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Star Trek Beginner’s Guide

star-trek-captains

Caroline Siede offers an impressive overview of the Star Trek franchise—all the television series, live or animated, and movies but not the books—for the AV Club. It’s essentially an academic literature review with lots of links to outside commentary and YouTube videos.

Aside from simple differences in taste, my main departure from Siede’s analysis is that she overemphasizes the franchise’s diversity mission and underemphasizes its enjoyability and storytelling. Yes, the show’s casting and messaging was groundbreaking in 1966. But that was important only because the show was worth watching. Part of what made Voyager so annoying, frankly, was that it seemed to place messaging over storytelling as a priority.

Otherwise, Siede doesn’t much like the first two seasons of Next Generation, which I thought were pretty good if uneven, and finds Voyager, which I really never got into for a variety of reasons, much better than most Trek fans. Like most, she found Enterprise disappointing—albeit more for its whitebread casting than its weak plotlines—but she does recommend the fourth season.

She advises newbies to spot watch rather than following the original chronology:

1. The Original Series: “City On The Edge Of Forever,” “Balance Of Terror,” “Amok Time,” “The Trouble With Tribbles,” Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan

Recommended Viewing Order: Start from the beginning or episode hop (there’s no serialization).

2. The Next Generation: “The Best Of Both Worlds,” “Family,” “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” “Chain Of Command,” “The Inner Light”

Recommended Viewing Order: Start from the third season finale, “The Best Of Both Worlds,” or episode hop (there’s little serialization). (The third season is a series highlight and should definitely be viewed as well, but “The Best Of Both Worlds” makes a particularly good entry point.)

3. Deep Space Nine: ”Duet,” “In The Pale Moonlight,” “Far Beyond The Stars,” “Trials And Tribble-ations,” “The Visitor”

Recommended Viewing Order: Start from the beginning and watch all the way through (there’s a good amount of serialization).

4. Voyager: “Caretaker,” “Deadlock,” “One,” “Latent Image,” “Year Of Hell”

Recommended Viewing Order: Watch the pilot (“Caretaker”), then start watching from the season three finale, “Scorpion.” Alternately, episode hop (there’s light serialization).

5. Enterprise“Broken Bow,” “First Flight,” “Home,” “Similitude,” “Demons,” “Terra Prime”

Recommended Viewing Order: Watch the pilot (“Broken Bow”) then start watching from the second episode of season four (“Home”). After developing an affection for the show’s character and world, start from the beginning or episode hop to see the best of the past seasons. (Seasons one and two are episodic, season three is fully serialized, and season four is serialized in chunks.)

As for me, I find Enterprise underrated. Yes, it squandered some of its potential as a prequel and the over-sexualization of the female lead was painful. We agree that DS9 was the best-written and best-acted of the five live-action series.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. As big as a nerd as I am, I was never able to get into Star Trek.

    I recently watched The Original Series and its associated films on Blu-Ray and while overall enjoyable (and some episodes ["The City on the Edge of Forever"] and films ["Wraith of Khan"] are great), the damn thing is so utopian (utopic?), I just could never get into the franchise as a whole.

    The few times I’ve tried to watch The Next Generation on television, I didn’t find it interesting.

    I don’t know if it’s a culture clash, cynical Millennial (I was born in 1987) versus the idealism of Star Trek, or what.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  2. James Joyner says:

    @Timothy Watson: Trek, and especially the first two series, aren’t really fantastic science fiction. TOS, in particular, is essentially a Western set in space. The later shows, most notably DS9, are much better sci-fi.

    TOS is dated in so many ways. What keeps it watchable is the chemistry and repartee between the main characters, especially Kirk, Spock, and Bones.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  3. steve says:

    Along with the storytelling, the choice of characters was amazingly good. The inclusion of Spock was brilliant. What alienated, bright kid from the 60s didn’t idolize Spock? Who doesn’t love a good Scottish accent? The play of character between Bones and Kirk? Some of the other series did have better writing and acting. (Was Shatner capable of anything other than overacting?) They certainly had better special effects. But, the original cast of characters was brilliant and really set the stage for everything to follow.

    Steve

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  4. steve says:

    Oops, forgot to add that I think the casting of Stewart as the next captain also cemented this as a franchise. He was such a strong actor that the series was credible from the beginning, even if the writing was a bit spotty. It pretty much insured another versions would follow.

    Steve

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  5. Stonetools says:

    @Timothy Watson:

    If you want dark Star Trek, try DS9. There’s bigotry, religion, war, genocide, and a rogue intelligence agency. It’s very much like our world in space.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  6. Mikey says:

    @Stonetools: I second this recommendation. DS9 is very different from the others. It’s the only one with a true story arc that spans all seasons, and it is rather less “utopian” (than TOS especially). And as James says, it’s the best-written and best-acted of the five series.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  7. rob says:

    funny I took the opposite view, Enterprise was the best of the serries and I love the reboot (last two movies) very well done..

    agree on Voyager, felt loke the characters, 7 of 9 and Captain Jayneway (?) never really got developed. Still enjoyed the serries.

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  8. MarkedMan says:

    Let me defend TOS. There was simply nothing like it on American television at the time. Not only did it bring in SF, but social issues too. And one episode could be tragic while the next was funny. I remember a column Issac Asimov wrote in his magazine where he posited a good explanation as to why it got cancelled twice. The show was broadcast, got poor ratings and was cancelled. The network received ten times more mail about that decision then they had gotten for anything in their history. Thinking the show must be more popular than thought, they renewed it and challenged Nielsen to come up with more accurate measurement. But same lousy ratings. IA explained that the SF fans were so much more motivated than average and they were fighting for the only show they had. So in comparison to all that would come later it might not hold up. But standing alone in the desert of 1960’s TV, it looked awfully good.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  9. ernieyeball says:

    @MarkedMan: …the desert of 1960′s TV.

    I can think of a few oases. I SpyThe Man From U.N.C.L.E. and
    Patrick McGoohan’s Secret Agent and The Prisoner.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  10. James Pearce says:

    “Aside from simple differences in taste, my main departure from Siede’s analysis is that she overemphasizes the franchise’s diversity mission and underemphasizes its enjoyability and storytelling.”

    I have grown completely bored of, and rather hostile to, this mode of criticism.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  11. Hank says:

    Agreed, Voyager reeked until they brought on Jeri Ryan as 7 of 9. The doctor (Picardo) was next best character. The others: Meh. The writing: abysmal.

    Just re-watched DS9 at the CBS website (all 7 seasons in order): Excellent! Because it was so serialized it never appears as re-runs.

    Oddly, many ST fans hated DS9 because it didn’t take place on a starship “The space station never went anywhere.” I think that shallow opinion is unfair. The story was epic. The acting was top notch along with the character development.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  12. Stonetools says:

    There is more that could be done in the Star Trek universe. I would like to see a Section 31 series and at least episodes from the Romulan or Kilingon POVs.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  13. al-Ameda says:

    I’ve never been able to get interested in Star Trek or Star Wars. Maybe it’s the “Star” thing?
    I guess it is genre that does not work for me. I’d rather watch golf, and I am completely bored by golf.

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  14. ernieyeball says:

    I’ve never been able to get interested in futbol or soccer.
    Maybe it’s the “flopping” thing…
    http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/dirty-tackle/soccer-flopping-in-real-life-is-hysterical–infuriating–video-122228558.html
    I’d rather watch paint dry and I am completely bored by paint drying.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  15. superdestroyer says:

    @MarkedMan:

    In todays highly segmented televison market, the demographics of those who watched Star Trek:TOS would be considered highly valued viewers:18-30 affluent whites. However in the days of three networks and PBS, television networks used different metrics for determining whether to keep a show going or not.

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  16. CET says:

    @Timothy Watson:

    As one cynical Millennial to another, I wholeheartedly agree about the boring (and often grating) utopian naivete of most of the Start Trek franchises (I find Voyager to be to most annoying in this regard, but your mileage may vary).

    I second what the other commenters have said about DS9 – far and away the best Star Trek for all of the reasons that many Trekkies dislike it: Episode continuity, intrigue, war, interesting characters (the pragmatic shapeshifting security chief, the magnificently devious exiled Cardassian spy, etc), and a much more nuanced take on human nature and politics. I had mixed feelings about the way they wrote the end of Cisco’s character arc, but on the whole, I think he is also the most interesting and credible captain (though Picard is a close second once TNG finds its feet).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  17. anjin-san says:

    @Stonetools:

    Indeed:

    This came to me via George Takei on Facebook, it looks very promising

    Star Trek: Axanar

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  18. MBunge says:

    We agree that DS9 was the best-written and best-acted of the five live-action series.

    When DS9 was good, it was very good. Its fans, however, overlook that when it was bad, it was HORRIBLE. Bashir a genetic superman? The holo-suite lounge singer? Sisko transforming into Hawk from Spenser For Hire? A whole bunch of stand alone episodes before The Dominion storyline began? DS9 was different but I’d say the fact that Voyager so blatantly tried to tack back to traditional Trek says a lot about how different isn’t necessarily better.

    Mike

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  19. Liberal Capitalist says:

    Sadly, the zeitgeist that is at the core of the Star Trek series no longer resonates with the United States.

    Money eliminated? Replicators producing anything you wish, on demand?

    Each rising to their ability based on altruistic motives?

    Capitalism rendered moot for exploration?

    That’s socialism, man !!! SOCULISSSM !!! That stuff don’t fly in ‘Merica.

    No wonder the Star Trek reboot now has as its core motive – REVENGE !

    It’s way more 2nd Amendmentey.

    In the Reboot Star Trek, it’s all about blowin it up. Blowin it up REAL good !

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  20. al-Ameda says:

    @ernieyeball: LOL. I think we can both agree that golf is more boring than paint drying, right?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  21. MBunge says:

    @Liberal Capitalist: No wonder the Star Trek reboot now has as its core motive – REVENGE !

    This reboot is about making money. Abrams doesn’t have any any understanding of what Trek was or is about or any real idea to replace that. He’s just really good at killing time on screen in a more or less entertaining way.

    Mike

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  22. James Joyner says:

    @Liberal Capitalist: In 1966, we were in a cold war against Communism. Equality for blacks was gaining marginal acceptance in the culture, equality for women was quite a ways off, and gays were reviled outside perhaps a few urban enclaves. “Star Trek” was radically counterculture in a way that it simply isn’t these days.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  23. @Liberal Capitalist: Nice to see I’m not the only person who doesn’t like the reboots (I’ve, admittedly, only seen the first one).

    The revenge part wouldn’t be that bad if it wasn’t for the slapstick comedy.

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  24. sam says:

    Yesterday’s Enterprise my favorite episode of all the Star Trek offerings.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  25. ernieyeball says:

    @al-Ameda: I think we can both agree that golf is more boring than paint drying,..

    If the duffers are not wearing pants golf can be a hoot!
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qe9_5r6xM8M

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  26. Liberal Capitalist says:

    @Timothy Watson:

    Tim, now I have to say, while I lament the difference, I can still say that I enjoy the reboot.

    … well, OK, not so much the second (or if you are counting: Star Trek 12), but the first of the reboot was great for what it was. Of course, I’m a Simon Pegg fan, so that did influence me.

    Ying. Yang. What can I say.

    OK… Except for the blond chick: Dr. Carol Marcus (Alice Eve). She adds NOTHING to that flick. OK, maybe some gratuitous underwear shots… but nothing beyond that.

    I mean, if I will look at star trek reboot gals in underwear, it would HAVE to be Lt. Uhura (Zoe Saldana).

    ALL — Have you see: Everything wrong with Star Trek in 5 minutes or less?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DiQ9piVgtWM

    frickin brilliant.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  27. Grewgills says:

    I liked the first half to two thirds of each of the reboots. The second half to last third of each descended into pointless attempts to pump it up to 11. It got to the point that even for hokey star trek physics it was so ridiculous that it completely took me out of the movie. I’m afraid Abrams will do the same with the Star Wars sequel as well.

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  28. Liberal Capitalist says:

    @James Joyner:

    James, the more things change, the more they stay the same…

    In 1966, we were in a cold war against Communism.

    Today, we are still in a cold war with Russia, applying financial penalties for its aggressiveness.

    We are still blowing our budget trying to prove our superiority by being the strongman of the planet.

    Equality for blacks was gaining marginal acceptance in the culture,

    Today we are still harassing and/or killing blacks for driving, walking, shopping and sitting while black.

    Whites walk around carrying automatic weapons and defy police. Blacks are shot.

    equality for women was quite a ways off,

    Today, we still have been unable to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, and Republicans still can’t understand why women can’t just do what the old white men want then to do with their bodies without question.

    and gays were reviled outside perhaps a few urban enclaves.

    Hmmm… Yeah, still not close to par on that one either. If Gay was on par, then George Takai would not need to be an a spokesperson for the LGBT community… If it was equal and protected by the constitution, then it wouldn’t matter a lick.

    “Star Trek” was radically counterculture in a way that it simply isn’t these days.

    I could not disagree more! Today, it is STILL so counterculture that the core values it purports are still nowhere mainstream.

    In many ways, we are even further away from the Utopian ideal held in reverence. And that was the point of my original comment.

    Sure, we may have decided that these things that you discussed, James, SHOULD be better, but in many ways it’s not.

    Explain to me how a Star Trek TOS based mindset would accept Global Warming and choose to turn a blind eye to the ultimate destruction of millions?

    Where’s the logic?

    (Fun Fact: Bangladesh has more people than all of Russia: 150Million +, and 80% of the country is a floodplain less than 10 meters above sea level. Discuss.)

    Nope. Star Trek TOS was a thinly veiled platform to challenge the mainstream thought of the day. That kind of introspection is now dead, as is its optimism.

    .

    (… this could explain my fascination with post-apocalyptic and zombie flicks… but let’s save that for a different thread.)

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  29. I think history has lost quality script along the years, but the visuals have improved.

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