It is truly amazing how a show which has become such cultural touchstone was only on the air for a quarter of the length of dreck like 2 and Half Men.
And if this list were about the most IMPORTANT shows of all time, Star Trek would rank much, much higher. Very few shows in the history of television have influenced so many people's lives.
There have been a lot of science fiction space shows. Some are well known like Lost in Space or Battlestar Galactica. And others have fallen into obscurity like Space 1999.
But Star Trek set itself apart from all of those for the following reasons:
1. Iconic Characters.
The show not only created distinct, well-defined characters, but they each occupied such a unique space on the enterprise. Their personalities and points of view were such that they were not interchangeable. Notice the arguably bland first crew of the original pilot under Christopher Pike. Only the standout Spock remained into the series. Each character brought a fresh, unique voice to each situation. You could not take Spock's lines and have Kirk say them believably. That is because the characters embodied these complimentary personalities.
Star Trek really swung for the fences when it came to coming up with the wildest ideas. True, not everything was a home run (sorry Tribbles), but they brought some of the most memorable shows to life. All the while, they made sure not to go too psychedelic and weird so that their audience could not follow.
3. Thematic Exploration.
While sometimes hitting the allegory a little too hard, Star Trek heavily emphasized the thematic side of their adventures. It wasn't just about exploring strange new worlds out in the cosmos. It was about exploring the universal condition of the human soul. We saw in the Klingons man's warlike nature. We saw in Kirk-Spock-McCoy the constant battle between, Eg-Super Ego-Id. We saw the battle between eros and phileo when Spock went though Pon Farr.
People sometimes deride the acting on the show, particularly Shatner's unique cadence. But I think they overlook the power of not only his performance but of many in the cast. No one else could have played Kirk like Shatner. Nimoy brought an amazing depth to the cool veneer of Spock. DeForrest Kelley brought a down-home realism to the spectacular setting.
To this day, the idea of phasers, shields, transporters, warp speed, and the like are part of our cultural consciousness. Not only that, but the gorgeous set and costume design burned its way into your brain in ways that most shows do not.
"The Naked Time"
This classic episode involves the crew being overcome with an intoxicating effect. It is always fun to watch people act strangely, but this episode is not only fun, but poignant. It also highlights the science-minded approach to dealing with problems. This is the first truly iconic episode of the show.
JUMP THE SHARK
Star Trek ended too early, and so never outgrew its welcome. There were still so many stories to tell, as evidenced by the amazing film franchise.
"The Way to Eden"
This is an episode that will have you overdosing on hippie. Not only that, but this terrible episode about a cult leader who hijacks the enterprise to take them to a prospective paradise is eerily similar to the plot of the terrible Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.
There are so many great episodes from which to choose: "Space Seed," City on the Edge of Forever," "Mirror, Mirror," and "The Squire of Gothos," come to mind.
But for my money, "Amok Time" beats them all.
This is the best of the series for a number of reasons. Notice the incredibly moody use of shadow and light in the direction. Look at the sophisticated development of Vulcan sexual politics and primal insanity. Enjoy the over-the-top fight score. But most of all, revel in the tour-de-force performance of Nimoy. He takes you on a journey of rage to resignation to joy.
Sadly, Star Trek never fully realized its TV potential. It at times feels too much a creature of its age and is surpassed in quality by two of its subsequent series.
But Star Trek is the progenitor of them all. While it so often noted how important and influential it is, it must not be forgotten that it is also a great deal of fun to watch.