Star Trek: Prodigy review – Season 1, Part 1

Spoiler Warning: Although this article doesn’t get into major plot spoilers, minor spoilers are still present for Star Trek: Prodigy Season 1, Episodes 1-10.

I wanted to cover Star Trek: Prodigy as extensively as I cover every other current Star Trek series. I had plans to write individual episode reviews, theories, and additional commentary and discussion pieces about some of the season’s themes and stories. But because ViacomCBS made the utterly inexplicable decision to withhold the series and prevent it from being broadcast outside of the United States, I felt that I couldn’t offer the show my support. As a result, this is the first time I’ve talked about Prodigy here on the website since the first season premiered.

Star Trek: Prodigy is a co-production between CBS Studios and Nickelodeon – both of which are subsidiaries of ViacomCBS. Nickelodeon is a kids’ television channel that is available in more than 70 countries and territories around the world, from here in the UK to South Africa, Pakistan, and beyond. It would have been incredibly easy and inexpensive for ViacomCBS to organise an international broadcast for Prodigy using their existing Nickelodeon channels – but they chose not to do so.

ViacomCBS owns and operates both CBS Studios and Nickelodeon.

Prodigy’s primary audience – children – are unlikely to be too upset by this, as they aren’t involved with online fan communities and the like. But for Trekkies and adult fans, there really is only one way to interpret this move from ViacomCBS, especially considering that the corporation has pulled other similar moves with Lower Decks Season 1 and Discovery Season 4 in just the last couple of years. This is ViacomCBS prioritising the United States over the rest of the world; taking an incredibly blinkered, shortsighted approach that has already done serious harm to the Star Trek franchise and several of its new and upcoming shows. Unfortunately, that means it isn’t possible to review or discuss Prodigy without taking a moment to acknowledge the truly awful way in which the show has been handled by Star Trek’s corporate overlords.

Another indication of how poorly ViacomCBS is managing the Star Trek franchise is evident in the lack of any toys or tie-in products for Star Trek: Prodigy. Toys and games aren’t just a way for a corporation to make extra money – they’re a way to keep younger fans engaged with the show and the wider Star Trek universe during the rest of the week when they aren’t watching the latest episode. It’s also a great way to introduce brand-new potential fans to Prodigy and to Star Trek; kids playing with their friends might be interested in the toys and check out the series from there. It might sound silly, but one of my earliest memories of Star Trek is actually a toy phaser that my uncle showed me when I was very young.

I’m pretty sure that this is the toy phaser I’m remembering.

I’ve seen on social media some very creative Trekkies who’ve hand-made plush toys of Murf or 3D printed combadges so that their kids would be able to have something Prodigy-related to play with. But these products should have been available officially in time for the show’s premiere. At the very least there should’ve been dolls or figures of the main characters, pretend-play toys of things like phasers and tricorders, and perhaps a playset of the USS Protostar. The fact that ViacomCBS has failed to create any merchandise whatsoever for Prodigy is yet another way in which the corporation is failing the Star Trek franchise.

Finally, we have the broadcast schedule for Star Trek: Prodigy. The series initially ran for a mere four episodes (including the feature-length premiere) between late October and mid-November, before taking a break. The second batch of episodes ran from January to the beginning of February, and the first season will now take an extended break. Broadcasting the series in this way is stupid. Just as fans were beginning to get into the show, it disappeared for more than a month, and its so-called “mid-season break” seems to be scheduled to last from now until at least this summer.

Star Trek: Prodigy streams on Paramount+… but only if you’re lucky enough to live in the United States. Even in Australia, subscribers to Paramount+ have only been able to see the first four episodes at time of writing.

Paramount+ is a streaming service. It’s a crappy, second-tier streaming service plagued by technical problems and a ridiculously slow international rollout, but it’s a streaming service nevertheless. There is no need for Prodigy to have to go off the air to free up space for Discovery or Picard – especially given that the shows are targeting completely different audiences. Screwing up the broadcast schedule so badly is enough to put off casual viewers, and these are exactly the kind of people that ViacomCBS needs to hook in and retain in order to make Star Trek and Paramount+ sustainable in the long-term. Decisions like these aren’t just an idiotic annoyance, they actively work against Prodigy’s success, making it much more difficult for the show to gain traction and appeal to the wider audience that both it and Paramount+ need.

So that’s the corporate state of play surrounding Prodigy’s first season, and as you can see there are major issues that ViacomCBS needs to begin addressing immediately to give the series a much-needed boost. An international broadcast would be a good start, but unfortunately that isn’t the only thing that the corporation has got wrong when it comes to Prodigy. The reason I bring up these points is not to crap all over Prodigy, but because I genuinely enjoy the series and want to see it succeed. Right now, ViacomCBS is shooting the series in the foot and harming its potential success through corporate mismanagement on a truly epic scale.

I genuinely want to see Prodigy succeed and bring a new generation of Trekkies into the fandom.

As Trekkies, I firmly believe that we need to be aware of these things. We also have to be willing to be vocal and call out ViacomCBS when the corporation makes mistakes. ViacomCBS has a marketing team of its own – it doesn’t need fans to blindly sing its praises and pretend that it can do no wrong. If anything, what ViacomCBS needs is more criticism and more Trekkies willing to hold its feet to the fire in order to ensure these kinds of mistakes are corrected and never repeated. Star Trek as a whole needs better leadership and better management on the corporate side, and the issues surrounding Prodigy Season 1 are just one example among many.

But Dennis, I hear you ask, aren’t you from the United Kingdom? How on earth were you able to watch Star Trek: Prodigy if it’s only available in the United States? Well, I’m glad you asked! Of course it’s incredibly easy for anyone with a computer to pirate Prodigy – and given that the series is unavailable by any other means, piracy is the only option for Trekkies outside of the United States. I reckon that gives all of us the absolute moral justification to pirate the series. But of course, piracy is against the law, so there’s no way you’d catch me doing something like that. Instead, I – a disabled person on a low income – moved to my second home in the United States (in the middle of a global pandemic) just so I could watch Prodigy. Don’t believe me? Look, here’s a photograph of my house:

This is absolutely my house. And it’s clearly in the United States. Which is definitely where I am.

So let’s shelve the corporate bullshit for now, because I promised you a review of Star Trek: Prodigy Season 1, Part 1 and so far all we’ve done is talk about ViacomCBS!

The great thing about Prodigy is that it manages to absolutely nail the feel of a Star Trek show. The best kids’ shows have always managed to find a way to offer interesting content for adults as well as children, and Prodigy is right up there with the absolute best of modern children’s television in that regard. I was curious, as an adult, whether Prodigy would really be all that interesting, or whether I’d find it too basic due to its target audience – but I’m happy to report that the show really does bring a lot to the table.

Prodigy is also a fantastic “first contact” – i.e. a great way for anyone brand-new to the Star Trek franchise to get acquainted with the universe and the way things work. This is something that could easily have been overlooked as the series brought in Captain Janeway and tried to fit a new story into a long-established setting, but I would absolutely recommend Prodigy for both children and adults who are looking to get started with the Star Trek franchise.

Prodigy will be a great “first contact” for new young Trekkies.

From the point of view of someone who’s been a Trekkie for over thirty years and who watched and enjoyed Voyager during its original run, I was surprised by just how much Prodigy felt like a homecoming. There was enough explanation of what was going on to gently guide newbies into Star Trek for the first time, as already mentioned, but beyond that I found a series steeped in the rich lore of the franchise.

The presence of Captain Janeway obviously connects the show to Voyager in a pretty big way, and there are other references to Voyager that longstanding fans will certainly be interested in. But Prodigy managed to walk a delicate line between being Star Trek: Voyager II and being its own thing, never straying too far into sequel territory that would be offputting for new fans, but never making Janeway and other references and callbacks to past iterations of Star Trek feel tokenistic; in practically every episode I felt Prodigy got this balance just right.

Look who’s back!

Modern iterations of Star Trek are lauded for their diverse casts, but in terms of alien races, Prodigy has them all beat! There are literally no humans to be seen – this version of Janeway is a hologram, something that pre-release marketing made clear! All of the other main characters are from a variety of alien races, some familiar and some brand-new.

There’s often talk within the Star Trek fan community about certain characters feeling under-utilised by their respective shows; such a disagreement even led to at least one departure from Star Trek, when Denise Crosby quit her role on The Next Generation. This was noticeable all the way back in The Original Series, too, where some characters could feel secondary in all but a handful of stories. Modern Star Trek has tended to focus on specific protagonists: Michael Burnham in Discovery and Picard in, well, Picard. Prodigy is different, and each of the main characters feel like they have an important role both on the ship and within the stories that the show has told so far.

Most of the main characters together on the Protostar’s bridge.

Murf attracted a lot of attention for their incredibly cute design, and I’ve definitely seen a strong positive reaction to Murf through my limited interactions with the Star Trek fan community. But for me, the breakout star of the first half of Season 1 has been Rok-Tahk – the youngest member of the crew, voiced by young actress Rylee Alazraqui. Another of the show’s more unusual character designs, Rok-Tahk has a striking, rock-like appearance and large stature that seems completely at odds with her quiet, sweet personality. Perhaps it’s this initial disconnect that first made the character so interesting, but Rok-Tahk had moments of bravery and significant character growth over those first ten episodes that really stood out to me.

Later seasons of Deep Space Nine and Season 3 of Enterprise in particular had introduced Star Trek to serialised storytelling years ago, but one of the defining things about the franchise since its return to the small screen in 2017 had been an embrace of fully serialised storytelling – for better or for worse, depending on your point of view. Lower Decks definitely pulled Star Trek back in the direction of episodic television, though, and there have since been thoroughly enjoyable standalone (or at least semi-standalone) episodes of Discovery. Prodigy is a surprising blend of the two; a number of standalone stories contained within a serialised framework.

The villainous Diviner is part of Prodigy’s ongoing serialised story.

This allows for genuine character development, and it’s been amazing to see the young crew of the USS Protostar grow into their roles, becoming a true Starfleet crew in every sense of the term. Individual episodes may take the crew on different adventures, but unlike most of the stories in shows like The Next Generation and Voyager, the lessons the crew of the Protostar learned stay with them. This allows for the overarching story of their conflict with the mysterious Diviner to unfold slowly while taking the crew on varied and fun adventures. This is the kind of storytelling model that Strange New Worlds has teased us with – and if the creative team in charge of that show manage to do half as well as the writers and producers of Prodigy, we’re in for a good time!

Prodigy has an amazing title sequence, with a theme that truly feels like it could’ve come from any of the pre-Enterprise shows. The adventurous, up-tempo music is pitch-perfect for the Star Trek franchise, and for the kind of series that Prodigy is, and it’s played over a fun title sequence that harkens back to the style used from The Original Series through to Enterprise. Every Star Trek show needs a fun, memorable theme and opening titles, and Prodigy absolutely nails that. It might sound like a silly thing to compliment, but this style of title sequence and this type of theme music are, in many ways, hallmarks of the Star Trek franchise.

The USS Protostar in flight as seen in the show’s title sequence.

Many Trekkies have noted over the years that a starship is an extra member of the crew; an extension of the series’ main cast. Prodigy brings a fun design to the table with the USS Protostar, one that appears externally to be very much in line with other 24th Century Starfleet vessels – albeit on a slightly smaller scale. The addition of its unique engine adds not only to the design of the ship, making it stand out, but also adds to the overall lore of Star Trek; it’s quite possible, in my opinion, that we’ll see this method of propulsion cropping up in future Star Trek productions.

Internally, the ship brings several different Star Trek designs together. I note influences from the Kelvin-timeline USS Enterprise on the Protostar’s bridge in particular, with the use of bright lights and sleek lines. The use of holographic displays in addition to flat panels is a continuation of a trend that we’ve seen in much of modern Star Trek, and the show takes full advantage of its animated nature to do things with holograms that would be expensive in live-action.

Zero at one of the Kelvin-esque bridge consoles.

Within the USS Protostar are most of the familiar rooms that we’d expect any 24th Century starship to have. The design of the transporter room was one I found to be especially clever; it feels like there are influences from the USS Discovery and the USS Voyager in particular. It’s important for any franchise to have common design elements – these are the visual cues for viewers that they’re watching Star Trek, not another random sci-fi franchise. Generally the designs across Prodigy have done well in that regard – and that’s before we get into the various designs that make a return from past iterations of the franchise.

Prodigy brought back Janeway’s familiar Voyager-era uniform (at least some of the time!) but pairs it with a scaled-back combadge design based on that used in The Original Series (and Lower Decks). The simplified combadge design works pretty well, and when taken in the broader context of those being used in Discovery, Lower Decks, Strange New Worlds (soon) and even to an extent Picard, it gives modern Star Trek a sense of consistency that is otherwise difficult to come by with so many different time periods in play! So I like the return to a more basic design – even if it was admittedly odd, at first, to see Janeway sporting this style of combadge.

Dal in the captain’s chair.

There’s a lot more I want to say about Prodigy, but we’d start getting into serious spoiler territory! So perhaps it’s best to end things here. Despite the damaging corporate nonsense that is, sadly, doing harm to Prodigy, the show itself has been a lot of fun. I wasn’t sure what to expect from a series that was deliberately pitched at such a young audience, but what I found was a genuinely great Star Trek show, one with all of the heart and spirit of adventure that has defined the franchise since its inception more than fifty years ago. It’s not the same as what came before, and there are kid-friendly elements and choices that you wouldn’t expect to see in any other Star Trek series. But those things aren’t front-and-centre the whole time, and overall the series has a lot to offer even if, like me, you’re not that young anymore!

I hope that Prodigy can succeed at bringing in hordes of new, younger fans. With a potential Starfleet Academy series also in the offing, and Lower Decks trying to bring in fans of animated comedy, there’s the potential for the Star Trek fandom to grow a lot over the next few years – something that will hopefully shore up the franchise and see it continuing to be supported for years to come. Of all the shows currently in production, Prodigy has the most potential, at least in my view, to bring in totally new fans.

Here’s hoping Prodigy will create lots of new Trekkies!

It’s up to all of us to try to make the fandom a welcoming place. I remember attending my first fan meet-ups in the early/mid-1990s, meeting older Trekkies who’d been fans since the days of The Original Series. No one made me feel unwelcome, even if I hadn’t seen every episode or film, and I hope that we can all extend that same courtesy to newbies who are jumping into Star Trek for the first time after getting excited by Prodigy. I’ve already heard anecdotally of new Prodigy fans who are jumping into Voyager to spend more time with Captain Janeway! Perhaps that could be a great excuse for ViacomCBS to finally get Voyager remastered… well, a fan can dream!

If you’ve been sleeping on Prodigy, or waiting to see how its first season was received, I hope you’ll give it a try. Stick with it for the first three or four episodes at least before judging it, and keep in mind that as a kids’ show it isn’t going to be exactly the same as past iterations of the franchise. There’s no shame in disliking Prodigy or finding that its tone isn’t right for you – but in my view, if you stick with it you’ll find a genuine Star Trek series that embodies all of the elements that fans have long enjoyed about the franchise.

I was surprised at just how invested I became in Prodigy and its characters. The world-building is fantastic, the stories dramatic and even emotional. It’s a Star Trek series through and through, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Now if only ViacomCBS would allow it to be broadcast…

Star Trek: Prodigy Season 1, Part 1 consists of ten episodes and is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States. Some episodes are available to stream on Paramount+ in Australia, Latin America, and Scandinavia too. No further international distribution has been announced. The Star Trek franchise – including Prodigy, Voyager, and all other properties discussed above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Where are the Prodigy toys?

Sometimes it feels as though ViacomCBS doesn’t know how to manage a major international franchise like Star Trek. The amateurish rollout of Paramount+ internationally is a great example, as is the streaming service losing all of the Star Trek films for several months. I’ve covered these topics before, and without retreading too much old ground let’s just say that ViacomCBS and Paramount+ need to get a grip, otherwise fans – especially fans from outside of the United States – are going to run out of patience with the corporation, and the casual viewers who make up the majority of any television audience won’t even find out about the latest shows and films.

Today, though, I wanted to tackle a different way in which ViacomCBS is mismanaging the Star Trek brand: toys and merchandise.

Maybe it’s true that action figures for a show like Star Trek: Picard wouldn’t sell particularly well. That series primarily targetted an adult audience – fans of The Next Generation (or at least folks who remember that series) and who are primarily 35+. There was at least some attempt to sell Picard merchandise both before and during the show’s first season, though, with things like T-shirts and even “Château Picard” wine available via the official Star Trek shop.

Château Picard hoodie, anyone?

In the 1980s and ’90s, Star Trek gave even the venerable Star Wars a run for its money in the merchandising and toy departments. Not only were there action figures of practically every minor character to ever make an appearance on The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager, but there were video games, pinball machines, pretend-play toys, playsets, model kits, dress-up outfits, and much more besides. In the ’90s I managed to assemble a modest Star Trek collection of my own, primarily the Playmates line of action figures as well as a few model kits – I was a big model builder back then!

But since the franchise returned to the small screen in 2017, there hasn’t been any noticeable effort on the part of ViacomCBS to merchandise the Star Trek brand – meaning that the corporation is missing out on a significant additional revenue stream from its biggest brand, one that would supplement the income it makes from streaming the various shows and films. Just look at Star Wars: sales of merchandise long ago eclipsed the box office receipts for all of the films combined.

Star Wars has so much merchandise that Disney can literally make merchandise-themed Star Wars films and games.

As I said, it’s possible that not every Star Trek project would warrant the same level of merchandise and toys. But even then, ViacomCBS has been lacking. Look at the Eaglemoss collection of Star Trek starships as a prime example: Star Trek: Picard Season 1 debuted in January 2020, but it took until June 2021 – almost eighteen months later – to release a single model starship from the series.

A corporation the size of ViacomCBS shouldn’t need to be told that the prime time to cash in on a show is while it’s being broadcast. That’s merchandising 101. Waiting eighteen months is pathetic and ridiculous – and it isn’t the fault of collectibles company Eaglemoss. The fault lies with ViacomCBS for not securing these merchandising agreements sooner.

The same is true of Discovery, which only started getting significant merchandise well after Season 1 had come and gone. And even now we’ve passed the second season of Lower Decks, Star Trek’s official shop still carries precious little by way of products from the series.

It took ViacomCBS more than eighteen months to release this model of Picard’s La Sirena.

That brings us to Star Trek: Prodigy, which premiered a couple of weeks ago – for those viewers whom ViacomCBS deemed worthy of being permitted to watch the series. The rest of us outside of North America are still waiting to know if and when we’ll be allowed to watch it (lawfully). But that’s beside the point right now.

Prodigy is a show made for kids. It has more going on, things that adults will enjoy, but its main focus is on the younger audience – making it a prime candidate for selling toys, games, and other merchandise. So… where are all the Prodigy toys?

There are a mere ten Prodigy items for sale from the official Star Trek shop, most of which are the show’s basic logo slapped on mugs and T-shirts.

It’s no good launching a line of Prodigy toys next year. Kids who are streaming the show now want those toys now – and with the holidays approaching it’s literally the best time of the year to be in the toy business. I can understand why ViacomCBS might’ve felt a Soji action figure or an Admiral Picard doll wouldn’t sell like hot-cakes, but Prodigy should be absolutely perfect for all sorts of tie-in products.

Many cartoons and television shows made for kids are little more than twenty-minute toy advertisements. Whole franchises like Transformers and My Little Pony have been created as toys first, cartoons second, and they make a lot of money for their respective companies that way. I’m not suggesting Prodigy should go to that extreme, but even nowadays with kids spending more time with smartphones, tablets, and other electronic gadgets there’s still room for toys and games.

Kids do still play with toys…

For a television show aimed at kids to be broadcast with no kid-friendly tie-in products strikes me as profoundly strange in the current commercial climate. And some folks might be thinking “hey, that’s actually a good thing!” because it means ViacomCBS isn’t doggedly chasing every last dollar. But to me it’s yet another indication of the truly amateurish way that the corporation is handling its biggest franchise.

One of the earliest memories that I have of Star Trek isn’t a television episode or film, it’s a product. My uncle – who boasts a fabulous collection of Star Trek merchandise – showed me a toy phaser from The Original Series that must’ve been made in the ’70s or possibly the early ’80s, which lit up and made a sound when the trigger was pushed. I don’t think seeing that toy was what pushed young me to become a Trekkie, but good quality toys that look like fun absolutely can be the way kids first get interested in a franchise like Star Trek.

I think this was the toy phaser I’m remembering…

Prodigy is full of fun, unique, and colourful designs that would make for amazing toys, dolls, playsets, and pretend-play scenarios. The series is aimed at children, and from the point of view of a longstanding Trekkie, I want it to be successful at converting at least some of those kids into fans of Star Trek as a whole. The entire reason for creating a show like this is to bring new, younger fans into the fandom – and to lay the groundwork for Star Trek’s continued success. As I’ve said before: if Star Trek remains the sole preserve of fans who loved the franchise in the ’60s and/or the ’80s and ’90s then it won’t survive – and it won’t deserve to survive. New fans are the lifeblood of any fandom.

So when I see ViacomCBS mishandling the brand and not taking full advantage of it I feel truly disappointed with a corporation that doesn’t seem to know what it’s doing. Before Prodigy had aired a single episode there should’ve been the following basic tie-in products at a bare minimum: action figures and/or dolls of each of the main characters, at least one playset of the USS Protostar, dress-up costumes of the main characters – including a Starfleet uniform – and pretend-play toys of things like phasers and tricorders. These items should’ve been available worldwide at a reasonable price so that kids who like the show could remain engaged with Star Trek outside of the half-hour per week where they’re watching the episodes.

The USS Protostar from Prodigy.

Some of ViacomCBS’ other failures when it comes to Star Trek actually feel less significant than this massive missed opportunity. It isn’t just about making money on each product sold – and in the short term, while the show and Paramount+ build up their reputations, it’s even possible that the corporation would make a moderate loss. But the longer-term prospects of merchandising a show like Prodigy are significant. As kids who don’t watch the show see the toys at their friends’ houses they’ll ask what Star Trek is and maybe get into the series for themselves. With Star Trek toys on the shelves of every major supermarket and toy shop, people who weren’t aware of the franchise’s return will realise that Star Trek is back. This kind of word-of-mouth advertising pays for itself, and that’s something very difficult to pull off on social media (especially given the truly crap way ViacomCBS manages Star Trek on social media – but one battle at a time, eh?)

I’ve made no secret over the past couple of years that I have issues with the way ViacomCBS has handled the Star Trek brand. And I don’t raise these points out of spite – I want them to manage Star Trek better because I care about Star Trek’s future success. Right now, decisions like these make it seem as though Star Trek is very much a lesser brand even in the minds of the people who are supposed to be running it. When you can turn up at any supermarket or toy shop and see dozens of Star Wars toys, yet nothing at all from Star Trek, it’s disappointing.

The premiere of Prodigy, a series aimed at kids, should have come with at least some toys and games to go along with the show. Making money from that kind of merchandising arrangement is one reason why, but another far more important reason is engagement – making sure that kids remain engaged with Prodigy, its world, and its characters when they aren’t watching the show is key to keeping them coming back. In 2021, practically every kids show has some kind of tie-in product – and it’s a damning indictment of the sloppy, amateurish way that ViacomCBS has handled the Star Trek brand that Prodigy doesn’t.

Star Trek: Prodigy is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States. No international broadcast has been announced. The Star Trek franchise – including Prodigy and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.