*****STARSHIP-SIZED SPOILERS AHEAD!*****
With the annual Star Trek Las Vegas convention (aka “the 56 Year Mission”) right around the corner, I thought this might be a good time to take an overview of the entire televised Star Trek franchise. I’d previously examined all of the Star Trek feature films, so I thought I might explore the various Star Trek TV and streaming series. Star Trek is, after all, a creature born of television, and that’s always been the medium where it’s been most comfortable. Other than being a Star Trek devotee since the 1970s, and having interviewed some Star Trek cast members and writers over the years, I have no greater credentials than any other fan, so I’d love to read your personal favorite Star Trek series and/or episodes in the comments below!
Rather than exhaustively critique each Star Trek series in-depth, I’m only going to jot down pros and cons, as well as a few personal highlights/lowlights. Those Star Trek series or episodes that I’ve already reviewed/discussed in previous columns will be underscored as active links, if you wish to read more.
Anyway, enough with the preamble… engage!
“Star Trek: The Original Series” (1966-1969).
Producer/creator Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek (TOS) was born of the post-JFK Space Age of the 1960s, a time of heady optimism, as well as the Vietnam war and tremendous social/political strife (sound familiar?). TOS was the series that started it all, and while it broke ground in many significant ways and led to some truly classic sci-fi television, it often fell short of its own idealism and potential. Many writers, including Gene L. Coon and Dorothy Fontana helped to creatively shape this series into something special, despite its shortcomings. The series is set on the starship USS Enterprise in the 23rd century, as it ventures “to seek out new life and new civilizations…to boldly go where no man has gone before.”
A warm triumvirate of main characters (Kirk, Spock, McCoy). Leonard Nimoy’s Mr. Spock is easily one of the most compelling characters in television history.
Groundbreaking diversity in casting for its time; the late Nichelle Nichols (“Uhura”) and George Takei (“Sulu”) led the way for others who followed.
Wildly imaginative stories by then up-and-coming sci-fi writers (Harlan Ellison, Theodore Sturgeon, Norman Spinrad).
The iconic USS Enterprise silhouette, designed back in 1964 by designer Matt Jeffries, still holds up today.
Colorful lighting, sets & costumes.
TOS accomplished a great deal, considering the budgetary and technological limitations of its time.
Despite the warmth of the actors, the secondary cast were terribly underused for most of the series’ run; Uhura and Sulu didn’t even have canonized first names until the movies, let alone a spotlight episode.
Sometimes laughably bad overacting was used to break out from the confines of those tiny older television sets (a ‘big screen’ TV at that time was 19″ to 25″). Star William Shatner was one of the worst offenders in this regard.
TOS was too often subject to the rampant sexism of its time, despite its good intentions.
A change of producers before the show’s third and final season, as well as a massive reduction in budget, led to an overall lapse in production quality from the previous two.
Personal Favorites: “City on the Edge of Forever”, “Journey to Babel”, “Amok Time,” “Devil in the Dark” (the series in a nutshell), “The Corbomite Maneuver,” “The Menagerie, Parts 1 & 2,” “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” “The Trouble with Tribbles,” “Arena,” “Errand of Mercy,” “The Doomsday Machine,” “Metamorphosis,” ”Balance of Terror”, “All Our Yesterdays,” and “Day of the Dove.”
Least Favorites: “Mudd’s Women” (I detest Mudd episodes, though I love the music for this episode), “Turnabout Intruder,” “The Omega Glory,” “And the Children Shall Lead” “The Alternative Factor” (an absolute mess) and “Spock’s Brain,” which is so laughably bad that it’s almost good.
“Star Trek: The Animated Series” (1973-1974).
Star Trek: the Animated Series (TAS), a Lou Scheimer/Filmation production, was, in essence, an abbreviated, animated continuation of the prematurely cancelled original series (TOS). It employed the entire original series cast, save for Walter Koenig (“Chekov”), who would go on to write an episode (“The Infinite Vulcan”). While the series was produced in a cheaper style of hand-drawn cell animation popular with Saturday morning cartoons of that age, some of the stories were surprisingly sophisticated.
Almost the entire cast returned to voice their characters, save for Walter Koenig’s Chekov, who was replaced by six-limbed alien navigator “Arex” (voiced by James Doohan). Their return was largely thanks to costar and passionate advocate, Leonard Nimoy.
Some episodes were written by TOS veterans, such as David Gerrold, Dorothy Fontana, Samuel Peeples, Margaret Armen, and Stephen Kandel.
TAS captures the overall feel of TOS Star Trek, despite its limited animation; as a result, it feels like a secret stash of lost episodes.
The animated format allowed for more imaginative spaceships, creature designs and expansive alien vistas than could ever be realized in 1960s live-action television.
The cheap animation style used by Filmation sadly hindered a lot of TAS’ potential right out of the gate.
Stock music cues from Filmation were often reused, ad infinitum, throughout the 22 episode run of the series.
Overuse of the regular cast in guest-starring roles (James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, Majel Barrett and George Takei) often led to actors talking to themselves in many scenes.
Infamously colorblind animation supervisor Hal Sutherland often rendered TOS aliens such as brown tribbles or blue Andorians in bizarre hues, such as pink or beige.
Personal Favorites: “Yesteryear” (a classic, which was referenced in 2009’s “Star Trek” ), “One of Our Planets is Missing,” “”The Magicks of Megas-Tu,” “Once Upon a Planet,” “The Time Trap,” “Eye of the Beholder,” “The Pirates of Orion,” “The Practical Joker” (hilarious) and “The Counter-Clock Incident” (which canonized the first Enterprise captain, Robert April, who’d later appear in “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds”).
Least Favorites: “The Lorelei Signal” (yes, Uhura takes command, but it’s still a terrible episode), “More Tribbles, More Troubles” (a pointless rehash), “The Infinite Vulcan” (goofy), “Mudd’s Passion,” and “Bem” (an annoying ‘alien testing humans’ story).
“Star Trek: The Next Generation” (1987-1994).
The fall of 1987 saw Star Trek return to television, albeit in syndicated form, where Star Trek: the Next Generation (TNG) would be sold to local TV markets across the country, instead of a unified network. Gene Roddenberry would be back to produce the first few seasons before his death in 1991, handing off his creation to showrunner Rick Berman, who would (for better or worse) helm the franchise for nearly 18 years and through several incarnations. TNG would also make much better use of its ensemble of actors than its triumvirate-focused predecessor. Taking place roughly a century after TOS, the Galaxy-class USS Enterprise-D set out on her maiden voyage under the command of Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart).
Patrick Stewart is the best actor to ever lead a Star Trek series, and I stand by that opinion.
Advances in TV production technology allowed for more sophisticated visual FX, makeups, and sets on a relatively modest budget.
Under the late producer Michael Piller, writers such as Brannon Braga, Rene Echeverria, Ron Moore and Jeri Taylor would craft entire episodes focusing on single members of the ensemble cast, giving TNG a much better balance.
While breakout characters Data and Worf became very popular, each member of the ensemble was memorable, and would have their own passionate fandoms.
The interior sets of the Enterprise-D had a plush, comfortable, luxurious look that almost made a viewer want to live on that starship. The addition of the Ten-Forward lounge in season 2 (along with the addition of Whoopi Goldberg’s “Guinan”) only enhanced this feeling.
Even with two women in the main cast, the sexism of the 1980s was deeply pervasive, as both characters were more ‘traditional’ nurturer roles. Security Chief Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby), was given little to do, and would be killed off in season 1.
Other than Jerry Goldsmith’s main title theme (originally created for 1979’s “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”), much of TNG’s music sounds like aural wallpaper, with few exceptions (“The Inner Light,” “Best of Both Worlds”).
There is virtually no Asian representation in the main cast, save for the minor recurring character of Keiko O’Brien (Rosalind Chao) after season 4. No Hispanic representation, either.
Berman-era Star Trek had a terrible track record with LGBTQ+ representation, too, despite an emergence of gay characters in other mainstream TV shows at that time (and no, “The Outcast” doesn’t make up for it).
Personal Favorites: “The Inner Light”, “The Best of Both Worlds, Parts 1 & 2,” “Q Who” (the episode that gave us the Borg), “Conspiracy,” “Chain of Command, Parts 1 & 2” (Patrick Stewart’s best work on the series, and that’s saying a lot), “Elementary, Dear Data,” “Matter of Honor,” “The Measure of a Man” (a series’ best), “Who Watches the Watchers?”, “The Defector,” “Sarek,” “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” “Family,” “First Contact” (the episode, not the movie), “Unification Parts 1 & 2,” “The First Duty,” “I, Borg,” “Relics,” “Parallels,” and “All Good Things” (one of the best finales in Star Trek).
Least Favorites: “Shades of Gray” (a clips show), “Justice,” “Haven,” “Manhunt,” “Naked Now,” “Night Terrors,” “Imaginary Friend,” “Sub Rosa” (like “Spock’s Brain,” this one falls into the so-bad-it’s-almost-good category), and my absolute least favorite TNG episode; the shockingly-racist “Code of Honor,” which is my personal candidate for worst Star Trek episode ever.
“Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” (1993-1999).
Not wanting to do another starship-set series, producers Rick Berman and Michael Piller decided early on that Deep Space Nine (DS9) would be set on an aging Cardassian space station which recently reverted to control of the planet Bajor, following Cardassian withdrawal from that planet after generations of brutal occupation. The series would also feature the first African-American actor to lead a Star Trek series (Avery Brooks), whose character, “Commander (later captain) Benjamin Sisko,” was also a single father raising a son alone following the death of his wife. DS9 would also feature a former Bajoran ‘freedom fighter’ (terrorist) who now serves as Sisko’s first officer, Kira Nerys (Nana Visitor). The series would leave many familiar Star Trek trappings behind, and chart its own path.
A deft mix of episodic and arc-based storytelling makes each episode standalone, while still adding to the overall mythology of the series.
Under showrunner Ira Steven Behr, the series exceeded its potential, and told some of the best stories in all of Star Trek.
Succeeded in showing a more morally gray Star Trek universe, while still adhering to the core values of both Starfleet and the Federation, as established in prior series.
Star Avery Brooks really came into his own when he shaved his head and grew his facial hair. It also helped that his character finally got promoted from commander to captain as well.
The addition of the starship USS Defiant in season 3 allowed this space station-set series to have its cake and eat it, too.
The huge practical sets of the Deep Space Nine station (the Promenade, Ops) were easily the most impressive sets for a sci-fi series at that time.
In addition to a solid primary cast, DS9 has the best set of secondary characters in all of Star Trek; try to imagine the show without Garak (Andy Robinson), Gul Dukat (Marc Alaimo), Kai Winn (Oscar-winner Louise Fletcher), Weyoun (Jeffrey Combs), Leeta (Chase Masterson), Rom (Max Grodenchik) or the beloved Nog (Aron Eisenberg, 1969-2019). They could’ve had their own series.
Avery Brooks’ Sisko took a while to find his voice as a leader, with the character seeming a little detached in the first two seasons, but he certainly found his passion later on.
Terry Farrell’s Jadzia Dax also took a while to to find her voice as a character, but she also became quickly indispensable. Sadly, the actress’s poor treatment by the powers-that-be led to her leaving the show in its penultimate season.
The arrival of TNG fan favorite Worf (Michael Dorn) in season 4 definitely added a new energy to the series (Klingons were a natural fit for DS9), however, Worf was also dominating a lion’s share of new stories. The series soon managed to better integrate Worf into its existing ensemble.
The series’ quasi-religious mumbo-jumbo about prophecies, prophets and destinies was laid on a bit thick at times, though it did frame the ‘prophets’ as non-linear aliens who exist outside of our spacetime.
Even former showrunner Ira Steven Behr agrees on this point: DS9 had a spotty track record with LGBTQ+ representation as well, despite the emergence of gay characters in other TV shows at that time (the singular Dax/Lenara relationship in “Rejoined” doesn’t make up for these deficits, either).
Personal Favorites: “Emissary,” “Duet,” “In the Hands of the Prophets,” “Invasive Procedures,” “Whispers,” “The Wire,” “The Jem’Hadar,” “Past Tense, Parts 1 & 2,” “Improbable Cause/The Die Is Cast,” “The Visitor” (get the tissue ready), “Way of the Warrior” (sort of a second pilot for the series), “For the Uniform,” “Doctor Bashir, I Presume?” (a game-changer for Julian Bashir), “For the Uniform,” “Children of Time,” “Trials and Tribble-ations” (a lot of fun), “Far Beyond The Stars”, “In the Pale Moonlight” (arguably a series’ best), “Treachery, Faith and the Great River,” “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” and “What We Leave Behind.”
Least Favorites: “Move Along Home” (embarrassing to watch), “The Passenger,” “Second Sight,” “The Muse”, “Profit and Lace.” Also not a big fan of “The Storyteller” either, though it’s not quite as unbearable as some of the others.
January of 1995 saw the premiere of Star Trek: Voyager (VGR) on the fledgling (and since failed) network of UPN. VGR checked off a few firsts; the first woman captain to lead a Star Trek series, as well as a Native American first officer. The series involved the Maquis, a rebellious faction within the Federation whose colonies were signed away to the Cardassians by treaty. Upset with the new status quo, the Maquis have since become outlaws of the Federation. VGR begins with the Intrepid-class USS Voyager pursuing a Maquis ship into a dangerous zone of space called “the Badlands”, where both vessels are abducted by a dying alien entity into the Delta quadrant–a corner of the galaxy roughly 70,000 light-years from Earth. Facing a journey of 75 years at maximum warp, the two opposing crews combine in order to seek a quicker way home.
Kate Mulgrew is a solid choice for captain, and is easily believable as Voyager’s skipper. To those who doubt? Go to YouTube and check out earlier footage of a much stiffer Genevieve Bujold, whom Mulgrew replaced two days into shooting–it’s night and day.
Robert Picardo’s Doctor, aka the “EMH” (Emergency Medical Hologram) is a scene stealer. Sardonic, witty, and a helluva singer, too.
Ex-Borg “Seven of Nine,” played by Jeri Ryan, came aboard in the show’s 4th season in an obvious attempt to gin-up ratings, and it worked–she’s amazing. She gives the show a major boost, and not just for sex appeal.
The Voyager interior sets look very comfortable, but have a bit of steely blue/gray pizzazz, as well; like a tricked-out minivan driven by a really cool single parent.
The late Jerry Goldsmith’s main title theme is one of the best in the Star Trek TV canon, and it’s well accompanied by a gorgeous opening credits montage of the titular starship flying across various galactic vistas. One of the best opening credits sequences in all of Star Trek.
The relationship between pilot Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill) and half-Klingon engineer B’elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson) develops gradually and naturally.
Never quite lives up to its “Lost in Space”-premise, with the ship and crew always looking pristine, which is odd, considering the nearest starbases are decades away. By the end of the 7th season, the ship should’ve looked more like Ron Moore’s reimagined “Battlestar Galactica.”
The character of Neelix (Ethan Phillips) is VGR’s Jar-Jar Binks. He’s an annoying alien who exists primarily to irritate the ship’s Vulcan tactical officer, Tuvok (Tim Russ). Neelix’s possessive, jealously-fueled relationship with his two-year old Ocampan lover, Kes (Jennifer Lien), is borderline abusive and toxic.
First Officer Chakotay (Robert Beltran) is very underused, and is too often written as Janeway’s human rubber-stamp. Adding insult to injury, the character’s Native-American background is both nondescript and cliched.
Operations officer Harry Kim (Garrett Wang) is also very underused. While ex-convict Tom Paris eventually got a field commission to lieutenant, poor Ensign Kim never rose in rank during the seven seasons of the show.
Janeway, much like Captain Kirk, makes some deeply questionable calls. When given the opportunity to use the “Caretaker” array to send her people home, she chooses not to, fearing the array could fall into hostile hands–yet she could’ve destroyed it with a simple, delayed-detonation device. We also see an older Admiral Janeway in the series finale (“Endgame”) who undoes a thriving, 25-year timeline just to save three of her shipmates. Janeway also murdered “Tuvix.”
Personal Favorites: “Caretaker,” “The 37s,” “Meld,” “Death Wish,” “Future’s End, Parts 1 & 2,” “Scorpion Parts 1 & 2,” “Day of Honor,” “Year of Hell, Parts 1 & 2,” “Living Witness,” “Drone” (my favorite of favorites), “Timeless,” “Dark Frontier,” “One Small Step” (directed by Robert Picardo), “Blink of an Eye,” “Body and Soul” (hilarious), and “Endgame” (despite my issues with the ending).
Least Favorites: “Fair Haven”, “Tattoo” (exacerbates my issues with Chakotay), “The Fight” (another ill-conceived Chakotay spotlight), “Spirit Folk” (see: “Fair Haven”), “Favorite Son” (aka “Amazon Women on the Moon”), “Fury”, and “Threshold,” another one which falls into the so-bad-it’s-almost-good category.
“Star Trek: Enterprise” (2001-2005).
The Berman era of Star Trek ended with the series Star Trek: Enterprise (ENT), which originally ditched the words ‘Star Trek’ until it decided to put them back. ENT was a prequel series that took place over a century before the voyages of Kirk’s USS Enterprise in TOS. Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) captains an early warp 5 starship from a pre-Federation United Earth Starfleet. Eschewing the luxury of other starships, the NX-01 Enterprise was smaller, and a bit more cramped inside–more like a cross between a modern naval vessel and the International Space Station than the floating Hiltons of other Star Treks. Everything would be new to this Star Trek series, including transporters, phasers (called ‘phase pistols’) and other bits of technology its predecessors took for granted.
Fills in many of the missing gaps between 1996’s “Star Trek: First Contact” and Star Trek TOS, such as the initial distrust between Vulcans and humans, as well as first contacts with Andorians and Tellarites, who eventually form the basis for the future United Federation of Planets.
A solid cast, led by Scott Bakula. I particularly like “Trip” (Connor Trinneer), Hoshi (Linda Park) and the affable, eccentric Dr. Phlox (John Billingsley).
Jolene Blalock’s T’Pol is one of the most interesting Vulcans since Leonard Nimoy’s Spock, and I don’t say that lightly.
The production design of the ship’s interiors, as well as the NASA-style jumpsuits, really help sell the concept of a rougher, more experimental ship, with an early Starfleet crew.
Season 4 of ENT is one of the best seasons of Star Trek ever, and fills in other bits of Star Trek lore, including what happened to the Klingons’ foreheads.
ENT’s 4th season also had a devilishly delightful two-parter set in the evil “Mirror Universe” with a beautifully recreated Constitution-class starship “USS Defiant,” which disappeared from TOS universe in TOS’ “The Tholian Web,” only to wind up in the Mirror Universe’s past.
That theme song (“Faith of the Heart,” by Diane Warren); I never did warm up to it. Still sounds like a damn 1990s coffee commercial.
Some of the future foreshadowing is a bit too on-the-nose, such as Archer going on about an as-yet-unwritten ‘Prime Directive’ (“Dear Doctor”).
Time travel also becomes too commonplace in the series, and this is supposed to be a century before Kirk’s crew accidentally ‘discovers’ time-travel in TOS’ “The Naked Time.” The series’ ‘Temporal Cold War’ seems created to fudge continuity issues between ENT and TOS/TNG (“The issue of Star Trek and its continuity“).
The season 3 arc of Enterprise entering ‘the expanse’ in order to destroy a Xindi super-weapon threatening Earth felt like a paper-thin justification for the unpopular US invasion of Iraq, something very much on the minds of post-9/11 America at the time. Archer also does some irredeemably ugly things in that season, including torture.
Speaking of which, after 9/11, there seemed to be a conscious effort to make Captain Archer act more like “George W. Bush in Space.” Too often we see him irritated and short-tempered with the very alien races he was assigned to make contact with as Earth’s ambassador.
Personal Favorites: “Broken Bow” (a near-perfect pilot episode), “The Andorian Incident,” “Fusion,” “Shuttlepod One,” “Carbon Creek” (delightful), “Regeneration,” “First Flight,” “E-Squared,” “Azati Prime,” “Borderland,” ”Cold Station 12,” ”The Augments,” “The Forge,” “Awakening,” “Kir’shara,” “In a Mirror Darkly, Parts 1 & 2,” and “Demons”/“Terra Prime.”
Least Favorites: “Desert Crossing,” “Bounty,” “Vanishing Point,” “North Star” (“Cowboys & Aliens”), “Extinction,” “Rogue Planet,” “Hatchery,” “Exile,” and my all-time least favorite, “A Night in Sickbay,” wherein ugly-American Archer refuses to apologize for his dog pissing on a sacred alien tree; I wish I were kidding.
“Star Trek: Discovery” (2017-present).
There would be a 12 year gap in Star Trek TV shows between ENT and the current series, Star Trek Discovery (DSC), which debuted in 2017 on the recently rebranded Paramount+ streaming service (a first for Star Trek). DSC was another prequel, set roughly ten years before the time of TOS, with a lead character who is Spock’s adopted human sister, Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), from whose perspective the series is told. After serving time in Starfleet prison for her role in a devastating Klingon-Federation war, Michael is soon remanded to an experimental Crossfield-class science starship, USS Discovery (NCC-1031), where she gradually earns the respect and affection of its crew, including her former shipmates Saru (Doug Jones) and Lt. Detmer (Emily Coutts). Unlike prior Star Treks, DSC would fully embrace serialized storytelling, which became wildly popular in the binging era of the 2010s (“Stranger Things,” “Breaking Bad”). Each new episode of DSC was a chapter, rather than a story.
Under executive producer Alex Kurtzman (“Star Trek 2009,” “Transformers,”) and an army of craftsmen, DSC features stunning feature-film quality production values, including top-notch visual FX and amazingly detailed alien makeups by Glenn Hetrick and Neville Page.
The most diverse cast in Star Trek history, with a strong Black female lead in Burnham, the Malaysian-born Captain Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), as well as openly-gay spore drive engineer, Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and his lover, Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz). More recently, DSC added the non-binary character, Adira (Blu del Barrio), and their trans male lover, Tal Gray (Ian Alexander). After more than 50 years, it’s good to see Star Trek truly living up to its promise.
Sonequa Martin-Green pours her heart and soul into the role of Michael Burnham. No one should ever accuse her of not giving one hundred and five percent at all times.
“Saru” is one of the most interesting aliens Star Trek has come up with since the days of Deep Space Nine, and the amazing Doug Jones (a modern-day Lon Chaney) plays him with a unique body language and style all his own.
In its second season, DSC re-introduced us to the second captain of the USS Enterprise, Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount), a character first seen in TOS’ unsold pilot episode, “The Cage.” The charismatic Anson Mount quickly became a fan favorite, eventually earning his own series, “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” (more on that one later).
DSC’s time-jump 900 years into the 32nd century has been a rebirth for the series. Free from previously mined-eras of Star Trek lore, the 23rd century characters’ curiosity for this new, post-Federation century mirrors our own.
Serialized storytelling has generally worked against this series, with many great moments and characters trapped in often underwhelming story arcs for the entirety of a season. Annual armageddons get old very quickly.
Each episode tends to overstuff the bag a bit too much, resulting in massive, often confusing info-dumps that sometimes slow the episodes to a crawl.
The long-undeveloped bridge crew; for nearly half the series’ run, I couldn’t match their names to their faces.
The deadly artificial intelligence “Control” arc of season 2 is nearly identical to an arc from season 3 of HBO’s “Westworld,” as well the first season of “Star Trek: Picard.” We get it; AI revolutions are a really bad thing. Can we go now?
As much as I love the characters of DSC, there is a tendency for them to brood and navel-gaze a bit too much. I’ve heard some viewers call DSC the “emo Star Trek,” and this criticism is not entirely without merit.
Michael Burnham’s martyr-complex. While I adore Sonequa Martin-Green (I met her in 2018, and she was delightful), her character has the same issue I have with Captain Kirk in TOS; the belief that they must face danger alone. A good leader knows when to trust and delegate, too.
“The Vulcan Hello”/”Battle of the Binary Stars”, “Will You Take My Hand?”, “Brother,” “New Eden,” “If Memory Serves” (loved seeing Talos IV again), “Such Sweet Sorrow,” part 2, “That Hope is You,” Parts 1 & Part 2, “Terra Firma, Parts 1 & Part 2, “All Is Possible”, “Species 10-C.”
“Magic To Make The Sanest Man Go Mad” (I detest Harry Mudd episodes, past & present), “Perpetual Infinity” (confusing), and “Project Daedalus” (a massive memorial for a character we barely knew).
“Star Trek: Picard” (2020-present).
I was in the audience at the 2018 Star Trek Las Vegas convention when Alex Kurtzman announced a new series involving the character of Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), which they promised would not be Star Trek: TNG, version 2.0. In January of 2020, “Star Trek: Picard” (PIC) saw a 95-year old Picard living on his family chateau in La Barre, France. Picard has resigned from Starfleet in protest, due to its shift away away from the Federation’s core values. Picard’s choice also severs ties with his former first officer, Raffi Musiker (Michelle Hurd). The death of Picard’s android friend, Data (Brent Spiner) still haunts him, as well. After persuading Raffi, cyberneticist Dr. Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill) and his young Romulan friend Elnor (Evan Evagora) to join him, Picard charters a ride from ex-Starfleet officer Cristobal Rios (Santiago Cabrera) to find an elusive connection between Data’s possible progeny and a Romulan taboo which threatens the galaxy.
The return of Jeri Ryan as a more humanized “Seven of Nine” was very welcome. Her newer, no-nonsense version of the character is a terrific addition to the series.
While Brent Spiner’s Data makeup looks a bit off, it’s wonderful to see the character again in Picard’s dreams, and in a cybernetic afterlife, giving proper closure to the android’s too-abrupt death in 2002’s “Star Trek: Nemesis.”
Season 1’s “Nepenthe,” featuring the return of Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Deanna Riker (Marina Sirtis), felt like a hug from home. It’s also interesting to see these characters addressing Picard as equals, and not subordinates–a very different relationship. Their daughter Kestra (Lulu Wilson) was a nice addition as well.
Cristobal Rios’ colorful starship, “La Sirena” looks like something from the mind of sci-fi artist Chris Foss.
Picard, longtime passionate advocate for the rights of artificial beings, becomes one himself by the end of season 1, which would’ve been a perfect place to end this series.
The terrific season 2 opener, “The Star Gazer” feels more like the first hour of a new Star Trek movie. Wonderful to see Whoopi Goldberg as “Guinan” once again running a bar called Ten-Forward, this time in downtown Los Angeles.
The creepy, kinky, borderline-incestuous Romulan siblings (Harry Treadaway, Peyton List) of season 1 are entirely unappealing.
The arc of season 1 is essentially the same “artificial intelligence will destroy/subjugate all sentient life in the galaxy” plot of DSC’s second season. Two serialized seasons of different Star Trek series dealing with the same story arc.
After the first two or three episodes, season 2’s time-travel arc into 21st century Los Angeles devolves into a jumbled, incoherent mess. An avalanche of subplots all compete for audience attention like squeaking dolphins performing for fish. There is no singular narrative thrust to drive the story forward–no ticking clock. It feels very sloppy.
The subplot about Picard’s ancestor Renée (Penelope Mitchell) being a ‘reluctant astronaut’ is just nonsense. I’ve met real-life astronauts, and they’re a deeply competitive bunch. She would not be where she is by accident or chance.
I’m also not fond of how Yvette Picard’s struggle with mental illness is treated like something from a gothic horror novel, which further stigmatizes the very real struggles many have with schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder. You’d also think that advanced 24th century medicine would’ve found provably effective treatments for debilitating mental illnesses.
Brent Spiner improbably playing every member of the Soong family line is ridiculous.
What is the significance of Jean-Luc’s Romulan housekeeper Laris (Orla Brady) and Renée’s “Watcher” Tallinn (also Brady) being related? It’s never resolved.
Wil Wheaton’s cameo as Wesley Crusher at the end of season 2 feels inauthentic, as if the actor were stuck in ‘Ready Room-host’ mode.
Q (John de Lancie) returns, but mainly because this omnipotent super-being just needs a hug before he dies. Does every returning character have to die? I’m hoping next year’s reunion of the TNG cast won’t be a blood bath.
Personal Favorites: “Remembrance”, “Absolute Candor,” “Broken Pieces,” “Nepenthe” (like a hug from home), “Et in Arcadia Ego, Parts 1 & 2″, “The Star Gazer” (a promising season 2 opener). “Penance,” and “Assimilation.”
Least Favorites: “Fly Me to the Moon,” “Two of One,” “Monsters,” “Mercy,” “Hide and Seek”, and “Farewell.” The second season of PIC is a sharp plunge in quality from the first.
“Sar Trek: Lower Decks” (2020-present).
As a longtime fan of Star Trek: TAS, I was looking forward to Star Trek’s return to animation. However, I can’t say I was thrilled to hear they were turning it into a comedy, and that it was being produced by “Rick and Morty” writer Mike McMahan, since I was not a fan of that series. However, seeing what “Family Guy” producer/creator Seth MacFarlane managed to do with “The Orville”? I was cautiously optimistic. Star Trek: Lower Decks (LD), not unlike its TNG episode namesake, follows a group of young junior officers during their tours of duty together aboard the California-class starship, USS Cerritos (a nondescript suburb of LA, for the curious). After six episodes, I decided it wasn’t for me, and I gave up on it. LD’s frenetic characters and over-the-top humor simply weren’t appealing or funny to me. I realize others truly love this show, and I’m genuinely happy for those fans. I am just not one of them.
A return to the episodic format that’s been a staple of Star Trek storytelling since 1966.
Nice ship renderings and planetary vistas.
The USS Cerritos is an interesting design, and I wouldn’t mind seeing its class of ship in a live-action Star Trek someday.
Energetic voice acting, including a few notable voice cameos (Jeffrey Combs, Jonathan Frakes, etc).
Colorful new uniforms and matching footwear that evokes TNG, yet offers something new as well.
Both the medium and style of LD has no doubt broadened the overall Star Trek fan base.
Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsome) is an absolutely obnoxious character. I don’t care how bright or resourceful she is in a crisis (or being the captain’s daughter), it doesn’t excuse her behavior, such as crashing Boimler’s violin recital and destroying his moment. Bullying isn’t funny, even in a cartoon.
Yes, I know it’s “only a cartoon,” but I can’t believe any of these ridiculous characters graduated from the same Starfleet Academy that graduated Spock and Picard.
Star Trek references by themselves are not punchlines. I’m not going to laugh simply because Mariner mentions the Gorn or humpback whales in a ‘wacky’ voice.
I just can’t reconcile the over-the-top goofiness of LD with the rest of Star Trek. It’s like trying to imagine “Family Guy” or “The Simpsons” living next door to the Bunkers from “All in the Family,” or “Maude.”
Personal Favorites: None.
Least Favorites: In fairness, I’m not qualified to judge.
Note: Not all Star Trek fans have to love every incarnation of Star Trek simply because it has the brand name. I don’t enjoy LD, and that’s okay. To those that do? Enjoy season 3, arriving next week.
“Star Trek: Prodigy” (2021-present).
The next Star Trek animated series, Star Trek: Prodigy (PRO) was produced by Paramount+ in tandem with Nickelodeon, and aimed for a younger demographic than the more risqué LD. One season in, and PRO exceeded all of my hopes for it. This is a Star Trek for all ages, not just children. I’m nearly 56 now, and I enjoyed it very much. The story involves a group of young, alien slaves in the Delta quadrant who discover a deserted experimental Federation starship, which they use to escape for a new life in a far-off utopia known as the United Federation of Planets.
Gorgeous, feature-film quality animation that is nearly on a par with Disney/Pixar offerings. There are some shots in this series that could pass for live-action space shots or planetary vistas.
A deft mix of serialized and standalone storytelling not seen since DS9.
“Dal” (Brett Gray) is a headstrong, resourceful young man whose arc goes from freed ex-slave to responsible young commander; in some ways, he reminds me of young Kirk from “Star Trek” (2009).
“Gwyndala” (Ella Purnell) is the Diviner’s daughter, who is soon awakened to the cruelty of her father. Gwyndala’s arc is a unique one for a Star Trek character–a princess hailing from an evil lineage.
Other great new characters as well. Each one is of a new species, save for the Medusan “Zero” (Angus Imrie), whose species was first seen in TOS’ “Is There in Truth No Beauty?” and “Jankom Pog” (Jason Mantzoukas), who is Star Trek’s first regular Tellarite character.
Also love the characters of “Murf” (Dee Bradley Baker), a kindly amorphous blob, and “Rok-Tahk” (Rylee Alazraqui) a large, formidable-looking creature who is, in fact, a very young, innocent female of her species. Rok-Tahk’s voice is at complete odds with her exterior appearance–an important lesson to not judge a book by its cover. It’s very Star Trek.
Having Kate Mulgrew return as a Kathryn Janeway holographic mentor is a clever means of providing guidance for the young “cadets.” It’s also a nice way to bring back an iconic character without being too literal.
With characters who see the Federation as their ticket to better lives, PRO has once again made Star Trek aspirational, in a way that it hasn’t been for awhile.
The hour-length pilot episode felt a bit too much like “Star Wars: Rebels” instead of Star Trek. This was no longer an issue once the characters escape their life in the mines and fly off into space. It’s also redeemed by some solid character development.
“The Diviner” (John Noble) looks and acts a bit too “Sith Lord” at times, though his final appearance in “A Moral Star Part 2” (the first season finale) does provide some interesting details and a fitting end for the character… for now, at least.
None. I enjoyed the entire first season of the series. Not a bad one in the bunch.
“Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” (2022-present).
After five years of serialized storytelling, live-action Star Trek returned to basics with “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” (SNW), which chronicles the standalone adventures of the USS Enterprise’s Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount), the immediate predecessor to Captain Kirk who is destined to be horribly mutilated in a training accident while saving a group of Starfleet cadets. Pike knows his fate, courtesy of some Klingon ‘time crystals,’ but has rededicated himself to being the captain that his crew deserve. This prequel series, set roughy six years before Kirk takes command, is a revamped version of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s original pilot for Star Trek (“The Cage”), including legacy characters Spock (Ethan Peck), and Number One (Rebecca Romijn). After nearly 58 years since the production of Star Trek’s first pilot, SNW holds a new record for the longest pilot-to-series pickup in TV history.
A return to a more-or-less episodic format. After five years of arguably hit-and-miss serialized storytelling, it feels almost like a homecoming of sorts. This is how Star Trek began, and since this is a return to Star Trek’s roots, it kinda feels right.
Anson Mount is absolutely terrific as Captain Christopher Pike. This was obvious from his guest-star season in DSC, where he almost effortlessly became that season’s MVP. His easygoing yet firm command style is the perfect balance between Kirk and Picard; a hero of both action and wisdom. The man has amazing hair, too; it’s a force of nature.
The absolutely gorgeous exterior and interiors of the USS Enterprise. The series’ production design keeps many of the iconic shapes and silhouettes, but smartly updates them for a new generation of cinematic-quality television.
The scope of this series, much like DSC, is feature-film quality. In addition to the new virtual walls used to extend the Engineering set, there is also clever use of location shooting as well, which adds to SNW’s cinematic feel.
Ethan Peck’s Spock, who also debuted in DSC, grew on me over time. But now that we’ve seen him in action, I very much get why he was cast. He’s not doing Nimoy’s Spock; Peck’s Spock is a younger, less-controlled version of the character, and it works.
The most unexpected surprise of the series to date is that Nurse Christine Chapel (Jess Bush), a character who was largely ignored in TOS, has become a favorite character of mine. Bush gives her an energy, spunk, and nerdy cool that makes her so much more interesting than a sad-faced nurse forever pining for Mr. Spock. This reimagining–no, rehabilitation of the character is so good that I wouldn’t mind if they tweaked her destiny a bit, and put her in charge of her own sickbay someday.
With the exception of Melissa Navia’s “Erica Ortegas”, everyone has been given a spotlight episode in SNW’s first season. The easygoing Ortegas is certainly a likable character, even with limited screen time, and I look forward to see when she’ll get her own story someday.
Not exactly crazy with how they’ve retconned the Gorn from a misunderstood, almost sympathetic sentient reptile in TOS (“Arena”) into little more than a mindless, parasitic menace to be wiped out (a la “ALIENS”). I won’t even get into their premature first contact happening years before Kirk and crew first meet them.
I had some issues with “A Quality of Mercy” as well; beyond the lackluster new interpretations of Kirk (Paul Wesley) and the Romulan commander (Matthew MacFadzean), the episode’s implication that Kirk is a better combat strategist rings false to me, since nothing in SNW to date suggests that Pike is any less a combat leader than James T. Kirk. I think Pike, despite his peacemaking core, would do exactly what needed to be done. As we saw in “The Cage,” he clearly knows how to tap into anger and decisiveness when needed.
“The Elysian Kingdom” (not a big fan of ‘dress-up’ stories), “All Those Who Wonder” (a surprisingly lazy “ALIENS” ripoff).
“My mind to your mind…”
Okay, then. Those are my opinions, pros, cons, favorites and non-favorites. If you’re able & willing, I’d love to hear your choices and opinions as well! All I ask is that we remain civil, and tolerant of different opinions. IDIC in action!
Live long and prosper, folks!
Where to Watch
All of the various Star Trek TV series are available to stream in the US and in various new overseas markets on Paramount+. Many of the earlier series are also available on physical media, and can be purchased via Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com as well as various brick and mortar retailers.