The hugely successful Star Trek franchise has been part of that transition. The franchise was last represented by a squadron of mediocre TV spinoffs (though a new Trek film is on the way) and has been eclipsed in popularity by Star Wars, so it's hard to remember that the original Star Trek TV series was a significant cultural force. At its best, it was also very good sci fi.
The best incarnation of Trek is still the original series, and it was never better than the first season. Gene Roddenberry's formula was fully developed even in the first episodes -- a TV-friendly combination of campy action, loosely-clad chicks, and the allegory and philosophical speculation of then-current dramatic series like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. The show also introduced innovations which have become part of our world, like flip phones and automatic doors. And while the liberal bromides of the show were sometimes silly, the multiracial cast was a significant step for TV.
The first season aired in 1966-'67, when Vietnam was entering the public consciousness. So it's not surprising that several episodes have antiwar messages, like "Arena," "A Taste of Armageddon" (in which computers orchestrate proxy wars, an interesting stock sci-fi theme), and "Devil in the Dark," in which Captain Kirk and crew learn compassion after fighting an alien that looks like a giant sausage pizza. (However, soon after, in an episode called "Operation Annihilate!" they are blasting away at hostile, parasitic aliens that look like large pepperoni slices.)
Some episodes are clunkers, but the best are entertaining, thoughtful dramas. "The Menagerie," a famous two-hour episode, saved the show's bacon by cleverly reusing footage from the pilot episode at a time when the show was hopelessly over budget; it's also one of the series' best screenplays. "The City on the Edge of Forever," the time-travel story scripted by cranky, iconic sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison, is another classic.
Unfortunately, the original episodes have been "enhanced" with CGI effects in the recent high-def DVD re-release. This is even more misguided than George Lucas' self-mutilation of the Star Wars movies, if possible -- the matte paintings, spaceship models, and cheesy monsters were a big part of the original Star Trek's charm. Without spending large amounts of money, the show's creators used their ingenuity to make TV viewers believe they were on other worlds. Today's sci-fi series have great-looking visual effects, but the creativity, introspection, and cultural influence of pioneering shows like Star Trek are sadly lacking.
Aka Star Trek: The Original Series: Season One.
Genre: Sci fi/Fantasy
Contactmusic.com: 4.5 / 5
Director: Marc Daniels, Vincent McEveety
Producer: Gene Roddenberry, Gene L. Coon
Screenwriter: Gene Roddenberry, D.C. Fontana