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Where Some Nerds Have Gone Before - Watching All of Star Trek in Stardate Order

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As the title states, I just finished a multi-year journey watching every single episode of Star Trek in chronological (a.k.a., Stardate) order. I'll start this off by saying that while I give my opinion on what I watched, I would consider this post less of a review, and more of a how-to mixed with a "Captain's log" of my experience. I thought about doing some sort of season by season ranking or a list of my favorite episodes, and I might do that later, but I thought the first post should just cover what I learned about one of the nerdiest series on TV.

NOTE: I also watched all of the Prime timeline movies, but this post just focuses on the TV shows.

Here's a list of what I watched in order, and my high level reactions. Beware those who read ahead, here lie spoilers.

Star Trek: Enterprise (Dates: 2151 to 2156, Airdate: 2001 to 2005) 
At first it seems like Enterprise is a good premise with poor execution. It chronicles the early days of the first enterprise led by Scott Bakula's Captain Archer. The idea of a show set in a time before the Federation was even chartered seemed like an interesting challenge to take on after the string of Star Trek shows set in the TNG timeline that aired in the 80s and 90s. Unfortunately, the early seasons don't really do much with this premise other than having Archer act extraordinarily stupid. There is even a Prometheus-like moment when the away team takes off their helmets seconds after realizing a planet has breathable air without thinking through what other dangers an alien planet might harbor.

If you are patient though, the show takes a hard shift in tone and quality towards the end of the second season with a multi-season time war arc that is among the best plotlines in the entire franchise. For Trekkies, I would highly recommend soldiering through the first season with its terrible graphics and cheesy theme song to get to the Xindi-arc. You won't be disappointed.

Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1 and 2 (Dates: 2256, Airdate: 2018-1019) 

As someone who grew up watching TNG, DS9, and Voyager, I was very excited for Star Trek to get back to its television roots after a string of underwhelming JJ Abrams films. Unfortunately, I was disappointed. Discovery often feels like it was written by someone who just read the cliff notes version of the original series. It's not just the terrible design of the new Klingons, or the ridiculous idea that Spock had a secret sister that he never mentioned -- but everything about the show feels out of place both technologically and tonally. This is even more jarring and noticeable when watched in Stardate order.

The reason I like the Star Trek franchise is because each storyline feels like a philosophical thought experience. Discovery does not capture that. It feels like a Star Wars type space adventure series with techno-babble based on whatever was in Scientific American last week thrown into the mix to make it feel smart. It's not.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (Dates: 2259, Airdate: 2022 - Current)

Strange New Worlds feels like it heard my notes about Discovery and tried to address them. The currently airing series is an adventure-of-the-week style show following a sassy young Spock and Captain Pike (the captain of the Enterprise before the notorious Kirk). A lot of people love this series, especially compared to its predecessor Discovery. It's easy to see why. The episodes are fun, sometimes even funny, and for the most part delightfully techno-babble light.

I, personally though, can't really get into it. I can't help but get annoyed when they ignore decades of world building and retcon the Vulcans to have a more human-like sexuality for the sake of an unneeded love story or when they give the thinnest possible story excuse to have a musical episode. But most of all, I think it feels…shallow. In trying to be for everyone, it doesn't really say anything, which doesn't make it bad, per se, but it makes it bland.

Star Trek: The Original Series (Dates: 2266–2269, Airdate: 1966-1968)

It's hard to believe that the show that started it all only lasted three years. In fact, despite being a critical hit and drawing in many famous fans like Lucille Ball, it was never really a commercial hit until the release of theatrical films nearly a decade later. Analyzing the original series as a modern viewer can be hard to do.

On one hand, Roddenbury is clearly a genius who talked about ideas that felt ahead of their time in the pop culture space of the 1960s. His views on racial representation and equality are impressive even by today's standards. Many of the topics of these early episodes touch on political issues like cultural relativism, the role of artificial intelligence, or the pros and cons of isolationism that were not only relevant in the 60s, but remain relevant to this day. Not to mention the cast of characters he created have become iconic for a reason. It's hard not to be drawn in by Kirk's magnetic charm and impressed by Spock's clever objective analysis of every situation the crew came across.

At the same time, as a woman, it's hard not to see the original series as a product of its time when it comes to gender issues. Yes, there are female scientists -- but they are all supermodels who wear bikinis who do basically nothing but throw themselves at Kirk. Furthermore, not only does the original pilot have Captain Pike state he is uncomfortable with women on the bridge, but a late season episode has a Starfleet officer testify in court that women are too emotional to be captain -- and no one questions him. Then there's the issue of Yeoman Janet Rand, who is sexually harassed every single episode of the first season without consequence (I was relieved to see she eventually became a commander on a time travel episode of Voyager). This isn't a huge surprise when compared to other media from the time period. In fact, allowing women to be sexual without demonizing them for it was actually progressive. It just doesn't hold up the same way other aspects of the show do.

Star Trek: The Animated Series (Dates: 2269 to 2270, Airdate: 1973-1974)

In a time when cartoons were for kids, it's really hard to say who the target audience of this animated series was supposed to be. It features all the original voice actors and a similar writing style to the original series. Some of the episodes even deepen existing Trek lore and character development. Unfortunately, the quality episodes are few and far between. Most of them are silly meaningless fluff. Not to mention the animation is painfully bad -- with the characters and background mostly remaining static unless there is crucial action. It could be argued that even modern AI animation is better. It is THAT bad!

I can really only recommend a full watch through for the most hardcore of the hardcore, but I would say that Yesteryear (a Spock focused episode that delves into an important incident in his past) is a must for those interested in Vulcan culture. If it's not in my list of Top 10 Trek episodes of all time, it's in my top 20.

Star Trek: TNG, DS9, and Voyager (Dates: 2364 – 2370, Airdate: 1987- 2001)

Trying to watch these shows in order can be tricky as their timelines overlap. In fact, I had to follow this guide to accomplish the task. I was the most excited about this period of Trek because this is the Trek I grew up with. If I think of a Star Trek crew, I think of Picard, Data, and Worf…not Kirk, Spock, and McCoy.

For the most part, the big moments hold up. The Borg! The Dominion War! Seven of Nine! All of them are as good as I remember. What I didn't remember is just how much filler there is. In fact, the last season of TNG is just one terrible episode after another. It's a product of a different time, where TV seasons had to be 24 episodes long and had a fraction of the budget of modern television. But still, this era of Star Trek is the ultimate comfort food for a nerdy elder millennial such as myself.

Star Trek: Lower Decks (Dates: 2380 –TBD , Airdate: 2020- Current)

This is my favorite show currently airing on television, hands down. The animated series, following the ensigns aboard the USS Cerritos, is often misclassified as a "spoof" of Star Trek. It is not. It is a fully canon comedy that is hilarious to anyone who loves Star Trek, and still pretty darn funny for those who enjoy it casually. Not only is it funny, but it has an amazing cast of characters, a bold story, and is often every bit as smart and philosophical as its predecessors.

My only "complaint" (which is not really a complaint because it makes the show better for me) is that you almost have to go on the crazy journey of watching every single episode of Star Trek in order to fully appreciate it.

Star Trek: Prodigy (Dates: 2383-TBD, Airdate: 2021- Current)

Don't be fooled by the eerily similar CG animated style and think this is a lame rip off of Star Wars: Rebels, this Trek series aimed at a younger audience is the real deal. It follows a group of teens from the delta quadrant who find a Starfleet vessel manned only by a hologram of the now famed Captain Janeway, and basically acts as a "backdoor sequel" for Voyager since it catches up with many members of the ship's crew throughout its run.

While Prodigy originally aired on Nickelodeon and can certainly be enjoyed by kids unfamiliar with Star Trek, I would argue that its future home on Netflix is likely more appropriate, as the true core audience is people who enjoyed Voyager and want to see what the crew's iconic characters are up to now.

Star Trek: Picard (Dates: 2399 – 2401, Airdate: 2020)

I don't know if another show has been able to consistently disappoint me the way Picard has. Every season, I was enthralled by the ambition and promise of the premiere. Then each season managed to bungle that early promise, with each finale being more nonsensical than the last. 

When I finally watched season 3, I felt like Charlie Brown with the football. I was so hyped! The crew was back together! They were fighting the Dominion! How could it be bad? The result was something that was not only bad, but also painfully boring. I am glad this trainwreck of a show is over.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 + (Dates: 3188 - TBD, Airdate: 2021)

When Discovery jumped to the future to escape its awkward placement in the Star Trek timeline (as well as its ugly Klingons), it found itself going where the franchise has never gone before…back to a scarcity economy. With almost all dilithium gone in a mysterious incident known as "The Burn," the Federation is a shell of its former self and the galaxy has gone back to being a mostly lawless collection of individual planets.

It's a cool premise…that Discovery comes close to delivering on. The time jump allows the show to explore new scientific ideas that felt out of place in its pre-original series outline, and as a result there are some genuinely cool moments and episodes. Unfortunately, the plot as a whole still struggles to come together (especially in Season 3), and philosophically often stops short of its premise. Captain Michael Burnham and her crew are determined to stick to Starfleet principles in an era that has abandoned them, no matter the cost, which would be narratively compelling, if the show actually allowed those costs to manifest rather than neatly tying up each conflict with an overly convenient bow.

So that's it for my summary. As I continue to digest what I just watched, I will continue to have more posts in my Star Trek series. My next one will be on my dream Star Trek crew, made of characters from all series.

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