Which Star Trek Should I Watch?

Star Trek is a rightful icon of televised science fiction. It was not the first televised serial science fiction property, but it was the one that catapulted the concept into the popular imagination, spawning decades of successors that keep it active to this day. The sheer amount of Star Trek that exists in the present moment can seem forbidding, and it certainly did for me. Even with the franchise’s long hiatuses and constant threat of permanent cancellation, there are no fewer than eleven entire series within the Star Trek umbrella at present, each with dozens of episodes and some with feature-length motion pictures mixed in. Watching them all in order might provide the greatest opportunity for recognizing references and keeping the continuity straight, but it also means that current Star Trek content fades into the distance, inaccessible until one catches up on decades of prior television. More than that, though, each Star Trek series has its own characteristic identity, marked by different writing style, storytelling focus, cast, and desired emotional impression. Landing on just the right Trek show to lure someone into the rest of the franchise is one of the better ways to manufacture new Trekkies, so, here is a rundown of the eleven Star Trek series, what makes them distinctive, and which episodes I liked, detested, or came to recognize as exemplifying what makes each series what it is.

The Original Series (TOS) (1966-1969)

Number of Episodes: 79 in 3 seasons, plus 6 movies

High Point: S1E25, “The Devil in the Dark”

Exemplar: S1E23, “A Taste of Armageddon”

Low Point: S2E23, “The Omega Glory”

This is where it begins. This is the original Star Trek, assigned the retronym The Original Series after other series were created to succeed it. This is where tropes were established, patterns set, and references born. It was, to put it mildly, contentious in its time, pushing hard for an inclusive, utopian vision of the future that challenged very current prejudices and ultimately featuring in the history of the US’s civil rights movement as a result. TOS leans heavily on plots and concepts taken from Golden Age of Science Fiction stories and on direct, sometimes heavy-handed allegories and references to historical events. Many stories involve philosophical deliberation on human nature and its relationship to freedom, discipline, contentment, and external control, or on the dangers of artificial intelligence, tasking the Enterprise crew with solving some manner of scientific or interpersonal puzzle along the way. Thanks to its age, it is surprisingly narratively straightforward, rarely making use of later decades’ innovation of having intersecting A, B, and even C plots in favor of single linear plotlines and rarely having past episodes’ events weigh on future ones.

TOS, more than any of its descendants, glories in the masculine energy and American sensibilities of its central characters. This is an episodic story about men placed in difficult situations taking charge of them by sheer cleverness, force of personality, and sometimes violence; women lusting after Captain Kirk and/or Spock and rarely, if ever, succeeding at seducing them; open admiration of the United States of America despite that country being an expired relic by this point in the show’s internal timeline; and relationships between male colleagues that unfold between tumbler glasses of whiskey, fitness tests, and chess games.

The Original Series is MANLY.

Suggested Drink Pairing: Your preferred American beer, served in a can.

The Animated Series (TAS) (1973-1974)

Number of Episodes: 22 in 2 seasons

High Point: S1E11, “The Terratin Incident”

Exemplar: S1E8, “The Magicks of Megas-Tu”

Low Point: S2E3, “Bem”

Star Trek: The Animated Series follows the same crew as The Original Series, but this time, their adventures are wildly, inventively strange. The Animated Series takes full advantage of the fact that it is not limited by either live action or period-specific computer graphics to show crew members and creatures with overtly inhuman anatomy or impossible scale. Plots unfold in TAS that feel like they were constructed over vats of LSD and/or dartboards with science-fiction tropes, resulting in a show that is never what one expects it to be and never as self-serious or intense as TOS. This is the only show in Star Trek canon with the gumption to have Satan escort the crew of the Enterprise to the secret realm at the center of the universe where magic exists and then lawyer him out of a witch trial, in the same show where Spock mind-melds with a planet-eating cloud to convince it to spare inhabited worlds. The shortness of TAS makes it a tempting place to start, but its tonal difference from the rest of Star Trek also makes it best appreciated after one has at least watched TOS first.

The Animated Series is BATSHIT.

Suggested Drink Pairing: Absinthe, served any way but how absinthe aficionados say to serve absinthe.

The Next Generation (TNG) (1987-1994)

Number of Episodes: 178 in 7 seasons, plus 4 movies

High Point: S3E26, and S4E1, “The Best of Both Worlds” parts 1 and 2

Exemplar: S3E4, “Who Watches the Watchers”

Low Point: S4E10, “The Loss”

The first of the “90s Trek” shows despite beginning in the 80s, The Next Generation is, for many fans, the archetypal Star Trek experience. Driven by the sheer ineluctable gravitas Sir Patrick Stewart brings to the role of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, The Next Generation is a generally high-minded, introspective, smart, serious show that takes full advantage of its cast’s particular talents. The generally consistent quality of TNG makes it difficult to select high and low points and there are many contenders for both; fans will certainly dispute the ones I have selected. TNG is also where many concepts and species that endure throughout Star Trek and go on to define arcs in other series are first encountered, including the Borg, Trill, Ferengi, Q, and Cardassians.

The Next Generation might be the Star Trek series most defined by the occupational and interpersonal competence of its crew members. There is little (but nonzero) friction between them compared to preceding and succeeding shows, turning most episodes into exquisitely constructed sessions of competence porn that places the focus squarely on the geopolitical, tactical, and scientific puzzles that visit them. Due to its length, TNG has room for most kinds of stories: dark, silly, scientific, militaristic, forgettable, legal, and more, but its heart is the kinds of complex science puzzles that require improbably charismatic galactic-scale super nerds to solve, and it is better for it. If TOS was almost violently American in its approach, TNG feels like it takes more cues from how 1990s Britain saw itself, presenting a cultured, mostly non-intrusive sort of interplanetary rapid-response team that helps less technologically endowed civilizations with their problems, and the fitness-test interludes are now replaced with stage plays and holodeck mishaps. This is also the last Star Trek show to be genuinely, unabashedly optimistic about how far humanity could someday ascend, until Strange New Worlds reclaimed this legacy.

The Next Generation is CONTEMPLATIVE.

Suggested Drink Pairing: Dry red wine, preferably something from Chateau Picard, served in the correct glass.

Deep Space Nine (DS9) (1993-1999)

Number of Episodes: 176 in 7 seasons

High Point: S6E19, “In the Pale Moonlight”

Exemplar: S5E13, “For the Uniform”

Low Point: S6E23, “Profit and Lace”

Deep Space Nine was the first Star Trek series to aim to do something quite different from its predecessors, and it succeeded beyond its creators’ wildest imaginings. Unlike all other Star Trek series, Deep Space Nine is focused on a Cardassian-constructed, Federation-run space station on the fringes of Federation space rather than on a Federation-built starship. Rather than focusing on the travels of a spaceship (a star trek, if you will), most plots in DS9 begin with someone or something visiting the titular Deep Space Nine. This change of premise means DS9 focuses more on space geopolitics than science puzzles (though it definitely has both). DS9 was also the first Star Trek series to be overtly serialized rather than episodic, and these two traits in combination mean that no series goes farther in developing the cultures and politics of various Star Trek species than DS9 does.

Deep Space Nine is much darker in tone than most other Star Trek shows, matched by the dark metallic gray of its space-station setting. Its narrative focuses on grim topics like the fallout of the Cardassian occupation of Bajor, the people harmed by the Federation ceding regions of space to the Cardassian Empire, and the emergence of a new, organized, technologically and physiologically superior foe, the Dominion. With its serialized structure, DS9 forces actions to have consequences, characters to live with the fallout of their decisions, and events to weigh on future events. DS9‘s characters have individual goals and allegiances that occasionally put them at odds with one another, in contrast to the relative internal harmony of previous series’ crews, contributing to the overall milieu of fractious compromises and hard decisions. Deep Space Nine is a deep, hard-hitting war story that aims to show that, however admirable the Federation’s ideals might be, the whole universe isn’t ready for them yet. DS9 also has the interesting status of acting as a sort of hub between TNG and VOY, with characters from both of those shows visiting the station, making it a surprisingly natural starting point for an unsuspecting future Trekkie.

Deep Space Nine is BROODING.

Suggested Drink Pairing: Cognac, served in a glass tumbler.

Voyager (VOY) (1995-2001)

Number of Episodes: 172 in 7 seasons

High Point: S7E15, “The Void”

Exemplar: S6E16, “Collective”

Low Point: S3E7, “Sacred Ground”

Star Trek: Voyager is a divisive show in Star Trek. Few fans are lukewarm about it, and many either swear by it or regard it as an incompetent successor to the Trek mantle. VOY continues the trend established in DS9 of following a crew far from Federation support that therefore cannot act with the same certainty as that of The Next Generation. This time, the titular starship Voyager has been placed impossibly far from Federation space by plot contrivance and must journey home through the territory of numerous hostile species. This journey places Voyager in constant, immediate peril, and the show’s quippy dialogue style and frequent explosions amply sell the reality that, while TOS and TNG involve a ship venturing into and out of dangerous situations and DS9’s station is at the center of a war whose front lines are often elsewhere, it is the starship Voyager that is never truly safe.

One would expect a show like this to be weighed down with grim seriousness, but the opposite is almost always true. Almost everyone the Starship Voyager meets is an improbably unpleasant, violent jerk to the point of parody. The Voyager crew encounters aliens who keep entire sapient species as pets, harvest organs from whoever they encounter, airstrike peace conferences, go on genocidal rampages with minimal or no provocation, pollute with the gusto of a Captain Planet villain, and more, each addressed with totally unearned seriousness. VOY’s real trademark is that it is deeply unafraid to go hard on ridiculous premises of both the science-puzzle and wartime variety, where other Treks usually go in gently and often leave a lot unsaid in the process, resulting in stories in which the Voyager crew tangles with human-sized viruses, fends off the sexual advances of vampire women who milk men to death, and gets repeatedly embroiled in holodeck malfunctions based on an in-universe Flash Gordon homage. Furthermore, VOY has some very noticeable character tropes that make an excellent drinking game.

Voyager is FUN.

Suggested Drink Pairing: Fireball whisky, served in more shot glasses than you own.

Enterprise (ENT) (2001-2005)

Number of Episodes: 98 in 4 seasons

High Point: S3E6, “Exile”

Exemplar: S1E22, “Vox Sola”

Low Point: S3E17, “Hatchery”

Star Trek: Enterprise was such a disaster that it very nearly killed Star Trek entirely, and not just because of its needlessly confusing name. ENT is a prequel, set well before TOS and involving the first warp-capable vessels crafted by humans. Without a Federation to help them project power and with series mainstays like ship shields, transporters, and replicators either not yet invented or new and untested, ENT takes its crew on their first hopeful ventures into a galaxy that isn’t particularly happy to see them. The Enterprise interior feels ramshackle and claustrophobic, giving the whole show a seat-of-the-pants feeling that contrasts strongly with other Star Trek series. At its best, ENT shows us how humans became the interspecies bridge that helped found the Federation and got formerly fractious species like the Andorians, Vulcans, and Tellarites talking to one another, disconnected from existing interstellar politics and therefore able to mediate longstanding grudges. At its worst, it descends into a sickening, hard-edged conservatism as the Enterprise crew loads up on space marines and ventures into hostile space to respond to an attack on Earth.

Star Trek is no stranger to sex appeal, with all preceding series having their share of escapades for viewer enjoyment, but ENT leans into this in ways that its predecessors and successors do not. ENT’s camera work, unlike other Trek series, is visually objectifying to the point of puerility. ENT takes every opportunity to ogle its female cast members’ legs, busts, and midriffs in ways that stand out against the somewhat more mature sensibilities of its predecessors. The result is that this show, somehow, feels like every surface is either coldly metallic or wipe-your-hands-after-touching-it wet, or both, no matter what else is happening. It is full of scenes of characters massaging each other with “decontamination gel,” alien species with fluid anatomy, inexplicably well-oiled characters taking their clothes off or flirting uncomfortably at each other, a doctor who keeps a medicinal zoo full of slimy creatures, and that time a room-sized web of telepathic semen regurgitated several crew members drenched in sticky white goo. At its best, ENT is an interesting look at how the world of TOS got its start; at its worst, ENT makes one want to shower, punch their television, or both. It takes faith of the heart to get through it.

Enterprise is WET.

Suggested Drink Pairing: Pepto-Bismol.

Kelvin Timeline (2009-Present)

Number of Episodes: 3 movies, so far

High Point: “Star Trek Beyond” (2016)

Exemplar: “Star Trek Into Darkness” (2013)

Low Point: “Star Trek” (2009)

Meant to introduce a new generation of viewers to the imagery and lore of Star Trek, The Kelvin Timeline is an alternative timeline for the Star Trek universe. By diverging from established canon at the moment of Captain Kirk’s birth, the Kelvin Timeline is able place Captain Kirk and his crew in new stories rather than simply repeating the events of TOS and its films. The Kelvin Timeline thereby acts as a sort of “What if?” and distorting mirror for TOS, as recognizable motifs and characters from elsewhere in Star Trek appear in new ways and contexts in a universe that is irrevocably distinct from the one that birthed it.

The Kelvin Timeline is not famous for this sense of possibility, however. With its first two films helmed by JJ “I said more lens flares” Abrams, the Kelvin Timeline is instead best known as a group of loud action movies that place Captain Kirk’s Enterprise at the center of one violent conflict after another. These scenes are treated with enthusiasm that is not characteristic of other entries in Star Trek, given sweeping camera angles, detailed views of ship damage, and action-movie style shots of phasers switching from “stun” to “kill” settings complete with loud clicks and color changes not seen in other Star Trek properties. All three movies out at time of writing feature extended dramatic shots of Federation starships careening into the distance, colliding with buildings or landscapes, or getting torn apart in battle, complete with the crews inside them getting pulled into space, framed as exciting rather than tragic. The divergence from what made Star Trek distinctive as a franchise feels almost disrespectful, and with it, the frequent references and homages to TOS can almost feel like mockery. It is not until the third entry, “Star Trek Beyond,” that the series moves away from fairly generic action movies set in the (a) Star Trek universe back into something that is recognizably Star Trek not just in visual language but in storytelling approach. In a big way, the Kelvin Timeline feels like it is for Star Trek what The Big Bang Theory is for general nerdiness: not for fans, but to repackage the subject matter for a more mainstream audience. That it is a whole alternate timeline, neither affecting nor affected by the events of most of the other series, feels apropos in that light.

The Kelvin Timeline is BOMBASTIC.

Suggested Drink Pairing: A-Bomb.

Discovery (DIS) (2017-Present)

Number of Episodes: 55 in 4 seasons, plus 6 Short Treks, so far

High Point: S3E4, “Forget Me Not”

Exemplar: S4E4, “All Is Possible”

Low Point: S1E4, “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry”

Star Trek: Discovery is the first entry in the modern Star Trek renaissance, arriving twelve years after it seemed Star Trek: Enterprise had killed the franchise. Half prequel and half sequel, DIS starts a few years before TOS (placing it between ENT and TOS, for those keeping score) and then switches to the farthest future of the Star Trek timeline yet explored, giving it a disjointed sense of place that makes it feel almost like two different shows. Throughout, the titular starship Discovery is torn between its status as a science vessel full of scientists and the reality that its signature “spore drive,” which essentially enables teleportation around the cosmos, makes it an ideal rapid-response vessel for conflict situations. These tensions become a theme in the early seasons, with Discovery taking the longest of any Star Trek series to truly settle into its identity—and what an identity it is.

Star Trek: Discovery is a serialized Star Trek series that refuses to accept the possibility that a multi-episode story could have stakes lower than the fate of the universe. Everything in DIS is big, loud, and emotional and no one is allowed to face that crisis with stone-faced determination unless they are about to die. Cosmic forces of prophecy and fate are invoked and twisted in on themselves while galactic dictators poison all life in the universe, grasping AIs turn people into robo-zombies while working toward a gray-goo scenario, and beloved characters cringe into madness contemplating causality breaches they cannot yet understand. In four seasons, this show doggedly refuses to lower the volume of its keening from an insistent 11. If TOS and TNG have the pace of the safari ride at a zoo, slowly driving through subject matter meant to be savored, DIS is a maglev rollercoaster that will not rest until it has wrung every drop of emotion out of its audience. And all of this is with DIS, at its heart, being a show about the same kinds of science puzzles and interstellar perils that the crews of TOS and TNG faced, just with the stakes raised about as high as they could possibly go. DIS is also interesting in that its narrative follows a specific character’s career rather than its ship’s bridge crew, and that its ship experiences several changes of management along the way.

Star Trek: Discovery comes paired with Short Treks, a selection of 10ish-minute short films that provide bits of backstory for some episodes. Short Treks are streamed as their own series, and the first season of them (four episodes) plus S2E4 and S2E5 are associated with Discovery. These are fundamentally optional but increase enjoyment of the relevant events or provide backstories for some characters. Technically, S2E1, S2E2, and S2E3 of Short Treks also take place at this point in the timeline, but deal primarily with characters and settings more thoroughly explored in Strange New Worlds.

Discovery is APOCALYPTIC.

Suggested Drink Pairing: La Fin du Monde, served in a tulip glass.

Lower Decks (LDS) (2020-Present)

Number of Episodes: 20 in 2 seasons, so far

High Point: S2E8, “I, Excretus”

Exemplar: S1E4, “Moist Vessel”

Low Point: S1E9, “Crisis Point”

As much a love letter to Star Trek fans as a series in its own right, Lower Decks is an animated comedy taking place closely after the events of TNG, DS9, and VOY but before those of PIC. In keeping with its name, LDS focuses on a group of four ensigns rather than on the bridge crew of its ship, the Cerritos, and shows us what they get up to while the bridge crew is having TOS/TNG-style adventures. It often places its four ensigns at the periphery of the bridge crew’s adventures while keeping the focus on them, an impressive feat of storytelling. As a comedy, it relies heavily on bad decisions, slapstick humor, larger-than-life characters, absurd situations, and general silliness to power it through its runtime, and it absolutely delivers on the laughs. One does not watch Ensigns Boimler and Rutherford defuse a tense situation with Ferengi poachers with a PowerPoint presentation, or Ensign Mariner end the threat of a nascent space god by kicking it in the groin 20 times, without cracking a smile.

This show is so thick with references to previous events that old Trek is virtually a character in its own right. Lower Decks might well be the definitive text that unites and connects the events of the Trek universe’s past into a single cohesive history, as improbable as it sounds. Many, but by no means most, of its gags rely on viewers having seen all the pre-2017 Trek shows and it is wholly unconcerned with explaining the central conceits of the various alien species it reprises; this show is explicitly for existing fans. As such, even though a lot of its comedy value is still there for people who are not familiar with the references it makes, this is the one show I cannot recommend as an entry point for the overall series.

Lower Decks is SILLY.

Suggested Drink Pairing: Strawberry daiquiri.

Picard (PIC) (2020-Present)

Number of Episodes: 20 in 2 seasons, so far, plus one Short Trek.

High Point: S2E6, “Two of One”

Exemplar: S2E8, “Mercy”

Low Point: S1E5, “Stardust City Rag”

Like Lower Decks, Star Trek: Picard is thick with references to its predecessors. Unlike Lower Decks, it places at the center of its narrative a beloved character from The Next Generation: Jean-Luc Picard, now a retired admiral well into old age. Thematically, PIC takes on the idea of a person’s legacy, whether people like Jean-Luc Picard ever really get to settle into dotage when so many adventures are ahead of them, and lingering character flaws from characters’ previous appearances serving as opportunities for growth. If that makes PIC sound like a meditative, philosophical show, however, that is an accident: PIC is a deadly serious, serialized, brooding detective story. In PIC, people connected to Admiral Picard (re)appear in his life and pull him into complex plots that he and his old and new associates must unravel, only now, he does so mostly outside Federation auspices. In PIC, the Federation is curiously passive, absent, and sometimes even antagonistic, the result of various disasters dealt with in previous shows and some new ones, and Picard’s position with it counts for little.

The vehicle on the titular star trek this time is La Sirena, a civilian-owned freighter vastly smaller than the cruise-ships-in-space that are Star Trek’s more typical home bases. Taken together, these choices give PIC a personal, small-scale, us-against-the-world feeling wholly different from even other Star Trek shows with small casts, such as Prodigy, or that otherwise feature a crew acting without ready access to the Federation, such as Voyager. PIC is eager to establish itself as the harder, grittier Star Trek, even after Deep Space Nine already established itself as the harder, grittier Star Trek, and it does so with obscenities, oddly frequent scenes of characters retching offscreen, replacing all the sexualized content with lingering shots of women’s feet, and far more common and more visceral gore than other Star Trek shows would allow.

If anything truly sets PIC apart from the rest of Star Trek canon, however, it is its writing. Each season of PIC is ten episodes of a single mystery that any other Trek show would have resolved in one or two episodes. PIC makes up the runtime by adding ample slow filler scenes in which Jean-Luc Picard can sagely pontificate, subplots that don’t lead anywhere, events that stop making sense after even minimal examination, and well-liked characters from earlier shows reappearing only to be killed to establish stakes for other characters. Picard’s plots are convoluted tangles of three or four different agents, references, and premises moving with and against each other, some more relevant than others, each asking enormous forbearance from its audience as it establishes why it should be in the story at all. By time of writing, a member of Jean-Luc’s adventuring party (yes, I will call it that) is a young Romulan man raised by ninja nuns and an entire episode was devoted to a UFO cultist locking Picard in his basement until Picard convinces him to let him out. More than anything, what defines PIC is the overwhelming feeling that there was no point in the writing or editorial process where someone told the writers, no, that’s enough things. PIC provides an intriguing window into what Star Trek writers can get up to when they have permission to draw out, develop, and overact to their hearts’ content rather than even try to fit within their narrative confines, perhaps best appreciated as a cautionary tale.

One Short Trek, S2E6, acts as a prequel for the events of PIC’s first season.

Picard is INDULGENT.

Suggested Drink Pairing: Jägermeister, served in a brandy snifter so it looks sophisticated.

Strange New Worlds (SNW) (2022-Present)

Number of Episodes: 10 in 1 season plus 3 Short Treks, so far.

High Point: It feels unsporting to select highs, lows, and exemplars with only a short first season to examine. I will select some after two seasons or the show concludes, whichever comes first.

Exemplar:

Low Point:

If most of the Star Trek shows since TNG have been efforts to expand the concept of Star Trek into new styles of storytelling set in the same universe, Strange New Worlds is a deliberate return to form, and it shows. Taking place between the second season of DIS and the first season of TOS (yes, it’s complicated), SNW takes the Star Trek chronology back down from the apocalyptic heights of its immediate antecedent toward something more familiar. SNW is upbeat, charming, fun, primarily episodic with a few narrative through-lines that help set up later events, and above all, optimistic. By virtue of being a prequel of sorts for most of the Star Trek that has ever been made, SNW takes place in a universe that is minimally charted, where all threats are new and mysterious and all space phenomena are similarly exciting novelties. SNW truly believes in the greatness of the human spirit and the idea that humanity’s drive into the stars will be driven not by conflict and conquest, but by exploration and curiosity, presenting itself as a cheerful counterpart to its own rather darker contemporaries DIS and PIC. In keeping with this brighter mood, the lighting in SNW is usually bright and clear and SNW features a return to the more distant camera work of earlier Star Trek iterations, helping recreate a sense of grandeur in its stories. With this as its baseline, the places where SNW ventures into darker or more emotional stories and moments carry more weight than they might in a story where every moment is urgent and heavy.

What defines Strange New Worlds most truly as the Star Trek for its cultural moment is the personalities its bridge crew bring to the show. Captain Christopher Pike is developed from a narrative footnote in TOS, to an intriguing crossover in DIS, to a full-on series lead in SNW. His charismatic, quietly powerful, carefully nurturing, occasionally humorous and above all gentle leadership places him as another example of a new class of man in charge, one who claims authority because everyone around him knows that disappointing him means they have failed not only in their duties to their captain, but in their duties to themselves, and even his antagonists feel its pull. If he is softer than the whiskey-slinging Kirk, Shakespeare-monologuing Picard, or war-running Sisko, it is in the way that an office chair is soft: comfortable, supportive, and with a backbone that could beat a man to death if it needs to, but it doesn’t need to, does it? It would fail at being what it is if it ever had to…but it could. This rather fatherly milieu also manifests in how, instead of the sophisticated concerts and holodeck misadventures of TNG or the hyper-masculine chat sessions over glasses of Scotland’s finest in TOS, the downtime scenes of SNW unfold first and foremost over bridge-crew dinner parties in the captain’s lounge, prominently featuring Captain Pike’s kitchen skills. Nearly every Star Trek captain assumes a somewhat parental role over their crew, and some of them are literal parents, but it is Captain Pike who seems to make that sort of presence the center of how he operates.

Strange New Worlds is very nearly an ideal entry point for new fans. It is part of the Trek renaissance, making it current and comparatively accessible, and its general mood and style capably evoke the best of what TNG and TOS have to offer. As a modern show, there is significantly less of it than there is of previous eras’ shows, making it easier for new fans to watch a large fraction of it while getting their bearings, and potential fans who might find the visible age of other shows distracting will not have that problem here. More than any other entry in Star Trek canon, Strange New Worlds has learned from the missteps of its predecessors and even its contemporaries, delivering one of the most consistently high-quality experiences of any Trek series to date and setting a high bar that even its most highly regarded ancestors will often struggle to clear. However, part of the setup for SNW takes place in the first two seasons of DIS, which can make some aspects of SNW’s larger narrative a bit mysterious for people who are not familiar with Captain Pike’s role in DIS.

Three Short Treks (S2E1-3) act as backstory and side-story for the characters of SNW, helping build their relationships. Technically, these take place at the point in the timeline where these characters are in DIS rather than SNW. Yes, it’s complicated.

Strange New Worlds is SATISFYING.

Suggested Drink Pairing: Grand Marnier, but put a Maraschino cherry in it to make it fun.

Prodigy (PRO) (2022-Present)

Number of Episodes: 9 in 1 season, so far

High Point: It feels unsporting to select highs, lows, and exemplars with only a short first season to examine. I will select some after three seasons or the show concludes, whichever comes first.

Exemplar:

Low Point:

Star Trek: Prodigy was created in partnership with Nickelodeon, providing the first overtly youth-oriented Star Trek series since TAS. It also provides a first for Star Trek in that its starship crew is a group of former child slaves from well outside Federation territory who find an abandoned state-of-the-art post-Voyager Federation starship and commandeer it. This makes Prodigy very different from other Star Trek shows in a number of ways. For the first time since DS9, characters who are not Federation citizens are at the center of a Star Trek series’s narrative, and are viewing the idea of the Federation from the outside in. Here, the Federation becomes an aspirational ideal for them to seek as they escape their former captors, in a narrative familiar to many immigrants. This is a different and refreshing perspective to have at the center of a Star Trek series and one ideally suited to media intended for a younger audience than previous entries.

Prodigy is taking its storytelling cues from young-adult animated shows such as Avatar: The Last Airbender, combining serious subject matter with enough discretion, hijinks, and autonomy for its youthful cast that it never becomes overbearing or heavy. It capably manages suspense, character growth, and keeping characters with, er, loud personalities from becoming too frustrating or obnoxious to enjoy. With only one season to go off of for the moment and the promise of more to come, I’m excited to see where this story goes.

Also, apparently, it might have been loosely patterned on the Chinese epic Journey to the West, so, that’s neat.

An image of the Star Trek: Prodigy cast, likening characters to characters from Journey to the West: Zero to Tripitaka, Rok to Sandy, Jankom to Pigsy, Gwyn to Princess Iron Fan, Dal to the Monkey King, Hologram Janeway to Guanyin, the USS Protostar to the White Dragon Horse, and Murf to "a slut or something IDK."

Prodigy is ENERGETIC.

Suggested Drink Pairing: Pink lemonade.

With eleven entire Star Trek series to choose from, plus the Kelvin Timeline’s revisit, there has never been a more expansive time to get into the venerable Star Trek franchise. Few longstanding cultural landmarks can say they have been as committed to their own distinct formulae while endlessly reinventing themselves as Star Trek has, and few science fiction properties will ever be as overwhelmingly influential on their entire genre. Deciding to go all-in on Star Trek was one of my better decisions, and I hope this guide can help others decide exactly where and how to get started on their own treks into Trekkiedom. And yes, I will be updating it as I continue to complete my tour.

 

A selection of noteworthy Star Trek characters from various points in the overall continuity and their ships.

 

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Which Star Trek Should I Watch?
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