Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 premiers next week, so I decided to rank my favourite ST series. Read on for my completely objective, not at all contestable list!
A quick bio on my Star Trek background: my first exposure to Star Trek was watching random episodes of the Original Series with uncle as a kid. My mother hated that show though, so I never got to watch it in earnest. Sometime in high school I started The Next Generation (because it was my mother’s favourite) but couldn’t maintain my interest through the first season. I failed to watched Next Gen’s first season once more a few years later…
My last year of high school saw me re-start the Original Series from the beginning. And I proceeded to watch every single Star Trek series in release order after that (which took me a few years). I finished all the old ones sometime in early 2020, and continue to watch the current series as they release!
DISCLAIMER: This is a list of my favourite Star Trek shows. And my favourite things aren’t always the objective best ones. My rankings for BEST Star Trek shows might require another list.
Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973-1975)
This continuation of the Original Series, featuring most of the OG Star Trek cast, is the bottom of my list for one reason: I haven’t watched it. And I know very little about the show. Seems more outlandish than the other series though, if only because it was animated. More alien crew members and whatnot, which is cool! Will I get around to seeing ST: The Animated Series? Probably someday.
9. Prodigy (2021- Present)
Star Trek’s newest series aims itself more towards children than other franchise installments. It’s also more removed from the “standard” Trek formula based on its premise and characters (nobody from Starfleet). None of these things inherently offend me. In fact, I think it has potential and I’ve enjoyed the show so far! But it’s only a few episodes in to its first season. So I can only judge the show on my admittedly brief first impressions.
8. Discovery (2017- Present)
Sigh… Discovery is emotionally abusive. Every year I watch hoping it’ll be better, and every year I’m disappointed. But I can’t bring myself to leave because I’m committed to the Star Trek franchise. It’s entertaining enough, and there’s some decent sci-fi premises. But it’s a terrible representation of Star Trek’s ideals. The main characters seem to barely tolerate each other, they lack mutual respect for one other, and Michael Burnham is somehow always right (even when she breaks every rule in the book). Teamwork is Star Trek’s golden rule, and Discovery breaks it almost every episode.
It’s a beautiful-looking show but emotionally hollow. I watch the series on auto-pilot, more out of obligation than because it gives me genuine thrills or investment. But for the love of Kahless, will this show PLEASE stop rewarding Burnham for being a rogue agent?? Also, I’d enjoy more stories for the supporting characters. Please and thank you… Fingers crossed for Season 4.
7. Picard (2020- Present)
This one’s better than Discovery but has many of the same issues. Why did the Federation have to become corrupt bureaucrats? Star Trek was supposed to be the GOOD science fiction future. But modern show-runners are content to drag ST’s idealism into “realism” because our world’s become cynical. Now’s when we need to see a reflection of our best selves on screen, not our worst. I appreciate that Jean-Luc Picard (one of my personal heroes) is still a bastion of moral righteousness, but I don’t like that everyone and everything else was dragged through the mud to make him so.
And a slow-burn concept isn’t inherently bad, but Picard took 3 episodes to even get into space! The first season could have been half its length for the amount of plot it stretched.
Still: Picard contained great lore-building for Romulan culture, Patrick Stewart is still in fine-form after all these years, the characters were layered and decent additions to the franchise, and the end of Season 1 gives me hope for an improved Season 2.
6. Lower Decks (2020- Present)
Lower Decks is delightful! It’s one big meta-commentary on the Star Trek franchise. The more ST you’re aware of the funnier this series becomes. But I don’t think it’s inaccessible to newbies either. Lower Decks prioritizes fun without being stupid, has many well-crafted plots, expands ST lore in meaningful ways, and features a great cast of characters.
The Ceritos crew are far from Starfleet’s best but they’ve got the right spirit! In case it’s not obvious, I’m a big fan of LD. The only reason it’s so low on my list is because it’s only released 2 seasons. I might have to bump it higher higher in the future.
5. Enterprise (2001-2005)
Here we come to Star Trek’s most underrated show. I know many long-time ST fans can’t even make it past the theme song (which is a banger when you finally get used to it, by the way) but it’s actually full of merit! Firstly: much of the series’ fun lies in its setting. This is a time before the Federation, before basic tools like shielding technology, and back when Warp 5 was the best a ship could muster.
The Enterprise crew are the first humans sent into deep space. They have next to no idea what they’re doing! So they make way more mistakes than most Star Trek crews. Some ST fans might see that as a flaw (because it’s unlike any of the previous shows) but I love how Enterprise‘s team makes up rules as they go. Their efforts form the bedrock for the Federation’s ideals of exploration.
It’s also set close enough to our time that the characters and aesthetics feel somewhat relatable/ tangible. The ship’s cramped interior looks like a battleship, the flight suits could easily be worn by modern astronaut, and human culture isn’t far removed from its xenophobic past. In fact: a driving plot of the series is humankind defining its identity among other alien species of the galactic community. They must overcome their own prejudices and forge alliances if they hope to thrive in space.
4. Voyager (1995-2001)
OK. I’ll get this out of the way: Voyager squandered some of its potential and ran too long… but it’s darn good fun. I also find the show’s core messages inspiring. Captain Janeway motivates her crew to hold their ideals firmly, even when the characters have every excuse to let them slide. Could the Voyager crew be too by-the-books? Yeah. But that was the point. When you’re trapped 70 years away from your home in unknown territory, staying true to your roots brings comfort and stability in lieu of panic and anarchy. The Federation’s rules were worth maintaining and spreading. And in doing so, Voyager became a beacon of hope to a relatively inhospitable quadrant of the universe.
Voyager’s crew are comprised of Starfleet and Maquis officers– two groups who were at odds within the Federation. But Voyager became home to them all as they worked together to overcome mutual adversity. Voyager was even such a welcoming place they let a Borg drone onto their team! It’s a fantastic example of how people with seemingly insurmountable differences can becomes allies.
Voayger’s journey wasn’t always smooth, but it was a comfortable watch. I loved the characters (and felt like part of their found-family), and the plot-lines were consistently good. There’s a sense of foreboding throughout the entire series, and you can FEEL the isolation Voyager faces (even in the theme song). But you also sense their hope and get swept up in their on-going quest.
3. Star Trek (AKA The Original Series) (1966-1969)
I can’t believe this series was made in the 1960s… It’s more diverse and forward thinking than most shows of today, yet doesn’t feel as forced. Of particular note: A black woman is shown to be of equal rank to her white male colleagues (during the Civil Rights movement), a Japanese man is trusted to helm a ship (while Americans still harbored a grudge against Japan for WW2) and a Russian works alongside Americans (during the height of the Cold War). If that wasn’t enough: there’s a Federation of worlds which Humanity works alongside. Yes– even aliens could be good friends of ours! The entire series stood as a testament to the belief that humanity can do great things once it puts aside its petty differences.
The SFX have aged like a banana, and some elements of the show are problematic for today’s society, but the plots remain relevant 60 years on. Star Trek is a complex yet entertaining look at the problems of our society. But there’s enough adventure and action that it doesn’t come across as super preachy.
Many people probably don’t like how self-serious the show can be. I tend to look at it like a stage-play. Everything from the acting to the music is heightened. So you can’t go in expecting subtlety/ realism. Just open your mind to the melodrama and you’ll find it can impact your emotions even more than later ST series!
One final note: Where has sci-fi like this gone? Discovery‘s vision of this time period makes me sick in comparison… Way to miss the point!
2. Deep Space Nine (1993-1999)
By this point you’re probably convinced I dislike any Star Trek with an edge… Wrong! DS9 is my exception. And that’s because it deals in moral grays whilst still having a moral compass. This series shows that the Federation aren’t ALWAYS right but that they always TRY their best. Still sometimes it’s impossible to maintain the moral high ground.
DS9 also sets itself apart from other ST shows by taking place during a complex political situation (on the planet Bajor). Because the characters are on a space station and don’t make a habit of leaving, they lose their objectivity. They become friends with people whose affairs they aren’t technically allowed to interfere with. And, in this scenario, the Federation’s rules can appear cruel and unfair.
DS9 contains strong themes of faith– faith in principles and ideals which can carry you through the darkest of times. Religion and its effects on culture (for better and worse) are explored in this series more than any other. And the philosophical musings of DS9’s characters on the topic are endlessly intriguing.
1. The Next Generation (1987-1994)
Here we have the epitome of what Star Trek represents and the best example of everything it does correctly! The ever diplomatic and wise Jean-Luc Picard helms the Starship Enterprise as it boldly explores strange new worlds, and seeks out new life/ new civilizations. Because when money has no more value to human society, the greatest assets are experiences and knowledge!
Next Gen is one big exploration of what it means to be human. From music, to comedy, to morality, to philosophy and stories– Next Gen celebrates the best of everything humanity has to offer. It dares to believe we can live up to our potential and avoid our worst impulses. Diplomacy, compassion and rational-thought abound. It’s incredibly well-written, consistently entertaining and wrestles with deep/ dark themes whilst remaining positive. It’s one of the best TV series ever made! More than anything: Next Generation made me want to be a better person. And dreams of its future inspire me daily.
Why not tell me how wrong you think I am? What’s YOUR ranking of the Star Trek series? Please share your thoughts in the comments (no spoilers please). If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know. Also be sure to Like this article on Facebook and share if you enjoyed!
Till next time,