Updated: Aug 17
Beyond the tacky planet sets, the ridiculous wig that Chekov wore in the beginning of the second season, and the plethora of sexist tropes poured over the entire show like soy sauce lies a revolutionary show: Star Trek.
Captain Kirk’s words “these are the voyages of the starship enterprise. To boldly go where no man has gone before” give me shivers to this day. The show is episodic, with no overarching plotline running through the episodes save for the quest to seek out new life and new civilizations in the final frontiers of space. Formed around a trinity of characters, Captain Kirk (William Shatner), First Officer Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and ship doctor McCoy (DeForest Kelly) the show creates a familiar atmosphere out in the depths of space. By the end of the three season series you feel like each bridge member is your family and are certain that your neighbor is a salt sucking metamorphing alien in disguise. Each of the 79 episodes has its own very unique story line from Captain Kirk being chased by a man in a lizard suit to profound and philosophical questions about military ethics. They usually each spotlight Captain Kirk and how he navigates deep space. Spock, the logical half Vulcan-Human, is nearly always by Kirk’s side, except for one episode where his brain is stolen. McCoy, the snarky old doctor who loves having a good time and teasing Spock is also paramount to the typical Star Trek episode. Secret meetings are held between the head officers in the briefing room where fates are decided as the camera pans from one face to another. As if the show could not get any better, the red shirts (as the starship security guards are called) are notoriously known for being killed off in the first five minutes of the show. Despite this creative ingeniousness when it was launched in 1966 Star Trek had a rather turbulent beginning with several different pilot episodes and ultimately struggled for viewership after its second season. According to Sarah Pruitt with History.com, The third season was only confirmed by the protests of college students around the United States. However, in spite of these hardships, the show was rated #1 show after syndication and not just for the reasons stated above.
Firstly, the cast and scripting was groundbreaking for the entertainment industry. The episode, Plato's Step-Children, is often cited for one of the first interacial kisses shown on television between Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura. According to Yoonji Han, a Voices of Color reporter for Insider, before filming the scene producers were concerned that channels would not stream the show in the deep south so they proposed to make two different scenes: one with the kiss and one without. However, Shatner and Nichols flubbed every scene without the kiss on purpose. In Nichelle Nichols’ autobiography “Beyond Uhura: Star Trek And Other Memories” Nichols relays, "The only alternative was to cut out the scene altogether, but that was impossible to do without ruining the entire episode. Finally, the guys in charge relented: 'To hell with it. Let's go with the kiss.'"
Star Trek did more than simply display that anybody could kiss, it also provided social commentary with the interplay of identity and politics throughout the show. Lieutenant Pavel Chekov and Lieutenant Sulu are side by side at the piloting and weapons con from the first episode of season 2. What makes this duo spectacular is not simply their slightly corny acting but their identities and what they meant for the show. Sulu was a Japanese officer and Chekov was Russian, accent and all. The fact that Gene Roddenberry included two ethnicities that had been at war or were currently at war with the US was unique to say the least for the television industry. Not only were the characters a critique on modern day politics and xenophobia but so were multple episodes. In “A Private Little War” “the Klingons are providing weapons to a primitive planet, and Capt. Kirk decides to do the same in order to preserve the ‘balance of power’ on both sides. One of the most controversial plot lines of that season, the story was clearly analogous to the escalating nature of American involvement in Vietnam” (Pruitt). While this episode was not the best of Star Trek: The Original Series gamut, it was a powerful one in its commentary of the Vietnam War; calling into question the ethics of military intrusion.
While the original series of Star Trek made leaps and bounds for equitable entertainment it was not entirely spared from the sexist tropes of its day. For instance, the overtly implied use of women bridge members as breeders in the formerly long lost pilot episode (Ivo Vegter). Captain Kirk also manages to sexualize and fall in love with practically every single female guest character on the show. And, if that was not enough already, not only is Captain Kirk just one lonely-man-in-space perversion in a fair, equal universe of feministic men, but the entire future culture of earth still has glass ceilings. In the episode “The Turnabout Intruder”, “Freaky Friday” meets science fiction in the late 60s. In this episode, Captain Kirk finds himself trading bodies with an old classmate, a woman, who was banned from the track of captainhood all because of her sex.
Despite the show's obvious drawbacks from some heavy doses of toxic masculinity and various sexist tropes towards women it is truly a creative and revolutionary show to say the least. If you want to watch Star Trek: The Original series you can find it on Paramount+ and also for sale on Amazon.