Prodigy‘s “Lost & Found” in Review
Over the decades – since devouring the TOS series over and over in the syndicated rerun era – my mantra to skeptical Trek fans as movies and new series have been released has always been “New Trek is Good Trek.” My implication was not that every iteration was the highest quality, but they all offer an open conduit for more stories about Roddenberry’s optimistic future. Little did I know, while watching TOS as a teen on a VHF channel, that the universe of content would be expanded into seven other live-action series, thirteen feature films, and now a third animated show, Star Trek: Prodigy. Of all the iterations, I had the most doubt about this one, a cartoon targeting a young demographic. Would it be worth the viewing time for an older-than-the-franchise devotee like me? I decided to give it a try.
The opening scene of Star Trek: Prodigy immediately creates its own tone. The setting is not a typical kids show venue, but the Tars Lamora prison camp. Futuristic automation with distinctive robotic taskmasters set in a dark cavern contrast to the reveal of Dal (voiced by Brett Gray), a humanoid with purple features on his skin, hair, and eyes. Because I can’t identify his species, I immediately attach to his sassy, irreverent attitude and hip-hop look.
Dal is preoccupied with finding a way out of his dire situation and daunting location. However, the scrutiny on him is intense, especially when a menacing and towering top bot named “Drednok” introduces another character, known as “Fugitive Zero”, via a holographic rendering. Drednok suspects that Dal can help him capture this individual. Dal is evasive, even with identifying his own species and background to the prison camp baddie. Meanwhile, the real Fugitive Zero, hidden in a lofty perch, helps Dal escape the rough interrogation. Dal’s footrace seems pointless, as he is still within the larger mining complex. His promising escape route turns into a descent into the deeper and more dangerous mining operation depths.
While he’s trying to avoid capture, Dal has brief encounters with distinctive aliens, likely other working prisoners: a bluish gelatinous blob; a giant, red, bear-sized rock creature; and a plucky mechanic, that I eventually realize is an animated rendering of a Tellarite. The old-school fan finally gets a nod to legacy Trek, a small fragment of canon “ore” in a totally alien (for Trekkers) setting. “Tellarites are early members of the Federation,” my internal Memory Alpha assures me. These quick flashes of intriguing aliens are foreshadowing visual introductions to series regulars. Dal acquires a vehicle from the Tellarite and pursues a daunting steep ramp in his harrowing effort to escape.
Gwyn (voiced by Ella Purnell) seems to be in league with the evil-looking, menacing Drednok. Her status is clearly not as an enslaved laborer, but part of the ruling class in this culture. Gifted in spoken languages, she negotiates with a Kazon, alien-trafficking a child-sized Caitian (cat-like humanoid, see Lieutenant M’Ress from the original animated Star Trek series or Doctor T’Ana from Lower Decks). A Kazon and a Caitian are two more touchstones to canon species.
Sympathetic to the young Caitian’s plight, Gwyn appears to show sensitivities not yet exhibited in this dire planet’s social compact. Like Dal, Gwyn is an unknown species to the viewer – young or old – of this Prodigy pilot episode.
We see that both Gwyn and Drednok defer to a seemingly powerful entity known as the “Diviner”. He tasks Gwyn with interrogating Dal to ferret out the mysterious and elusive Fugitive Zero, who threatens the security of this enslaved mining operation.
Dal’s escape attempt has meanwhile proven futile. He’s imprisoned where a nearby sympathetic female voice is able to communicate with Dal in the no-universal-translator milieu of the prison camp. Dal realizes the “voice” belongs to Fugitive Zero, a Medusan (a non-humanoid, telepathic species from The Original Series episode “Is There in Truth No Beauty?” and named straight out of Greek mythology).
Dal gets a degree of freedom to roam again, although shackles to the red rock creature are the first obstacle to overcome. He starts to bond to the huge red rock creature. Eventually, they discover another familiar Trek icon: a starship, abandoned elsewhere in the mines. This, he realizes, is the tool for permanent escape.
When a Federation delta-shaped comm badge is turned on aboard the ship, the universal translator kicks in and fuels the gathering and functioning of the team. A band of misfits from various planets forming a team is the most Star Trek familiar foothold yet. We quickly learn that the rock monster, named “Rok-Tahk” (voiced by Rylee Alazraqui) has the voice of a little girl, and she asserts that she is “big, not dum.”
Zero (played by Angus Imrie) emerges as a clever, confident rogue encased in a utilitarian robot shell. This containment suit protects Zero but also those whom they might encounter. Medusans can cause those who see them a maddening mind paralysis.
Repairing and operating a ship is a huge task, so the show shifts to the race to make this starship flight-worthy. Strategically, an engineer/repairman spot is filled by the plucky Tellarite Jankom Pog (voiced by Jason Mantzoukas), who falls prey to the reverse-psychology ploys easily given a naturally contentious disposition of his species. Murf is also introduced to the crew, but the translator doesn’t reveal this creature’s thoughts or skills.
Gywn’s ornamental arm-piece morphs into weaponry and she fights against the team, but they manage to abduct her. Despite being nonlingual, Murf activates the phasers, and after a series of tight and close mishaps, the new crew of five escape the planet. But they have one thorny problem. Gwyn’s ties to the Diviner will be trouble. She is his daughter, and dad is more concerned about the lost hardware. He bellows at Drednok, “Get… me… my SHIP!”
The cinematic feel, stimulating and detailed 3D CGI animation, luscious music, action-packed plot pacing, and intriguing characters with a sprinkling of canon Star Trek touches are enough goodies for this viewer to watch more. I do want to resolve unanswered questions and learn about these characters. That’s the definition of a successful pilot episode. But if there are more skeptical viewers than I, they’re surely captured by the episode’s biggest reveal. The Protostar ship features a Hologram Janeway (voiced by the beloved Kate Mulgrew, Star Trek royalty), a youngish version of Voyager’s Captain Janeway. She states, “On behalf of Starfleet, welcome aboard. How can I be of assistance?” Answer: More Prodigy, please!
Frank Kennedy writes and performs original material for thoughtful audiences including a once, sold out off-Broadway stage in the pre-pandemic days. He blends his skills as a storyteller and sleight-of-hand magician, telling poignant stories of fatherhood with sons living on the Autism Spectrum. Watching Star Trek almost daily with his Mom as a teen – during the post-cancelation syndicated-rerun days of The Original Series – he is proud that he was part of the fan enthusiasm that turned Trek into a continuum of shows and films, rather than a forgotten canceled show with poor ratings. Along with devouring new Trek content, he has filled his life with adventures to over sixty countries, boldly going and learning about cultures on the planet Earth.