Maybe you’ve got a friend who’s a Trekkie, maybe you’ve run across some fun stuff on Tumblr, or maybe, like me, you saw the most recent film last summer and it made you want to see those characters in something that wasn’t a slapped together piece of crap. Whatever the reason you’re interested in watching “Star Trek” for the first time. But this is a more daunting task than it may seem, “Star Trek” has been on and off the air since the 1960’s, with each spinoff getting less comprehensible to the casual viewer. Where do you begin? Do you watch the shows or the movies? What should you watch and what should you skip? Hopefully I can answer some of those questions for you.
First of all what is “Star Trek”? “Star Trek” refers to the six television shows and twelve movies which all take place within the Star Trek Universe. These all trace their heritage to the original “Star Trek” series created by Gene Roddenberry back in the sixties, to which we shall now turn our attention:
“Star Trek: The Original Series” (TOS) AKA The One With Kirk and Spock
“The Original Series” was very much of its time, and I don’t just mean that all the women wore miniskirts and go-go boots. This series is campy, allegorical, and overwhelmingly optimistic. One of the great things about the show’s general lack of logic and consistency and its love of cobbling together sets out of anything it could find was that it was a show where anything could happen. The premise of the show is that two hundred years from now, in a utopian future free from poverty, war, and racism, the U.S.S. Enterprise and her crew go roving around the galaxy looking for new life forms to say hello to and ask them if they want to join the United Federation of Planets. A product of the Space Age and the Great Society, this show was partially created as a fun way to play around with genre, but also as a way of discussing social and political issues using the science fiction setting as a safe space to address issues that Roddenberry couldn’t have brought up in a realist work. The first interracial kiss in television history took place on an episode of “Star Trek” and this series was groundbreaking for showing a racially integrated future with non-stereotyped characters of color playing major roles. According to George Takei, Roddenberry would have liked to have a gay character on the show but that just wasn’t going to happen, so he had to make due with Kirk and Spock. While the blatant homoeroticism of the two’s relationship created slash fiction, just about every other thing associated with the phenomenon we now know as fandom can be traced back to the original “Star Trek.”
Best Episodes (you don’t have to watch these in any particular order, this series has little to no continuity): The Space Seed, The Naked Time, The Trouble With Tribbles, A Piece of the Action, The Devil In the Dark, The Corbomite Maneuver, Mirror, Mirror, The City on the Edge of Forever, The Journey to Babel, The Doomsday Machine, The Balance of Terror, The Immunity Syndrome, Specter of the Gun, This Side of Paradise, and Amok Time
IN SPACE!!!  This show was originally pitched as “Wagon Train to the Stars” so let’s say “Gunsmoke” or “Bonanza” in space.
If you like…
• Subject: Anthropology
• Genre: Western/Sword and Sandals Epic
“Star Trek: The Animated Series” (TAS)
AKA The Cartoon One
After “The Original Series” got cancelled they made further adventures with the original crew of the Enterprise. This series sucks. There’s nothing else to say. The animation is cheap, despite the fact that the episodes are twenty minutes long they drag, and the actors aren’t suited to do voice talent.
Episodes that aren’t completely awful: Yesteryear is actually good and Mudd’s Passion is kind of funny.
If you like…
•    Subject: Sucking
•    Genre: Stuff you watch when you’re stoned/drunk/bored out of your mind
“Star Trek: The Next Generation” (TNG)
AKA The One that Started the Kirk vs. Picard Fights
This series is proof that spin offs, sequels, and reboots don’t have to suck. After the success of the “Star Trek” movies in the eighties the series was brought back to the small screen with a new cast of characters. Whether or not this iteration is better or worse than the previous show is a matter of some debate, but fans of the series tend to like both. When people think of “Star Trek,” they either think of “The Original Series” or this show. Though still fun and hopeful, “The Next Generation” is more restrained serious. It also started to make use of subplots and story arcs and had ongoing character development. It introduced new and important aliens like the Borg, a terrifying race of robotic zombies and further developed groups like the Klingons who used to just serve as the bad guys. This show also introduced the coolest piece of technology never invented: the holodeck, a room that projects holograms of whatever you want, allowing you to virtually go anywhere you want.
Best Episodes (You should probably go season by season on these): The Best of Both Worlds, The Inner Light, Measure of a Man, Chain of Command, The Offspring, Darmok, Tapestry, Q pid, Yesterday’s Enterprise, Frame of Mind, The Big Goodbye, Unification, The Defector, Cause and Effect, Family, Relics
IN SPACE!!! “Horatio Hornblower” in Space and, in more laid back episodes, “The Office”in Space.If you like…
•    Subject: English
•    Genre: Adventure/Office Dramedy
“Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”
(AKA The One That’s Super Serial You Guys )
After “The Next Generation,” the next three shows were pretty divisive. “Deep Space Nine” has its own particular fan group, known as “Niners,” who like the series and its dark tone better than the cheery optimism of most of “Trek,” and there are Trekkies who think “Deep Space Nine” is a lame knockoff of “Battlestar Galactica” which takes itself too seriously. This show is the first to have a captain of color and the first to have a premise that didn’t revolve around space exploration. Basically Captain Sisko is in charge of a space station located above a wormhole. He must deal with whatever comes through the wormhole in addition to dealing with various alien groups that have long and nasty histories together and don’t get along.
Best Episodes: In the Pale Moonlight, Take Me Out to the Holosuite, Trials and Tribble-ations, Duet, Far Beyond the Stars, The Visitor, The Wire, Hard Time, The Die Is Cast, You Are Cordially Invited
IN SPACE!!! “Fort Apache” in Space
If you like…
•    Subject: Politics
•    Genre: Procedural/Political Thriller
“Star Trek Voyager” AKA The One With The Lady Captain
“Voyager” is also split between those who love its premise and protagonists and sexist guys who can’t stand Captain Janeway. I realize this isn’t exactly fair but the studio did get death threats for putting a woman in charge of the ship and Janeway attracts some of the most virulent hate of any captain. She also has a strong fanbase and I have noticed that there’s a gendered pattern to this. Women tend to like her, and her critics tend to be male and either claim that they just don’t agree with her command decisions, or blatant misogynists like the Star Trek commentator SFDebris. Putting the issue of gender aside, “Voyager” tells the story of the titular ship that is swept thousands of lightyears away from earth on a routine mission and their struggle to get back home. Like “Deep Space Nine,” it is a darker iteration of “Star Trek” but still plenty of fun and features lots of great characters.
Best Episodes: Bride of Chaotica, Message in a Bottle, Eye of the Needle, Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy, The Killing Game, Heroes and Demons, Author, Author, The Scorpion, A Year In Hell, Dark Frontier, The Thaw, Timeless, Living Witness, Blink of an Eye
IN SPACE!!! “The Odyssey” in Space
If you like…
•    Subject: Women’s Studies
•    Ge http://fanart.tv/fanart/tv/73566/clearart/StarTrekTheAnimatedSeries-73566-2.png
nre: Workplace/Family Drama with the occasional Nazi alien
“Star Trek Enterprise”  (AKA The One That Nobody Likes)
Poor little “Enterprise.” This show came after a very long run of “Trek” and at this point the franchise needed an injection of fresh blood. Unfortunately it didn’t get it until Season 4 and by that point it was too late. “Enterprise” was a show nobody really wanted to make, and as a result the characters are poorly defined and the plots are tired. However when it started to get good, it got really good. “Enterprise” is a prequel to “The Original Series” that takes place before the formation of the Federation and before space travel was something normal for humans. At its best it shows different groups learning to work together for the common good and occasionally destroying super weapons. “Enterprise” is also an easy show to go into without any previous knowledge of “Trek,” since viewers get to encounter things from the rest of the franchise for the first time.
Best Episodes: Shuttlepod One, Minefield, Acquisition, Regeneration, Similitude, Twilight, Damage, The Forgotten, Countdown, Zero Hour, Exile, Storm Front, The Forge, Awakening, Kirshara, In A Mirror Darkly
IN SPACE!!! At its very best it kind of feels like “Lord of the Rings” in Space
If you like…
•    Subject: History
•    Genre: Historically Inaccurate Soap Opera
Note: These “best of” lists are not all of my own creation; they have been compiled from various best episode lists around the Internet. If you don’t want to take my word for it, check out TV tropes where people suggest and vote on episodes.
Another Note: Though I personally like to watch the pilot, first “Star Trek” pilots tend to be terrible (no pun intended), so I’d recommend you skip those as they might turn you off an otherwise good show.