With the release of so many new Star Trek series over the past couple of years, the franchise is experiencing its greatest popularity since the original series first aired.
Thanks to the Paramount Plus streaming service, we’ve been able to enjoy franchise newcomers Discovery, Strange New Worlds, Picard, Lower Decks, and Short Treks. And, for more kid-focused programming, Nickelodeon airs Star Trek Prodigy.
I have been a Star Trek fan since my youth as a latch-key kid in the 70s who came home from school every weekday to watch re-runs of Star Trek (which I’ll refer to as The Original Series or TOS) at 4pm. To heck with the afterschool specials, I wanted the Enterprise! As I got older, I faithfully watched each new series (and movie – though that’s a different blog post) as they released. From The Next Generation (TNG) to Deep Space Nine (DS9) to Voyager (VOY) to Enterprise (ENT), I watched every episode and purchased most seasons on DVD. There was a time I could annoyingly tell my friends the name of every episode and character in each series.
But Enterprise ended its run in 2005, and there was a dearth of anything Star Trek for twelve years until the launch of Discovery, and thankfully additional shows have followed. So how do these newcomers fair against their predecessors? The early shows brought big Hollywood names to the small screen, actors with other series and movies under their belts like Sir Patrick Stewart (Excalibur, Dune), Kate Mulgrew (Mrs. Columbo), Avery Brooks (Spenser for Hire), and Scott Bakula (Quantum Leap). Outstanding ensemble casts brought character-driven stories to life, often with a dose of morality – much like TOS. The space scenes, though, were… well, they were not good. Computer animation was still in its infancy and it showed on these series.
Now, having watched all the latest Star Trek content – and I'm eagerly awaiting new seasons to release – I believe many of these newcomers expand the Star Trek universe with distinction, one show in particular.
My top ten favorite series from the Star Trek universe:
Strange New Worlds – Simply, it out ‘originals’ the Original Series. The stories are excellent if not a bit strange or offbeat, much like TOS. A fairytale book infecting the ship fits so closely to hippies searching for Eden or Kirk living with a tribe of Native Americans. Anson Mount is truly fantastic as Captain Pike as he had the advantage of honing his character on Discovery before starting this series. Ethan Peck is outstanding as Spock, comfortably joining the ranks of Leonard Nimoy and Zachary Quinto in the role. To balance the great stories, the Enterprise (is there a better ship? No.) has returned in absolute glory with bridge effects, weapons, space scenes, planets, and aliens of the highest quality. The series looks like footage from the future. Outstanding.
The Original Series – This show started it all and holds a special place in my heart as it laid the foundation for everything else to come, and by extension, everything else to be compared against. William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForest Kelly brought vigor and humor into the three core characters, each with their quirks and habits. Nichelle Nichols, James Doohan, George Takai, and Walter Koenig round out the outstanding cast of one of the first shows to portray a hopeful future for humanity. It boldly went where no show had gone before. Classic.
The Next Generation – This series took the quality of the cast to unparalleled heights, mainly with one actor. Sir Patrick Stewart brought a gravitas and believability to the role of Jean-Luc Picard such that his mere presence elevated those around him. Worf and Data are also two of the best (i.e. my favorite) characters in the Star Trek universe. Both are excellently portrayed and provide unique insights into how we view ourselves as humans. Unfortunately, the ship effects and space scenes are all a bit wonky, yet they blend well into the show. And we have this series to thank for the communicator chirp that appears in all following series. Engage.
The Orville – Okay, hold on a second. I know you’re saying, “That’s not Star Trek! How can you include it a list like this?” On one hand I’ll admit that the words ‘star trek’ do not appear in its title, but with an excellent cast of characters displaying the same diversity and optimism, a ship representing an organization of planets on a mission of peace and exploration, and with stories that both entertain as well as provide a bit of introspection into humanity, I respond, “Isn’t it?” Yes, it is. Thank you, Seth MacFarlane.
Picard – Again, Sir Patrick Stewart elevates the quality of this show, but it’s also uniquely appealing as it combines such diverse elements of the Star Trek universe into its crews. The first season brings together Picard - a decorated star fleet captain, a Romulan former Tal Shiar, a Vulcan assassin, and a synthetic descendent of Data, while the second season includes Seven of Nine - a reintegrated borg drone, a naïve scientist, and a borg queen (deliciously played by Annie Wersching.) Mind blown.
Lower Decks – From the creators of Rick & Morty, this animated series hilariously examines the less glamorous side of Starfleet. Though a cartoon, the stories are interesting and thought-provoking, often focusing on personal issues like friendship, teamwork, and happiness. The show follows a group of Ensigns as they perform the menial tasks that keep the ship running. Though this series takes place on an unknown ship (the Cerritos) with unknown characters, the call-outs to other Star Trek series keep this show firmly grounded in the Star Trek universe. There are run-ins with the Pakleds, one character is transporter-cloned like Riker, and a Tamarian crew member joins a mission but only speaks in metaphors: “Temba, his arms wide.” Lower Decks, my grin widens.
Discovery – Another show with amazing special effects and a great cast. I enjoyed Sonequa Martin-Green from the Walking Dead, and both Michelle Yoeh and Jason Isaacs bring star quality to the cast. This show is further down my list mainly due to the storytelling. While the concept of the mycelial network and instant travel is interesting, it negates some of the challenges that other series’ characters needed to overcome. And when the Spore Drive goes awry, we end up in the mirror universe, where we’ve been a few times before. Michelle Yoeh’s emperor is a great character, and the new style of Klingons is enjoyably grotesque, but this show just lacks a bit, though again the special effects are second-to-none, and the brief tenure of Christopher Pike as Captain of Discovery is a welcome addition.
Deep Space Nine – For me, the longer story arcs – often a season long or longer – made this show more difficult to watch, though it’s great for bingeing. The cast is solid, but I found both Bashir and Odo to be unsympathetic. Maybe it was their everlasting pissy moods, but I enjoyed episodes that minimized their involvement. DS9 does, however, have some of the greatest secondary characters in the Star Trek universe: Garek, Weyoun, and Quark. Each character was so far out of the norm of Starfleet behavior that their actions were often refreshingly surprising.
Voyager – Kate Mulgrew as Captain Janeway and Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine did their best to save the quality of this show, but it was a battle. I loved the premise of a ship lost in the galaxy, hoping for new stories each week as they made their way home. But, somehow, they kept meeting the same adversaries over and over. Admittedly in a tough predicament, there seemed to be a lot of whining on that ship – I’m looking at you Ensign Kim and Neelix. Some single episodes are really good and entertaining, but the overall series lacks.
Enterprise – The idea of an Original Series prequel was exciting, but Enterprise fails in every way that Strange New Worlds excels. The stories are weak (Marines on a Starfleet ship?), and the crew has little personality. Though that fits for Vulcan science officer T’Pol in a watered-down Spock role, it spells doom for the watchability of the series. I really liked Scott Bakula in Quantum Leap, but this role didn’t seem to fit. I will shout out Jeffrey Combs who, as well as playing Weyoun in DS9, portrays Andorian military officer Shran and is again awesome.
So, Short Treks, the Animated Series, and Prodigy didn’t make the list, but they certainly have their audience. As long as more Star Trek content keeps coming, we’ll all be happy.