One of the remarkable things about the 1973 series Star Trek: The Animated Series was how comparatively dynamic it made 1966's original Star Trek look. Filmation, the animation house behind Fat Albert And The Cosby Kids and The Archie Show, outdid itself with ambitious, elaborate painted backgrounds and alien character designs that outstripped the live-action Trek, and the series still looks fairly good when everyone's standing still, declaiming their lines in typical Trek fashion or examining stunning alien vistas. But whenever the characters actually move, the stiff, repetitive action shows its age, and the already simple human character designs start to look like cardboard cutouts. Possibly as a result, the show tends to be talky and static, with even more talking, posing, and thoughtful reflecting than the first Trek, and fewer of Captain Kirk's shirt-rippin', monster-wrasslin', alien-romancin' adventures. As a result, the animated series, ostensibly made for kids, often feels more adult than the live-action version.

Thanks to a convenient Hollywood writers' strike, which shut pros out of live-action but let them work in animation, The Animated Series scored scripts from many of Trek's original writers, which gives the two series a strong sense of continuity. ST:TAS' 22 episodes repeatedly return to established Trek settings and stories, with tribbles, intergalactic con man Harry Mudd, Spock's father Sarek, and the Guardian Of Forever all putting in appearances. And virtually all of the original show's cast—William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, et. al.—returned to reprise their characters, who continue to cross the universe, meeting new races and dealing with unexpected phenomena.


In 1975, at the end of its second and final season, ST:TAS won a Daytime Emmy for "Outstanding Children's Series." By that time, it had loosened up a little, with the character banter that's missing from the painfully grave initial episodes re-emerging. TAS still feels even stiffer and more self-important than Trek, hard as that may be to believe. But it also feels more thoughtful, and less beholden to the prime-time need for scantily clad space chicks and two-fisted action. It's Trek's first baby step away from the 1950s' babes-and-BEMs mentality, and while the show frequently stumbles in the process, it still gains new ground.

Key features: Informative writer audio commentaries and often-inane Pop-Up Video-style "text commentaries" on some episodes; a chatty, smug making-of with some of the original writers and crew.