Introduce me to Star Trek
April 8, 2009 10:30 AM   Subscribe

I came late to sci-fi. And even when I started getting into it, Star Trek seemed so sprawling and deep, I didn't know even know where to begin. But now that the new movie's out and people I love and respect say things to me like, "You know how in Star Trek The Next Generation ..." well, I'd like to find out what I've been missing. Given that I have a full-time job and a lovely SO and don't want to jeopardize either, what's my point of entry? And the itinerary/order of operations thereafter?
posted by janet lynn to Media & Arts (27 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: This previous AskMe is what you're looking for.
posted by padraigin at 10:33 AM on April 8, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you. Sorry!
posted by janet lynn at 10:36 AM on April 8, 2009

I was going to recommend doing what I did, but seeing as how you have a full-time job (as do I) and a lovely SO (got me there!), I'd feel silly suggesting that you watch every episode of every ST series. That there would be a LOT of time spent, well or otherwise.
posted by dinx2582 at 10:41 AM on April 8, 2009

That previous AskMe mostly addresses original series stuff, based on the new movie. You sound like you might be interested in a deeper, more time consuming indoctrination into the series. I think TNG is a lot better than the original series, so hopefully someone can chime in with some specific episode/movie suggestions along those lines. Talk to your SO and get them on board with the idea, sign up for Netflix, then start doing a weekly date night, Star Trek-watching, eating take out Chinese food or something extravaganza. Keep it up until you're either hooked, or have had your fill.

Man, that sounds like fun.
posted by booknerd at 10:43 AM on April 8, 2009

Wikipedia turns out to be a really good resource for this kind of thing. It's also one of the best resources for Star Wars, and for anime. And BSG. You can pick up a pretty good grounding in the lore of one of these areas of fandom with a couple of hours of reading.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:09 AM on April 8, 2009

In my opinion, you do not have to watch Star Trek in any particular order. So if you have cable, get watching. It's on many times a day. My only suggestion is to pick one series and stick to it, as it may be confusing to learn a whole new cast of characters. Really.. you should start with TNG. I may be biased (bc it's what I watched the most of) but if you like it you are likely to enjoy both DS9 and Voyager.
posted by Gor-ella at 11:10 AM on April 8, 2009

If you're interested in the Star Trek that had the greatest cultural impact--from having a space shuttle named after it to introducing the first interracial kiss on TV, the classic catchphrases and the trio of Kirk, Spock and McCoy--you'll want the original series, a milestone in American television writing. Patrick Stewart's Shakesperaean charm aside, the later stories are a little less essential.
posted by Kirklander at 11:18 AM on April 8, 2009

I highly recommend DS9 from start-to-finish, minus Ferengi-related episodes. It's regular for the first three seasons but once they establish a very cool enemy in the fourth, it's really kick-ass.

Also listen to this comment from the other thread.
posted by cranberrymonger at 11:23 AM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Personally, I would just watch Star Trek: The Next Generation (ST:TNG) in any particular order, depending on whether you have Tivo or NetFlix or none of the above. Order doesn't matter, because while there are some linear timeline aspects (some people die when they didn't want to be on the show any more), not much changes other than Frakes gaining and losing weight, Whoopi and the Borg showing up at some point, and the number of Wesley Crusher episodes decreasing over time as the writers realised he was kind of an annoying character. (Side Note: Poor Wil Wheaton. Once you're sufficiently indoctrinated, his episode summaries are great, by the way.)

I don't find the Original Series particularly watch-able, though historically it broke down certain barriers and so on. It just seems a little dated now. The later series' (DS9, Enterprise, Voyager...) were OK, but ultimately they had to compete with a much stronger Sci-Fi line-up (ST:TNG was more or less the only game in town at one point, whereas later series' had to compete with Firefly and similar), and had less star quality. The truth is casting Patrick Stewart as the captain and Brent Spiner as Data were strokes of genius that make the series watch-able despite frequently contrived plots and lax writing (e.g., the n-th episode with time travel, or the episode where Q turns the crew into the cast of Robin Hood). Patrick Stewart especially is totally far too talented to be playing such a ridiculous role, but he seems to get a kick out of the ridiculous.
posted by pbh at 11:24 AM on April 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

TOS is "classic" but in the opinion of someone (me) who only got into ST in the 90's... only a fraction of the episodes stand the test of time. :)
posted by cranberrymonger at 11:25 AM on April 8, 2009

I wish I could favorite pbh's excellent comment a hundred times. I got into Star Trek as a kid, coming in on my dad and uncle watching TNG. It was great then, and I saw a rerun just last year and it's great now. When my dad tried to get me to watch TOS, I was unenthralled and even as a kid thought it looked "old". If you're learning about Star Trek for the movie, that other thread is your best bet, but if you really want to love Star Trek, I suggest any of TNG as a starting point.

(pbh, I knew that was what that link was going to be. That bit cracks me up every time I watch it.)
posted by Night_owl at 11:49 AM on April 8, 2009

If you have an iPod or other portable video device, and a daily commute, knock out the series that way. I've devoured anime series on my daily trip into and out of NYC, and a co-worker has watched every single episode of Stargate SG1 and Stargate Atlantis this way.
posted by GJSchaller at 11:55 AM on April 8, 2009

Well since the movie coming out is based on the original series, I'd start with that one.

Talk to your SO and get them on board with the idea, sign up for Netflix, then start doing a weekly date night, Star Trek-watching, eating take out Chinese food or something extravaganza. Keep it up until you're either hooked, or have had your fill.

This is actually really fun. We're doing that with the X-Files now - that series is not nearly as good as I remember it being back in the 90s, but it's still lotsa fun to watch together, and the once a week approach doesn't take too much time.

Another reason to start with the original series is that cheesier is sometimes more fun to watch. You can actually see the bridge set as plastic sheeting and plywood, see where Spock's ears were attached, etc. It just lends itself to all sorts of semi-witty comments and family bonding experiences.
posted by txvtchick at 12:01 PM on April 8, 2009

Since my post in that other thread was about The Original Series, Let's get you into Star Trek: The Next Generation!

The first appearance of the Borg might be pretty good, in the ST:TNG episode "Q Who?" -- It's a pretty standard application of the plot formula:

1. An unknown appears! (In this case, Q, a powerful and fun-loving alien that is essentially omnipotent)
2. The unknown causes problems! (here, Q sends the Enterprise far off course)
3. Problems are resolved through quick thinking! (In this episode, the "quick thinking" is Picard's decision to mollify Q at the expense of his pride)

The episode introduces you to Q, who appears periodically throughout The Next Generation, and it allows you to jump in to ground zero of the Borg Threat, which is a major plot-point in later episodes. No one does anything too out of the ordinary for their characters, either, so you can see how all the crew interact (Data is a reliable Pinocchio, Worf is boring but badass, Riker is useless but bearded, Troi is useless but psychic, Picard is awesome in every way, etc).

Another good intro-episode is "Darmok", which similarly shows how all the crew interacts, has a neat monster and a knife-fight, and shows (in traditional Next Generation fashion) that all our problems are ultimately solved by talking. Also, the viewer figures out the conceit of the episode like four minutes in, while Riker's still furrowing his giant dumb brow about it at the end, which is fun in a melodrama kind of way; you end up shouting at the screen "The answer is RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU, you big Alaskan IDIOT"

Oh, and also "Disaster", which is basically the premise "The power went out!" That's a fun one for getting to know the characters, since they're all separated and in stressful situations.

None of these are my favorite episodes, but they're good intros to ST:TNG, I think. My favorites are probably The Inner Light (Picard lives a full lifetime in his mind), Tapestry (Picard gets a second chance at youth, letting himself correct his foolish youthful mistakes), and The Best of Both Worlds, Part I (Riker makes a good decision for once in his god damned life). But these are more outlier-y episodes; stick with Darmok, Disaster, or Q Who? if you want to get a feel for whether you might like the show.
posted by Greg Nog at 12:05 PM on April 8, 2009 [7 favorites]

My entry point to Trek was Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and I am surprised to see that no one has mentioned it. Kirk et al time-travel to (at the time, modern) San Francisco to save the whales. It's light, has some lines that get quoted a lot (at least in my family), and you can watch it without knowing much about the Trek universe because the exposition comes easily -- pretty much everything in mid-eighties SF is compared/contrasted with the future by our bewildered heroes. And did I mention that it's funny?

(Sure, it's a direct sequel to the third movie, which was itself a direct sequel to the second, and there are a couple of plot threads tied into that -- like why they're not on the Enterprise -- but you don't actually need to have watched Star Trek III. I recommend that you don't.)

And then I watched all of TNG. My favorite TNG episode is "Darmok," but I am a giant language geek and your mileage may vary. Nthing the other comments that you don't need to watch it in a particular order.
posted by sineala at 12:14 PM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I recommend "Enterprise" with Scott Bacula.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:24 PM on April 8, 2009

Since my screen name is the name of an amazing (we're talking best of TV, Shakespeare-trained actors and well-written plots, IMO), dynamic character in Deep Space Nine, I have to recommend starting DS9. I started with it some years ago, just randomly in the middle somewhere, liked what I saw and the characters, and developed my knowledge from there. TNG is great, too--it's more about exploring, the consequences involvement causes (Picard is all about the Prime Directive, and not interfering in the affairs of home planets). TNG is much more "ship goes here, the following events happen, etc.," while DS9 is quite different.

Deep Space Nine is a space station near a planet, Bajor, recovering from years of occupation and war by another world, and the Federation comes in to help this planet with reconstruction. But it's much more layered, because the captain here, Sisko, *has* to stay and deal with consequences (unlike Picard), and he must be a little more flexible than "that's what the Prime Directive says and I'm sticking to it."

The last several seasons, with the war, have some *spectacular* episodes: "In the Pale Moonlight," "Waltz," "When It Rains," "In Inferno's Light," "The Dogs of War."

The great thing about sci-fi in general is that it allows us to explore deeply-rooted conflicts in a different setting, thereby allowing us, the viewers, to have more objectivity on the issue. Not to mention how cool technology could be! (I still maintain that modern-day cellphones are copies of the first communicators on TOS.)
posted by Dukat at 12:43 PM on April 8, 2009

I agree that you really don't need to watch ST:TNG in any particular order EXCEPT for the series finale "All Good Things...". It was one of the best finales I've watched on TV and you would probably enjoy it more having watched enough episodes to be familiar with the characters.
posted by Midnight Rambler at 12:48 PM on April 8, 2009

Oh yeah, the "Dukat" character on DS9 is pretty dark but also hilarious.
posted by cranberrymonger at 1:51 PM on April 8, 2009

I risk nerd-rage here, but.... I have never liked Star Trek much, especially TNG, because the characters seemed cardboard and the plots overly formulaic, with so many episodes ending deus ex machina (how many times can you reconfigure the phase-matter doohickeys to magically solve the entire hour-long problem, exactly?)

But Wrath of Khan was a very good film, and I do find DS9 watchable, since the episodes I have seen are much deeper, darker and more layered than what I associate with the Star Trek brand. So I'm not sure it's "really" Star Trek. But it's good.
posted by rokusan at 3:02 PM on April 8, 2009

Oh! Rokusan, that reminds me of this (possibly NSFW due to mild swearing) excellent song by Voltaire that you also need to hear to get a handle on pretty much the entire franchise.
posted by Night_owl at 3:42 PM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

posted by Night_owl at 4:01 PM on April 8, 2009

For depth of plot, humour and fantastic story-arcs, I would definitely suggest DS9. OS and TNG are pretty dated. I'm surprised only one person has mentioned Enterprise. It didn't get great reviews and was axed pretty early, but I would rate it as one of the better series. Plus, it's a prequel, so you get to see what happened before OS.
posted by lazy robot at 4:04 AM on April 9, 2009

Do not watch the ST:TNG series finale ("All Good Things") without having watched the series pilot ("Encounter at Farpoint"). They are linked, and the finale won't have as much resonance if you haven't watched the pilot.

Someone should put together a list of 5 or 6 essential eps from each season of the show.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 10:20 AM on April 9, 2009

Also: Try to watch the Next Generation 2-parter "Unification" before seeing the new movie. It features Picard and crew helping Spock in a secret diplomatic mission to the Romulans. Looks relevant to the plot of the movie.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 10:28 AM on April 9, 2009

Don't be afraid to jump into any series anywhere along the line. Yes, there are story arcs that make better sense when you know the backstory, etc, but the vast majority of episodes - whether you're watching TNG, DS9, Voyager, whatever - are self-contained stories, and you'll pick things up pretty quickly. It's not BSG.

On top of that, Star Trek (in my opinion) has a very high re-watch value compared to other shows in the genre, so starting in the middle and later going back to the start to watch them all again won't feel like a waste of time.
posted by macdara at 11:34 AM on April 9, 2009

Someone should put together a list of 5 or 6 essential eps from each season of the show.

Okay! One viewer's "essential eps" will be another one's "wanking off about how cute Data is when he tries to understand emotion," but here's my take on The Condensed Star Trek: The Next Generation. This is 32 episodes, so about 4 or 5 episodes per season, average. That's a little over 24 hours of Star Trek, so if you want to spend one Saturday in a marathon session of acquainting yourself with the show, follow the list below.


Encounter at Farpoint, Parts I and II
Introduction to the series, plus the introduction to Q, the omnipotent mischief-maker who's the awesome framing-device for the whole series. (Be warned: the first season is AWFUL)

The Naked Now
Everyone gets drunk! SPACE-DRUNK! Spoiler alert Data's got a penis

Heart of Glory
Introducing the one goddamn note Worf will ever have -- "How melodramatic can I fucking be about the fact that I'm a Klingon trapped in a human world?"

The Neutral Zone
Re-introducing the Romulans, the coolest motherfucking race in the galaxy. Also, a Futurama-like re-awakening of some cryogenically-frozen chumps from the 20th century. The role of Bender will be played by Data.


The Measure of a Man
The first episode of TNG to actually bring up a halfway-interesting moral quandry: Data's a machine. Data's in Starfleet. Is Data the property of Starfleet?

Q Who?
Q gets pissy and sends the ship way off course. Guinan, the El-Aurian bartender, is given a pretty rad and mysterious backstory. The Borg, the most freakily relentless enemies in the galaxy, are introduced.

Samaritan Snare
This is probably not that great an episode, I guess, but it's led to a lifetime of me murmuring "You think I am not smart. I am smart." Also, it introduces two key themes: A) Picard has no heart, and B) when Picard's away, Riker sure is good at fucking things up.


Who Watches The Watchers?
This is good as a basic overview of the Prime Directive: don't mess around with primitive cultures. They're only gonna act like idiots about it.

Deja Q
A great episode if you love Q (which you SHOULD because he is TOTES SWEET), since you get to see how he would act if he didn't have magic powers. Spoiler alert he basically still acts like a dick

Yesterday's Enterprise
A really keen alternate-universe battle-heavy episode. It also sets up some interesting (for some values of "interesting") Romulan plotlines later on.

The Offspring
A heartbreakingly sweet episode about Data becoming a father. Have some tissues handy.

Hollow Pursuits
Introducing Lieutenant Reginald Barclay! You know how, in high school, your teacher would make you do group projects? And you would sigh and clutch your head, 'cause you knew you were gonna get stuck with that one useless guy in your group? Barclay's that guy. Also, the episode finally answers the longstanding question: Why isn't everyone just using the holodeck to fuck holographic representations of Counselor Troi?

Guest-starring Spock's dad! Another really sad episode, this one showcases Patrick Stewart's acting chops.

The Best of Both Worlds, Part I
The Borg are back. Riker's in charge. The Federation is fucked.

(I've only chosen a couple episodes from Season 4, but that's largely because from about midway through Season 3, all the way through Season 6, it's pretty much all good; Season 1 and 2 are largely unpalatable, but in the later seasons, you can poke around on your own, and you're not likely to go too wrong unless you accidentally hit that one episode in Season 7 where Crusher makes out with a hunky Scottish ghost.)

The Best of Both Worlds, Part II
The Federation battles the Borg. A great episode in its own right, it also features The Battle of Wolf-359, which becomes a big plot point in the series Deep Space Nine.

Data's Day
Data's Pinocchio-like struggle to become a Real Live Wooden Lieutenant Commander is brought up so many times in this series that eventually it gets kind of ridiculous, but this episode is a pretty good overview of the whole quest. The plot is: Data goes about his day. He records his thoughts. That's it. It's cute. Some people say this episode is the most egregious example of how the show isn't really sci-fi so much as it is a big soap-opera in space, but to those people, I say, "Hey, shut up."


Picard has to learn how to communicate with a strange alien race! Why can't Riker do it? Because Riker's useless. God DAMN it, Riker.

A Matter of Time
An episode about time travel! A guy from the future appears, and no one really knows what's temporally-philosophcally kosher. Guest-starring Max Headroom.

I, Borg
The Borg return! Well, one Borg returns. A teenage boy Borg. Shit proceeds to get stressful.

The Inner Light
Picard gets hit by some kind of crazy space probe! Melancholia ensues!

Time's Arrow, Part I
Data finds his corpse, everyone time-travels in sweet period clothing, and Mark Twain gets rascally. You know how you think, "Man, if I went back in time, I could totally invent all kinds of crazy modern shit!"? No, you can't. But Lieutenant Commander Data can.


Time's Arrow, Part II
Not quite as exciting as Part I, but since it ends on a cliffhanger, you'll definitely want to watch the DRAMATIC CONCLUSION

Featuring Scotty, from The Original Series! Also featuring one of the few times a crewmen gets drunk on real liquor rather than synthehol. Also featuring a hangover.

Chain of Command, Parts I and II
A secret mission leads to a horrifying episode about the Cardassians.

After Picard dies, Q gives him a chance to go back to his youth and correct all the foolish mistakes he'd made.

A spooky little episode about temporal bubbles, Romulans, and deceitful aliens from the MacGuffin quadrant.


An episode about Data's mom! This is particularly great if you like Data, or if you think that Data's mom is hell of fine.

Lower Decks
By now, you've seen that all the episodes revolve around the senior officers of the Enterprise, often on secret missions that the thousands of other people aboard can't know about. This episode provides a neat little window into the lives of the junior officers, for a change.

All Good Things, Parts I and II
The end of the series, and probably the best series finale I've ever seen. The plot? Humanity will be destroyed unless Picard can stop it. Meanwhile, Picard's either time-travelling or losing his mind.

Note that I've largely kept to Q/Borg/interpersonal-relation plotlines here; you may find that you really like Klingon politics (in which case, try Redemption, Parts I and II), or Romulan politics (in which case, try Unification, Parts I and II). Or maybe you'll find you really like Geordi, in which case, try one of the episodes where they ham-fistedly try to give him a love interest. Or maybe you'll find you really like Wesley Crusher, in which case, try a few episodes of Degrassi Junior High instead.
posted by Greg Nog at 1:20 PM on April 9, 2009 [143 favorites]

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