Wow.  Fifty years ago, a new idea for a television show aired: A science fiction vehicle based on a western concept (“Wagon Train in space” was the pitch), framed around a United Nations-type organization, set on a para-military ship that sailed the cosmos the way American battleships bumped around the islands of the Pacific, using idealized future versions of modern technological concepts, depicting aliens as thinly-disguised nationalities of humans, and telling morality tales couched in melodramatic adventure stories.  Before this, the big science fiction concept in movies or television had been Forbidden Planet (and you can clearly see its influences).  Before that, Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon serials… both running the mid-afternoon loops on local TV stations when this new show arrived.  And before too long, Flash and Buck lost their mid-afternoon slots to this new show, one of the very first darlings of syndication.

That was the beginning of the phenomenon that is Star Trek, which we celebrate in its 50th anniversary this year.  But if you were expecting a few pages of praise or diatribe about the show and its concurrent universe of assorted detritus… nah.  Everyone’s doing that.

Instead, I’m just going to post a personal list of all the things I can think of, good and bad, that have been part of the Star Trek experience.

  • Good: The inspiration of Star Trek, firing the imagination of kids and adults, dreamers and engineers, writers and artists, and science fiction lovers everywhere.
  • Bad: Star Trek was, after all, a TV show designed to sell soap every week, and as good as it was, it could have been better if not for the narrow-mindedness of TV executives.
  • Good: A ship’s crew that represented most of the nationalities of America’s “melting pot.”
  • Bad: Aliens that were pretty much two-dimensional caricatures of non-American nationalities… with one exception…
  • Good: Spock.  Half-human, half-Vulcan, 100% fascinating.
  • Bad: Almost all the other Vulcans we met tended to be dicks.  Just sayin’.
  • Good: Exploration of the Final Frontier: Very noble and exciting.
  • Bad: Cold War-style conflicts with aforementioned two-dimensional alien caricatures.
  • Good: Using science fiction to tell allegorical morality tales.
  • Bad: Allegorical explorations of the human condition sometimes got… very silly.
  • Good: Extrapolation of modern technology gave us communicators, diagnostic beds, tricorders.
  • Bad: Sci-fi TV budgets and limitations also gave us phasers, transporters, warp speed and ships that rock when fired upon.
  • Good: Mining the theater for talents capable of handling high concepts and melodrama.
  • Bad: Judge Melvin Belli. (“Death to you all!”)
  • Good: The original write-in campaign to save Star Trek after 2 seasons of low ratings.
  • Bad: Putting season 3 in the Friday night Death Slot.
  • Good: The Doomsday Machine, my personal favorite TOS episode.
  • Bad: Spock’s Brain.  Pew.
  • Good: Syndication.  Most Trek fans today never saw the original run, and only discovered the show’s awesomeness through syndication.
  • Bad: Syndicated runs often edited out the show’s more cerebral and character-driving moments to make time to sell more soap.
  • Good: Star Trek novels.  Lots of incredible content.
  • Bad: Star Trek: The Animated Series.  Lots of horrible flat animation.
  • Good: Star Wars.  Yes, its surprise commercial success convinced Paramount to revive Star Trek.
  • Bad: Now every sci-fi feature has to be like Star Wars to satisfy producers and audiences.  There go the high-minded morality tales.
  • Good: The refit Enterprise in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  Like seeing a beloved cousin for the first time in years, now all grown up and ravishingly beautiful.
  • Bad: Blowing it up in The Search for Spock. Like watching my cousin being murdered.
  • Good: The Undiscovered Country.
  • Bad: Misquoting Melville (and many, many other things) in The Wrath of Khan.
  • Good: Star Trek reboots as The Next Generation.
  • Bad: That first season or so.  Could we have Flash Gordon back?
  • Good: TNG seasons 2.5-on.
  • Bad: Wesley Crusher, Gene Roddenberry-as-a-boy surrogate and all-around pest (until he left for Academy, anyway).
  • Good: Holodecks.
  • Bad: Holodecks.
  • Good: The Borg, scary merging of organics and technology.
  • Bad: The Ferengi, pretty much capitalist man-monkeys when first introduced.
  • Good: Discovering the Federation was far from perfect.
  • Bad: Discovering Enterprise crew members are still racist (well, speceist) and clonophobic.
  • Good: Stories that explore serious scientific concepts.
  • Bad: Time travel.
  • Good: Family.
  • Bad: Rascals. Pew.
  • Good: Worf develops from caricature to character over 5 seasons.
  • Bad: Then he’s given a brat of a son.
  • Good: Deep Space Nine, the best of the TV series.
  • Bad: DS9‘s first episode.
  • Good: First substantive stories of non-military life outside of a Federation starship.
  • Bad: Not enough of it.
  • Good: Ferengi get developed into real characters at last.
  • Bad: Cardassians pretty much remain two-dimensional villains.
  • Good: Garak’s spy cat-and-mouse with Bashir.
  • Bad: Morn.  Cheap laugh.
  • Good: Religion finally becomes a story idea.
  • Bad: Religion eventually becomes political bickering point.
  • Good: Space station, not another starship.
  • Bad: Least Star Trek-looking of all the series.
  • Good: Holosuites.
  • Bad: Holosuites.
  • Good: The Defiant.
  • Bad: Endless Federation-Klingon-Romulan-Cardassian-Dominion wars.
  • Good: Worf and Dax. (Woax? Darf?)
  • Bad: Worf dumping Dax when Dax got a new body.  Bad form, dude.
  • Good: Star Trek: First Contact.
  • Bad: Star Trek: Nemesis.
  • Good: Captain Kathryn Janeway.
  • Bad: Neelix.
  • Good: Stuck in the Delta Quadrant.
  • Bad: Apparently wasn’t that hard to stay supplied on the way.
  • Good: Year of Hell.
  • Bad: Complete reboot at end of Year of Hell.
  • Good: Seska.
  • Bad: Kazon (what were they, outer space gangs?).
  • Good: More Borg.
  • Bad: Seven of Nine, blatant nerd porn.
  • Good: Memorial.
  • Bad: Threshold.
  • Good: Star Trek: Enterprise‘s depiction of the first warp-capable Earth ship.
  • Bad: Everything else about Enterprise.
  • Good: J.J. Abrams casts Zachary Quinto as Spock in the new movies.
  • Bad: Everything else about the new movies.
  • Good: Announcing a new Trek series.
  • Bad: Putting it on a barely-watched pay-per-view internet channel instead of broadcast TV.

And there you have it, my list of good and bad in the Star Trek universe.  Feel free to quibble, but this is my list, after all; if something doesn’t sit right with you, don’t take it personally.  (Translation: No Wrath of Khan rebuttals—I mean it.)