I recently re-watched Star Trek The Next Generation (aka TNG). I enjoyed the experience. I hadn’t seen many of the episodes since they originally aired. It’s interesting how differently I view the show now. It was a formative show for me. I was twelve when it debuted. There was a lot that went over my head at the time.
One interesting difference was apparent right off the bat. I was either much more forgiving or much easier to please as a twelve year old. The first season was just bad. The stories were a combination of rehashes of the original series and sci-fi clichés. The cast had no chemistry. The characters were poorly defined. I’m not entirely sure how the show lasted beyond the first season, and I’m baffled as to why I continued watching it. As an adult, I had to keep telling myself, “It has to get better. I know it gets better,” over and over to make it through.
The second season was better, but still not great television. The single biggest problem with season two was Dr. Pulaski. I remember hating her as a kid, and that hasn’t changed as an adult. Before I rewatched, I assumed most of my hatred stemmed from my crush on Dr. Crusher. But, now I know it is more than that. Pulaski is just a terrible character. The show started to show some potential, but every time she was on screen, it brought things crashing down. I don’t think it’s Diana Muldaur’s fault. She appeared twice in the original Trek and I didn’t hate her either time. I’m just not sure anyone could have made that character work.
Seasons three through five are almost uniformly brilliant. I sometimes think the MVP of the show is Riker’s beard. From its first appearance, the ensemble gelled, the stories got more ambitious and everything clicked. It was a thing of beauty and made those first two seasons if not bearable, at least a worthwhile cost.
Seasons six and seven were pretty uneven. But the highs were quite high and the lows still had the cast doing a great job. The bad episodes, except for Sub Rosa, were never unwatchable. And the good episodes were great. Episodes like Attached and Lower Decks are some of my all time favorite hours of television.
Re-watching TNG made me realize that I miss certain elements of the way TV used to be. One in particular is striking a balance between serialization and one off episodes. Deep Space Nine struck that balance better than any show before or since, but TNG did a nice job with it. I like the way events in one episode affect the characters in future episodes, but at the same time each episode stands on its own. I recommend anyone looking for a good episode of TV to watch Best of Both Worlds Parts 1 & 2. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never seen Q Who? It will still be excellent. But if you have seen Q Who? it will be a bit extra enjoyable. I like the way the show rewards the regular viewers without alienating everyone else.
The main theme music deserves mention. It is extraordinary. Easily the best music in the Trek franchise. I love the way it starts with the original Alexander Courage Star Trek theme, but then Jerry Goldsmith takes it in a completely different direction. The music itself is exciting and got me excited to watch the show every time. You can’t ask for more than that in a television theme. Now that I think about it, it was probably the theme music that got me through the first two seasons. I knew that no matter how bad the episode was, I would always have some wonderful music to get me to a good place.
The real reason the show is so good is the characters, and the cast that played them. You have the great Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean Luc Picard. “The great” should just be part of the man’s name. Stewart is one of those actors whose mere presence elevates every scene. And Picard is a great character. He is as real as a character can be in a science fiction show. While it is an ensemble show, Picard is the main character.
Jonathan Frakes played Commander Will Riker. I already mentioned his beard, but he brought much more to the role. I like the way Riker and Picard are both good guys, both admirable, but very different. Riker has a swagger that’s closer to Kirk than Picard.
Michael Dorn played Lt. Commander Worf. Worf is the outsider. He’s the only Klingon in Starfleet. He’s excellent as the most intimidating member of the crew and he’s even better as comic relief.
Gates McFadden played Dr. Beverly Crusher. I learned while re-watching that I never did lose that crush on the good doctor. It’s funny that people always compare the captains in the various Treks. The doctors are wildly different and (with the exception of Pulaski) all great. Crusher is great as the doctor, but her relationship with Picard is about my favorite thing on the show.
Marina Sirtis played Counselor Deanna Troi. It took the writers a long time to figure out what to do with Troi. I’m suspicious that when the show first started, her job was to be sexy. Like the show itself, she was pretty rough until season three. Unlike the show, it took until seasons six and seven for her to really shine. It’s when she started wearing the real uniform that her role on the ship and her relationships started to make sense.
Brent Spiner played Lt. Commander Data. He’s another outsider. And, like Worf, excellent at comic relief. Unlike Worf, though, Data was often the audience surrogate. Like the great Patrick Stewart, Spiner figured out his character early. He simply is Data. I can’t imagine any other actor in the role.
Levar Burton played Lt. Geordi LaForge. Geordi is basically a big geek, in the best sense of the word. Of all the characters, he is the most likely to be a Trek fan. He’s great at his job, but he is very easy to identify with.
As I said at the beginning, it was an enjoyable experience. I think I’ll have to dive into Voyager next.