Star Trek followed the crew on what was supposed to be a five year mission, but the show only lasted three. It was through reruns that the series finally gained an audience and became the cultural icon it is today, not counting more recent fare that I don’t see inspiring new medical equipment, cell phones, or anything else like the original series and The Next Generation has. Filmation hoped to capitalize on this by producing an hour-long animated series, free of many of the budget constraints of the original series. NBC liked the idea but opted to make it a half-hour series for Saturday morning. While it lacked in a lot of dead redshirts and Kirk’s various liaisons the spirit of the original series and the smart sci-fi writing were still intact.
I first saw the cartoon in syndicated reruns since it aired before my time on NBC’s Saturday morning lineup but it also aired on Nickelodeon in the 1980s, which means Nick Knacks, the retrospective series of shows that aired on Nickelodeon whether made for the channel specifically or not, did an episode devoted to it. Naturally it also features as much about how it ended up on Nickelodeon as it does talking about the creation and behind the scenes of the show itself. I learned a few things I didn’t know before so maybe you will too. And I have a few of my own thoughts as well. The video is clocked at 43:25 but worth a watch for fans of Star Trek, Nickelodeon, cartoons, or Filmation. I was going to save this for a Saturday Night Showcase but I end up having more to say about it than I thought.
Catch more Pop Arena reviews and retrospectives on Greg’s YouTube channel. Note that sometimes he does let his sociopolitical leanings show.
Some things I know he got wrong. Mattel was actually pretty easy going when it came to Filmation’s depiction of their toys. Note that Filmation changed the importance of the Power Sword, which has become the standard of multiversal continuity ever since, going from a split-in-half key to Castle Grayskull with powers of their own to how Prince Adam becomes He-Man. Mattel also created original characters that fans would have to wait until adulthood to finally have toys of. They still made requests but Mattel was easier on Filmation than Hasbro was on Sunbow with The Transformers. The Evil Horde is thought of as She-Ra’s enemy but in the toys her only villain was Catra, while the Horde was actually on Eternia as a third column in the war between He-Man and Skeletor. Meanwhile Bravestarr was a cartoon first and the toys were actually meant to support the show, building on the partnership with Mattel. (I used to make the same mistake about Centurions, a Ruby-Spears original that the toys were based on.) I remind you this is also the show where the hero’s mentor is wanted for a murder he actually commits–on-screen no less–in a show for young boys.
I also wouldn’t call Fat Albert And The Cosby Kids, which had a syndicated continuation years later as The New Adventures Of Fat Albert, completely original. In the early days of Bill Cosby’s success he talked about the gang (as in street gang) he grew up with. Bill and Russel in that show are supposed to be him and his brother as a teenager while the live-action Bill served as narrator, basically telling his own story but focusing on a different member of the gang. Yes, Fat Albert is real and in the live-action movie there is a scene where Cosby and his old friend gather at Albert’s grave in tribute to the real people the show was based on.
The failed Academy pitch I only heard of thanks to Greg here interests me for a number of reasons. Steven, or rather Stephan, was the name of Spock’s “friend” in the Enterprise: The First Adventure novel I reviewed for Chapter By Chapter a while back, the one who denounced his Vulcan belief system to explore his emotions. There eventually was a Starfleet Academy comic, but spent in the 24th century with Nog and his class of cadets. I have the feeling the show would be closer to Emergency +4, the educational show version of Emergency but better because Filmation knows how to make good TV. Now we’re getting a Star Trek cartoon about teens, on Nickelodeon no less, but instead will be about a group of kids that basically take an abandoned starship (I’m guessing smaller than the Enterprise).
The story I had heard was that Walter Koenig was unable to appear in the cartoon, hence his replacement, so this information was all new to me. However, I’ve heard how the first Captain Marvel actor for the live-action Shazam! and the girl who played the first teen assistant on The Secrets Of Isis were taken off those shows so I’m not all that surprised.
The only reason “The Magicks Of Megas-Tu” would annoy Christians, beyond Spock drawing pentagrams despite not be exclusive to Satanism, is that the episode specifically ties Lucian to Lucifer. Not surprisingly “hey kids, Lucifer isn’t the spawn of evil come to tempt you away from God and heaven but just a fun guy who wants to party with everyone” on a Saturday morning cartoon ticked off many of God’s faithful. Without that connection the episode is how Greg depicted it but as a non-believer I guess that bugs me more than it does him. It does lend to my joke theory that Kirk the Godslayer (even fighting God in the fifth movie) would serve as Satan’s PR man, which explains all the time he cheated death and punishment (even when he deserved it) while getting all the hot space ladies. I would have compared the episode to “Catspaw” though.
The show would also lead to the cast trying out voice roles. George Takei had worked on dubbed movies, including Godzilla Raids Again, and would go on to do voice roles, especially recently. James Doohan would do some other roles and was part of one of Filmation’s other live-action series, Jason Of Star Command, as the title character’s boss.
I did see this show in syndication, airing on channel 20 here in Connecticut long before UPN existed. It aired early in the morning on a weekly schedule, and this is how I saw it before the Nickelodeon airing, which I also saw when my cable company at the time finally got Nickelodeon. Before then I might catch the network at my grandparents’ house, who had a different company. It was nice to see someone else acknowledge that Filmation’s strength was in the writing, especially with the original show’s writers joining the new writers, and explaining why the animation was done the way it was besides how cheap it cost. I consider the show canon but I know others don’t for one reason or another. If only for “Yesteryear”, the episode that showed us what Spock’s pet sehlat looks like, it deserves a place in the classic timeline. To me these are those last two years of the first five-year mission of the starship Enterprise.