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The Munificent Musings Of A Maniacal Mammal
  • TV

With the new Star Trek series (Discovery) launching a few years ago, I decided to do a full viewing of every episode of all previous series. In most cases, it was a re-watch for the umpteenth time, but there was some first-time viewing involved. I gave each episode a score out of 10 as I went. I wanted to see if the numbers backed up my generalized opinion of which shows were best and how they personally ranked. All this went into a spreadsheet where I could have fun graphing things and see how things really compared.

Something to keep in mind when looking at averages is that the margins between overall good and bad seem closer on the graphs than they really are. With the exception of Lower Decks, which is just pure steaming garbage, there are either production or other reasons to consider the lesser entries not be complete failures. Either a lesser episode mixed into otherwise good series/seasons (Original Series or Next Generation) or being an average entry for an inferior series (Voyager, etc).

Another thing to keep in mind in comparing season and series averages is the fact that everything from The Original Series up through the end of the Rick Berman era (Enterprise) generally had 26 episodes per season, and was on a genuine yearly airing schedule, meaning the writing staff generally had, at best, a couple weeks break between seasons. If you’re doing the math, that means they had two weeks time collectively on average to completely turn around an entire episodes, from pre-production through post-production, with some barely delivering to the network before airing. I say all of that because it’s a legitimate reason for there to be episodes that just plain fail. Sometimes that’s because the script was too rushed. Sometimes the production just couldn’t follow through on that script efficiently enough. Other times it was a combination of things being too rushed and high pressure. This makes weaknesses in the modern Paramount+ shows to be even worse in comparison, because they generally make half as many episodes per season, and they have upwards of a year between seasons too work on writing and planning and pre-production. So yeah, those earlier series’ averages are pulled down to some degree for defensible and legit reasons. It’s not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison to the newer series (and yet they still fall short).

Here is a link to my spreadsheet

…with all my episode scores and some tables and charts to show rankings (use the tabs at the bottom of the file). You can also filter the raw data on the first tab via pre-defined filters by using the “funnel” icon on the toolbar (should be the second icon).

This post is about the various Trek series. I plan to post a ranked list of all the Trek films with notes in the near-ish future.

The Original Series (1966 – 1969)

The show that started it all. Of all series, it’s hardest to be properly objective for this one. Having seen it in reruns countless times since I was little, the nostalgic levels fight against the objective ones. My re-watching of the series was done via the lovely HD remastered blu-ray release.

But here’s the thing about The Original Series. While it has its share of good episodes, it has at least as many episode that are so-so at best. There are plenty of bad episodes of this series. At least with this one, the bad episodes were usually at least trying something, and failed. Yeah, it fell into certain cliche traps fairly often, but the series was very often breaking new ground as well. Plenty of it is dated, of course, but that kinda helps lend it some charm. The series was infamously always scraping by on next-to-no budget (particularly in its final season).

While the writing was groundbreaking and the production design was lots of fun for the time, it’s the cast that makes this series really work. And the core of that is the triangle of Shatner, Nimoy & Kelley. From the start, the three of them play off each other perfectly. One only needs to look at the original (inferior) pilot to see how the magic that those three have compare to a more flat and generic setup.

Final re-watch verdict: It’s essentially what I remember from various viewings over the decades, though going through the ratings process has made me more aware of how many weak (and quite frankly completely ridiculous) episodes the series has.

The Animated Series (1973 – 1974)

This series is an odd duck. It’s actually closer to the live action original series than the Saturday morning cartoon it was meant to be. A big piece of that is surely having D.C. Fontana in charge of the writing of the show. That, and having the voice cast back in character (well, minus Walter Koenig, supposedly for budget issues). Tonally, things feel most off when the added crew members – Arex & M’Ress – are on screen. They feel MUCH more like something from a cheesy Saturday morning cartoon.

Final re-watch verdict: It may not be a GREAT series, but it’s fun and charming enough that it works. It’s definitely a nice companion piece to The Original Series.

The Next Generation (1987 – 1994)

I was one of the Star Trek fans in 1987 that had mixed feelings when they learned of the new Trek series. I was 12 at the time, and little did I know that the series would end up being one of the defining shows of my teenage years for the next 7 years. Did the show have a rough start of it during its first couple seasons? Yeah, definitely. But then came season 3, when things finally started falling in place. It’s funny to listen to the writers and producers talk about how things were behind the scenes of that third season, as they all say that it was pure chaos and they were just hanging on by their fingernails trying to keep things moving in production. More than one of them has commented that they wished they had known at the time that it was that magic moment where things were really starting to come together, because they would have stopped for a few seconds to appreciate the moment.

From season 4 until the show ended, the production and writers room became a much more stable situation, and you could tell. The cast had really gotten into their groove, the writing had stabilized and become a bit more consistent, and The Next Generation was finally being recognized as a worthwhile and quality resurrection of the Trek franchise. Like The Original Series, the cast is a huge part of the success of making things work. Despite a good amount of poor writing during the first couple years, the cast generally elevated the material enough for you to hang in there and suffer through it. Sure, some of it still didn’t work (poor Marina Sirtis got saddled with some REALLY bad stuff to try and make work).

When this series was firing on all thrusters, it produced plenty of amazing episodes. I’ve probably seen the episodes of this series more times than any of the Trek series (though DS9 is catching up on that and will pass it at some point).

I have a post with my top 25 episodes of this series that you can check out right here.

Final re-watch verdict: A fantastic series that got off to a rough start. It re-launched the franchise for TV and elevated the franchise to one of the all-time greats. I’ve watched the series many times and generally enjoy watching it just as much each time.

Deep Space Nine (1993 – 1999)

During the few years of this series starting up, the Trek franchise was at its busiest. The Next Generation would air its final 2 seasons during this show’s first couple years, then Voyager would kick off immediately after The Next Generation ended. The result is that DS9 kinda ended up in the background of things during its entire run. TNG was a massive hit and was center stage during those first couple years for DS9. Then Voyager got all the marketing and publicity, because it was the first of the Berman era shows to actually run on a network (TNG and DS9 were syndicated and had no home network). So poor ol’ DS9 was always a second priority for Paramount.

From the start of the series, I was a fan. It kicked off with a solid pilot and the first couple seasons were pretty good. Like TNG, the show took a few years to really find its footing. Unlike TNG, the first couple seasons weren’t nearly as rough, though. By the third season, I was a big fan. By the sixth season, I knew that this was my favorite Trek series. And let me take a moment to explain how frustrating that was. By the sixth season, the whole “syndication” thing with Trek had become a huge problem. While Voyager was humming away in its comfy network gig at UPN, DS9 was being aired in nearly random time slots in random markets. Speaking for myself, I swear that WGN in Chicago was intentionally trying to torture us fans of the series. By those last couple seasons, the show would bounce all over the schedule, sometimes airing after freakin’ midnight. It would be CONSTANTLY delayed or pre-empted by sports or news or freakin’ infomercials. There were episodes that they didn’t even bother airing that I didn’t get to see until years later when they got a commercial VHS release from Paramount. It was a freaking mess. I’m not sure I ever had to work as hard as a fan of a series to actually manage to watch it.

Anyway, as I was saying, by the final couple seasons of the show, I was sure that it was my favorite Trek. It was the first Trek series to start building story arcs and serial storylines (making the whole inability to actually find it on the schedule extra annoying), and it did it RIGHT. The primary, main ongoing story would be the fantastic Dominion War storyline that would run from the 5th season all the way through the end of the series. And what a fantastic running story it was.

Deep Space Nine was a series that existed during peak production years for the franchise. Unlike other Trek shows, it was able to be populated by dozens and dozens of fantastic recurring characters. There are WAY too many great ones to comment on, but Garak requires special mention. He was one of the best written characters in Trek history, and Andrew J. Robinson portrayed the character AMAZINGLY from start to finish. As I said, there were MANY other great characters in the series, portrayed by fantastic actors. OK, I’ll single out another: the always-fun Weyoun, portrayed by the BRILLIANT Jeffrey Combs. The production of this series is also an interesting study of the transition from traditional model VFX to the world of CGI VFX, spanning the years of that industry transition very well. Well, I could go on and on about how much I love this series and all the things I like about it, so I’ll just shut up and re-state that it’s my favorite Trek series.

I have a post with my top 25 episodes of this series that you can check out right here.

Final re-watch verdict: I will never, ever tire of re-watching this series. Eventually, I will have watched the entire series for this one more than any other. While I enjoy re-watching TNG, the lesser episodes of that series will not get as many viewings. While DS9 has weaker episodes, they aren’t as big of failures as the weaker TNG ones. Overall, this is the most consistently good series that Trek will probably ever have (though I’d love to be proven wrong eventually). I love this series just as much every time I watch it.

Voyager (1995 – 2001)

I’ll admit that I was kinda resentful of this series during its initial run. When it launched, it got a ton of advertising and hype, being the flagship series to launch Paramount’s new UPN network. Meanwhile, my beloved Deep Space Nine was toiling away in the background, getting none of the promotion and being treated like a 3rd class property by the myriad local broadcast stations that were (sometimes) airing it in syndication. I watched almost all of the first season of Voyager during its initial run. I gave up on it at that point, watching only a handful of episodes recommended by people I knew. So, unlike the other shows up to this point on the list, my viewing of this series was a first-time viewing for a majority of the episodes rather than a full re-watch.

Beyond my reasons for being resentful towards the series, it certainly had a list of problems that made it my least favorite of all the series of its era of the franchise. Despite a premise that attempted to make it a unique series, it didn’t take long for it to just be a warmed over variation of The Next Generation. To make matters worse, it was filled with a set of characters that were either boring (Harry), annoying (Chakotay or B’Elanna), poorly written (Janeway) or at best just OK (Neelix, Paris, etc). Only The Doctor and Seven Of Nine managed to break through as better than average.

Of all the series from the Roddenberry through Berman eras, Voyager was surely the most auto-piloted, by-the-numbers production. Much of the writing was lukewarm, stereotypical and lazy “Trek”. And on the occasions where it could break free of stereotypical plots, it still somehow managed to fall short, much of which was probably thanks to lesser characters.

But here’s the biggest problem the series had. While it shares the primary characteristic with The Original Series & The Next Generation as a show with a ship going from place to place from episode to episode, the big difference is that this crew didn’t want to be there. With a primary purpose of just wanting to get home, the “plot of the week” was little more than an inconvenience or distraction for them to move on from and just wanna keep moving on to get home. More than those two cited series, it was harder to build up any recurring characters or species or such.

Voyager does at least get credit for having the best opening credits of any Trek series.

Final verdict: If I had to pick a single word to sum up this series, it would be “meh”. While it’s not a terrible series, it is at best a lukewarm one. It’s my least favorite of the Roddenberry & Berman eras, but it’s still better than the modern series (up to the point of this writing, anyway). Would I ever re-watch this series again? Very unlikely. Am I glad I finally did watch it? I guess so, if for no other reason than completion.

Enterprise (2001 – 2005)

As Voyager was ending, they announced that there would be a new Trek series, and this new series would take place before The Original Series during the forming of Starfleet & The Federation. At the time, though part of me was happy to give another Trek a chance, another part of me thought they should take a year or two off. Voyager very clearly suffered from franchise fatigue, primarily in the writing department. While the idea of exploring the founding of The Federation sounded like it could shake things up, it turned out that the network didn’t really want things to be shaken up.

And thus began the production nightmare that was Enterprise: a writing staff that was constantly at odds with network executives. As such, this series had a wild turnover rate of writers, with very few surviving from one season to the next. As such, the original concept of the series became little more than a loose framework for episodes that became very stereotypical Trek. By late in the second season, they had started to figure out that they had become stuck in a stereotypical Trek rut and started to try and break out of it.

The result of that was the third season which gave the series its first major plot ark with the Xindi. That season was a mixed bag, but at least the series was finally breaking free and doing something new and interesting. Then came the fourth season, where they finally started to hit their stride with a handful of mini-arc sets of episodes. Unfortunately, by this point, the writing was on the wall that Enterprise would not make it past that season, which is a shame.

Through all of this, one of the bigger disappointments of the series was knowing that it had a talented cast that could be doing so much better if given some excellent writing, but they were so often hampered by writers that were boxed in and caught in the crossfire of series producers and network executives who very clearly wanted very different things from the series. While the great Scott Bakula and the rest of the cast managed to breathe as much life and entertainment into their performances, you could feel so much potential being left on the table for the characters. It also didn’t help that big plot elements that were reluctantly crammed into the series ended up unresolved or nonsensical, such as the whole “time cold war”.

And I’ll restrain myself from ranting on and on about that awful main title song.

Final re-watch verdict: Despite a rough production and uneven writing, I did enjoy watching the series during its initial run. This was my first time doing a full re-watch of the series since that initial run, and I did generally enjoy going through it again. I’m unlikely to re-watch this series as much as DS9, TNG or TOS. But hey, it’ll get more views than Voyager, or than………….

Discovery (2017 – Present)

When they announced this series, I was very happy that Star Trek would finally be back in series production again. I REALLY wanted to like this series, but then I saw it. Wow, what a huge disappointment. Let me get this out of the way, this is a fantastically produced series. It has spectacular VFX and incredible sets. The cinematography is overcooked and needs to settle down, but I think that’s more of a result of the plot and overwrought tone than any failing of the actual production crew. Because here’s the key problem of this series – the writing is AWFUL. Absolutely horrible. They need to kick every writer out the door, including the executive producers who are in charge of the writing staff. This is an abysmally written series. It’s non-stop violence, idiotic logic and preposterous choices being made by stupidly written characters.

And oh my goodness, let’s talk about the melodrama. This series puts soap opera dialog and acting to absolute shame. This is a key reason why I HATE the ostensible main character of Michael Burnham. It’s entirely possible that Sonequa Martin-Green is a fine actress. All we get to see here is her constantly crying and shouting and screaming and agonizing and pleading and begging and crying and shouting and begging and agonizing and making stupid choice after stupid choice and the writers finding stupid ways of justifying such stupid choices and her being rewarded and put back in charge over and over for the dumbest of reasons only to make stupid choices and cry and beg and plead and run and scream and cry and beg and plead and holy crap do I HATE her character so much. Possibly one of the worst written character in the history of the franchise. I would be so happy if they would finally put some of their non-stop violence in this series to good use and have somebody shoot her at point blank and kill her so we can get a primary character that doesn’t totally suck.

Add to that another absolutely AWFUL character that the other characters seem to like for absolutely unknown reasons – Michelle Yeoh’s role of Philippa Georgiou, and you have two characters that are on screen a lot that I loathe. Never mind Burnham’s whole family thing, all of which is terrible, particularly her mom, the “Red Angel”. Even more annoyingly, there are some decent characters in this series, but they keep focusing on the awful ones. And good grief, did the writers COMPLETELY misuse Section 31, thoroughly misunderstanding nearly everything about them beyond the broad concept. And that sentiment carries over to Star Trek in general. This series is BARELY recognizable as Star Trek. Only in brief moments does any of the source material show through. I’m not talking about references and name dropping. I’m talking about intent, tone and purpose. I’m not normally one to object to Trek not being true to Roddenberry’s vision (my favorite series, DS9, doesn’t COMPLETELY fit into it), but holy cow does this series not care one iota about Roddenberry’s framework. Well, maybe the third season (the most recent as of this writing) does a just a tiny little bit.

This series is little more than one excuse after another to do overwrought action scenes that push characters to stupid decisions and behavior. I’ve written this series off twice along the way, only to finally give the third season a chance as part of this whole re-watch series. Do I regret giving it another chance? Sigh. Maybe? I mean, season 3 is a bit better than the failure of the first two seasons and might just limp itself over that “doesn’t suck” line. Is it enough to keep me watching? I don’t know. MAYBE. And that’s a BIG maybe. The setup at the end of season 3 makes season 4 seem like it MIGHT finally be a Star Trek series. Could they please fire the entire writing staff and bring in an entirely new group for this 4th season? If they did that, I’d definitely keep giving it a chance. At least it seems like they’ve FINALLY written Georgiou off for good (and for the love of all that is just, I don’t EVER want to see her character in the mirror universe ever again – or any of the others for that matter). If Brave New Worlds comes through with the potential it has and is a good series, I’ll be much quicker to drop Discovery like the hot (mess) potato that it is.

Final verdict so far: Having said all of the above, it comes down to this. Would I want to live in the world of this Star Trek? Absolutely not. No WAY. Not a freaking chance. That would be a total non-stop nightmare. If that’s not a complete and total failure of Roddenberry’s most basic of notions of Star Trek, I don’t know what is.

Short Treks (2018 – Present?)

Easily the best thing to come of the modern Paramount+ era of Trek series, and pretty much the only of the modern series that I would give a thumbs up to. Well, the first season, anyway. The the second season has moments of fun. I like the variety of style they have been doing, even including some delightful animation. It certainly has few few terrible episodes, but when it works it actually does work well. And more than any other Trek series, it is more experimental in nature, so it’s a bit easier to forgive ones that don’t work.

It seems unknown at the time of this writing if there will be more of this series. I hope there is.

Final verdict (so far?): I like the idea of having Trek-related short films, and I hope they continue these, hopefully even working in older series and characters.

Picard (2020 – Present)

At the time of this writing, the first season of the series has aired. As much as I wanted to like Discovery, I REALLY wanted to like Picard. Unfortunately, Picard suffers from so much of the bad writing as Discovery does. While it’s great to have Patrick Stewart back in the role, and other cast members reprising their roles, I just wish they had been given good material. As I watched the series, I was frustrated with the writing. Every time it seemed like it was gonna improve, it just fell on its face again. Then, it got to the 8th episode, Broken Pieces, and I thought “FINALLY, the series is getting its act together!” And then it did a HARD faceplant of the two part season finale that was an utterly abysmal dumpster fire of pure and total crap. It was excruciatingly awful. So much so that I’m going to have to REALLY talk myself into giving the second season a try.

Final verdict so far: What a wasted opportunity. Ugh.

Lower Decks (2020 – Present)

I LOATHE this series. Absolutely hate it. I can’t think of a single positive thing to say about it. The pilot was very easily the worst Trek-related anything I had ever seen. Yes, even worse than any of the worst episodes of any of the other series. While I disliked everything about it, I REALLY hated the obnoxious voice performances and characters, as well as the manic, abrasive pacing. As the episode played, I constantly just wanted to keep shouting “SHUT UP!” back at the screen over and over. It felt like an accomplishment that I managed to just sit there and make it to the end of the episode.

Months later, after being told by multiple people I knew that I should give it another chance, I finally gave the second episode a chance. Was it any better than the first episode? Nope. Utterly hated it, too. Not even the occasional franchise nerd reference could manage to lift these episodes off the lowest possible score on my scale of 1 out of 10. I will never, EVER watch another episode of this series. Not without somebody strapping me to a chair and forcing my eyes open, Clockwork Orange style. I don’t care that the other Lower Decks episodes are literally the only Star Trek episodes of any kind that I have never seen. I’m not OCD. I’m perfectly happy with them being the only Trek I have never seen. I think that speaks volumes about how terrible those first two episodes were.

Final verdict: Pure garbage. Absolute dumpster fire.

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