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I don't know if this is really necessary for a 25 year old show, but there are SPOILERS ahead.

PhMom and I are working our way through Star Trek: TNG, and we've just made it through season 1, and I wanted to share my thoughts on it.


So, new crew, huh?

The crew has most of the elements of TOS, but shuffled around. The First Officer Riker takes on the Captain Kirk role of the interstellar man of bravura and sexiness, while Captain Picard tends to play a much more managerial role, and I suppose this is more realistic to how an actual crew might work. Picard is rounded out pretty well: we know he's proudly French and he doesn't like kids, which is awkward since he's on board a ship full of them and he ends up with Wesley (everyone's favorite character to hate) being a pest on the bridge. Wesley also adds a dimension to his mother, Dr. Crusher, who fulfills the Bones role of "Medical compassion at odds with the rigid authority of the system" but with her own maternal touch. Security gets more attention with Tasha Yar, who fits into her role okay, but doesn't offer much in the way of charisma. Chief Engineer gets hardly any attention during the first season: you see red-shirt Geordi down there from time to time, but it's pretty clear he and Worf are just junior officers on rotation.

The three most "alien" characters are Data (who I talk about later), Troi, and Worf. Troi is... well, it's a little hard to tell what she's doing on the ship. She's a "counselor" which I guess is some kind of shrink, but she's also bridge crew. She's half-Betazoid, which means she's an "empath," which means she can read feelings, which means she's great at handing out statements of the obvious in a weird, vaguely European accent.

Worf is much more interesting. He's a Klingon — a classic bad guy — but their at peace now, sort of, and Worf was raised by humans. His Klingon-ness gets developed more as the show goes on — and even more when he shows up on DS9 — but it mostly comes across as glowering humorlessness. That's okay, because Michael Dorn sells it, particularly in the really good "Heart of Glory," where he gets to Klingon it up with some other Klingons.


Hey, wait a minute: this is just the old series updated!

It seems like a lot of the first season has the mindset of "let's do the original series with slightly better special effects!" The basic formula of


1. encounter new life, new civilization

2. find out that there's a complication that eerily mirrors a problem in the present day


3. Full power to shields! Arm photon torpedoes!

4. Resolution that sends a moral lesson with all the subtly of a foghorn

is basically the same, and there are quite a few of them that could have been OTS episodes with minimal script changes. Some of these are just plain bad, like "Code of Honor," which is both badly written and also pretty racist — Coming to America has a more positive and realistic depiction of African culture than this episode. Some have potential that gets wasted, like the grotesquely heavy-handed "Angel One." The idea of a culture with matriarchal and sexism against men is interesting, but ends up just looking regressive (a DS9 episode would do a much better job of it later on, when Miles O'Brien ends up working with a Cardasian female engineer who has a hard time accepting a male engineer, since everyone just knows that males are too emotional to make good scientists). And there are some that are just... boring, like "Home Soil," which would probably have been better if the alien in it could do more than just blink at you threateningly.


But there are a few legitimately good ones that basically reinvent classic Trek, particularly "The Arsenal of Freedom," one of the best of the season. Yes, it's preachy and heavy-handed, but it manages to be creative as well.

Well, I guess it's going in some new directions

It'd be dishonest to say that it's totally TOS redone. For the most part, it's clearly doing something new and original, things that couldn't have been done in the original series. For one thing, there seems to be more sex, taking advantage of the looser S&P of network syndication. Which adds.... pretty much nothing to the story, and creates some absolute embarrassments like "Justice," an episode featuring a planet of toned, tanned swingers who have an idiotic law code enforced by their god, who is some kind of space probe thing. And speaking of things that have a lot of promise they don't deliver on, there's the Holodeck, which is so conceptually jacked up I don't know where to begin. If they're that good, why would anyone leave? If they create havoc as much as they seem to, why would anyone ever use them. What they seem to do the most is give an excuse for lazy storytelling — can't think of anything new? Let's go to the holodeck and do film noire with Star Trek guys! Or have a germ spread by the holodeck! Or have Picard and Riker trapped in a holodeck jazz club with that sexy brunette DA from the early seasons of Law & Order! And so on.


One bit of technology they do make good use of is Data. Admittedly, there are a couple of holes in his story — if he's this awkward, how did he ever make it out of the academy? — but the idea of a supergenius with the relational intelligence and intellectual curiosity of a child is interesting, as are the sci-fi possibilities of AI. It certainly helps that Brent Spiner is a great character actor with a wide range. Data is at the center of the season's best episode, Datalore, where he split-screens as Data and his evil brother Lore (who doesn't have a beard. I wonder: is there a mirror-universe Data, and if so, does he have a beard?)

The rise of digital effects is clear in the production, although it often ends up just looking shoddy, and sometimes absolutely destroys what might have been decent episodes. For instance, "Conspiracy" shows some real promise until this happens


And you just sort of have to laugh. Even worse is the tar monster from "Skin of Evil," because it's a legitimately great episode in terms of concept, story, and writing, but once you see the being of pure evil who is a combination oil slick/swamp thing, it's so hard to take it seriously.


So, should I watch it?

It streams on Netflix, and it's always syndicated somewhere, so you should give it a shot. You should watch the pilot, even though it's one of the weaker episodes in a lot of ways — it's not nearly as bad as some of the ones that come after it. Starting with "Haven," though, they start to get good (although I know a lot of people really hate Lwaxana Troi, which I guess is one of those Tom Bombadill things where I don't really get it that everybody hates something I really like).


Hey, can you tell me something random from your childhood about this show?

I was only a kid when this show first came on, and I vaguely remember watching it. Mostly I remember that when the guy gets frozen in the pilot episode, and Picard picks up his phaser to show that it was on stun, I thought it was the guy's finger getting snapped off.

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