I talked about Star Wars recently, and now I want to jump over to Star Trek–but probably not a series you’re thinking of. Lately, I’ve been watching The Animated Series. It seems to be the Forgotten Star Trek Series. I’ve rarely seen or heard references to it, and one of the few times I did see some discussion, I found out that it’s not considered canon, the way the other filmed material is.
But it was streaming on Netflix, and I was curious, so I watched it. And honestly, I think it ought to be remembered again. I mean, more adventures of the original series’ characters, voiced by the original actors, with some of the original writers contributing scripts–what’s not to love? Well, a few things actually, but I’ll get to that later.
Things I do love include, of course, the cast of characters. I don’t think they created any particularly memorable new characters (despite the presence of a cat-like alien assistant for Uhura, and a three-armed replacement for Chekov), but it’s fun to see the old familiar characters again. All of the regulars are back (except Chekov), and we get to see some guest characters back too, including Harry Mudd (with a new scheme) and Cyrano Jones (with more tribbles).
Many of the episodes feel like they could have been Original Series episodes, and some even give us a chance to look deeper at a character. Spock travels into his own past to meet his younger self in one episode, and another revisits the (hopelessly doomed) Spock/Christine romance. Some of the plots are a bit silly–in one the Enterprise computer takes on the personality of a practical joker, and in another the crew starts to shrink. But they’re not really much sillier than I, Mudd or The Trouble with Tribbles, and I’m all in favor of funny Trek, provided you keep the characters in character.
There are frequent strange aliens and wild landscapes. It reminds me of very early Star Trek novels, where you can just tell the writers are reveling in the opportunity to create something that couldn’t be shown in live-action–at least not at the time, and with Star Trek‘s budget.
That brings me to some of the things not to love. The Animated Series seems to have had an even worse budget than the original show, and it very much shows in the animation. The drawing is somewhat simple (though all the characters are clearly recognizable), and people move as little as possible, to reduce the number of frames needed. They also like to zoom in on shots rather than having actual movement, or to reuse the same drawings again and again. But honestly, it didn’t bother me that much. It just feels like a different art form. It felt more like watching a narrated comic book in some ways.
They also couldn’t afford voice actors. With only a few exceptions, any non-regular character was voiced by a regular actor. If you look at Jimmy Doohan’s IMDB page, you’ll see that he sometimes did as many as seven characters in a single episode. But I have to say I’m very, very impressed by him, because I honestly couldn’t tell most of the time. Nichelle Nichols and Majel Barret Roddenberry were not as talented at voices, and all the women on the show tended to sound like Nurse Chapel or Lt. Uhura…
I admit that this is a show you probably only want to watch if you’re already a fan of Star Trek. If you’re looking for really high-quality cinema, that’s not this show, and if animation is really important to you, don’t watch it. But if it never really bothered you that the Gorn was clearly a man in a lizard suit, or if aliens with orange skin and bad wigs seemed secondary to whether they were in a show with a good plot, then you should check this one out. Despite being the Forgotten Series, it’s a cute little show.