Star Trek: The Animated Series

Introduction

May 26, 2023

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I've had the DVD set for Star Trek: The Animated Series on my shelf since December 2006, about a month after it was released. My dad bought it for me as a Christmas present. I figured one day I would finally get around to watching it and writing the reviews, but I didn't intend to watch it until I committed to reviewing it. At the time, I was still reviewing BSG — and then I was finishing up TNG through 2013 — so TAS wasn't a priority. And then my life got really busy with young kids. And then all the new Star Trek in the streaming era started to be released. And now it's now — 16½ years later.

(I actually watched the first couple TAS episodes one night — back when it was still on Netflix — during hiatuses of Discovery and The Orville more than five years ago — but the timing didn't work out and my reviewing plan didn't materialize. So back to the back burner it went. I had already created the entire website structure, the graphic, and the empty pages for the TAS section. They've been sitting on my PC's local storage since December 2017.)

After Picard closed up shop with its final season in April, I decided to give it another go, to see if I could get the TAS freight train moving ahead of Strange New Worlds season two and my next batch of weekly reviewing. I've found that inertia works both for and against me. It's hard to get started, but once I do, I can usually get on a roll.

So here we are at last: the missing final 22 pieces in the puzzle that is the Complete Jammer's Reviews of the Entire Star Trek Franchise. This was a manageable but sizable project that took up a great deal of my free time over the past several weeks, in between all the things in life. And it may very well be the last mass-update project of its kind for this website, given that it's the last piece of the franchise I still had outstanding. If you're feeling the love for this surprise bonus update, feel free to send some my way, or comment below.

Doubling back to review The Animated Series in the current age of third-generation Trek, with its narrative sprawl and lavish production values (even with TAS's 21st-century kid-friendly equivalent, Prodigy), was kinda strange. TAS is an almost-shock-to-the-system, back-to-basics affair, with single-plotted, 22-minute stories and a bargain-basement production (aside from the legitimacy expense of all the original actors, sans Walter Koenig, all voicing their characters — as well as most of the guest characters).

Filmation was well-known as a cut-rate animation shop. I grew up with Filmation's He-Man and the Masters of the Universe in the 1980s, and even it was (slightly) better-drawn and better-animated than this — although I find it absolutely hilarious (and great) that the characters, when they run in the direction of the camera, both in that series and this one, a full decade apart — have that same fist-clenched forearm in front of them at chest level.

The limitations throughout TAS to keep the budget in line are apparent. Ironically, the animation is probably the least of the selling points of this animated show. Honestly, a lot of the "animation" is made up of nearly motionless stills with some very basic movement, pans, or zooms. The editing — frequently choppy and off-kilter — is also not a selling point in this series, although that's probably also a side effect of the available animation. And I wonder if there are even 15 minutes of total music scored by Ray Ellis (and endlessly recycled) for this entire series. Ellis' score is memorable, but I also wonder if it's memorable because of how many times I heard it in the course of a month. (Binging this series is probably not recommended if you get tunes stuck in your head, because the repetition of the musical themes here may drive you mad.)

But the TV of the 1970s — even for kids — was much different than the TV of today, or even of the 1990s, and the limitations of TAS reflect that. (It probably makes little sense to compare my star ratings here to anything outside the scope of these 22 episodes; they are mainly relative to the TAS episodes themselves.) This is a show that lives and dies on old-school Trek and sci-fi writing, and whether the individual stories could live up to the spirit of TOS. That's mostly what I talk about here. TAS had some real writers at the helm (including D.C. Fontana as the story editor), so the question was whether they had any interesting Trek on their minds.

The answer appears to have been: yes and no. I'll be honest — this show could be a struggle. Even taken on its terms, many episodes suffer from a generally arid clunkiness that's hard to get past, with endings that feel half-sketched and painfully truncated. And as much as I tried not to make it about the animation, I frequently failed; the show made it difficult because the animation was sometimes an active barrier to understanding what exactly was happening. To get the most out of this show, you kind of have to just accept the animation for what it is.

Is TAS worth watching? I guess that depends on what you want to get out of it. The often-plodding mediocrity probably makes this a Trek show for completists only — although anyone watching these episodes or reading this in 2023 and beyond is probably already a completist. (I must say I'm a little surprised at how well this series fared on Rotten Tomatoes.) I suppose there's enough here to find some value; there are definitely bright spots and some charm to find. But I doubt I would ever need to rewatch it. Extracting the stories from the packaging is something I've now completed, and while it was nice to find some of those stories, the experience was not always worth the time, and I wouldn't need to do it again.

There are some winners here, especially "Yesteryear" and "The Counter-Clock Incident" and a few others. TAS is sometimes referred to as the unofficial fourth season of TOS. If so, it's more along the lines of season three than seasons one or two. But let's take a look.

First episode: Beyond the Farthest Star

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Comment Section

32 comments on this post

    That's awesome Jammer. I love TAS. Really looking forward to reading your thoughts on the series.

    Wow, what a coincidence! My wife and I just finished watching all the TAS episodes a few weeks ago :)

    Before reading any of the reviews, I'd just like to point out to anyone considering watching TAS that it's a little silly at times, even though it's a pleasure to listen to most of TOS actors doing their voice work. On that note, it could make for a fun drinking game to name all the instances of Nichols, Doohan, Barrett, and the others doing multiple voices in the same episode, as they typically kept the guest voice actors to a minimum and used the main cast for as many voices as possible. Sometimes the same actor will be doing the voices of both characters in a conversation! As amusing as this is, and presumably cost-saving, it does ratchet down how seriously you can take some of it.

    Great! I've watched most of these at least twice, but will start going through them again to see how your views and mine match up...or don't.

    The Alan Dean Foster novelizations of these stories (Star Trek Log 1 - 10) remain some of the more compelling novels written for Star Trek TOS. The earlier stories were mostly a quick hash of the plot (think the James Blish novelizations of the original Star Trek [of which I have the ENTIRE first print run of]), but towards the end the novelizations got longer and more intricate.

    I can't say I didn't joy TAS when I watched it after it was released on dvd, but it's the only series I haven't rewatched at all. I have considered it though and maybe these reviews are a good opportunity to wipe the dust off of that box set.

    What a pleasant surprise! Thanks Jammer. This'll be a perfect timekiller.

    TAS is absolutely ripe for a fan remaster. The animation and cutting could be vastly improved, and yes, get rid of that ridiculous music. Mixing TOS music in would work wonders.

    I haven't checked in in a few weeks and behold! I'm glad to see you have reviewed TAS - I just read your Yesteryear review and plan to check out a few others of eps I remember, like Tribbles. I agree that the show is a bit of a chore, though with some charm to it. Except for Yesteryear and a few others (including Counter-clock, and also The Lorelai Signal which gives Uhura and Chapel a nice spotlight) I don't think I remember them well enough to comment much, but it's nice to see.

    @Neil -- even in the earlier books, Foster's novelizations do flesh out quite a bit more detail than was in the original episodes. (After all, each of Logs 1 through 6 only cover three half-hour episodes, whereas Blish's adaptations crammed as many as six one-hour episodes into each one -- with a smaller page count, no less!) In the later books (starting with Log 7), Foster took one TAS episode as the starting point for the first half of the book, then wrote all-original material to further flesh out that episode into being part of a larger overall story.

    According to Foster, Pocket Books originally wanted there to be 12 books in the "Log" series, same as the original series of Blish's novelizations, and it took some negotiating between him, Pocket, and his agent to even get them down to 10, despite there only being 22 episodes to work with, so he had to get creative in padding out the material to satisfy the book and page count Pocket wanted.

    @Silly - of course, without the original's budget animation and music, we never would have gotten these wonderful parodies on YouTube:

    TNG TAS:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jyz2pVqrEkI

    VOY TAS:
    https://youtu.be/luEDui2zAUw

    Yeah, I saw those parodies a couple weeks after starting this project and they are really well done. They capture the spirit of TAS perfectly.

    Your comment about the music is quite apt. The entire library of musical cues is just under 20 minutes and can be listened to here:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iUhozxl5sD4

    Mostly unremarkable stock stuff that is typical of a generic seventies cartoon

    I very much like the TAS soundtrack (I have purchased it), especially the theme song which I think is far better than the TOS theme song. What I like about it and the rest of the TAS music is that combination of vintage 70s music with the overlays of sounds and music that are science fiction-y. Ray Ellis is a terrific musician / composer.

    TAS obviously had a tiny budget and individual episodes didn't have their own soundtracks so I think it's a fair point that the music could get repetitive. But even with the limited budget, the music stands out.

    Now you’ve just gotta review The Cage. And maybe rewrite your TOS reviews since they are quite brief. I kid.

    I watched TAS for the first time at the beginning of the pandemic. I barely remember it aside from Yesteryear, Tribbles, and the CounterClock incident. Actually tempted to rewatch it, but not sure I want to.

    @Jammer - the animator did a little behind-the-scenes video on how he did it, too. Filmation would've killed for modern tools: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xcRzkRTlUY4

    The animation may not be great, but the background art is often gorgeous. A lot of the same art team that worked on TAS later worked on He-Man and She-Ra, which also often have fantastical and gorgeous painted sci-fi backgrounds.

    Once I'm done watching DS9 for the first time (one season left), maybe I'll follow along your TAS reviews and rewatch the show in order! I love watching it from time to time with my dad and sister. And when my dad can't remember the random episode of 90s Trek I've just watched, it's always fun to come here and read the comments (even if some of them are infuriating! ;) )

    A fan animated part of Best of Both Worlds in the filmation style.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jyz2pVqrEkI

    He also did part of Voyagers "Threshold"

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=luEDui2zAUw

    So happy to see these finally reviewed! I really love The Animated Series, despite—or perhaps because of?—all the Filmation quirky goofiness. Watching this show always reminds me of the other Filmation shows I watched as a little kid in the 1970s, particularly The New Adventures of Batman and Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle. Looking forward to reading all of these.

    You wrote: "So here we are at last: the missing final 22 pieces in the puzzle that is the Complete Jammer's Reviews of the Entire Star Trek Franchise."

    Actually, I believe there are still yet 10 more pieces to go. But don't worry, they're short.

    Oh you have to listen to the
    Enterprise incidents podcast with Scott Mantz and Steve Morris.

    They're actually on the second season now.

    @christi

    Those are great. I love how the D bridge looks ridiculously large because the original bridge in TAS looked far too small.

    Still, I think the Best of Both Worlds clip illustrates how a great episode can be boiled down but still have the nuts and bolts.

    The story is there, the vocal performances are there. Heck, if I could draw, I certainly would do it.

    I can see how fans of TAS might not like the idea of "remastering" these, but I think it's a bit like colorizing b&w films. Not everyone likes the colorizing of films, but it does bring new attention to old works. In the case of b&w films, to do that, they spent immense effort improving the b&w masters to begin with.

    Short version: keep and cherish the original versions, but there's nothing wrong with making new cuts as long as the original is just as available, if it draws new interest.

    The animation is bad. The music is generic and repetitive. There are some good stories. Everyone mentions those.

    However, am I the only person who thinks the voice performances are mediocre from the main cast? Shatner sounds like he’s phoning it in, Kelley isn’t much better and Spock’s performance is only saved by the fact that he is an emotionless Vulcan. James Doohan and Majel Barret are solid though. But the main 3 are just bleh.

    @Jammer

    "And it may very well be the last mass-update project of its kind for this website"

    What about Babylon 5? You know, it is the part of family, like nBSG:
    memory-alpha.fandom.com/wiki/Babylon_5#Production_personnel_who_have_worked_on_both_franchises
    memory-alpha.fandom.com/wiki/Babylon_5#Actors_who_have_appeared_in_Star_Trek_and_Babylon_5

    Appropriate to post here: the Star Trek industrial complex is celebrating the anniversary of The Animated Series and has commissioned a series of comedic "Very Short Treks" in the TAS style. The first one is up on YouTube now:

    https://youtu.be/2xD7QCSjkBc?si=UZ-yifyAW9meyOfE

    It's actually pretty damn funny. Since it's only 3:40 long, I won't spoil the gag!

    Latex Zebra - it was the water gushing out of the console followed by "You were saying?" that got me 😂

    Jammer, I know it's easy for us to ask for work from you, but it would be great if you reviewed Star Trek Continues.

    Yes it's a fan series but the level of detail they went to is stunning. It's not just recreating the sets and effects, but also the lighting and camera angles and filming styles of the time.

    But the real win is the stories follow the same beats as the original and many are top notch. Lolani is fantastic and deals with the ethics of Orion slave girls and illustrates very well how a story can be updated with more modern sensibilities without the need to just write off the old stuff as horrible cist.

    I would put Lolani in the top 20... maybe even 10... of TOS episodes.

    They aren't all great of course but I think on average they are better than season 3, easily.

    Awesome! I've been holding back on watching the animated series until you review them. So, here we go! Feels great to be back on this site :)

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