Star Trek

I’ve been a Star Trek fan my whole life. My mom was a fan in the sixties and we used to watch the original series together on reruns when I was little. I watched The Next Generation and Deep Space 9 faithfully. When Voyager came out, I tried to watch when I could, but it was on a new network, UPN, and I didn’t have cable at the time, so I missed a lot. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it, it was just circumstances. By the time Enterprise arrived, I had cable and watched it faithfully. Since I’ve gotten streaming services, I’ve watched the animated series, Discovery, Short Treks, and Picard. And I just finished watching all seven seasons of Voyager, so I’m caught up. I’ve now watched every episode of every series that Star Trek has aired. It feels like an accomplishment, so I thought I’d write a rambling, unfocused post about Star Trek in general.

Since everyone likes rankings, I guess I’ll start there. Deep Space Nine is my favorite and Sisko is the best captain. The original series is a close second. Then, I think I go with Voyager, followed by Enterprise. TNG comes next. Bringing up the rear are Discovery, then Short Treks, then Picard, and, finally, the animated series. I understand that I’m not being completely fair to that last group. Three of them are just getting started, and the animated series feels more like a Saturday morning cartoon than a Star Trek. I tend to think of the original series, TNG, DS9, Voyager, and Enterprise as core Trek.

Some readers might have noticed something odd about my rankings. Of the core Trek shows, I ranked The Next Generation last. I actually surprised myself when I was thinking about it. I’m not sure anyone ranks TNG last. People usually talk about it or the original series as being the best. But, as I was thinking about it, I realized that the first season of TNG is abysmal. And the second season isn’t much better. Three, four, and five are great. Six is hit and miss. And seven is pretty spotty. The highs may be higher than any of the other shows, but the lows are way lower than any of the other shows, and there are quite a few lows.

That being said, I really like The Next Generation. Patrick Stewart is all kinds of awesome and so is the rest of the cast. Everyone talks about the Trek captains, but it’s the engineers and doctors that make the shows. Laforge and Crusher are fantastic. The theme music is also fantastic (I find it disappointing that TV shows don’t have themes anymore). And, as I mentioned before, when it was great, it was really, really great.

Enterprise probably has the worst reputation of the core Treks, but I don’t know why. Tripp is a great engineer, and Phlox is a fun doctor. The Xindi season was excellent. As was the final season (Except for the finale. Why they decided to make the last Enterprise and episode of TNG is beyond me.) I like the way the last season was almost entirely made up of two to three episode story arcs. Other shows had the occasional two-parter, but this felt more like a purposeful, story-telling device. It’s something that The Clone Wars picked up on a few years later, but that’s mixing Star Trek and Star Wars in one post, and that’s probably a no-no.

Voyager is a bit of a weird one for me. If you had asked me six months ago, I would have said it was the worst of the Treks. But, now that I’ve watched it from beginning to end, it’s really grown on me. I’m amazed at how many episodes I had missed. I think it seemed lesser to me because I hadn’t seen more than half the episodes. I missed a ton of character development and general nuance the first time around. Like most people, I think the show improved when Seven joined the cast. But I don’t think that’s the character herself as much as it is the writing. I don’t feel like the writers ever knew what to do with Kes. The were more confident with Seven. I think B’Elanna Torres and The Doctor are the standout characters, once again the engineer and the doctor. I’m so glad I finally caught up.

The new series are still works in progress. Discovery, at this point, is the type of Sci-Fi that’s fun, as long as you don’t think about it too much. The cast is very likable. I was nervous about the production values as the first Trek to be exclusively on a streaming service, but it looks great. In some ways, it almost looks too good. I think it was a mistake to set it ten years prior to the original series since the technology on the Discovery puts Voyager and the Enterprise D to shame. One thing I have to say about this show is that it burns through plot like nothing I’ve ever watched before. The first season started with Starfleet’s first mutiny, then the Klingon war, then Michael’s liberation from prison, then the spore drive craziness, then the mirror universe, then back to the Klingon war, then the double agent, then the end of the Klingon war, then the captain being the mirror universe doppelganger, and the reintroduction of Georgiou. It was crazy. Plus, I’m probably forgetting some plot points. And it didn’t slow down in the second season. I think it’s a good thing that they’ve jumped the setting into the future after the events of all the other Trek properties. One of the bummers of Discovery is that the doctor is barely a character. The engineer is fine, though. They’re even in a relationship with each other, there was so much potential, but the doctor never got developed. It’s not in a class with the core Treks, but it’s entertaining.

Short Treks is all over the place. Each one is a stand alone ten-ish minute episode. There’s no real continuity with characters, settings, plots, or anything else. Some of them, like the one where Spock and his new first officer get stuck in a turbolift, are lots of fun. Others, like the one where two school-age children learn that their parents were killed on Mars, are pretty bad. But, at only ten minutes a piece, I can’t complain too much.

Picard only has one season in the books, but man, oh man, was it a frustrating season. Patrick Stewart is still awesome in the title role. He could probably read the phone book and make it entertaining. And some of the nostalgia was nice with Riker and Troi. But it made a ton of mistakes. First and foremost was taking the destruction of Romulus from the JJ Abrams movie and using that as a starting point for the series. That whole movie was a mistake and just put the series on shakey narrative ground. Then, add the fact that the whole season could have been done in an episode and a half, and things get really messy. Basically, the plot of season one was the same as the two-parter from season seven of Voyager, Flesh and Blood. The only difference is that instead of holograms rising up against organics, it’s synthetics (basically androids) doing the same thing. It was better on Voyager. There were also a lot of weird annoyances. Why would you bring back Icheb only to kill him (in a far too gruesome fashion for Star Trek) without him doing or saying anything? The character deserved better. And Seven’s character was awfully different. I know she’d been on a quest to explore her humanity, and time has passed, but it felt more like a reboot than growth. And what happened to her relationship with Chakotay? The best I can say is that it wasn’t as bad as the first season of TNG, so I’ll keep some hope alive for season two.

Since I mentioned the movies, a quick side note. I’ve also seen all the movies. The three newest ones are a complete waste of time. Wrath of Khan is the best, with First Contact a close second. I thoroughly enjoyed The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home. The others are all varying degrees of fine. Certainly watchable, but not essential.

Now, back to TV and the core Treks. I like basically everything about the original series. McCoy and Scotty, the doctor and the engineer, are awesome. So are Kirk, Spock, Uhura, Chekov, and Sulu. Even Nurse Chapel and Yeoman Rand are pretty cool. These are some of my earliest childhood memories, so in a lot of ways, the original series taught me about story-telling and allegory and science fiction and all that stuff. It’s my benchmark. The City on the Edge of Forever, The Trouble With Tribbles, and The Devil in the Dark are still some of my favorite hours of television.

Finally, we come to Deep Space Nine, which is simply the best. I can’t figure out how anyone could disagree with me about that. I could write pages on this show alone. Bashir and O’Brien are the best Doctor/Engineer combo you can find. I was always disappointed that they never made a DS9 movie, but I think they could have made at least three buddy comedies starring these two that would have been great. The show had a huge, sprawling cast, and they were all pretty great. Even characters like Nog and Dumar and Kai Winn had actual character arcs. When they went for funny, they nailed it. Just look at The Magnificent Ferengi. When they went for intensity, they nailed it. Just look at In the Pale Moonlight. They even nailed period drama with Far Beyond the Stars. There are more great episodes than I can list here, but I do want to mention Trials and Tribbleations and Take Me Out to the Holosuite as two favorites.

The thing that really set DS9 apart was the writing. The show came out at a time when TV reset itself every week. Deep Space Nine changed that all up. The show was heavily serialized. They knew what was going to happen in the last episode when they wrote the first episode. That’s become somewhat common on TV, but it was revolutionary at the time. I still think it did serialization better than mostly any other show. You can watch almost any random episode of DS9 and enjoy it on its own. But watching in sequence makes everything so much richer. The original series might be my benchmark, but the writing on DS9 makes me jealous.

That’s probably more of my Star Trek opinions than anyone needed, so I’ll stop now. But if anyone out there is new to the Trek universe, I want to encourage you to jump in. It’s great in here.

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