of time dedicated to the end titles. The actual amount of content per episode is about 20 minutes.)

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

All episodes are presented in an aspect ratio of 2.40:1, in a presentation that is faithful to their original airing on Paramount+. I am fortunate in that my internet bandwidth was sufficient to enjoy a quality presentation during the show’s streaming run, leaving me with no complaints during that time. As such, the disc presentation mostly mirrored what I saw then, though viewers with lesser internet connections may experience a greater improvement viewing the disc. The video presentation is phenomenal, with the heavily stylized CGI-animation really popping off the screen. Black levels are strong, with the exterior sequences showing the Protostar ship in space against starry backgrounds looking particularly wondrous. The visual design of the show seems most inspired by J.J. Abrams’ alternate universe Star Trek films, with the Protostar interiors reflecting bright interiors and occasional lens flares to boot. (It’s sort of odd that the show, which is conclusively set in the Prime Universe, seems to take a lot of its design cues from the Kelvin Universe, of which it is not a part of. Still, as perplexing as that choice might be, the presentation here is first rate.)

Audio: 5/5

The ten episodes in this collection are presented with a 5.1 track that appears identical to the mix heard during their original airing on Paramount+, in the lossless DTS-HD MA format. The disc’s lossless presentation allows for a little more sonic breathing room, with incremental improvements in clarity. While the dialogue is channeled through the center speaker, the wide variety of sound effects and the thundering score (the main title theme was composed by Michael Giacchino, with Nami Melumad handling the episodic cues) make excellent use of the surround channels. Giacchino and Melumad’s scores too often use motifs adapted from or similar to the music Giacchino created for the J.J. Abrams films, which seems inappropriate given that those films take place in an alternate universe that shares no connection to this series. It’s not that the Giacchino music wasn’t good – the scores for those Kelvin-verse films were tremendous – but it simply feels out of place here. (The closest analogy I can think of is that it would be equally weird to hear the music for Adam West’s Batman underscoring Christian Bale’s Batman films.). But despite the odd creative choices in the scoring, the audio presentation on these discs is outstanding.

Special Features: 2.5/5

Although this half-season release of Star Trek: Prodigy includes a high quantity of special features, they are unfortunately of low quality, which is a shame given the abundance of great features available on disc for the other Trek shows from Paramount+. A huge percentage of the time in each of the features is spent replaying clips from the episodes themselves, as well as clips from other Trek legacy content, padding the running time and making the array seem more substantial than it actually is. It’s difficult to tell who these features were created for. Adult fans of the show will likely already be familiar with the connections to the legacy show and find those call-outs to be redundant, while young viewers of the show will find themselves inundated with clips from episodes they’ve just watched. There’s precious little interview content from cast and crew, and what is present is very surface level; most of the time, it’s just a cast or crew member narrating onscreen action that needed no explanation. Anyone looking for more information about how the show is actually made will likely be disappointed.

Disc One:
The Kobayashi Maru (4:04) – A short featurette that’s more of a clip reel from the episode “Kobayashi” than a true behind the scenes look.

Disc Two:
Trek Tradition (11:06) – The producers discuss the “high wall” to climb of 55 years of Trek legacy, and how they wanted the show to be an “on ramp” with no experience with Star Trek. Having the protagonists be unaware of Starfleet was the approach settled upon. And yet, for a series meant to stand on its own, it does utilize a lot of deep cut legacy characters and connections which seem to contradict this stated goal. They also state that they felt there was too much darkness on television today and wanted to make a lighter show, and I’m not sure that Prodigy succeeds in achieving that. (It’s hard to call the show “light” when the premiere opens with child enslavement and the last episode included ends with a plan to annihilate Starfleet.) The intended aims for this show seem very different from what’s actually onscreen, and I wonder if I am the only one who feels that disconnect.

The Prime Directive (3:15) – An explanation of Starfleet’s most referenced rule.

The Protostar Pack (28:33) – Eight brief character-exploring featurettes that can be played individually or together. The first featurette covers the crew as a whole, while the following ones each focus on a specific character, discussing both the animation and the performances. I found the ones on Zero and Hologram Janeway to be the most insightful, while some of the others were more superficial.

The Protostar (13:37) – Eight brief featurettes about the ship that can be played individually or together. Clips from the other Trek shows are shown as examples for how they influenced the design work in Prodigy, but the featurettes here are too frequently surface level.

Gadgets & Gear (17:22) – Eight more featurettes that can be played individually or together, this time about the design of props and equipment. There are glimmers of insight here, but like the other sets of featurettes, aren’t very substantial.

Character Cards – Four glossy postcard-sized cards are included, with character portraits on the front side and in-universe biographical histories on the back side.

Overall: 3.5/5

Star Trek: Prodigy is a first for Alex Kurtzman’s Trek expansion: a CGI-animated show aimed at younger viewers. While the intentions behind the show are laudable, the ten episodes included in this set reveal a series that is very much still a work in progress. Without knowing if Paramount’s plans for future releases, I find it difficult to make a recommendation one way or the other to potential buyers. (Will this show be released a half season at a time? Or will this half season release be superseded by a complete season set sometime in the future? Paramount hasn’t given any indication.) The best I can say is that if you’ve enjoyed Prodigy on Paramount+ and/or Nickelodeon, this set offers a wonderful technical presentation with a lot of inconsequential bonus features. For people on the fence, it may be best to wait until there is some additional clarity about the studio’s future release plans for this series.

 

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Published by

Josh Steinberg

editor,member