Star Trek: Strange New Worlds has been serving up some chef’s kiss episodes that will surely be on “best of” lists for years to come. (And that’s not just because we see Captain Pike and Spock in the kitchen!) We recently had the chance to sit down over Zoom with director Jordan Canning, who helped bring the recent and hilarious season 2 episode “Charades” to the screen. Canning’s insights into the creative process behind “Charades” and her passion for Trek were, to quote Spock, “fascinating.”
[Warning: This article and podcast contains spoilers for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. Proceed at your own risk.]
But wait… A bottle episode of Strange New Worlds?
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds follows the voyages of the USS Enterprise under Captain Christopher Pike, played by Anson Mount. In its second season, the show features a charismatic and talented cast. Besides Mount’s Pike, Ethan Peck returns as Spock along with Rebecca Romijn as Number One (aka Una Chin-Riley). Jess Bush plays Nurse Christine Chapel, Christina Chong is La’An Noonien-Singh, Celia Rose Gooding is Nyota Uhura, Melissa Navia is Erica Ortegas, and Babs Olusanmokun is Joseph M’Benga.
Because of the incredible writing behind the show, each episode has allowed each castmate to shine, and the talented actors run with it and rock it. Last week’s episode “Charades” was Ethan Peck, aka Mr. Spock’s turn. Writers Kathryn Lyn and Henry Alonso Myers gave us an episode that’s best summed up by one word: hijinks. It reminded me so much of the Star Trek: The Original Series episode “Trouble With Tribbles.” You could call “Charades” a bottle episode because it’s mainly on the Enterprise, but it’s so much more than that.
Spock and his silly hat
In the episode “Charades,” Ethan Peck delivers a hilarious and sincere performance as Spock grapples with becoming fully human at the worst possible time: right before his Vulcan future-in-laws arrive for an important ritual. After a shuttle accident, Spock is stripped of his Vulcan DNA by a well-meaning trans-dimensional alien, and hijinks ensue as Spock enlists the rest of the crew in his dining room farce. There’s even a classic Spock beanie meant to hide human ears.
At the same time that Spock is wrestling with the full force of his humanity, this grand romantic undercurrent is threaded through the episode and there’s the best kind of romantic tension between Jess Bush’s Nurse Chapel and Spock. Mia Kirschner reprises her role as Spock’s mom, Amanda Grayson, Gia Sandhu is Spock’s fiancee, T’Pring. It’s funny and is the type of episode that exemplifies why Strange New Worlds is such good Trek.
From Schitt’s Creek to Fraggle Rock to Strange New Worlds
Jordan Canning is an award-winning director with a strong background in comedy. She was the perfect choice to bring Charades to the screen. Canning’s work in television includes Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock, Schitt’s Creek, and The Big Door Prize. She has also directed films that have been shown at the Tribeca and Toronto International Film Festivals.
The Interview with Director Jordan Canning
[Editor’s note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.]
The audio version of the Cosmic Cafe podcast below is available most places podcasts are hosted.
On her love of Star Trek
Ayla Ruby: “I want to talk about a little bit of your journey to Star Trek because you have this really impressive career. You’ve done Schitt’s Creek, which is hilarious. You’ve done Fraggle Rock. But on your Facebook, you also say you’re a huge Star Trek fan. Can you talk about how you got to be on Star Trek’s Strange New Worlds?“
Jordan Canning: “Yeah. I was a big Next Gen kid fan and a big Voyage Home fan. I think I always gravitated towards the more comedic. Star Trek IV to me, I’ve probably watched 20 times. It’s my sweet spot. Over the years, one of the first bigger projects I did ten years ago now was a sci-fi comedy. It was a web series called Space Riders: Division Earth, and it was like a Power Rangers spoof with some amazing comedic actors in it. Really rough around the edges but so fun.”
“I have always loved mixed genres. I love sci-fi comedies. Galaxy Quest is one of my favorite movies. I love horror comedies. I think anything where I can inject some comedy into a high-concept genre is really where I love to work because I love world-building. I love sets and weird fantasy-type stuff with great heart and great comedy underneath it. So this was really a sweet spot for me.”
“This episode in particular, but Strange New Worlds in general, I’ve loved this show so much. I got to watch the first season before it came out, and I was just so excited. I was like, oh my God, this show is really good. It’s really good. The writing is great. The cast is amazing. They’re doing some really amazing stuff with tone.”
“I think more so than any of the Star Treks, they seamlessly move between tones from episode to episode and not in a way where it feels disjointed, or you’re like, well, what do you mean? Suddenly this is a comedy, or suddenly this is a horror movie. It always feels grounded in the world, in the reality of the show, and really, it’s a hard thing to do. Not a lot of shows can do it at all without it feeling hokey or gimmicky, and they do it brilliantly. I think part of that is because of the amazing flexibility of the cast. The casting on this show is top, top, top, top drawer, and they are all so versatile.”
“You think about what Ethan [Peck] did in this episode; when you think about Spock, I love what he’s done with Spock in general. I loved him in season one. And I loved him in season two of Discovery. I was like, oh, this guy’s great. So then, to get to see him loosen his tie and really let loose and show just how amazing he can be with comedy and some romance, it was so fun to get to play in this world and to get to play in a comedic tone in this world.”
Ayla Ruby: “I think this episode has inspired a thousand memes just based on-“
Jordan Canning: “Oh, my God.”
Ayla Ruby: “… the cast and how incredible they were bringing this to life.”
Jordan Canning: “I got to see these memes. I can’t wait to see them, yeah.”
Canning’s first reaction to the script
Ayla Ruby: “What was your first reaction to reading the script for “Charades”? How did you know you wanted this one?”
Jordan Canning: “Well, what’s so cool about this show is they really work to pair directors with the scripts that they think will be a good fit. So even before I read the script, Chris Fisher, the producing director, had given me the spiel of like, “Okay, it’s a Spock episode. He’s going to go fully human, and his in-laws are coming in. Everybody on the ship is sort of a comedy of errors. Everybody has to help him pull it off.” And even just at the little logline, I was like, “Oh, yes. This, I love it.” He didn’t even tell me it ended with a big smooch. That was just a cherry on top. I was already primed, very excited. Then when I got the script, the script was so good. It changed a little bit. I think we simplified some things, but really, the heart of it and the tone of it was always so clear and well-developed right on the page. Kathryn and Henry did an amazing job with this script. The humor was there. The romance was there. The heart was there.”
“The stakes, the kind of fun, deke out stakes of like, oh, we’re going on this big adventure to this moon, and like no, this is actually a bottle episode about Spock’s in-laws coming over for dinner. So I just loved it. When you get a script in TV that you really connect to and really, it just comes very organically. I was reading, and I was like, okay, I know how I’m going to do this. I know how I’m going to do that. Ooh, this is going to be fun. There weren’t any moments in the script where I was like, oh, okay, how are we going to make this work? They all worked right on the page.”
On favorite directing moments in “Charades”
Ayla Ruby: “Was there anything that was really your favorite to film or that really challenged you as a director when you got into it? Because there’s this cool AR wall, and just there’s so much interesting stuff.”
Jordan Canning: “Yeah, the AR wall was so fun. It was so cool to basically get to play in the holodeck for a day. It’s funny. I really love some of the “simpler” scenes, like the two-handers with Ethan [Peck] and Jess [Bush]. I love the scene in the bathroom. And I love the scene… I love the kiss at the end. I love that. Just really bare character scenes, I think, are beautiful and so satisfying. They’re the ones I want to watch over and over again.”
“But I’m very proud of the- I think there’s four montages in this episode, which is definitely more montages than I’ve ever done, ever. I’m quite proud of how they all came together in terms of them each having their own visual style and how the two in the middle, the Vulcan Spock versus human Spock, how they mirror one another. Then I love when everybody’s getting on board. All the crew members are digging in and helping out and standing in for the parents and trying to teach him how to speak Vulcan.”
“I just love those moments where everybody gets a funny line or a little look. Yeah, I was blessed with a great script and an amazing cast; so very lucky.”
On the WGA & SAG-AFTRA strikes
Ayla Ruby: “I think we’re just about at time, but is there anything that you can share that you’re working on next? Is there more Star Trek in your future?”
Jordan Canning: “No. Everybody’s on strike.”
Ayla Ruby: “Yeah, that’s true.”
Jordan Canning: “Yeah. I think the streamers and studios need to pay up and then we can all get back to work.”
How to watch more Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
Are you excited for more Star Trek: Strange New Worlds on Paramount+? Join the conversation with us on Twitter @MyCosmicCircus or our Discord. And as always, check our our other coverage of Strange New Worlds for more great Star Trek news.