Tuesday, 9 November 2021

Prodigy S01 E01: Lost and Found

With an extended first episode, Star Trek: Prodigy has launched with the first main cast who have no direct association with Starfleet... at least to begin with.

Episode one, Lost and Found does everything you would expect; introduce the characters, their predicament and their means of transport - but does it all work?

On a first viewing my feelings were mixed. There is a clear direction and audience for the show. Prodigy doesn't delve too deeply into its characters to begin with but we get a good sense of who they are from the few moments each is granted to shine. Dal stands front and centre as our lead. He's a prisoner on a moon destined to spend the rest of his life mining and dreams of escaping to the stars. Also on Tars Lamora we have engineer and Tellarite Jankom Pog. As with all Tellarites he loves a good argument. Crystal-like Rok Tahk looks like a heavy but is actually a young girl who is accompanied by Murf, a gelatinous creature that has an insatiable appetite. Then we have Medusan (Prisoner) Zero who has been enslaved to destroy the minds of The Diviner's enemies. Rounding out the group by way of a kidnapping, is Gwyn. One of the two remaining Vau N'Akat she carries a bracelet that can reform itself into a sword... which is cool.

The Diviner is Gwyn's father and therefore the other remaining Vau N'Akat. As the episode reveals, he is searching the moon for something and that turns out to be the USS Protostar.

In essence the episode is about driving this young team together and placing them on the ship to escape the Tars Lamora prison and get away from The Diviner and his cybernetic henchman, Drednok. 

Lost and Found isn't a deep dive into the human psyche and, cuttingly, is probably the most unStar Trek series of those in existence today. While the ship and also the returning Kate Mulgrew as holographic Janeway do bring in elements of the Federation, this is brand spanking new territory. There are some nice nods to the Delta Quadrant with the inclusion of the Kazon but this feels as though it should be entitled Prodigy: A Star Trek Series rather than taking the moniker up top. 

While the other shows have fed directly off the concept of Starfleet in some form this has taken a massive step away with only a couple of pieces really engaging that element of the franchise. It also felt at points that it wasn't sure what it wanted to be - is it comedy? Is it action? Is it trying to build relationships with these characters? There doesn't feel as though there's a good balance here with all three parts clashing at times. Wisecracking is good at times but it does clog things up between people in Prodigy; even moreso given the time restrictions.

While Lower Decks had three of the four main cast already friends, this has a lot to establish in a frighteningly quick timescale. Introduce a whole cast to each other plus an antagonist and a narrative. Somehow it succeeds but I think that's because of its target audience. There's not a great deal of depth and we have several characters whom we will no doubt be learning about as we progress. A lot is made of Dal's unknown origin plus viewers with some knowledge of Star Trek will be wanting to know how a Medusan and a Tellarite managed to end up in the Delta Quadrant.

This rag-tag bunch do offer a lot of possibilities for the show as does the arrival of Kathryn Janeway just at the end of the episode. But I guess more on that one with episode two.

My biggest gripe with Prodigy isn't the concept or the characters or that strong disassociation with Starfleet - it's with the animation itself. I'm a big fan of Lower Decks as you will already know from previous articles praising it to high heaven and with that the animation fits the style of the show perfectly. Here though, while there is a clear attempt to make it look absolutely stunning and go all out on the visuals, it comes off a little stilted at times and almost a bit dated. The character movements don't seem to be particularly fluid and once I'd noticed that, it bugged the hell out of me for the rest of the episode. Yes, it does look amazing when it comes to the big vistas and the sense of scale but it's the detail where Prodigy feels like it's being let down. Maybe that slightly less "perfect" look was the intention here but for me it's not quite working at this stage of the game.

One thing that is awesome and will be a much talked about point is the USS Protostar.

Apparently a much smaller starship than we've seen before, the ship is super stream-lined and glisteningly clean. Featuring an unusual front loading ramp, the Protostar's appearance in the show totally locks your attention. The escape sequence is easily the most impressive part of Lost and Found as the new crew put their reborn starship to use. Again and as with the characters you know that there is more to the vessel and we're teased some of that in the titles. I also suspect that Janeway and its impressive propulsion system aren't the only surprises that will be coming our way over the next few weeks. 

Prodigy is as big a step as Star Trek made when it launched Discover. This is different, uncharted territory. Of the three animated shows it's the first one to ever be strongly targeted more at the younger Star Trek market rather than existing fans. The bulk of the main cast are kids and voiced by young actors which continues to emphasise the direction Paramount and Alex Kurtzman are heading with the show. 

This is very much about securing the next generation, the future, of the franchise and for it's long term success. Start off with Prodigy and then grow up to watch the other shows. Whether this will drive newer fans to dive into the 50 year catalogue I can't be sure but I would suggest that it will probably encourage a few to examine the other series from the Kurtzman era and explore more strange new worlds (pun fully intended).

I do foresee Prodigy being a success. It's not trying to be a deep-thinking, cerebral show and it's been very wise of the current curators of the Star Trek universe to diversify and have a clear and different definition for each of the series that currently exist.  This one has the most to gain and the most to lose with not only a totally unique audience but look and feel. Prodigy is different. It smells different with us more as visitors to Starfleet. Think about it; to become immersed in the Star Trek universe this makes the perfect entry point - literally. These characters are themselves about to learn about Starfleet and its ethics. It's the entry point to the Universe from a newbie - and a younger perspective. Prodigy is itself a clever learning tool buried within a glossy package which, I would believe, will see this bunch of personalities be forged into a proper crew by the Janeway hologram. If that is the case then this is one of the most well-thought shows in the catalogue and you have to hope that it succeeds in being the gateway to the bigger Star Trek picture and starting point for many young viewers.

What was your opinion on the premiere of Prodigy? Did it deliver what you wanted or expected?

ALSO check out our full set of season one and two reviews for Lower Decks HERE!

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