Exploring the Galaxy: Ranking the Stellar Star Trek TV Series
Discovering the vast universe of Star Trek has been a truly warp-speed journey for fans worldwide, with the best Star Trek TV series serving as interstellar beacons of astonishing adventures. From the groundbreaking original series that kicked off this iconic franchise to the star-studded voyages of the USS Enterprise, spanning generations and galaxies, this article will unlock the warp core of Star Trek: the must-watch series that have captured our imaginations and propelled us to boldly go where no viewer has gone before. So grab your tricorder and prepare for a warp-speed breakdown of the stellar series that have made Star Trek a timeless cultural phenomenon.
Star Trek: The Original Series (1966-1969)
CBS via Getty Images
What can be said about The Original Series that hasn't already been said? Gene Roddenberry successfully combined science fiction with the American pioneer spirit to create his vision of "Wagon Train to the stars." The episodes were both enjoyable and thought-provoking at the same time, and performances by William Shatner as Kirk and Leonard Nimoy as Spock, among others, left a lasting impression on our pop culture.
The Original Series provided social commentary on racism, imperialism, and, much to Spock's annoyance, the human condition. The combination of strong acting, impressive sets, and meaningful plots propelled this show to become something truly remarkable. The OG Star Trek not only shaped the future of the franchise but also influenced television as a whole. It's easy to understand why it continues to attract new generations of fans year after year.
Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973-1975)
Yes, it may be at the bottom, but it would be unfair to call this series bad. There are some clever sci-fi scripts throughout its two-season run, such as the time-travel episode "Yesteryear," which gives us insight into Spock's childhood. However, due to budget limitations, the animation was quite limited, and the voice actors didn't even record together (and it shows). We appreciate that it kept the Trek spirit alive during the long decade between the original series and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but it still ranks last simply because there isn't enough of it.
Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994)
Star Trek: The Next Generation holds the distinction of being the first Trek show that veteran fans caution new fans against starting from the very beginning. The early episodes ranged from excessively sexual (with planetary inhabitants barely wearing clothing in the episode "Justice") to shockingly racist (as seen in "Code of Honor," potentially the worst Star Trek episode ever produced). Many of these issues arose because, despite its name, "The Next Generation" tried to recreate The Original Series, even using some of the same writers and reusing scripts from the abandoned Star Trek: Phase II series.
As fans joke, the show improved as Commander Riker's beard grew longer. Season 2 was a significant improvement, followed by season 3, which introduced new uniforms, sets, and Michael Piller leading the writing team. This marked the point when TNG embraced its differences from its iconic predecessor—Picard being more intellectual while Kirk was impulsive, Data longing for emotion while Spock despised it, and so on. The gamble paid off, and the next generation of this franchise attracted a new generation of Star Trek fans.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
If the original series and The Next Generation set the tone and established archetypes, Deep Space Nine perfected them. It is the pinnacle of Star Trek shows. Not only does it feature a fantastic ensemble cast and excellent writing, but it also successfully combines the episodic nature of a Trek procedural with an overarching A-line plot, such as the Dominion War, as the seasons progress. Captain Sisko, played by Avery Brooks, is unquestionably the best Star Trek captain. I stand by that statement! Deep Space Nine boasts some of the finest episodes in all of Trek, including "It's Only a Paper Moon," a heart-wrenching episode about Nog's PTSD. This episode not only takes war's repercussions seriously but also redefines the concept of a comedic sidekick. Nog evolved from being the captain's son's playful friend to becoming the soul of the show. That is why Deep Space Nine remains the best of the best.
(featured image: Paramount)
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Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001)
Voyager follows the journey of the USS Voyager, which becomes stranded in the Delta Quadrant, 75,000 light-years from home. The series has an intriguing premise but suffers from weak writing, forgettable characters, and lackluster plots.
The show's formulaic approach to storytelling and missed opportunities to explore its unique setting prevent it from reaching the heights of the original series and its spin-offs.
Star Trek: Discovery
I must be honest, DISCO isn't in last place solely because it had the courtesy to transport itself 900 years into the future and avoid interfering with everyone else. Additionally, the first season was genuinely enjoyable. It deviated from the episodic nature of traditional Star Trek and focused on a central A plot, which was refreshing at the time. The show had a substantial budget, an exceptional cast, and was captivating to watch unfold, despite the Klingons undergoing yet another makeover. However, each subsequent season has delved further into melodrama (often resembling a soap opera). It feels like an episode of DISCO isn't complete until Burnham cries at least three times. It's exhausting. The crew of Discovery is in desperate need of therapy for their co-dependency issues. And maybe some Lexapro. It makes me yearn for the days when Star Trek was a polite and harmonious workplace drama.
Star Trek: Picard (2020-2023)
Star Trek: Picard was meant to be a comforting experience for fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Paramount believed that this show, which either attracted fans disappointed by the franchise's direction with shows like Discovery or those craving to see Patrick Stewart back in action, would be universally adored.
However, that wasn't the case. The initial warmth and nostalgia from seeing familiar faces in the first season quickly dissipated due to a confusing plot centered around androids. The second season continued this confusion with a time-travel narrative that bordered on incoherent. While many Star Trek shows take a few seasons to hit their stride, it was surprising that so much of this relatively short series seemed to have been created with a mindset of just being passable.
Star Trek: Lower Decks
Undoubtedly the best of the new Treks, Star Trek: Lower Decks is packed with humor, references, and deep cuts from old Star Trek canon. It manages to deliver entertaining stories while staying true to the essence of Star Trek—a show that revolves around solving puzzles or dilemmas diplomatically. The characters may sometimes seem sillier compared to those in a live-action Trek show, but at its core, Lower Decks still tells stories that explore moral and philosophical questions in a life-threatening context. The characters are lovable and eccentric, and the voice acting is exceptional. The show even features incredible cameo performances from iconic Trek actors. Plus, no Star Trek villain can match the deviousness of Badgey.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
Strange New Worlds is halfway through its first season, yet it has already earned its place among the best Star Trek shows. It is undoubtedly one of the finest of the new Trek offerings. The cast is charismatic and has superb chemistry, and the writing is excellent. It captures the best aspects of old Trek. The crew members have personal dramas and backstories, but each episode revolves around confronting a different moral, philosophical, or life-threatening mystery. While there may be some canon inconsistencies (as is often the case with new Trek), it is refreshing to see a crew that has fun while maintaining a professional demeanor. Personally, I am thrilled to witness a professional workplace environment—I guess that's a sign of getting old. Additionally, the cast is incredibly attractive. There's plenty of eye candy all around.
We reluctantly place Prodigy near the bottom. It is a children's animated series with connections to the still-underappreciated Voyager, which may explain why many Trekkies have overlooked it. Paramount's ill-advised decision to remove it from the so-called "Home of Star Trek" probably contributed to its lack of recognition. However, those who did give Prodigy a chance, especially those with Trek-agnostic kids, discovered a truly delightful series that captures the essence of the franchise.
Set in the depths of the Delta Quadrant, Prodigy follows a group of alien teenagers, led by Dal R'El and Gwyn, as they escape a prison colony using the abandoned Starfleet craft, the USS Protostar. With the guidance of a holographic Captain Janeway, the youngsters learn to embrace the principles of the Federation while uncovering their connection to the villainous overlord, the Diviner. The kids' idealism and desperate situation allow them to reaffirm the core principles of Starfleet, even as they encounter adults from the Federation who have forgotten the true meaning behind their symbols.
By making outsiders the focal point, Prodigy serves as an ideal entryway for young audiences into the Star Trek universe. However, that doesn't mean it shies away from deep cuts. The main cast includes a Tellurite and a Medusan, and holograms of characters such as Spock, Crusher, Odo, and Chakotay make appearances. The series even brings back one-off characters like Admiral Jellico and the Outrageous Okona. Through Prodigy, even those unfamiliar with Trek get to experience the franchise's quirkiest characters and its most inspiring ideals.
With a franchise spanning over five decades, there is no shortage of Star Trek series to dive into. From the groundbreaking original series to the bold new adventures of Picard, there's something for every type of Trekkie. Whether you prefer the classic exploration of The Next Generation or the darker, grittier tone of Discovery, the Star Trek universe continues to push boundaries and captivate audiences. With exciting new additions like Strange New Worlds and Prodigy on the horizon, fans can rest assured that the final frontier is still as vast and thrilling as ever. So, grab your tricorder and set phasers to stun, because the best Star Trek TV series are waiting to be discovered. Live long and prosper!
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