Note: Much of the following was pulled from my blog at dimland.com. It has been updated, revised, and corrected.
I recently discovered the podcast The Greatest Generation. No, it’s not about that generation of Americans of which Tom Brokaw is so fond. It’s a podcast focusing on the Star Trek: The Next Generation television series (1987 – 1994). It’s hosted by two fellows, Ben Harrison and Adam Pranica, who are a bit embarrassed to be doing a podcast about the greatest of all the Star Trek series. Yes, I’m including the original series. Oh, yeah. I went there.
I’ve been watching Star Trek: TNG on Netflix a lot lately and it’s really obvious that the series wasn’t very good when it started. In fact, much of that first season wasn’t any better than the lousiest episodes of the original series. And that original series could get really lousy, see The Way To Eden, for example. I mean – space hippies? Seriously?! Was that Roddenberry’s idea to get the happening youth culture interested in the show?
During most of the first season, the whole cast looked and sounded uncomfortable, especially when you compare them to how they seemed as the series progressed. By the third season, when I first started watching, the cast had better writers and a much better understanding of their characters. Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) had grown a beard for season two (although he never lost that walking as if he had a board up his back), Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) became less bombastic, Lt. Worf (Michael Dorn) had his Klingon make-up improve, Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) finally got her hair under control, Lt. Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby) had been killed off, and Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) was less annoying and would, also, soon be written off the show. These were all among the character improvements.
Along with the acting, writing, and character development, many other aspects of the show improved as it became more popular and profitable. Some of those other improvements included better costumes and production values. I had heard that the cast wasn’t very happy with the costumes early on. Apparently, they were too tight and itchy. That may have contributed to the awkward acting in that first season. The set lighting was improved. And the surfaces of alien planets looked a lot less like the sound stages used in the original series.
Viewers of the first season were treated to some pretty awful storylines and dialogue. In an early episode we were introduced to Lore (Brent Spiner) , the evil “brother” of Lt. Commander Data (Brent Spiner). The producers wasted little time before using the evil twin cliché by having Lore behaving suspiciously and Data seeming conflicted. Lt. Yar, the Enterprise’s chief of security, asked Captain Picard if he could still trust Data. Picard said he could and then admonished the rest of the bridge crew about Yar’s question being a “perfectly legitimate security question.” Picard’s outburst seemed strange to me as I thought his senior bridge crew would already know that. Then Yar reacted like a blushing school girl. This rough and tumble, tough as nails Star Fleet officer was bashfully smiling and batting her eyes at Picard’s vote of confidence. Oh, brother.
In another episode, this one featuring Q (possibly the most interesting character of that first season) offering Riker the powers of the Q Continuum, a group of nearly omnipotent beings. John de Lancie, the actor who plays Q, still hadn’t quite gotten a handle on the character. He had moments of overacting, but he was still interesting. Anyway, he zapped a few members of the bridge crew to the surface of a sound stage where they were menaced by what Worf referred to as “savage animal things.” Really? “Savage animal things?” The writers couldn’t come up with something better than that?
Then there was Wesley Crusher, the 14 year-old son of the ship’s chief medical officer, Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden). Wesley was probably the fans’ least favorite character. (He was mine anyway.) When Wesley wasn’t looking stupid or grinning ear-to-ear, he was saving the day. He must have saved the ship half a dozen times that first season alone.
Wesley even suffered the not-now-I’m-too-busy-to-hear-your-vitally-important-information-because-you-are-only-a-child brush off on more than one occasion. This would happen despite Wesley’s track record of saving the day and the fact that a time traveling alien said Welsey was the next Newton/Einstein/Solock phenom. The phenom element, fortunately, was never fulfilled by the series for Wesley, although that alien did return a few seasons later.
There were a few interesting moments and developments in that first season, however. The Q and the android Data were interesting. Yar and Data having sex was… intriguing. And Patrick Stewart had some good moments of acting to balance out his more over-the-top moments. The episode with Q and the savage animal things had Picard verbally sparring with his godlike adversary, in which Star Trek‘s greatest captain delivered an impassioned speech quoting Hamlet. It’s a fine moment for both actors, but especially for Stewart. And that’s not surprising given his background as a Shakespearean actor. The scene was right in his wheelhouse.
One episode late in that first season did something rather ballsy, I thought. One of the main characters was killed about 15 minutes into the show. It was Lt. Tascha Yar. Her death was unceremonious. She was part of an away team confronted by a powerful and malevolent entity who just killed her when she attempted to walk past him. The entity cast her aside and she was dead. Just like that. Cut to commercial.
The ballsiness was somewhat diminished when, at the end of that episode, the main bridge crew all gathered on the holodeck where they watched a prerecorded message from their fallen crewmate. It was her chance to say goodbye to each of the cast… er… crew members. But, why would she have made such a recording? Her character couldn’t have been more than 28 years-old and she’s making farewell holo-images for her crewmates? It would have been better to have the main characters gather on the bridge or in 10 Forward to talk about their lost comrade. But then Denise Crosby wouldn’t have had her big goodbye moment, something I’m sure the show’s producers had to do to get her agree to be killed off so early in the episode.
Still, I like the series. But I didn’t watch it until it was in its third season. For some reason, I wasn’t interested. When I finally did tune in, the series had really gotten rolling. Which is fortunate, because had I watched the series when it began, I might not have stayed with it for very long.
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