On – or rather under the surface of – Delta Quadrant planetoid Tars Lamora, young prisoners are forced to work for the shadowy Diviner – a being who is to desperate to find something hidden within its mines. Dal is a young alien willing to do anything he can to escape, though his attempts appear to be in vain, merely drawing unwanted attention.
With a force known as ‘Fugitive Zero’ avoiding capture in the mineshafts, an encounter with Dal sets off a series of events that may lead the prisoner and a disparate group of fellow inmates off the lump of space-rock. Because they are going to find what the Diviner wants and now, the Diviner will do anything to get it back.
The treasure is a lost Federation starship – one with a familiar interface and if they can survive long enough, the group of young escapees have the universe to explore…
While it’s clear that Prodigy, a joint venture between CBS Eye Animation Productions and the Nickelodeon Animation Studio is aimed at a younger audience, it would be wrong to think of it as childish or ‘juvenile’. The series may have a home on Nickelodeon, perennial home of kids tv and certainly designed to hook them in, but if anything this opening episode feels more blueprinted for an ‘all-ages’ audience. There’s a lightness of touch and an emphasis on humour, but the result feels like a slightly less-somber answer to Star Wars’ Clone Wars animation. The darkness is diluted but not abandoned. (Lower Decks has been the most recent attempt to take Trek boldly back into animation territory, but that feels more like a subversive guilty-pleasure for nostalgic adults than something as encompassing as Prodigy).
Though taking place around 2383 – slotting in to the Trek timeline after *ye olde spoiler alert….* Voyager successfully returned home, there’s actually very little ‘Trek‘ in most of this opener – we’re on a mining outpost / prison planet called Tars Lamora in the Delta Quadrant, populated by an assortment of downtrodden but still wild and wacky prisoners who seem to have been tasked with looking for ‘something’. We’re initially not sure what that is, but that doesn’t stop Dal (Brett Gray) from making some ambitious, if usually ill-fated attempts to escape and see if he can find others of his species. The Diviner (with the somber tones of veteran John Noble) is the menacing overlord who is looking for the secrets in the mine and and his daughter, Gwyn (Ella Purnell) is the one doing most of the day-to-day overseeing. It’s a little like the Thanos/ Gamora dynamic with the more compassionate Gwyn growing ever more uneasy about the methods of her father and about to be faced, reluctantly, with some uneasy choices. The chief enforcer is Drednok (Jimmi Simpson) who rises/descends to the job nicely, his metallic form invoking yet more animated Star Wars comparisons. The rest of the characters are a disparate bunch – a fugitive entity inside a robot suit named Fugitive Zero (voiced by Angus Imrie), an argumentative engineer Jankom Pog (Jason Mantzoukas), a sentient blob known as Murf (Dee Bradley Baker) and the imposing but child-like Rok-Tahk (Rylee Alazraqui). One of the cleverer conceits through the first half of the opening hour is the lack of a universal translator which means that many of the interactions are based on a lack of alien-language skills and some fateful misunderstandings.
It’s not until we find what The Diviner himself is looking for that various things click into place: it’s a lost, forgotten Federation starship prototype – the USS Protostar – lost years before and presumed destroyed. However it got under the Tars Lamora surface, it’s somehow remained largely undamaged, simply waiting for it to be rebooted and powered-up… which is of course, is exactly what happens, whisking away the unsuspecting fugitives from their prison world but not out of danger and not without pursuit.
One of the hooks of the show is the appearance (or at lest the cadence of) Kate Mulgrew’s Kathryn Janeway who only appears in the closing moments of the opening episode but will be a regular thereafter. The fact that this Janeway is the persona of the ship’s holographic interface allows Mulgrew to effortlessly slip back into character as if the CGI recreation as if she’d just walked off the Voyager bridge. She’s the sly mentor to a group of misfits making it upas they go along and perhaps oblivious to the real power of the ship in which they now make their home…
The animation throughout is impressive – it’s not going for photo-realism, more than happy to stick to an exaggerated but textured cartoon feel but there’s clearly some love gone into the design work of the characters and even more so in their locations
Created by Kevin and Dan Hageman (Trollhunters), Prodigy is a not a series boldly going where no-one has gone before – quite the opposite, it’s a production that knows exactly what has worked before (inside and outside the Trek franchise) and repurposes those elements into a familiar but arms-length engaging series and one which could easily evolve nicely from those ingredients. It embraces aspects of existing lore while keeping them at a distance lest they confuse. Loving Star Trek will certainly help you here, but you need not have seen a single minute of Trek to jump in. For young viewers it’s an entry-point into a franchise more than ready to receive them and for older eyes, it’s a series they can watch with their kids and not feel too guilty about it…
- Voice Performances8