Star Trek was a cultural phenomenon from the late 60s through the early 2000s with a series of (mostly good) TV shows (see Part 1!) and then limped along for a few years as a movie franchise. The big question for years was when and how Star Trek would return to the small screen, and in 2017 a new series of Star Trek TV shows kicked off, and there are now as many series of Modern Star Trek as there are of Classic Star Trek!
Star Trek: DISCOVERY (2017 – 2024)
Over 10 years after Enterprise ended in 2005, we got the first “modern” Star Trek series in 2017, (following on the heels of J.J. Abrams’s massively successful blockbuster trilogy) with Star Trek: Discovery!
Despite some fan complaints here and there, I personally think it’s one of the best Star Trek shows ever made (especially the overall consistent quality of the first season right out of the gate), but it’s not without its issues. On the plus side, the series has had one of the most diverse cast of characters yet, including a gay couple, a non-binary character, and even a trans actor. One odd thing about the show is that each season is very tonally different, each feeling somewhat self-contained, but with some of the same characters carrying over, and (usually) a different Captain taking charge each season. Like Enterprise, the series starts out as a prequel, but instead of 100 years before, it starts out just 10 years before the original series (at least for the first two seasons).
Unlike previous Trek shows however, Discovery doesn’t follow one particular Captain as its main character, instead, we’re introduced to Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), a human raised by Vulcans who goes from being a very by-the-book Starfleet Officer to a mutineer that’s blamed for the war with the Klingons, and eventually redeems herself, and rises back up through the ranks to eventually become Captain. The series also features: Oscar-winning actress and martial arts expert, Michelle Yeoh as Captain Phillipa Georgiou of the USS Shenzhou (who later reappears as her Mirror Universe counterpart, the Emperor of the Terran Empire!), the incredible Doug Jones as Saru – a Kelpian (one of the most interesting new species in Trek), Anthony Rapp (Lt. Paul Stamets), Mary Wiseman (Ensign Sylvia Tilly), Wilson Cruz (Dr. Hugh Culber), Emily Coutts (Lt. Detmer), Shazad Latif (Ash Tyler), and James Frain as Sarek (Spock’s father).
Discovery begins with a two-parter that sets the stage for the rest of the series. The first episode starts more or less like you would expect from a Star Trek series (with a bigger budget), but things take a way darker and unexpected turn in the second part when all of Starfleet engages with the Klingon Empire in “The Battle of the Binary Stars” (a key moment in Star Trek history that we never really saw) – ending with the (*spoilers*) death of Georgiou, the destruction of the Shenzhou (along with half the fleet), and the arrest of Michael Burnham as she’s stripped of her rank, and shipped off to a penal colony, blamed for starting a war with the Klingons!
Season 1 mostly revolves around the events of the Federation’s war with the Klingons. Episode 3 introduces the USS Discovery – a top-secret science vessel equipped with a prototype “spore drive” that can basically teleport across vast distances instantaneously by navigating a cosmic ‘mycelial network’. We’re also introduced to Captain Gabriel Lorca (played to perfection by Jason Isaacs) – who is clearly hiding a dark secret and has nefarious plans to end the war by wiping out the Klingons.
Season 2 introduces Anson Mount as Captain Christopher Pike (the Captain of the Enterprise before Kirk), who somehow manages to not only play the character better than the original actor but might actually be the best Captain in the entire franchise. Season 2’s plot revolves around a temporal mystery involving Burnham’s adopted brother Spock (Ethan Peck – who nails the role), an anomaly referred to as ‘the Red Angel’, Section 31, and what may or may not be the origin of the Borg?! There’s also a pretty clever tie-in with the original TOS pilot, “The Cage”!
Seasons 3 and 4 took the series in a whole new direction with the USS Discovery traveling into the far future: the 32nd Century! (the furthest into the future that we’ve yet to see in the entire franchise thus far) By Season 3, Saru becomes Captain of the Discovery, we’re introduced to the mysterious, but charming scoundrel, Cleveland Booker (David Ajala), and we learn that the galaxy is in a very different place politically than when they left it, with the Federation fragmented, Earth has become isolationist, and the Vulcans and Romulans have since reunited as one species on the planet of Ni’Var! In Season 4 we also finally got to see Burnham step into the Captain’s chair!
The Fifth and Final Season was recently announced, so here’s hoping they stick the landing!
Short Treks (2018-2020?)
“Short Treks” is an anthology series of shorts expanding on storylines from Star Trek: Discovery, Picard, Strange New Worlds, and even TOS. While some of them have been kind of throwaway, there have been some pretty key episodes, including: Saru’s origins in “The Brightest Star”, Rainn Wilson’s triumphant return as Harry Mudd in “The Escape Artist”, and one of the funniest episodes of Star Trek ever made: “The Trouble with Edward”!
While it's been stagnant for a few years, rumor is the series will be back at some point in the future, expanding on even more corners of the Star Trek universe. Ed. Note: Give us DS9 Short Treks, dang it!
“Picard” is a character study of Admiral Jean Luc Picard (Sir Patrick Stewart) and his legacy, set decades after his time as Captain of the Enterprise-D (see TNG) and the events of Star Trek: Nemesis. We come to learn that in that time there was an android uprising at the shipyards on Mars (showcased in an episode of Short Treks), followed by the destruction of Romulus (see 2009’s Star Trek), both of which changed galactic politics within the Federation, leading them to a ban on all synthetic life, and becoming closed off from the rest of the galaxy.
In Season 1, Picard embarks on one “final” mission to save a young girl who appears to have a connection with his long-lost friend, Data – an android who sacrificed himself to save his crew. Picard leaves his French vineyard and assembles a crew, including a Romulan warrior monk named Elnor, Dr. Agnes Jurati, his former First Officer, Raffi, Seven of Nine from Voyager (Jeri Ryan), and the roguish pilot, Cristóbal Rios, Captain of the La Sirena (a non-Starfleet ship). This one has a lot of mystery and intrigue, with some pretty crazy twists, appearances from Riker and Troi, and an emotional send-off for a beloved character.
Season 2 starts with an unexpected reappearance of the Borg Queen after decades of being dormant. The Borg engage the fleet and take control of the USS Stargazer (an updated version of Picard's first command), now Captained by Rios, with Seven, Jurati, and Picard on board. Just as the Stargazer self-destructs, Picard awakens to find himself in an alternate universe – a dark timeline where the Federation had become the xenophobic Confederation, thanks to the interdimensional being, Q (John de Lancie reprising his iconic role)! Picard and his compatriots have to reassemble, travel back in time, and (with a little help from Guinan) figure out what went wrong with history, to save the future! While the over-arching plot has universe-wide stakes, the story is really a profoundly personal one, about a man finally overcoming a life-defining childhood trauma. Ed. Note: Dang it, Erik, you're summary is so good that it's almost tricked me into thinking I liked this season!
The Third and Final Season debuted this year (in 2023), and finally delivered a long-awaited epilogue for The Next Generation, with the return of the entire TNG cast, all reuniting one last time! We even get to see Seven in command of the Titan-A! While it mostly works as a stand-alone piece, I think this one has a lot more impact if you’re already invested in these characters and their stories. Seriously, I had tears of joy during those last couple of episodes!
Picard was always meant to be a limited series, which makes sense given Patrick Stewart’s age, but the final chapter really delivered a fitting end for fans who grew up with TNG (especially compared to the last couple TNG movies). While this series has been rather divisive among fans, I’d argue that Season 3 is really a heartfelt epilogue for the entire 90’s era of Trek, in the same way that Star Trek VI was a great send-off for the TOS cast. Picard really does these characters justice by sticking the landing, one last time.
LOWER DECKS (2020 – Ongoing)
When Lower Decks was first announced, I… had concerns. The show was pitched as basically a Star Trek version of Rick and Morty, two things I didn’t think would ever mix very well. I’m happy to report that the show is the best possible version of that premise and more!
In the same vein as so many modern animated shows, this one is absolutely not for kids, and it’s freaking hilarious – especially if you’re a fan of Trek. Not only is it chock-full of some of the most deep cuts references, Easter Eggs, and jokes, but it also has great characters with some heartfelt storylines. Rather than focusing on the bridge crew (like literally every other series), the show follows the exploits of four ensigns aboard the USS Cerritos: Beckett Mariner, Brad Boimler, D’Vana Tendi (an Orion), and a cyborg named Sam Rutherford.
Despite being TV-MA, and having some of the most bonkers plotlines this side of TOS, Lower Decks is still 100% Star Trek, sorta like if Galaxy Quest or The Orville actually took place in the Star Trek universe. Oddly enough, regardless of being a borderline spoof, this is easily one of the best new Star Trek shows to date! It even fits firmly into cannon, set somewhere between the events of TNG and Picard.
Star Trek: Prodigy (2021 – ?)
Star Trek: Prodigy is the first animated Star Trek series aimed at a younger audience (unlike Lower Decks which is more for the ‘Adult Swim’ crowd). Debuting on Nickelodeon, Prodigy follows a young rag-tag group of misfits (Dal R’El, Gwyndala, Zero, Murf, Rok-Tahk – a friendly rock creature, and a Tellarite, played by Jason Mantzoukas, named ‘Jankom Pog’?!) who find an abandoned prototype Starfleet ship in the Delta Quadrant! The coolest part? The crew is guided by a holographic Captain Janeway!
If there’s one must-watch episode from this show, it has to be “Kobayashi” – where Dal attempts to pass the infamous Kobayashi Maru test in the ship’s holodeck – simulating the Enterprise-D bridge, recruiting holographic versions of Spock, Dr. Crusher, Uhura, Odo, and even Scotty!
STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS (2022 – Today!)
Spinning off of Star Trek: Discovery Season 2, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is classic Trek at its best. It’s basically TOS with a way bigger budget and modern effects. While many of the newer series have gone for season-long arcs and more in-depth character studies, Strange New Worlds opts for more of a fun, episodic, adventure-of-the-week approach, and it totally works!
Taking place roughly 10 years before Kirk becomes Captain of the USS Enterprise, Strange New Worlds stars Anson Mount as Captain Christopher Pike, Ethan Peck as Spock, Rebecca Romijn as ‘Number One’, Jess Bush as Christine Chapel, Babs Olusanmokun as Dr. M’Benga, Bruce Horak as Hemmer (a blind Aenar), Christina Chong as La’an Noonien-Singh, Melissa Navia as Ortegas, and Celia Rose Gooding as Uhura!
Season 1 might be one of the most consistently strong seasons of ANY Star Trek series, and I for one can’t wait to see what’s in store with Season 2, which has just kicked off on Paramount Plus!
So there you have it! Be sure to read my breakdown of Every STAR TREK *Movie* Ever… So Far, or listen to my friends and I talk about Star Trek on “Too Young For This Trek: A Star Trek Podcast”. You can also help support me by buying my latest book, “2299” – a sci-fi/noir novella (on Amazon or Audible), and catch up with ALL the latest Trek shows and more, now streaming on Paramount Plus!