I've heard this season is bad. How bad is it?
Like, bad in what way?
That's what's amazing about season 2: the episodes fail in just about ever way possible. You have characters who don't fit in with the crew, relationships that don't make sense, hackneyed writing, embarrassingly bad special effects, idiotic stunt casting, an episode where literally nothing makes sense, Darby O'Gill in space, an imaginary casino, a FUCKING CLIP SHOW... I could go on.
So what went wrong?
According to Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, a lot. For starters, there was a writers' strike. Remember when that happened a few years back? We got some good out of that, like Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-Long Blog, and several really shitty tv shows probably never got made because of it, but it also resulted in a stupid half season of Lost and a painfully long delay of Battlestar: Galactica. Well, it almost stomped out TNG when it happened in the late 80s.
In addition, there was the bizarre decision to dump Gates McFadden's Dr. Crusher in favor of a brand new character, Dr. Pulaski. I've never heard a good explanation for why this was, although I've heard rumors that some kind of harassment was involved. Pulaski isn't a bad character, and if she'd been billed as a temporary replacement, perhaps one who occasionally returned to the Enterprise, she might have made an interesting foil to Crusher. As it is, she comes across as simply haughty and spiteful for no good reason, particularly in her interactions with Data, who she treats with a sort of contemptuous mockery that borders on cruel.
The problems go deeper, though, into the core of the show's philosophy. Again from Captain's Logs, here's head writer Maurice Hurley
You don't look at the ensemble as characters on the show.... The ship is a character, the ensemble is a character. It's a strange way to look at it when you write the show. You don't, for instance, find one of the characters in violent verbal opposition to another character on what they're seeing or what they're doing. And you have to write it that way because it maintains the unity and integrity of the crew, which is critical. The show's been criticized by writers because there are no internal conflicts. Riker does not want Picard's seat, Geordi does not dislike Data because he has this advanced intellect, etc. Those conflicts and pettiness is (sic) there, so you can't do thirtysomething in space. If you were to say, "I think I can do better," you probably can, but it's not Star Trek. If you're going to do Star Trek these are the rules you have to go by.
There are so many things wrong with that quote that it's hard to know where to begin. Ensemble is important, but the individuals who make up the ensemble aren't? The ship is a character, so that somehow means people can't get pissed at each other and disagree? (Perhaps that's why no one in the episode "The Samaritan Snare" stands up and says, "Every decision you people are making is stupid and wrong. We would literally be better off with those developmentally challenged aliens who are holding our chief engineer hostage running things.") Having interesting characters who don't always get along would make the show thirtysomething? And he pretty much admits that Star Trek writing =/= good writing. Look, my favorite sci-fi/fantasy ensemble shows — DS9, BSG, Buffy, Firefly — work so well because the ensemble functions in spite of — or maybe because of — the pettiness, disagreement, and rivalries between the characters, all of whom are fully fleshed out. To intentionally not do this is, in my opinion, to try to write the worst crap possible.
So is there actually any reason to watch this?
Surprisingly, yes. None of the characters change all that much (Troi is still pretty useless most of the time and ignored when she might actually be useful, Wesley is still competing to be the Most Annoying Being in the Galaxy), but there are some positive changes, too (Worf and Geordi are given actual positions and now have something to do other than growl and be blind, Riker has a beard). Pulaski is a dud of a new character, but Whoopi Goldberg is surprisingly compelling in the recurring role of Guinnan, the ship's bartender, which is a thing. Also, amid all of the really, really, really, really bad episodes are some that are good and a couple that are downright essential for establishing later plot lines. If you're binge-watching the show and want to get through this season as painlessly as possible, I'd recommend
"Loud as a Whisper," in which Troi gets to actually do something
"A Matter of Honor," because Klingons.
"The Measure of a Man," an excellent Data episode, although it has one of the dumbest plot convenience circumstances imaginable
"Time Squared," a cool time travel episode, but not the one where the Enterprise keeps exploding.
"Q Who," which introduces the Borg
"The Emissary," which introduces the mother of Worf's son
"Peak Performance" which is just a fun episode.
On the other hand, if you want to do the opposite and watch all the worst there can be:
"The Outrageous Okona," "The Schizoid Man," "The Dauphin," "The Royale [with cheese]," Samaritan Snare," "Manhunt," and worst of all, "Shades of Grey."
There are also some not too bad ones, like "The Icarus Factor," where Riker and his dad have a Blindfolded Space Jujitsu match and Worf gets tortured because it's his birthday or something.