How the 3 Animated Series Stack Against Each Other
Following the conclusion of Star Trek: The Original Series in 1969, fans were left yearning for more intergalactic adventures with Captain James T. Kirk (played by William Shatner), Spock (played by Leonard Nimoy), Doctor Leonard McCoy (played by DeForest Kelley), Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott (played by James Doohan), Chief Communications Officer Nyota Uhura (played by Nichelle Nichols), and Helmsman Hikaru Sulu (played by George Takei). To satisfy fans, The Animated Series was created, considered by many Trekkies as the unofficial fourth season of TOS. The series expanded on the beloved Starfleet crew’s exploration of the Milky Way, featuring plots such as being pulled into a death star, encountering hostile Klingons, and chasing an outlaw trading in fake love crystals. Although the show only lasted for two seasons, it paved the way for four more live-action shows that introduced a plethora of memorable characters. Today, the Star Trek franchise is still going strong, with two more animated TV series: Lower Decks and Prodigy.
Star Trek: The Animated Series aired from September 1973 to October 1974 and featured most of the original cast, with the exception of Pavel Chekov (played by Walter Koenig), who was replaced by the Edosian alien Lieutenant Arex, voiced by James Doohan. Despite budget restraints, the show won an Emmy for Outstanding Entertainment – Children’s Series in 1975, and the characters returned in the franchise’s first live-action film, Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979.
Lower Decks is an adult animation created by Mike McMahan that premiered in 2020, featuring 25-minute-long episodes. The show follows the USS Cerritos, a minor ship in the late 24th century, from the point of view of the support crew that crashes in bunk beds in the lower decks. The main cast includes Jack Quaid, Tawny Newsome, Noël Wells, Eugene Cordero, Dawnn Lewis, Jerry O’Connell, Fred Tatasciore, and Gillian Vigman. The series pokes fun at canon characters and incidents while referencing all past Star Trek shows and movies, as well as featuring entertaining cameos by beloved veterans. Despite initial skepticism, Lower Decks has proven to be a hit among Trekkies, with its fast-paced action and dialogue.
Star Trek: Prodigy is the first entirely 3D-animated Trek show, created for kids and premiered in 2021. The show features Kate Mulgrew reprising her role as Captain Kathryn Janeway, who was missed by fans of Star Trek: Voyager. The story follows a group of young aliens who find an abandoned Starfleet ship, the USS Protostar, and journey to the Alpha Quadrant while learning to function as an efficient crew. The main voices include Brett Gray, Ella Purnell, Jason Mantzoukas, and Angus Imrie. The show has been well received by critics and young audiences, winning the Children’s and Family Emmy for Outstanding Animated Series in 2022.
In conclusion, the Star Trek franchise has expanded over the years to include multiple animated TV series, each with its unique style and target audience. From The Animated Series to Lower Decks and Prodigy, each show has its own charm and has brought new fans into the Star Trek universe.
After Star Trek: The Original Series concluded in 1969, fans were left pining for more exciting space adventures involving Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner), his first officer Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Doctor Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley), chief engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott (James Doohan), chief communications officer Nyota Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), and helmsman Hikaru Sulu (George Takei). And so, considered by many Trekkies as TOS’ unofficial fourth season, The Animated Series was born, furthering the beloved Starfleet crew’s exploration of the Milky Way. Plots included being pulled into a death star, getting poisoned by a walking plant, encountering hostile Klingons, and chasing an outlaw trading in fake love crystals.
The show only lasted for two seasons, and the cast wasn’t seen as an ensemble again until the motion pictures. Meanwhile, four more live-action shows expanded the franchise and introduced a plethora of memorable characters. Dozens of films and series later, the new and current Star Trek era, which was ushered in 2017 by Star Trek: Discovery and is still going strong, has produced two more animated TV series: Lower Decks and Prodigy.
Here is how the three animated shows stack against each other.
Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973 -1974)
Directed by Hal Sutherland and Bill Reed and featuring most of the original cast, the 22 episodes of The Animated Series aired on NBC on Saturday mornings from September 8, 1973, to October 12, 1974. Due to budget restraints, the character of Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig) did not return, but was replaced by the Edosian alien Lieutenant Arex, also voiced by Doohan.
Except for the first three episodes, which were recorded as an ensemble, THAT was criticized for its chunky voice editing. Additionally, given the return of most of the original cast, not much of the allocated budget was left for a detailed and realistic animation. Per AV Club“The characters all look roughly like their real-life counterparts, but shots are often composed at weird, Bergman-esque angles, with faces looming half into frame. Backgrounds are re-used, as are certain basic animations: there are a couple shots of Spock using equipment on the bridge that you’ll see maybe a thousand times if you go through all 22 episodes. Worse, the faces of the characters aren’t hugely expressive, which becomes a problem whenever a camera cuts to a non-speaker for a reaction shot.”
Nevertheless, the show’s second season won an Emmy for Outstanding Entertainment – Children’s Series in 1975, and the characters returned together in the franchise’s first live-action film, Star Trek: The Motion Picturein 1979.
Star Trek: Lower Decks (2020 – Present)
Created by Mike McMahan, the adult animation Lower Decks premiered in 2020 and features 25-minute-long episodes. The main cast includes Jack Quaid as the talented by-the-book command junior officer Brad Boimler; Tawny Newsome as the overbearing and fierce Beckett Mariner; Noël Wells as the optimistic and eager Orion science officer D’Vana Tendi; Eugene Cordero as Sam Rutherford, a young engineer with a Vulcan cybernetic implant; Dawnn Lewis as the constantly frustrated Captain Carol Freeman; Jerry O’Connell as the cocky First Officer Jack Ransom; Fred Tatasciore as the loud and brave Bajoran Security Chief Shaxs; and Gillian Vigman as the grouchy cat-like alien Chief Medical Officer Dr. T’Ana.
The series follows a minor ship, the USS Cerritos, in the late 24th century, mainly from the point of view of the support crew that crashes in bunk beds in the lower decks. The common junior employee is finally given a prominent voice for the first time in the franchise, and the characters have relatable and often clashing personalities. Both the action and the dialogue are fast-paced, and Trekkies have enjoyed spotting the plethora of Easter eggs referencing all past Star Trek shows and movies, as well as the entertaining cameos by beloved veterans, namely Jonathan Frakes as Captain William T. Riker; Marina Sirtis as Commander Deanna Troi; George Takei as Captain Hikaru Sulu; Jeffrey Combs as AGIMUS; John de Lancie as Q; and Nana Visitor as Colonel Kira Nerys.
The show does poke fun at canon characters and incidents, but it is essentially a loving tribute encased in contemporary and vivid packaging. As Inverse essentially puts it, “Star Trek: Lower Decks does not go boldly where no franchise series has gone before, and that’s what makes it brilliant. What began as the riskiest new Star Trek show isn’t an underdog anymore, it’s now top dog.”
Star Trek: Prodigy (2021 – Present)
In January 2019, executive producer Alex Kurzman announced an upcoming kids-focused, entirely 3D-animated Trek show, the first of its kind in the franchise. Because fans of Star Trek: Voyagerwhich concluded in 2001, have missed Captain Kathryn Janeway, who was portrayed by Kate Mulgrew (Red in Orange Is the New Black), executive producers/co-creators Kevin and Dan Hageman brought her back in Star Trek: Prodigywhose 24-minute-long episodes stream on Paramount+ and air on Nickelodeon.
The story starts in 2383. Five years after USS Voyager’s return from the Delta Quadrant, a group of young aliens find an abandoned Starfleet ship, the USS Protostar. As they journey to the Alpha Quadrant, they must learn to function together as an efficient crew. The main voices include Brett Gray as the augmented human Dal R’El; Ella Purnell as the gifted linguist Gwyndala; Jason Mantzoukas as the augmented Tellarite Jankom Pog; and Angus Imrie as the energy-based lifeform Zero.
In an interview for TrekMoviewhen asked what the most difficult thing to adapt from Star Trek for a kids’ show was, Dan Hageman replied, “We always try to blur the line. We never really view it as a kid show. We view it as a show for people who don’t know Star Trekyoung or old. And so, we always had that perspective of the outsider, and that freed us up. We wanted to keep the stakes real for an older audience. We never want to dumb things down for kids.”
As for longtime Trekkies, they are definitely divided. A reviewer on Rotten Tomatoes writes, “At first, I didn’t give it a shot because I thought I would be too old. A nice way to open up the franchise for younger viewers and a well-structured mix between stand-alone stories and the main storyline.” Another one says, “Apart from the truly annoying Dal R’ El, I absolutely love this! Like Lower Decksit’s a breath of fresh in the Star Trek franchise!”
And a third user concludes, “Put the show into another universe, and it would be an average story.”
Prodigy has proven popular among young audiences and is generally well received by critics; it even won the Children’s and Family Emmy for Outstanding Animated Series in 2022.