Starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelly, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, James Doohan, Majel Barett
Genre: Social SF, Space Opera
Broadcaster: Netflix (UK)
First Aired: 1973-1974
One of the joys of a Netflix account is having access to over fifty years of Star Trek at the touch of a button. Having rewatched so much in the past few years, there was only one logical lace to go next. Forty-eight years after it originally aired, I finally tackled the one Trek series I had never seen an episode of. And boy is The Animated Series a trip and a half.
Animation has two primary components: The art itself, and the vocal talent. In terms of the animation itself, this iteration of Star Trek has all the clunkiness of the original Scooby Doo. There’s almost no facial expression beyond the occasional look of shock (and a few classic facepalms), and characters have only a few modes of travel: sprinting, charging at the camera, or standing utterly motionless. Now, I’m not much of an animation fan, but even by my standards the quality of this show is quite poor. There are a lot of reused images, and a whole lot of standing around talking when they have such a broad canvas to work with.
The voice talent fares a little better. It’s quite clear that none of the cast were terribly experienced with voice-over work, but even so it’s nice to hear the original cast in their prime. Nimoy’s distinctive tones are as good as they ever were with his actual face to accompany them, and Shatner manages his unique combination of utterly wooden and over-acting in virtually every scene. Doohan, Nichols and Barett take on not only their own roles, but also provide voices for most of the guest characters, usually to good effect, as if it weren’t for prior knowledge I ever would have guessed they were all the same people. There are a few actual guest stars along the way too, which serves to spice things up a bit.
If you can look past the incredibly low production budget, The Animated Series is bursting with ideas. Free from the constraints of needing to have humans play alien roles, this series allows for some more unusual alien species. Plant monsters, snail-squids, and flying octopuses all make an appearance. Two of the bridge crew are M’Ress (a humanoid cat) and Arex (who has three legs and three arms), neither of whom would have been possible in live-action, at least not in any realistic capacity. This is probably the best aspect of the show, as it really enhances the feel of a multi-species crew.
The main thing to take away from The Animated Series is that it isn’t afraid to go too wacky. Caught between the cerebral ambitions of adult television and the zaniness expected of a children’s cartoon, this show lurches around between ideas like nobody’s business. We have love potions, miniaturisation, frequent time travel, and if you forget everything else, then at least remember the twenty-feet tall clone of Spock. Seriously, that thing is wild. The Animated series isn’t afraid to take on bold ideas, but with only twenty-five minutes to do so, the execution falls flat more often than not.
The Animated Series is easily my least favourite Star Trek show, but it still has things to offer. It might not always make sense, but there are worse ways to spend a few hours of your life.