Thursday, June 30, 2011

Month in Review: June 2011

We've had months filled with variety before, but in this blogger's opinion, June contained one of the best blends of content and style we've ever had. We explained, philosophized, reported the news, waxed nostalgic, told stories, and asked readers for help. Post lengths ranged from barely over a paragraph to longer than every post we wrote in the first month of this blog combined. We had a genuine investment in each of the topics we discussed, to the point where even the filler posts were earnest, heartfelt blurbs about things we wanted to share.

We're happy to share these posts from June with you again, or for the first time, as the case may be:

- Alex's cathartically off-topic weekly comics news column, Waiting for Wednesday, Volume 3, Issues 22-26, covering DC's Flashpoint storyline, an impending trip to Las Vegas, The Li'l Depressed Boy, Death of Spider-Man, and the return of The Goon.

- A recap of my May contributions to videogame humor website

- Thoughts about the impact of DC Comics' plan to renumber the universe

- A list of possibilities for a Saturday to oneself

- An explanation of why Alex could be the poster child of pain and illness

- Anticipation of a summer of comics

- A reflection on being a retro gamer, part two

- Genghis Khan, Marriage Counselor (the name really says it all)

- Excitement over plans to see a Paul McCartney concert, and the insightful tale of the concert itself

- A massively comprehensive viewer's guide to Star Trek: The Original Series and its animated and feature film follow-ups, plus an explanation of what prompted me to write the post

- A link to a story about embarrassing your children with hilarious costumes

- A positive spin Duke Nukem Forever, the game people waited fifteen years to be disappointed by

- Observations about the home I am leaving behind, made during a long walk home

- A request for a new desktop background

- News of Free RPG Day!

- A note about Alex missing out on new comic book movies

- An Eddie Murphy-inspired theory proposing that you can judge a movie by its poster

- A review of the new, digital face of Wizard Magazine

- A bit of muckraking regarding Swamp Thing (alternately, a review)

- A farewell to legendary comics illustrator Gene Colan

- A message from Dr. Light

- An opinion piece on how our expectations affect our happiness

- A review of TrollHunter, the Norwegian thriller film

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Waiting for Wednesday, Volume 3, Issue 26

And here we are--the halfway point of 2011. Wow. 26 weeks in...and it feels a lot like 2010, actually. Comics-wise, though, plenty has changed--and will continue to change--in 2011, but, happily, they're still publishing the funny books and they still come out on Wednesdays.

And they haven't yet gone completely digital. So there's that.

The biggest changes that we'll see in the comics industry for 2011 are yet to come, as DC's relaunch doesn't start up for another couple of months. We'll get a real feel for what that's going to mean for the industry by the tail end of this year.

As for this week, though, there's really only one book that needs talking about, and, really, it's the only book that's going to make my week any good.

So far I've managed to have two days wherein I didn't see the sun (and it's summertime, so that's tough to do), and I have a pretty major deadline looming next week.

So, yeah, not much of a 4th of July weekend for me.

But all that is okay, because today...well, today we get a new issue of Eric Powell's The Goon! Issue 34, to be exact. And this marks the first Goon single issue in...ya know what? I have no idea how long it's been. I think maybe around Thanksgiving of last year an issue came out?

I don't know.

What I do know is that it's been way, way too long since I've visited Franky, Goon, and the rest of the inhabitants of Eric Powell's delightfully insane world of delightfully insane people.
Readers of the blog know that The Goon is to me what Mega Man is to Nathaniel, and it's truly the only comic on the shelves that gets me antsy about getting to the comics shop.

I need my Goon fix and, finally, today I will get it.

Here's the solicitation information from Dark Horse about this week's issue:

The Goon’s been away for a while, and he’s horrified by what’s been passing for horror in his absence!

When a bunch of gothy vampires summon some of the new generation for revenge on the Goon, they discover just how little tolerance he has for sparkliness. The Goon returns to its bimonthly schedule, and nothing beloved by ten-year-old girls is safe!

* The Goon is back--and bimonthly!

* Tired of sparkly vampires? Dark Horse does vampires right!

“The Goon is the product of a contentedly demented mind.” --Comic Book Resources

I'm glad to see that the book is back on a bi-monthly schedule. I know there are some very cool plans for the title this year, including a crossover with Steve Niles' Criminal Macabre series and a collaborative issue featuring the work of Evan Dorkin.

But issue 34 is the launching point, and I suggest that anyone looking to jump on board this title try this week's issue. It looks to be self-contained (as the majority of Goon stories are), and frankly, it looks pretty hysterical.

So, yeah.

That's all you'll get out of me today, on this very special Goon Wednesday. Before I throw on my helmet and get back to work, though, what are you Waiting for?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Exfanding Review: TrollHunter

When I asked my brother if he wanted to watch a Norwegian horror film about trolls and with subtitles, his answer was quick and simple. "Yes." And he sat down on the couch immediately. When I asked a buddy if he'd like to join us, his answer was quick and simple, as well. " Thanks...though?"

My brother's appreciation of fine independent film and avante garde horror movies--an appreciation he cultivated while in college--was clear in his decision to watch the movie.

That, and there were trolls.




Trolljegeren, or, for you non-Norwegians, TrollHunter, is the story of--you guessed it. The loons are back again on Golden Pond and so are Norman Thayer, a retired professor, and Ethel, who have had a summer cottage there since early in their marriage.

Wait. No. Sorry.

Wrong flick.

TrollHunter's similar, though, except that it's about a troll hunter.

Seriously, folks. Why wouldn't you watch this flick? Especially because their distributor is doing that super cool thing wherein the movie is released On Demand at the same time that it's playing in theaters.

Shot in a Cinéma vérité style, this mocking documentary is part Blair Witch, part Spinal Tap, and part Grimm's Fairy Tales. To call it a straight up "horror" film is a bit strong, and more accurately I think, I would classify it more as a thriller.

Sure, there are some pretty frightening moments in the movie, but they are never done for shock value, and, frankly, they're not all that scary. But that's okay, because I was too in awe of what was happening on screen to be afraid of it.

Taking full advantage of the stunning Norwegian landscape, TrollHunter is a fast-moving (literally) story about a group of students looking to do a series of reports on recent and mysterious bear killings.

They follow a group of hunters, all experts in tracking bear, and come to find out that the group is not convinced that the killings are entirely what they seem. The students also learn of a rogue poacher (played by Otto Jespersen, who is just fantastic in the film) who always manages to be one step ahead of the hunters.

Thinking that the true intrigue lies with the alleged poacher, the students decide to follow him. Of course, he's all mystery and gruff, and he tells the kids to beat it. But kids are stupid, so they keep at it, eventually following the hunter deep into the woods, in a restricted government area, at night.

You know how the story goes from here, I'm assuming.

Dude's not a poacher, but an honest-to-goodness troll hunter, and the government has been keeping secret the existence of these fairy tale creatures for many years. And our troll hunter is the last line of defense between rogue trolls wandering off their territory and into human-inhabited spaces.

The film masterfully mixes old troll legends with modern day science and tech, and the result is, frankly, a stunning piece of work.

The CGI of the giant, lumbering trolls is spot-on, and the film makers show you just enough of the creatures to ensure that their scale is appreciated and the threat to the characters and to their world is real.

Like Blair Witch, you know that you're watching something that's "allegedly" real footage, and the notes at the beginning of the film telling us this do seem a bit corny and overused.

But I'm thinking those notes were included as an homage of sorts, and really, the film itself is pretty amazing. It never takes itself too seriously, but at the same time, the mixing of humor, horror, and mythology

Brilliantly shot, gripping, and with excellent and effective CGI, TrollHunter is definitely worth checking out. If nothing else, it'll have you yelling "TROOOOLLLLLL!" to all of your friends.

And that alone makes it worth seeing.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Content with Content

Do we really need new content as frequently as we demand? In the case of this blog, Alex and I post every day to keep us sharp and to keep the writing energy going, but I think of webcomics artists and YouTube contributors who catch flack for not producing new content like clockwork. I've written before about having unreasonable expectations for content creators, but what about our expectations for the content itself?

It's understandable to want more of something we like. It's also understandable to get anxious if we've been promised something we're really looking forward to that doesn't arrive on time. However, if you're anything like me, there's plenty to do with your time while you're waiting.

During the time it's taken Telltale Games to release all five episodes of Back to the Future: The Game, I've been playing through Final Fantasy III and Dragon Warrior IV; when a new episode arrives, I put my other games on hold and enjoy two or three evenings of adventure gaming, and then go back to what I was doing. You've probably seen my Backloggery by now; you probably know there are hundreds of other games I could be playing for the first time. Why whine and complain about just one?

In fact, why whine and complain at all? Yes, it's cathartic, and we want to feel that surge of power that we are the reason Company X is getting its butt in gear to make another two hours of entertainment for us. I, for one, prefer not to get too excited and impatient for anything new, even for my most beloved fandoms. I think the general public gets so violently dissatisfied with, for example, sequels that fail to live up to their predecessors, in part because people spend so much time living in the hype and constructing their own visions of what the sequel should be that it's all but impossible to enjoy the not-absolutely-perfect finished work when it's finally released.

Moderation in all things: A little bit of hype generates excitement, and a little bit of waiting builds anticipation. The payoff of moderation is the ability to enjoy a new work whenever it arrives, based on its own merits, with just enough enthusiasm going in to give the work the benefit of the doubt if it falters anywhere.

There's been a perpetual outcry for a true sequel to Chrono Trigger since the game was released in 1995, and there's been brutal criticism of the last decade or two of Sonic the Hedgehog games, but what has all the bellyaching accomplished? In the long term, perhaps the bellyaching has driven the message home to the developers what the fans want. In the short term, fans are extra unhappy because they're not getting what they demand. I can't speak for you, but I'd rather spend two decades getting whatever fun is to be had out of what I'm given than complaining about what I don't have.

That doesn't mean I can't be disappointed by something I've waited for, and that doesn't mean I can't complain about it. When I experience any new creative work, whether it's a video game, movie, book, comic, etc., I strive to recognize both the good and the bad, and not just write off the whole thing because I disliked more than I liked, or because it didn't live up to my expectations. I rarely have any excess enthusiasm that I need to channel into rage once I see the final, flawed product, so I can afford to be a little dispassionate--or, conversely, equally passionate about the good and the bad. You might call it having lower standards, but I call it being able to enjoy more of what I watch, play, and read.

I'm just here to be entertained. I don't need everything that entertains me to be groundbreaking and astonishing, and I certainly don't need it all Right Now. I want another season of Firefly just as much as the next guy, but to be honest, I'm pretty content with what I've got...and it's my pleasure, not my right, to have any more than that.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Message from Dr. Light

Because Big Life Stuff (and finishing up yesterday's gargantuan Star Trek post) has consumed so much of my free time, I'm once again behind on my recording schedule for the next Mega Man video for my YouTube channel. I'm used to being asked about when the next video will arrive, but this time around, people started demanding another video.

So I gave them one.

Trivia: Video footage assembled entirely in Microsoft PowerPoint.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A User's Guide to Star Trek: The Original and Animated Series

So you've read my introduction to Star Trek and you want to give the original series a try, or you love other flavors of Star Trek but could never get into the original series, or you're a diehard fan who's got a limited window of opportunity to expose someone to Star Trek for the first time. Where do you begin?

Any fan worth his or her weight in gold-pressed latinum can rattle off at least a few of the "best episodes" that every fan should see, but the best episodes of a series aren't always the best starting points for a newcomer. A list of the Top 10 Best Star Trek Episodes might be fun for the fans, but it won't necessarily include any episodes that establish characters, concepts, and plot threads that are helpful or even essential to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the series...or any of the series that followed.

In order to aid the newcomer who doesn't have the time and/or interest to watch everything, I have compiled a guide to Star Trek that is, with any luck, both reasonably objective and relatively comprehensive. If an episode is accessible to first-timers, fleshes out the details of the greater Star Trek universe, and/or provides useful background for future episodes and movies, then it's probably on my list.

Each of the three seasons of the show is introduced with a blurb about what to expect, and the episodes are presented in chronological order (ignoring the wonky order in which the episodes were originally aired). The highly episodic nature of the series makes it easy to skip around without getting lost, so I encourage you to use your own discretion in crafting a viewing plan (if you're actually crafting a viewing plan).


The adventures of the starship Enterprise and her crew continue in the oft-forgotten Star Trek: The Animated Series (TAS), which I also address in my guide. There's been a bit of debate over how canonical TAS really is, but numerous small references in The Next Generation (TNG), Deep Space Nine (DS9), Enterprise (ENT), and a few motion pictures seem to indicate that these are the canonical animated adventures of Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek. Indeed, the series feels very much like a fourth or fifth season of TOS, albeit much shorter, and with more recycled music.

No guide to Star Trek would be complete without a discussion of the six feature films starring the original cast of the original television show, so I will conclude with a brief romp through the movies; nothing says you can't start there instead. Though the films may at first be a little difficult to follow for someone with no prior knowledge whatsoever about the universe or characters, there's enough continuity and character development throughout the movies to significantly decrease the barrier to entry with each installment.

So, without (much) further ado, I give you one fan's as-objective-as-possible guide to getting as much out of the original Star Trek as possible without actually watching the whole thing. Because seriously, busy viewers might take years to get through everything, and subjecting casual or reluctant viewers to every single episode inevitably ends poorly.

Oh, and because the official Star Trek website features full episodes of every series for online viewing, each episode title links to the full episode so you can watch it RIGHT NOW, FOR FREE. [EDIT: Oops, not anymore. But you have Netflix, right?]

Star Trek: TOS - Season One

As with any new series, Star Trek took a little while to find its footing. Costumes changed from the pilot episode, sets and props were updated as time went on, actors gradually figured out who their characters were, and the series itself took some time to determine who the main characters were. Even so, some of the most beloved and identifiable episodes of the series come from the first season, so don't let me stop you from watching anything that isn't listed here.

"The Cage" (Note: This episode isn't on the Star Trek website at the time of this post.)
Every series needs to start somewhere, and Star Trek's pilot episode, "The Cage," is not it. While "The Cage" is the Star Trek premiere that series creator Gene Roddenberry originally pitched to the network executives at NBC, it is not the pilot episode that would eventually kick off the series. That distinction goes to "Where No Man Has Gone Before," which changed or did away with the things the network execs didn't like about the first pilot—most notably, the entire cast (except for Leonard Nimoy as Spock).

Still, "The Cage" is an interesting look at what Star Trek might have been, and the fact that it was rejected by 1960s network executives should not be an indicator of its quality: the episode is solid science-fiction about aliens wielding the power of illusion; the characters are memorable; and in one viewer's humble opinion, it has some of the best character development in the entire series. While this first pilot may not be essential viewing for the uninitiated (especially if you watch "The Menagerie," discussed later on), it's possible that a viewer on the verge of giving up on Star Trek might just find this different enough to be to their liking.

"Mudd's Women"
In addition to being a generally good introduction to the characters and concepts of Star Trek, this marks the first appearance of one of the original series' few recurring non-crew characters. Harry Mudd lends some comic relief to the show while illustrating that, in the midst of all these weird aliens and powerful starships, there's still room in the galaxy for a man who's just trying to make a dishonest living. Of course, if you're not interested in Mudd, then there's always his women, who showcase the skimpy female outfits TOS is (in)famous for. (It's okay; you can smack me.)

"The Enemy Within"
Showcasing the first of many transporter accidents, this episode goes to show that some of Star Trek's most iconic and futuristic technology can be as dangerous as it is helpful when things go wrong. We also get to see Captain Kirk go to character-defining extremes, which is a treat for anyone who likes to see actors act outside of what their roles normally require.

"The Naked Time"
Those of you who watched "Mudd's Women" for the women will be sorely disappointed by this episode. However, those of you looking for widespread character development resulting from an inhibition-destroying virus have come to the right place.

"Charlie X"
Never give an unstable teenager godlike superpowers. Watch the mayhem from the sidelines as you get acquainted with the musical talents of the ship's crew, and pay attention to the fleeting mention of a space probe agency that gets brought up a few more times throughout Star Trek history.

"Balance of Terror"
What do you do when confronted by an enemy who you haven't seen for a century? With starship combat tactics mired in guesswork, a ranking officer coming under suspicion for his ties to the enemy, and fuzzy lines separating heroes from bad guys, this episode serves as a strong introduction to one of the Star Trek universe's most memorable recurring villains, the Romulans.

"The Galileo Seven"
If transporter technology can malfunction to cause problems like the ones seen in "The Enemy Within," then it'd be much safer to just fly from one place to another in a shuttlecraft, right? Right? OH JEEZ WE'RE GOING IN FOR A CRASH-LANDING! Tense situations, plentiful action sequences, and resourceful solutions characterize this parable against ever, ever leaving your starship for any reason. Erm...story about how cool and dangerous shuttlecrafts can be.

"Court Martial"
First trip to a starbase? A good look at SPACE JUSTICE? Sign me up!

"The Menagerie, Part 1" "The Menagerie, Part 2"
Remember when I talked about "The Cage"? This is a brilliant way to stretch your budget—use footage from an unaired pilot episode to provide enough flashbacks to fill not one but two episodes. Some of this season's most identifiable characters appear in these episodes: first and foremost is Christopher Pike, the now-disabled and disfigured former captain of the Enterprise. Also of note are a green-skinned Orion slave girl and the bigheaded Talosians, but they're old news if you've already seen "The Cage." However, if you have seen "The Cage," then it's worth watching these episodes to see what happens when the Enterprise gets dragged into a return trip to a planet where visitation is punishable by death.

"Shore Leave"
What do Starfleet officers do for rest and relaxation when given shore leave? Get accosted and terrorized by a slew of fantasy creatures, including Don Juan, the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, and an Irishman. We get a crude glimpse into the psyche of a few characters, which provides enough characterization to warrant a mention. Ten bucks says there'll be a sequel in The Animated Series.

Barren landscapes, hand-to-hand combat, and individual ingenuity are some of the hallmarks of the original Star Trek, and this episode has 'em in spades. As an added bonus, we get a good look at a member of a lizardlike race of aliens known as the Gorn, who retain surprising popularity considering they were almost never to be seen or heard about again.

"Tomorrow is Yesterday"
Time travel is a recurring plot device found in every Star Trek series and in more than one of the films. The method of time travel here is a noteworthy one, as are the measures the crew must take to preserve the integrity of their timeline after the entire Enterprise gets thrown back to the full view of the US Air Force.

"A Taste of Armageddon"
Star Trek is often a show about real-life social and political issues explored through the lens of science fiction, and while numerous episodes on this list already demonstrate this well, I'll admit to playing favorites: "A Taste of Armageddon" is one of the all-around best episodes of the original series, in my opinion. It's an episode that puts a powerfully thought-provoking spin on the nature of war, it showcases exactly what kind of a leader Kirk is, it offers one of many demonstrations of the famous Vulcan mind meld technique, and it's just good sci-fi.

"Space Seed"
The Enterprise encounters a "sleeper ship" carrying passengers in suspended animation from two centuries ago...including Khan Noonian Singh, who is almost certainly the most popular individual Star Trek villain of all time. He's not just popular, though—he's a dangerously clever man who, by his wits and charm as much as his strength, can achieve anything he wants. Also notable is the first discussion of the Eugenics Wars, a subject that is revisited in the show Enterprise (ENT) and that forms an important part of how Star Trek's history of Earth diverges from ours.

"Errand of Mercy"
While the story itself is standard fare—forces on opposing sides of a conflict vying for control of a planet that will shift the balance of power in their favor—the significance of this episode is quite...significant. This marks the first appearance of Star Trek's signature villains, the warlike Klingons. Moreover, the planet, the people, and the events depicted in this one episode reappear or are referenced numerous times throughout the rest of this series and the series to follow. On its own, it's much like any other episode, but it sends important ripples through the greater Star Trek universe.

"The City on the Edge of Forever"
At the risk of playing favorites again, I'm including this episode not just because it's frequently cited as the best Star Trek episode of all time, but because it's arguably the best episode you can show a person who is so turned off by the idea of Star Trek that they're only willing to give this show just one shot. This episode requires no previous knowledge whatsoever, takes place on Earth in the comfortably non-futuristic year of 1930 (thanks to what might be Star Trek's most memorable method of time travel), and plays out like a normal, compelling drama with a sci-fi twist. If that isn't enough to win someone over, then they're hopeless, and/or should definitely give the show one more chance with the more lighthearted "The Trouble with Tribbles" (discussed later).

Star Trek: TOS - Season Two

While the first season of Star Trek contains a number of "classic" episodes, the show didn't fully hit its stride until the second season, when the plotlines began to diversify, the main cast was solidified (with the addition of Russian navigator Pavel Chekov), and the series began to explore more of the possibilities presented by the characters and ideas of the first season. As a guy who craves variety, continuity, and good pacing in his television shows, I can tell you that this season of Star Trek is by far the most consistently enjoyable for me to watch.

Star Trek is big on blobular and supernaturally powerful aliens, and while plenty of other episodes provide a good exposure to this staple of the series, this episode has the added benefit of introducing Zefram Cochrane, the man who allowed the Enterprise to go zooming around the galaxy by inventing warp drive...which is particularly interesting because the man's been missing for 150 years.

"Amok Time"
The Vulcans are unquestionably one of Star Trek's most popular and identifiable alien races, and this episode explores their emotionally restrained and highly logical culture...and the last sliver of uncontrollable passion that remains in them. Without a doubt, this is one of the most foundation-building episodes on the list: the concept introduced here of pon farr is referenced often enough in geek culture and revisited in Star Trek III, Voyager, and Enterprise.

"The Doomsday Machine"
If there's one thing you can count on in TOS, it's that Kirk is the only captain in Starfleet who hasn't gone completely insane. At least, that's what you might be led to believe from episodes like this one, which gives you a peek at another ship in the fleet, her captain, and the aftermath of a mission that did not end well. As an added bonus, this episode introduces the father of a key character from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, as well as an iconic doomsday machine that has been a popular additon to various Star Trek spinoff novels, comics, and video games.

"The Apple"
I'm personally not wild about this story of a primitive culture that worships a god that's actually a fancy machine, but it demonstrates beyond the shadow of a doubt that any crew member wearing a red shirt will almost certainly die in the most horrible way possible.

"Mirror, Mirror"
We get a good look at the sinister possibilities of alternate realities in Star Trek's first foray into the Mirror Universe (with more forays to follow in Enterprise and Deep Space Nine). We get to see a completely different spin on the characters (thanks to another transporter malfunction), and the impact on pop culture is not to be underestimated.

"I, Mudd"
Harry Mudd is back, and with more women than ever before...he's got an entire planet of them under his command. Not only do we get a little taste of plot continuity in a predominantly episodic series, but we get to see a sliver of Kirk's prowess at talking a computer to death, a skill he uses more often than you'd think.

"The Trouble with Tribbles"
While "City on the Edge of Forever" might be the best first exposure for a viewer who's highly resistant to the idea of Star Trek, "The Trouble with Tribbles" is probably your best bet for everyone else. This is another episode that's often cited as the best in the series, and I don't disagree: there's a few clever plot twists, a good dose of humor, and situations and dialogue that truly bring out the personalities of the characters—in other words, it's good and highly accessible television. On a more Star Trek-centric level, it's an opportunity to see the warlike Klingons in a more diplomatic setting (and to meet two particularly important Klingons who'll show up later), and to see what happens when the cutest little alien furballs in the galaxy win over the hearts—and workstations—of almost the entire Enterprise crew.

"Journey to Babel"
This story of political intrigue and family tension also serves as an excellent introduction to a few characters and races that appear throughout the films and episodes to come. We meet Sarek and Amanda, the unlikely parents of Spock—one a distinguished Vulcan diplomat and the other a very emotional human. We also get an exposure to the argumentative, porcine Tellarites and the militaristic, antennae-clad Andorians, who play an important role in ENT.

"The Gamesters of Triskelion"
Crew members are captured and forced to fight for the amusement of an alien race. It's a chance to see many of Kirk's trademarks in one episode: ending up shirtless in hand-to-hand combat, becoming romantically involved with the female du jour, and exercising a very direct brand of diplomacy.

"A Piece of the Action"
The Enterprise often encounters civilizations that closely resemble cultures from Earth's history, and perhaps the best example of this is the planet that grew up to be 1920s mobsters. Disguises, ingenuity, and adaptation are the order of the day, with a bit of comedy to spare.

"Assignment: Earth"
This was the pseudo-pilot episode for a spinoff that was never launched (until John Byrne's comic series four decades later). Taking place entirely in 1968, the time-traveling Enterprise crew encounters a man who claims he's been sent from another planet to help Earth...sounds like a decent premise for a new show, which is what Gene Roddenberry hoped it might become. Most of the reasons I cited for watching (or not watching) "The Cage" are applicable here.

Star Trek: TOS - Season Three

The third and final season of Star Trek is widely considered to be a disappointment by cast, crew, and fans. The show had just returned from cancellation (poor ratings, but faithful viewers), but a reduced budget and some significant behind-the-scenes personnel changes changed the feel of the show dramatically. There's a few worthwhile episodes in the bunch, but I find that too many of the episodes are heavy-handed with their underlying message, lack truly memorable scenes and characters, and develop in unpleasant or bizarre directions.

"The Paradise Syndrome"
How far will a crew go to recover their lost leader? Character development abounds when the Enterprise is without her captain, and the captain without his Enterprise...or his memory. Even though no direct connection is ever stated on film, this episode ties in with The Next Generation (TNG) episode "The Chase," so we've got some implied continuity as well.

"The Enterprise Incident"
The return of the Romulans is marked by a plot to capture a Roman cloaking device, which will render a ship invisible and virtually undetectable. There's subterfuge and...sensuality? Interesting (and, for some fans, controversial) character development, and we also get to know these crafty Romulans better.

"The Tholian Web"
The elusive Tholians appear throughout the various Star Trek series, though almost always in name only. Here we catch a rare glimpse of them in action, as the Enterprise is trapped in their energy web. We also catch a glimpse of a memorial service for a lost senior officer, and the character development that accompanies it. Additionally, this episode serves as the foundation for a two-part Mirror Universe story on ENT, which you would never expect based on this description.

"Day of the Dove"
Klingons are loose aboard the Enterprise! Throw in a powerful alien that meddles with the crew, the Famous Spock Nerve Pinch, and another Particularly Important Klingon Who You'll Meet Again, and you've got a fairly well-rounded sample of what TOS brings to the greater Star Trek universe. Plus, you get a pretty comprehensive tour of the ship (to your left, you'll see a Klingon taking over the bridge...).

"Requiem for Methuselah"
I've tried not to select episodes that have more connections to "expanded universe" material than the movies and shows, but this one features a character who has captured the imaginations of several Trek novelists in particular. The character in question is the master of an impressive home with many treasures of the distant past, living on an otherwise vacant planet with a mysterious young woman at his side. Meanwhile, everyone else is dying of plague.

"The Savage Curtain"
A powerful alien forces people to fight each other for sport. Erm...for research. The premise may sound familiar if you've been following along thus far, but it's the infamous and legendary characters introduced here that have nabbed this episode a spot on my list. We've got a ruthless human who becomes relevant on ENT, as well as—at least within the context of the Star Trek universe itself—the most influential Vulcan ever and the most unforgettable Klingon of all. As an added bonus, Abe Lincoln fights Genghis Khan, and that makes us at Exfanding very happy.

"All Our Yesterdays"
This one will teach you to stay away from the library. A dash of consequence-free time travel and a hefty dollop of appropriately out-of-character character development make this an interesting watch. What can I say? I'm a sucker for character development, and because the series concluded with another "Look out, there's an impostor Kirk on the loose!" episode ("Turnabout Intruder") instead of a grand finale, I'm content enough to let this episode cap off the final season of TOS.

Star Trek: TAS - Seasons One and Two

I won't spend any time reintroducing the characters and universe in this guide—though if this is where you choose to jump into
Star Trek, you'll do just fine watching all the episodes in order and skipping the ones I point out here. Virtually all of the recurring characters, races, and technologies had been fleshed out and poised to make their impact on spinoffs to come by the end of TOS; most of what I spotlight in TAS is either an encore or minor elaboration of something that's already been covered.

Many of the original series' writers returned for TAS, as did the actors who played Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, and Nurse Chapel. Woefully absent, due to scheduling commitments and budget constraints, respectively, are Sulu and Chekov. Very few voice actors were brought in outside of the main cast—you can bet good money that any given woman was voiced by Nichelle Nichols (Uhura) or Majel Barrett (Chapel), and that almost anyone or anything else was voiced by the versatile James Doohan (Scotty).
The one place where TAS truly shines is in its ability to depict anything the writers and animators could come up with—hence the addition of M'Ress and Arex, two distinctly alien bridge crew members. Creatures, locations, and situations that would have been too expensive or complicated to pull off in live-action at the time became commonplace thanks to the animated medium.
There are still times when the animation (and plot) exudes a distinct "1970s Saturday morning family show" feel, but if you enjoy or can tolerate that, you'll find some well-paced Star Trek that's at least on par with anything in Season 3 of TOS. You're probably sick of reading italic text by now, so let's speed this up and smash both seasons together into one list:

Whereas most of Star Trek's time-travel episodes deal with the preservation or improvement of the current timeline, this sort of follow-up to "City on the Edge of Forever" explores what happens when the timeline is already broken from the get-go. This episode also provides a good deal of background on Spock, his family, and the planet and people of Vulcan, with some of the specifics coming in handy during one particular ENT story arc.

"More Tribbles, More Troubles"
There's not that much to be said aside from that which should go without saying: this is a sequel to "The Trouble with Tribbles." Take it as you will.

"The Infinite Vulcan"
This tale of cloning and weird science was penned by Walter Koening, who was woefully not playing Chekov in this show. If you're curious about the Eugenics Wars discussed in "Space Seed," you'll get a smidge more insight here; otherwise, congratulations, talking plants.

"Once Upon a Planet"
Another sequel, this time to "Shore Leave," which...hang on, you owe me ten bucks.

"Mudd's Passion"
This time, the smug smuggler has gotten his mitts on a love potion, an item of interest to a certain nurse with feelings for a certain pointy-eared crew member...It's one last outing with Harry Mudd, with fun character moments a-plenty (much to the joy of anyone hoping for Arex and M'Ress to have more screen time).

"The Time Trap"
A familiar Klingon and his crew get tangled up in a space-time warp that sends them and the Enterprise to a starship graveyard with no way out. This interstellar Hotel California is home to representatives of numerous alien races seen throughout TOS and TAS, so be sure to impress your friends when it comes time to play Name That Humanoid.

"The Slaver Weapon"
Here's a curiosity: A crossover story featuring the ancient Slavers and the feline Kzinti, two races from writer Larry Niven's fictional "Known Space" universe. Given the depth with which the Kzinti are portrayed here, along with the fact that they're space cats in pink uniforms, it's no wonder they've enjoyed a certain amount of popularity over the years, though almost exclusively in the "expanded universe" material.

"The Pirates of Orion"
So far we've only seen a green-skinned slave girl from Orion; now we get to see some dudes from Orion. We also see a Federation freighter, which demonstrates that starships do other things than just saving the galaxy every week—they also have their cargo holds raided by pirates who stand between a dying crew member and a cure.

"The Counter-Clock Incident"
Questionable science drags the crew into a negative universe where they age backwards. Once again, the series finale doesn't have much finality about it, but it fills in a little bit of Enterprise history by introducing the ship's first captain (preceding Kirk and Pike, which I guess is implied by use of the word "first") as well as his wife, the ship's first chief medical officer.

Brief Interlude
If you've had ample exposure to both the live-action and animated series, you may enjoy the Star Trek: Mission's End comic miniseries, which provides more closure as a series finale than "Turnabout Intruder" or "The Counter-Clock Incident" and helps pave the way for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Speaking of which, why don't we kick off our otherwise brief exploration of the movies by allowing me to digress for several paragraphs into a discussion of...

Star Trek: The Motion Picture
It can be difficult to appreciate ST:TMP without the proper context. To some, the film might seem like a long, dull, plotless yawner with no real villain and no real conflict, but the more I get to know the original series, the more I understand what the film is going for. The story about this mysterious cloud that's messing with Earth isn't the point of the movie, you see.

The Enterprise crew aren't just a group of coworkers; they're a family. A family who survived countless alien encounters and strange phenomena during their time together, only to go their separate ways after the TV series ended. ST:TMP isn't just about the reunion of the characters, but also the reunion of the actors, who hadn't performed together onscreen since Star Trek's cancellation a decade prior. Everyone gets their moment to shine when they return to their comrades, and it's just as much for the characters as it is for the actors.

The long, sweeping shots of the Enterprise in space are for the fans who grew up watching Star Trek on tiny television screens that may not have even been in color. We get a chance to savor the craftsmanship and grandeur of this fantastic vessel that can carry hundreds of people through the stars. We get the opportunity to experience some of the wonder of the creatures and phenomena that exist in this universe, and only some of them blow up. It's an art piece just as much as it is a movie.

The film is perhaps best understood as a reunion episode of the TV series adapted to take advantage of the big screen. In fact, the story was adapted from what would have been the pilot episode of the planned spinoff series that never happened, Star Trek: Phase II; increase the budget and extend the running time a little bit, and you've got a motion picture.

There's conflict between Kirk and this young upstart who's taken his captain's chair. Spock has grown unsettlingly distant through his pursuit of pure logic. Even the Enterprise herself is barely spaceworthy when the crew is called upon to save the day. It's just like old times, but times have changed, and the story of that reconciliation is just as important as the story of how Kirk and company stop the unstoppable cloud thing. Given that the Enterprise is a vessel of exploration, it's only fair the audience gets to share in the awe and mystery of the unknown through big artistic shots and a main plot that doesn't hand you all the answers at once.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture is, I would argue, a good film, but it is a different film than the average moviegoer may appreciate. I just waxed philosophical for five paragraphs—if your attention is starting to wane by this point, then this film is probably not for you. Otherwise, be sure to give it a try—it's an easier transition from the television series than starting with Star Trek II, it makes good on one of my wafer-thin reasons to watch "The Doomsday Machine," and it really is a visual spectacle, albeit of a different variety than the films to come.

Star Trek II-IV: The Wrath of Khan, The Search for Spock, The Voyage Home
If you spend any time at all on the Star Trek films, make sure you watch these three. This movie trilogy tells one continuous story that ties in with the television series, develops the characters significantly, fleshes out the greater Star Trek universe, and sets several precedents for the films and spinoff series to come. Love, loss, revenge, new beginnings, friendship, and time's all there.

If schedule and enthusiasm permit, "Space Seed," "Amok Time," "Journey to Babel," and "Tomorrow is Yesterday" provide valuable background for these films, and it's helpful to have at least a little bit of exposure to the Klingons through episodes such as "Errand of Mercy" and "Day of the Dove" before jumping into the trilogy.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
There's two reasons to watch STV: Either you're a completionist who wants to see all six original films without skipping any, or you really, really like Star Trek. What could have been a thought-provoking story about faith and family ended up being the one Star Trek film that most writers are afraid to reference for fear that it might be considered canon.

While STV has a good number of quotable lines and humorous moments that might make it more appealing, the plot isn't as engaging and true to the characters as in the previous films, nor are the special effects as dazzling. I feel about it the same way I feel about Space Quest 6: it's nice to have another outing with these characters, but it's an outing that might cause more harm than good. If religion, horse theft, and rocket boots are of interest to you, then you might enjoy the film, but most fans would probably agree that STV is neither necessary nor recommended to gain a better appreciation of Star Trek.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
The final voyage of the Enterprise finds the crew in position to finally make peace with the Klingons—or plunge themselves into all-out war. With a satisfying blend of action and drama, each character receiving some time in the spotlight, and plot elements that connect to the past while looking ahead to the future (TNG), I'd be hard-pressed to think of a more fitting way to conclude the original Star Trek.


Three seasons of live-action television, two short seasons of animated television, and six feature films is quite a bit to watch...and I've barely scratched the surface. In addition to the episodes I didn't discuss (which I would still encourage you to watch if you've got the time and interest), there are many more ways to get your original Star Trek fix, should you find you need it:

Several actors reprise their roles in various cameos throughout the spinoff series and films that follow. The characters live on in books, comics, video games, audio dramas, and J.J. Abrams' reinvisioned universe that emerged in the 2009 film simply titled Star Trek. Even sticking with the episodes we have, all three seasons of TOS are now available in a remastered format with enhanced and modernized visuals. That's a lot of ground (space?) to cover, so don't worry about running out of material if you get hooked.

I hope that this guide has served/will serve as a helpful starting point for an enjoyable and comprehensive experience of Star Trek for the reluctant and/or busy viewer. I'd love to hear any stories of what did and didn't work for you, and I'm open to suggestions about refining this list to keep it as thorough and relevant as possible.

Now, then. The word is given. Go watch some Star Trek.

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