Happy Star Trek Day, everyone! On this date 56 years ago – on Sept. 8th, 1966–the first regular season episode of Star Trek premiered at 8:30 PM on NBC. Audiences watching that night saw The Man Trap, all about shape-shifting salt vampires. They were also introduced to the crew of the USS Enterprise—Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Sulu, and Uhura—who would prove to be mainstays in the pop culture landscape. Even though the five-year mission of the USS Enterprise only made it to three on TV, the fandom has persevered.
Now, after a total of 13 feature films, ten spin-off series, countless books, comics, and conventions, Star Trek is more popular than ever. There are currently five Star Trek shows in production, which is more Trek than there’s ever been at one time. This is largely due to the streaming service Paramount+ needing content to draw in subscribers, and what can I say? It worked on me.
To celebrate, my fellow Trekkie and Workprint writer Mary Fan and I decided to rank all the current Paramount+ shows and debate who got it right. We are only doing the new shows, and not the movies or the prior series, because that way madness lies.
1. Strange New Worlds
2. Lower Decks
- Lower Decks
- Strange New Worlds
(I keep flipping between Prodigy and SNW)
Victor Catano: I may grow to like Prodigy more as the show goes on. I like that they aren’t telling us very much about where they are in the universe yet. I’ve only seen the first couple episodes.
Mary Fan: I was wondering how far you’d gotten lol. I was on the fence about Prodigy for the first few eps but then it really grew on me
At least we agree that Picard was a disappointment
VC: Alas, I had such high hopes for Picard
And funny, I was on the fence about Lower Decks for the first few episodes as well. I really did not like the pilot. Boimler and Mariner both rubbed me the wrong way. But because my Trekkie friends kept insisting that this show was great, I gave it a second chance and I’m glad I did. It found its groove and is consistently funny, with lots of in jokes and tweaks at the Federation’s protocols
MF: Boimler and Mariner are ridiculous characters for sure, but what I love about Lower Decks is that at the end of the day, behind all the goofiness, it’s a show about friendship amid the absurdities of sci-fi space travel and shows a perspective we haven’t seen on Star Trek before—that of the low-ranking crew who keep the ship running.
VC: I agree, and they’ve gotten more confident in the humor as the show goes along, and confident that the audience will get all the jokes. (Like why it’s hilarious they got James Cromwell to come back to voice a Walt Disney version of Zefram Cochrane)
At the same time, that may be why I prefer Strange New Worlds overall. This is a direct prequel to the OG Trek, and it’s a perfect entry point for new fans. As we mentioned, there’s 56 years of Trek history and that can be daunting for newbies. (Our friend Karissa Laurel keeps hinting that she should get more into Star Trek, and I joked that she’d only need a spare 500 hours)
SNW has everything that you want in a Trek show: swashbuckling adventure, moral quandaries, fun concept episodes (Like the fairy tale Renaissance episode), and alien encounters. Plus Anson Mount’s incredible hair!
MF: I do love that Strange New Worlds went back to Trek’s roots, with its “alien of the week” format. And totally agree that it makes Trek accessible for new fans. As someone who has watched all 500 hours or whatever of Trek, it’s still tough to keep track sometimes! The reason it isn’t higher on my list is that I just love the animated shows so much. The TNG era is (unsurprisingly) my favorite kind of Trek, and Lower Decks feels the most TNG Trek-y, while SNW is more like the original series. And it’s so fun with its loving mockery of its own franchise. As for Prodigy, it’s taking the Star Trek universe in new directions, which is super exciting, and the animation is absolute perfection.
VC: Prodigy is the show I’ve seen the least of, but I like what I’ve seen. The characters are interesting, the premise is intriguing, and I like the mysteries being set up. (Why was the ship on the mining planet? Where in the galaxy are they?) This is a Nickelodeon co-production, so it skews very YA—maybe a little too much for my tastes. Still, I reserve the right to change my ranking once I get further into the season.
Personally, I grew up on the original Trek. Both my parents were Trek fans. (I remember them taking me to Star Trek: The Motion Picture in theatres when I was seven and all I remember about that movie was getting a really good nap) And SNW feels the most like the old Trek to me, which is why I love it.
It will be interesting to see how they explain why the uniform changes to miniskirts. Do you think that’s Kirk’s first order as captain is to ban pants for ladies?
MF: Hah! I like to think Uhura started wearing a skirt because she liked it and set the trend for the rest of the ladies, who wanted to dress like the cool bridge officer.
VC: That’s the thing about prequel shows. There’s so much to retrofit. Take Discovery, a show I generally like. They made the choice to set it a few years before the first series, and the lead character was Spock’s foster sister, a human raised by Vulcans. Which of course raises the question, why has no one ever mentioned that the most iconic character in Trek has a sister?
And the technology! Most people accept that things look more high-tech than the original series because there’s been 50 years of advances in special effects and the new shows have an overall budget at least 10 times that of the old show. But then Discovery proposes a brand new faster than light form of travel—the spore drive—that was never mentioned once in Trek’s history!
And the reason given at the end of Season 2 as to why no one talks about Michael Burnham or the spore drive, it’s just a straight-up Simpsons meme.
But! I really like the characters—Tilly, Burnham, Saru, and especially Georgieu. Michelle Yeoh just relishes playing her villain so much.
MF: Oh, Discovery… So much promise, yet so many issues. I had the same thoughts about the technology and the retro-conning. They tried to explain it away at the end of Season 2 but even that felt like a bit of a stretch. The characters are pretty compelling, though I feel like they’re not always well used. I actually really loved the idea of Saru being captain with Michael as first officer, because that would give Michael more freedom to be a renegade while the responsible Saru kept the ship flying. Instead, they made Michael captain, without really showing her leadership qualities, while Saru kind of retreated?
The plots have also been disappointing to me. I was so excited after Season 2 to see what they would do after blasting the crew into the future. Up until then, Voyager was the furthest we’d gone on screen, time-wise (now it’s Picard) But Season 3 and Season 4 kind of spin their wheels a lot then end with a bit of a whimper.
VC: I’m not all the way through season 3 yet, but I agree about the plots. Time travel is always a tricky thing to manage in a show, unless you’re just playing it for laughs. And “rogue AI tries to destroy everything” has been done in SF in general and Trek in particular a LOT.
Which brings us to Picard. Sigh…
MF: Oh, Picard, Picard, Picard. That’s a show relying far too much on nostalgia and the caliber of its actors. I love most of the characters, including the new ones (Raffi is the best!) but really drops the ball on plot. I was SO excited about all the things they teased in the first few eps and then they just… went nowhere.
VC: They could’ve just had Picard tending to his vineyard in France and having his old pals come and visit. I would’ve been fine with that.
I can get behind the thrust of the show—Picard is a symbol of the old federation, but they have changed and he’s a relic now. But the AI plot line is just bad. The payoff is basically “those Romulans you were trying to stop? They were right the whole time and Alison Pill’s character should be tried in the Hague”.
MF: Yes, pretty much! And of course the whole thing ends with “this gal just tried to destroy all organic life but it’s ok because she’s Data’s daughter and therefore special”. Meanwhile, they set up Elnor as this surrogate son for Picard and then had Picard totally ignore him in favor of said gal. Which could have been an interesting story but they didn’t handle it as a story at all.
I get really annoyed when you can tell that writers are being too precious with their characters—letting them get away with literal murder but “it’s ok because they’re our babies”. And Season 2 is worse! Season 1’s plot was poor, but at least it had a plot at all. The pop psychology in Season 2 was downright insulting. Mid-century Freudian BS. Felt like 1948’s The Snake Pit in that regard
VC: The highlight of Season 2 was Picard realizing that he’s in a dystopian timeline when his valet brings him his favorite drink—black coffee. No Earl Grey? THIS IS HELL! But I agree. This was a missed opportunity.
So anything else to add? I think we agree that Lower Decks and SNW are excellent additions to Trek, Discovery has its moments but is uneven, and Picard better have a damn good final season.
MF: Well, this has been fun! Of course, I feel like now we have to slot these shows into a wider ranking of all 56 years of Trek shows…
VC: Sure! And the movies! I mean, I’ve got a spare 500 hours.
Live long and prosper!