'Star Trek' Brands: Sleek or Weak?
The Bakula-powered prequel series took the Trek franchise back to the past future, focusing on the adventures of the very first Enterprise 100 years B.K. (Before Kirk).
Darren: Conceptually, Enterprise wasn't a terrible idea. I like the idea of taking the franchise back-to-basics with a pre-Original Series setting. Unfortunately, Battlestar Galactica did pretty much the same thing, except a million times better. Double unfortunately, I'm not sure anyone remembers anything about Enterprise besides Hot Lady Vulcan.
Deven: There was nothing redeeming about Enterprise. Any time I spent watching it I was wondering when Scott Bakula was going to Quantum Leap out of this cesspool of a series.
Darren: Zing! This show basically scotched the whole idea of Star Trek on television. Fun fact: The series finale of Enterprise was apparently a holodeck adventure set during an episode of Next Generation. What a mess.
Deven: Oh, sweet Georgia Brown, that is just awful. It's like Xzibit and the Pimp My Ride crew came up with the plot. ''Yo dawg, I heard you like Star Trek, so we put a Star Trek in your Star Trek so you can boldly go, while you boldly go!!''
9. Star Trek: The Animated Series
This Filmation cartoon kept the fire burning in the Trek-less decade between the original series' cancellation and 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
Darren: Maybe a better title would be The Just Barely Animated Series. This spinoff cartoon was legendarily cheap-looking. But it could be genuinely weird in a fun way. Also, it's not Enterprise.
Deven: This show could be the worst animated spinoff of all time. And when you're worse than Kid 'n Play's animated series, you know it's bad.
Darren: But at least it had the original cast onboard to provide voices. So it wasn't a complete cash-grab. It's reasonably more intelligent than The Final Frontier. I'm just coming up with excuses now, aren't I?
Deven: This show is so bad, did you know they aired a sequel to ''The Trouble with Tribbles'' called ''More Tribbles, More Troubles''? That sounds like an epic P. Diddy song. Now that's a video I would watch.
The fourth Trek series launched UPN and featured the franchise's first-ever lead female captain. It also had a high-concept plot — the titular starship gets sent to the far side of the universe, and the series follows the crew on their long odyssey home.
Darren: Star Trek meets Lost in Space — another potentially cool concept almost entirely wasted. But Tom Paris is my first-draft pick for Helmsman in my Fantasy Star Trek Crew. And The Doctor was pretty cool, even if he was basically a Data/Spock bastard child. I feel like, in seven seasons of Voyager, there's maybe one and a half decent seasons of Trek TV.
Deven: It always bothered me that both Robert Duncan McNeill (Paris) and Tim Russ (Tuvok) played different characters on The Next Generation. In an infinite universe, you re-use TWO actors? That's bush league, Voyager.
Darren: You're onto something bigger, though. They basically turned Voyager into a Next Generation cover band midway through, making the Borg into the series Big Bad. But that change also gave us Seven of Nine, who's probably Voyager's most famous character — and she was actually kind of morally ambiguous, which was a step forward for the franchise, even if she exclusively wore skintight bodysuits, which was less of a step forward. Is it weird that the more we talk about this, the more I find myself liking this show? It had good characters. It just needed, like, one decent plot.
Deven: I didn't like the change in tone. I enjoyed it more when it was all about being stranded and new adventures. It's like when they took Sliders and made it all about the Kromaggs. Having the Borg there just seemed like a cheap way to build conflict. The characters could've been good and driven the story on their own, but they pretty much abandoned the tension between the Maquis and the Federation officers after the first season, destroying what made them interesting in the first place. This show was all over the place. It's like a toddler who's had too much sugar.
Darren: Kromaggs! What a pull!
Deven: You have no idea how angry I am about the Kromaggs.
7. The Next Generation movie series
The Next Generation crew starred in four movies: The crossover adventure Generations, the cross-temporal Borg epic First Contact, the hippie misadventure Insurrection, and the much despised Nemesis.
Darren: Let's get one thing straight: First Contact is a good movie. Let's get another thing straight: Nemesis has a really sick space battle. Now that we've established that, the four Next Generation movies are collectively a big hot mess that pretty much ignores the show's cerebral charms in favor of goofy villains and wannabe-action-movie tropes.
Deven: The best thing about Nemesis is that there is tangible proof that Tom Hardy didn't always have the build of an early 19th-century prizefighter. Also, how bad was the makeup on the Remans? First Contact was good, but I think that's because they finally got the TNG cast out of space for most of the film (similar to how the TNG episode ''Family'' was some of the best Star Trek work ever). The other films were trying to be what Abrams' Star Trek movies are — big budget movies that appeal to ''mainstream'' audiences, except that they forgot to hire J.J. Abrams.
Darren: I blame Generations. It got the whole mini-franchise off to a terrible start. They brought in Kirk in the worst possible way — space-wormhole to fairyland, basically? Also, I can't think of anything in any strand of the Star Trek franchise more embarrassing than the buggy scene from Nemesis. It's like watching your divorced uncle have a midlife crisis and take up skateboarding.
Deven: I had legitimately blocked that scene out of my mind. Thank you for reminding me of that. As well as the awesome visual of my uncle on a skateboard. For the record, it's like a newborn trying to walk on stilts. Totally agree on Generations — I feel like someone said ''Hey guys, you know what sells lunchboxes? Nostalgia. You know who's got a ton of nostalgia? That Kirk fellow, let's get him in the movie. Never mind about the script, we'll just write him in later.''
6. The Interplay Original Series videogames
In the early '90s, Interplay reunited the original series' cast for a pair of point-and-click adventures filled with note-perfect details. The shields are falling!
Darren: The vast majority of Star Trek games have been so terrible that they're better left forgotten. But 25th Anniversary and Judgment Rites are great. Point-and-click adventures! Made for the Macintosh! Available on Floppies or CD-Rom! 25th Anniversary is basically seven cool episodes of the original show, while Judgment Rites takes the same structure and tells a serialized narrative. More importantly, there are space battles. And laser fights. And dialogue choices. And Trelane!
Deven: So, uh, I never played these. I'm a bad fan, and I should feel bad. You know what game I did play? EGA Trek, a terrible shareware knock-off that was the only game my ghetto 386 PC could handle back in the day.
Darren: Oh man, did you ever play the Voyager arcade game. It cost, like, four quarters and played like Area 51 on stilts on a skateboard. I'll be honest: Because I didn't have a game console, and because the pickings were slim for '90s Macintosh gamers, I played a lot of these Interplay games. But they're crazy fun. And they're funny, too: In every ''episode'' of the games, you might accidentally kill your redshirt. Seriously, just bask in all this DOS goodness for a second.
Deven: I'm not going to lie, that clip of Judgment Rites looks fantastic. It's already more intriguing than anything I've ever seen in a TNG movie. And the acting is better than any I've ever seen on Voyager. And it's only $20 on Amazon! Sorry ladies, looks like I've got weekend plans!
5. The Original Series movies
From 1979-91, Captain Kirk and the original Enterprise crew headlined six films, which ran the gamut from weird (The Motion Picture) to good (Wrath of Khan) to goofy (The Voyage Home) to terrible (The Final Frontier).
Darren: The best thing about the first six Trek movies is the characters. On the big screen, the Enterprise crew developed a legitimate work-family dynamic, and the actors play really well off of each other. Heck, there's one whole movie, The Voyage Home, that's basically just an extended fish-out-of-water comedy, and it works because the actors are having fun. But as much as I loved these movies growing up, they have a slight aging-sitcom-cast quality. Besides Wrath of Khan, the plots are pretty goofy; besides The Motion Picture, the effects aren't all that interesting. On the plus side, there are a lot of Klingons.
Deven: Klingons in Star Trek are the home runs of baseball, and everybody loves a dinger. That being said, even Khan looks goofy on second watching. That scream? Those eels? Khan's outfit? Okay, I still love that movie, but when that's the high point of a series, there's no way it's better than average at best.
Darren: You're speaking truth to power, buddy. I'd love to say that Khan has aged well, but when I watched it recently, I was surprised to discover several hours of its running time are devoted to the Genesis Planet, which is basically a neverending opportunity for some must-have-looked-cool-in-1982 special effects. Still, the original crew had a good batting average — only Final Frontier is flat-out terrible. And, IMHO, the Starfleet costume designers never did better than the snazzy red uniforms.
Deven: Disagree. Those uniforms were terrible. What is with the turtlenecks? Easy there, Steve Jobs. And why is everyone in red? Can you imagine that memo? ''Listen guys, we've had way too high a casualty rate with red uniforms. So to solve it, we're moving to all red uniforms.'' Talk about a dangerous work environment. I'd be sending a subspace transmission to my HR rep, stat.
4. The J.J. Abrams reboots
Reboot kingpin J.J. Abrams salvaged the Trek franchise from dry dock by going back to the beginning, turning Star Trek into an origin story jam-packed with fan service and lens flares.
Darren: With apologies to Nicholas Meyer, Leonard Nimoy, and Jonathan Frakes — who all helmed two Trek movies apiece — I think J.J. Abrams is pretty much the undisputed champion of Star Trek movie directors. His 2009 reboot takes all the boisterous energy of the original series and makes it faster, faster, faster — it's like an away-team mission that keeps getting crazier, with space jumps and monsters and exploding planets and time travel. Though Into Darkness has a few outright kooky plot turns, it's a great showcase for the Kirk/Spock friendship. And it might be the best flat-out action film in the whole franchise.
Deven: The Abrams movies were fantastic. Even now when I hear the opening theme music it makes me want to run out and join Starfleet (albeit without getting into a bar fight first). The 2009 film brought back the childhood desires to explore the universe, go on adventures, and seduce aliens. (Okay, maybe not all of them were from childhood.) Seriously though, the pace is fantastic, the music is incredible, and the story — while not great — was good enough to make me once again feel like I was immersed in the Star Trek universe for the first time. Into Darkness definitely plays on that desire to be the hero in the captain's chair.
Darren: There's one big critique of the Abrams movies (and it's accurate) — they're not that interested in Roddenberry-esque philosophizing. Or really any deep-think science-fiction. The influence of Star Wars (Abrams' preferred franchise, really) is all over these movies — kind of like how recent episodes of The Simpsons look a little bit like Family Guy. The films don't explore much new territory, and I think it's fair to say they occasionally feel like remixes. But they're good remixes. And they're fun. And they gave Uhura something to do! Lastly, truth time: I kinda love the lens flares.
Deven: I agree that Abrams isn't interested in philosophizing, and that Star Wars has influenced these movies. However, they really do explore new territory. It's just in a different light. Okay, I guess technically they don't explore ''new'' territory, just old territory in a different way, but...c'mon! Lens flares! Loud music! Running through hallways! THE URGENCY IS PALPABLE!
3. Star Trek
The myth starts here. The show that Gene Roddenberry pitched as ''Wagon Train to the Stars'' only lasted three seasons, but those 79 episodes inspired decades of fandom.
Darren: This was tough. TOS is the birthplace of this whole beautiful wild sci-fi mega-franchise. Everything else on this list is a riff on the original Enterprise's adventures. And the central dynamic of Kirk-Spock-McCoy is just about perfect — McCoy with the emotions, Spock with the logic, Kirk with the Kirkness. (I've said it before and I'll say it again: Kirk is the best Captain there ever was and ever will be.) The fact that it's in third place is, I think, a testament to its greatness — it inspired other writers to take the Trek mythology into more exciting places. Also, the third season is pretty awful.
Deven: First of all. you tricked me into reading another one of your stories. Second of all, even the poll results at the bottom of said story proves you wrong. (The people have spoken.) However, I will give you that the Kirk-Spock-McCoy friendship is fantastic and single-handedly dragged this series up to the Top 3. Well, that and the fact that it created the entire Federation universe. I recently went back and watched a few episodes, and I have to say it holds up really well. Better than I expected. The acting was good, although poor Walter Koenig looks so lost in the early episodes. The storylines were really exceptional in fleshing out this massive universe.
Darren: The later Trek shows — especially the next two entries on this list — would develop the franchise in exciting new directions, with long-running story arcs and deeper characters. But what makes the original Trek look so old-fashioned is also what makes it, in its finest hours, just about perfect. Episodes like ''Balance of Terror,'' ''Errand of Mercy,'' and ''The City on the Edge of Forever'' combine old-fashioned pulp with big emotions and lofty space-age sci-fi. And then there are episodes that are just plain fun, like ''Mirror, Mirror,'' where everyone has an evil horny fascist duplicate.
Deven: Confession time: I had never watched TOS. I was strictly a TNG guy for the longest time and I thought TOS was for old people. Then I saw Eddie Murphy's Delirious, more specifically this VERY NSFW clip, and I decided if this show was cool enough for one of the funniest people on the planet, it's already way too cool for me, and I had to watch it. Moral of the story, always listen to Eddie Murphy.
2. Deep Space Nine
The most eccentric Trek spinoff took place on a space station called Deep Space Nine, which hovered at a socio-political-galactic crossroads. The show turned more serialized as it evolved, and featured one of Trek's most sustained story arcs: The Dominion War.
Darren: While we're confessing stuff, I'll admit upfront that I mostly missed The Next Generation when it was on the air. (Fortunately, reruns of that show have never been off the air.) But when I was a young Trek guy, Deep Space Nine was my jam. The politics were complicated. The characters all had weird, fascinating backstories. Commander-turned-Captain Sisko couldn't just shoot a phaser at his problems. Also, with apologies to Jerry Goldsmith, the DS9 theme is the best.
Deven: Oh man. You just took me way back with that theme song. No question, it is fantastic and the best. I feel like a kid sitting in my parents' basement watching Sisko — goateed and bald, not clean-shaven and lame — be all badass. The show was just so different than anything Star Trek had thrown at us before. The stationary nature of the setting, the early plot about the wormhole and Cardassians giving way to the Dominion, and a Federation at war?. It was spectacular to watch. And they did it all without making it feel gimmicky.
Darren: Not to be extra-nerdy in this already helplessly nerdy discussion, but this is the Trek show that felt most like the Trek I read about in untold hundreds of tie-in books — seemingly infinite alien races with centuries of history piled on top of each other. It really threaded the needle in a lot of ways — it could be a surprisingly realistic political thriller (anticipating Battlestar Galactica) but it could also be weird in the best old-school sense, with characters like Odo and Dax and their weird fantastical backstories. Man, all I wanna do now is hang out on the Promenade and sip some Raktajino at Quark's.
Deven: The only tie-in books I ever read were TNG, but I'm with you on the characters. Odo, Dax, and even good old smarmy Bashir were all fantastic — and any show that can shoe-horn in Worf and make it feel natural is a winner in my book. Heck, they even made Chief O'Brien interesting! DS9 started slow, but really picked up the pace as it went along. The finale was slightly disappointing to me. But the detailed characters, brilliant plots, and just how obviously not-a-Federation-station DS9 actually was — it all makes this show is one of my favorites.
1. The Next Generation
A century after the original Trek, the crew of the Enterprise-D continue the grand tradition of exploring the distant corners of the universe. Except this time, they have a holodeck.
Darren: The best, no question, accept no substitutes. TNG took the basic structure of the original Trek and expanded it in every conceivable direction. The crew was stacked with ringers: Future-Pinocchio Data, blind engineer Geordi, sitting champion Riker. As Captain Picard, Patrick Stewart gave TNG its own very non-Kirkian spirit: Curious, cerebral, witty. It helps that Picard had not one, but two awesome Big Bads: The terrifying Borg, and the equally-terrifying-but-somehow-quite-charming Q.
Deven: TNG is one of the greatest TV shows — not just in the Star Trek universe. Ever. The scope of the series is so vast, the characters so fleshed-out — it really made me feel like they were exploring space, not just partaking in wacky adventures. (I'm looking at you Stargate). Additionally, when a series' trope is the opposite of jumping the shark you know it's exceptional. Oh, and I don't care that Picard was French but had a British accent because he was awesome and NEVER AGES. If all that isn't enough to convince you — watch ''All Good Things.'' It is the best series finale of any show of all time, and yes I've seen the M*A*S*H finale.
Darren: Agree on all counts! TNG was just operating on a higher level. It could do the brash sci-fi epic stuff. It could do the semi-abstract Roddenberry philosophy stuff. It could put you at a poker table next to Troi and Worf and Dr. Crusher and Data in his badass poker visor. Most of the other Trek franchises had their specialties, but TNG was the ultra-specialist. Jesus Christ, the Enterprise-D could achieve full saucer separation. FULL SAUCER SEPARATION!
Deven: Full Saucer Separation sounds like a chiropractor's nightmare. What more can I say about this series? It's so good it makes Battlestar Galactica look like the Timecop TV spinoff. And I love BSG. Seriously, TNG is so good, it makes one of the greatest sci-fi shows of all time look worse than a Van Damme spinoff. The Crushers, Data, Geordi, Riker, Troi, Worf, Picard, heck, even Tasha Yar are collectively one of the best ensemble casts ever in plot, development, acting talent, and, of course, beards.