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Star Trek Star Trek, Paramount+, and a Defense of the Greatest Star Trek Captain

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
So as my quarantine continues on into what seems likes an interminable haze of reading ancient history books, binge-watching streaming shows, and warning others (remotely!) of the perfidy of Bards, the abominations that are New Zealand pizza toppings, and the consequences of the failure to properly employ the Oxford comma, I have turned my thoughts to Star Trek.

One advantage of this forced isolation (other than the consummation to be devoutly wish'd, specifically, to be removed from the presence of people from a time) is that I finally was able to take advantage of an offer and get free Paramount+ and catch up on some recent Star Trek I had not seen. I had been meaning to write a post about the recent Star Trek shows, but before I had a chance to, some poor souls decided to post rankings that listed James T. Kirk as the worst of all the Captain, even below Janeway. This tragic betrayal of all that is good and right cannot go unanswered. So I'm combining my thoughts into a single post.

Give my wordiness, I thought I'd nutshell the topics for everyone-
Is Paramount+ a good shepherd of the Star Trek brand, and why do people continue to hold James T. (the T. stands for "Terrific at Chewing the Scenery") Kirk in such high esteem? Plus, what are the only true and indisputable Star Trek Captain rankings?

1. Establishing my Bona Fides, and Providing a Acronym Guide.

There is nothing so loathsome as a sentimental surrealist.

There are many that are bigger fans of Star Trek than I am. I do not cosplay. I have never been to any convention for Star Trek. I am not familiar with the greater literary canon written about Star Trek, nor do I follow the actors who have played Star Trek characters simply because they were in Star Trek (other than, perhaps, the squee of recognition when I saw Leonard Nimoy in Fringe, or, of course DENNY CRANE).

That said, I love Star Trek. I have seen The Original Series which originally aired from 1966-1969 ("TOS") at least four times all the way through, and countless other times back in the day when it was on "rerun." I have seen The Animated Series ("TAS") which originally aired from '73-'74. I watched The Next Generation ("TNG") when it originally aired from 1987-'94, and I have watched it all the way through again (in addition to sporadically watching the individual episodes. I watched Deep Space Nine ("DS9") when it originally aired from 1993-'99, and I watched Voyager ("VOY") when it originally aired from 1995-'01. Admittedly, while I returned to DS9, I have only re-watched a handful of VOY episodes- the really good ones (Year of Hell), and, um, the other type (Threshold). And I watched Enterprise ("ENT") which aired from 2001-'05, but I only watched the first two seasons when it was airing, and had to come back to it when it started streaming to finish it.

I've also watched all the movies, and ... well, that's not really worth getting into. The best movies can be really good (Khan!!!!), but Star Trek, IMO, has always been a show that is best presented in episodic form.

Now, the series I mentioned previously - TOS, TAS, TNG, DS9, VOY, and ENT, constitute the pre-Paramount+ canon of Star Trek. In 2017, a streaming service called CBS All Access launched, and one of the flagship shows on it was Star Trek: Discovery (which I love to call ST:Disco, because DISCO! and would also work as STD, except NO, so will be .... "DIS"). I'm not going to mention CBS All Access again because that streaming service transmogrified into Paramount+ later on, which is basically the home of all things Star Trek.

So we now have the following new series on Paramount+ for Star Trek, either airing or in development-
1. DIS- Currently in the middle of the fourth season.
2. Short Treks. I'm not going to go into detail on these, but they are short films (some animated, some not) that are spinoffs from the DIS universe. They can be fun, and good, but are not essential.
3. Lower Decks ("LOW"). An animated series about the lowly peons on an unimportant ship in StarFleet- mostly humorous riffs on the tropes and ideas of Star Trek. Two seasons complete so far.
4. Picard ("PIC"). The further adventures of some old French guy. One season done, one season about to launch, one season being filmed.
5. Star Trek: Prodigy ("STP"). A cartoon for "young viewers" that also airs on Nickelodeon. I'm not going into this one either.
6. Star Trek: Strange New Worlds ("SNW"). The highly anticipated show with Anson Mount as Captain Pike, depicting the early days of the Enterprise. Set to debut this year.

(There is also a Section 31 show and a Starlet Academy Show that Alex Kurtzman has talked about as recently as December, but like everything else, don't count on them until they start filming).

So all told, there are currently three (3) live-action Star Treks airing and in production, one adult animated Star Trek, one kids' Star Trek, and the occasional short. That's a lot of Trek! But is it good?


2. The Fever Dream of Binging DIS, PIC, and LOW- Paramount+ is Making Good Trek.
If there is something comforting, religious even, about paranoia, there is still also anti-paranoia, where nothing is connected to anything, a condition not many of us can bear for long.

I had watched the first two seasons of DIS prior to entering quarantine. I'm going to avoid spoilers, but I would say that the first two seasons were controversial. Personally, I appreciated many of the chances they were taking, but I also understood that a lot of the decisions would be controversial, and even while I appreciated the risks, many of those risks just weren't paying off. I was glad to have Trek (it had been a LONG TIME), and there was a lot that I liked about DIS, but there wasn't much that I loved. And again, without going into spoilers, I think one of the primary issues I had was that the best Trek was always associated with a certain optimism that wasn't always present in DIS. The show was definitely taking risks, and tackling serialized content and more mature themes, and even engaging in some highfalutin' literary concepts, but it still felt a little off at times.

Well, seasons 3 and 4 (to date! it's not over yet) presented a RADICAL change in direction, and, for me, are completely compelling. This was the Trek I have been looking for! It's not always perfect, but at its best, it is excellent. Here me now and believe me later- if you gave up on DIS, keep watching. If you've never watched it, you should. It has become excellent Trek, and good television.

Which brings me to my second binge. I do make fun of the Jean-Luc lovers out there, but I know better than to make fun of Sir Patrick Stewart- the man is a treasure. And while there are the occasional off-notes in PIC, overall it was incredibly moving, satisfying, and also melancholy. It soothes the emotions of a TNG lover like me like a fresh hot cop of Earl Grey tea. Part of me thinks it would have been better (perfect, even) as just a limited run series, but another part of me can't wait for the return of old friends next month.

And that brings me to the third part of the currently-airing troika. I did not have high expectations for LOW. At all. And yet ... it was compelling. Let me explain why- what it does, it does better than almost any show I have ever seen, which is to say that it playfully mocks and satirizes the tropes of Star Trek. It does so obviously (there is a bit involving how every year, the kids make a banner for the Captain), there is some that is less obvious (the way that, after the ship is repaired, there is this lengthy sequence of the crew flying in the shuttle toward it and "oohing" and "aahing" as the camera lovingly shows off the ship), and there is some that is just awesome (one of the medical mishaps is a visual callback to Tom Paris in Threshold). You don't have to know Star Trek to find it funny, but the more you know, the funnier it becomes. But what surprised me watching it is that there is actually some depth of characters that develops over time. After a while, I kind of cared about the ongoing story and characters. I mean ... it's a cartoon full of laughs, but it's surprisingly well-written.

Of course, we will soon see the eagerly-anticipated SNW as well.

Prior to this binge, I had ... questions. After all, the world is not exactly awash in optimism right now. But while these shows certainly have conflict, they still retain that essential optimism that lies at the core of the very best Star Trek. Don't get me wrong- I love me a show like Succession. But maintaining that sense of optimism, producing good television about maintaining principles ... that's hard. And I'm glad Star Trek is still doing that.


3. Understanding the Captains of Star Trek, and their Place in the Universe.
Don't forget that the real business of war is buying and selling. The murdering and the violence are self-policing, and can be entrusted to non-professionals.

There is nothing that so captivates and calms the geek's mind as the proper ordering of things; whether it is Star Wars movies or Star Trek captains. It is the attempted exercise of objective control over subjective passions, and as such, is both doomed to fail and to provoke a never-ending cycle of recriminations. FUN!

But to rank the captains of Star Trek requires a whole 'nother bit of nonsense, especially now. Who do we count as a captain, and what makes the captain "good." So let me start by explaining which captains should, and shouldn't, count-


A. Only Captains from the Televised, Live-Action Series that were the Leads are "Captains."

Look, we need to make this somewhat concise, especially given that to do otherwise would cause a proliferation of choices. Did you remember that Frasier was a Starfleet Captain (Captain Morgan Bateson, TNG)? That Cameron Frye was a Captain of the Enterprise (Alan Ruck played Captain John Harriman in Generations). I mean ... we could go on forever, right? So we have to exclude a whole raft of people that, honestly, we don't really know much about and are usually just tossed in as hipster choices (but Robert April is the BEST EVAR!!!!!). We are also excluding movies and animated series (sorry, Captain Freeman). And the show has to have aired (sorry, Captain Pike).

That leaves us with the following-
TOS: Captain James Tiberius Kirk ("Kirk")
TNG: Captain Jean-Luc Picard ("Picard")
DS9: Captain Benjamin Sisko ("Sisko")
VOY: Captain Kathryn Janeway ("Janeway")
ENT: Captain Jonathan Archer ("Archer")

Okay ... so, you probably see one thing missing. What about DIS? Well, for reasons I will not go into because I promised to avoid spoilers, that one is more complicated. Suffice to say that AFAIC, the grade for the captain of DIS is incomplete, but I am very hopeful! So we have, in my opinion, five captains to rank. That's doable!

B. What criteria does a person use for ranking?

And this is where things tend to fall apart. The most competent captain? The most important to the fictional history of Star Fleet? The captain you'd most want to serve with? Maybe use some objective measure- the captain who got their uniform ripped the most in hand-to-hand combat? The captain who drank the most Earl Grey tea? The captain who shot off the most photon torpedoes, despite the very limited supply that was never re-supplied?

This is where I think people should combine their subjective interest in the series, with an objective attempt at ascertaining the importance of a particular captain- not within the fictional universe, but in society as a while. It's the Citizen Kane issue, or the French cuisine issue- you have to both recognize subjective preferences as well as the overall importance. That balance might fall differently for everyone, but to use a simple example- a person who ranks John Harriman above Picard is nothing but a New Zealand-pizza eating bard. And you know it.

C. The Irrefutable Rankings and Tiers of Star Trek Captains.

Bottom Tier
5. Archer. Sorry, Quantum Leap fans, but you know it to be true. ENT is the least essential Star Trek, and Archer is the least essential captain. To put it bluntly- I can think of the defining characteristics of all the other captains. When it comes to Archer, I remember that he had a dog ... and that's it.

Middle Tier
4. Janeway. Good VOY was okay and reached the heights of mediocre TNG, but bad VOY was worse than even ENT (well, better characters, but still). I wanted to love Janeway, but she was never given great material to work with. Because of the timing of the show and the poor writing, Janeway often came off as a lesser Picard.

Top Tier
3. Sisko. Look, I know it's really trendy to call Space Jesus the greatest captain ever ... but just no. Very, very, very few people actually watched DS9 at the time- I know, because I was one of them, and it was a lonely experience. And a lot of what we associate with the greatness of DS9 - like the serialized story-telling, and the Dominion War, came on fairly late in the show's run. Finally, there a lot of people that incorrectly give Sisko credit for some of the amazing characters on the show- like Quark, Odo, Kira, Bashir, Jadzia Dax (no, NOT THE OTHER DAX!!!) Dukat ... and, of course, the true and undisputed star of the show ... MORN!

I like Sisko. I like the actor. I like the job he did fictionally, and I like the job he did in real life in taking the part. Sisko definitely deserves to be a part of any conversation about the all-time greats. But he isn't the greatest, simply because DS9 was never at the same level of importance as the top two captains. The great duality. The best.


1b. Picard. If you want to put him 1a, and Kirk 1b, I'm not going to argue. His greatness is indisputable. Without Picard (and the rest of TNG), we might not have all the rest of the modern Trek. ENGAGE!


1a. Kirk. But really, this is more a modern defense of Kirk. Let's start with the obvious- without TOS, there is no Trek. There is no TNG to reboot the franchise. There is no LOW to make fun of Trek. There are no KHAAAAAAAAANNNNNNNNN! memes. Kirk took the world by storm. And there's a reason for that.

First, more than any other later pairing (sorry, Will Riker) Kirk- along with Spock- embodied an essential duality as well as a friendship.
Second, Kirk was getting the material. Yes, TNG has some amazing episodes. But the ratio of stone-cold classics to misses in TOS is simply astounding. TOS suffers from the Citizen Kane problem- the classic material has been re-used, and parodied, and re-purposed so many times now, it is hard for people to see it fresh as the groundbreaking science fiction that it was.
Third, Kirk's acting style was perfect for the part. Today, we are used to science fiction that is of a certain level of realism (like, say, the Expanse) and is less about classic allegory. You're less likely to have a giant space Abe Lincoln in today's science fiction. But the overly dramatic Kirk made for shows that work both seriously, and allow for a reading as camp. That duality is what allows people to still appreciate it today.
Fourth, and finally (and perhaps surprisingly) the choice by Desilu to film TOS ... on film, along with the sparse sets, has created a bizarre effect. Having re-watched episodes TOS and TNG recently, I noticed something fascinating. TOS episodes have become almost timeless, like a play. They are both of their time, and beyond their time. Whole TNG's best episodes still hold up, a lot of the show increasingly seems tied up to a specific gestalt and look of the 90s.

Anyway- there you have it. The answer to the best captain debate, is the same debate- Kirk or Picard. I go with Kirk/


What do you think of the new Star Trek shows on Paramount+? And do you feel like being wrong by throwing your lot in with the anti-Kirk factions? That's what the thread is for!
 

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Cadence

Legend
Supporter
I'm not a huge Trek Fan - I've seen most of TOS, much of TNG, a bit of DS9, a handful of VOY, three of the movies all the way through, and never made it past the docking sequence in the first one.

But, anyway, Michelle Yeoh has me thinking of checking out the relevant episodes of DIS. Should I spend some of my limited TV watching time on it? Or just save up for the next few Marvel Series and watch the western channel and food channel in the meantime?
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I'm not a huge Trek Fan - I've seen most of TOS, much of TNG, a bit of DS9, a handful of VOY, three of the movies all the way through, and never made it past the docking sequence in the first one.

But, anyway, Michelle Yeoh has me thinking of checking out the relevant episodes of DIS. Should I spend some of my limited TV watching time on it? Or just save up for the next few Marvel Series and watch the western channel and food channel in the meantime?

Well, true story- I watched everything (everything) Marvel up until the last Avengers' movie. And I haven't seen a single thing since. I just can't justify getting Disney+ right now; after all, I have Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO Max, and now a free year of Paramount+, and I can't even come close to watching everything I want to. So .... yeah. Not to mention a job, and a life, and exercise, and seeing the outdoors occasionally.

Now, with that said- I really really really like what they're doing on Paramount+ with the Trek franchise. Again, I want to avoid spoilers, but DIS has really gotten good, and in the third and fourth season especially has gotten back to both the TNG "principles and optimism" ideas, and the TOS "current social issues" ideas. And it's working really well. Without going into spoilers, they brought in storylines that examine gender identity and personhood in very real ways that I think were powerful and moving, without being didactic.

So yeah, I'd give it a shot. After all, what are you going to miss out on- more superheroes? They are going to make more.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
Well, true story- I watched everything (everything) Marvel up until the last Avengers' movie. And I haven't seen a single thing since. I just can't justify getting Disney+ right now; after all, I have Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO Max, and now a free year of Paramount+, and I can't even come close to watching everything I want to. So .... yeah. Not to mention a job, and a life, and exercise, and seeing the outdoors occasionally.

Now, with that said- I really really really like what they're doing on Paramount+ with the Trek franchise. Again, I want to avoid spoilers, but DIS has really gotten good, and in the third and fourth season especially has gotten back to both the TNG "principles and optimism" ideas, and the TOS "current social issues" ideas. And it's working really well. Without going into spoilers, they brought in storylines that examine gender identity and personhood in very real ways that I think were powerful and moving, without being didactic.

So yeah, I'd give it a shot. After all, what are you going to miss out on- more superheroes? They are going to make more.

Right now we have Netflix, Prime, and Disney+, so it would be that step farther for us.

The Marvel TV shows on Disney+ were really, really good.

And it has the new Duck Tails series. "Woo-hoo!"
 


payn

Legend
Nice post, a few small disagreements but nor really worth bringing up.

As for P+ era.
Picard was all kinds of awesome. It definitely had the spice of nostalgia going for it. I enjoyed it up to the ending. The ending wasn't the worst thing, but I felt like it kind of wrapped up too conveniently with some technobable non-sense, but honestly thats always been the heart of ST.

Dis was hard for me to get into at first. I do think it found its legs about mid first season. Its a different kind of Trek for sure, but it does have very Trek feeling moments. The one thing I dont like about it is how important they make Bernham to all the plots. It often feels like she dwarfs the crew and thats too bad because there are some great characters here. NOTE: I am only through season 1 and 2. I dont know what 3 and 4 have instore for me.
 






MarkB

Legend
The weird thing about going back and watching TNG is that the cast is so iconic that you forget how mediocre a lot of the actual episodes are.

But still, they're iconic for a reason, and Picard really does embody the Starfleet ideal, so he's top of the list for me.

But only just above Sisko, who embodies having to reconcile the Starfleet ideal with the rest of the galaxy.
 


payn

Legend
The weird thing about going back and watching TNG is that the cast is so iconic that you forget how mediocre a lot of the actual episodes are.

But still, they're iconic for a reason, and Picard really does embody the Starfleet ideal, so he's top of the list for me.
I feel the same way about DS9. The first two seasons are not great (though I loved the pilot!)
But only just above Sisko, who embodies having to reconcile the Starfleet ideal with the rest of the galaxy.
The things I loved about both Picard and Sisko was their ability to be a friend and a leader. Almost like a batman and Bruce Wayne kind of thing. When Sisko snapped a subordinate into attention it was always like, "god damn!". Both of them were just fine actors. I really really want a cameo of Avery Brooks in a Picard season. I hope thats something they can make happen so badly. The scenes in the pilot of DS9 with the two of them were fantastic!
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I feel very similarly to you. Disco was interesting but seemed to misunderstand what makes Star Trek, Star Trek - for the first two seasons. Then they seemed to say, "Oh, you want HOPE and People Backing Each Other Up? YOU GOT IT!"

Now, while perhaps overly sentimental, it's Star Trek dialed at 11. I quite like it.

Yeah- don't get me wrong, I enjoyed DIS for the first two seasons, despite agreeing with what @payn wrote before- it was the Burhnam show far too often.

But whatever misgivings I had have been swept away.

So far, in what is quite a rarity (I mean .... Buffy would be an exception for the first three seasons), every single season of DIS has been better.

3 >> 2 > 1. I think 4 might be the best yet, but we'll have to see how it's resolved ....
 

Urriak Uruk

Gaming is fun, and fun is for everyone
But, anyway, Michelle Yeoh has me thinking of checking out the relevant episodes of DIS. Should I spend some of my limited TV watching time on it? Or just save up for the next few Marvel Series and watch the western channel and food channel in the meantime?

So I am not a Trek person (I've watched way less Trek that you, reading your comment), but for some reason I watched the first season and half of season two, so I'll say this;

I don't know if Discovery is a good "Star Trek show." I don't really know what that is, as someone who hasn't gotten that into Star Trek.

However, I really enjoyed Season 1. It starts off a little odd, but by the end it's pretty great, and the final arc of that season is some of the best "Space Opera Television" I've seen. Some great twists, though maybe I thought they were great because I haven't seen much Trek... I dunno. But just grading it on "good TV" I enjoyed it.

Second season though? Leans in more on Trek background that I don't know (or care), and gets a little too serialized for me. The show felt like it was drifting somewhere, but I dunno where, so I lost interest and stopped.

Also, the Michael Burnham/Ash Tyler thing is so incredibly weird, and honestly awful. Just hated it.

Best part in Discovery is the Harry Mudd centered episode, and I say that as someon who had no idea who he was.
 


Urriak Uruk

Gaming is fun, and fun is for everyone
It was weird, but I thought it was a great drama. It also dipped into long run ST history (which I know you likely dont have a reference for).

That makes sense, if this is a common Trek thing I didn't know it... I didn't think it was good drama personally, as I didn't think they had good chemistry... I think it's actually hard for Burnham to have good chemistry with ANYONE considering how she was raised by Vulkans (and to the actresses credit, she plays that well). But anytime the Ash/Burnham stuff came on I wanted to fast forward, especially knowing the whole other element of Ash (which I am trying not to spoil).

I say this as someone who does appreciate romance when I think it is done well, I just didn't like this particular one.
 

payn

Legend
That makes sense, if this is a common Trek thing I didn't know it... I didn't think it was good drama personally, as I didn't think they had good chemistry... I think it's actually hard for Burnham to have good chemistry with ANYONE considering how she was raised by Vulkans (and to the actresses credit, she plays that well). But anytime the Ash/Burnham stuff came on I wanted to fast forward, especially knowing the whole other element of Ash (which I am trying not to spoil).

I say this as someone who does appreciate romance when I think it is done well, I just didn't like this particular one.
Yeah I can see a certain lack of emotion being seen as no chemistry. Though, the vulcan stuff explains it. Its cold, than hot, and then cold. It's a back and fourth song and dance with so much nuance (from Ash's perspective too). I thought it was done well. Could it have been better? Sure, but it wasn't bad to me which Trek is known for doing poorly.
 

Urriak Uruk

Gaming is fun, and fun is for everyone
Yeah I can see a certain lack of emotion being seen as no chemistry. Though, the vulcan stuff explains it. Its cold, than hot, and then cold. It's a back and fourth song and dance with so much nuance (from Ash's perspective too). I thought it was done well. Could it have been better? Sure, but it wasn't bad to me which Trek is known for doing poorly.

Ha, well if Trek is known for weak romance, then I suppose this ranks higher! At least Burnham didn't punch Ash like Kirk did above!
 

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