They say the world is divided into two types of people: those who prefer Star Wars and those who prefer Star Trek. Of course, they also say the same thing regarding Elvis Presley/The Beatles, chocolate/vanilla, and Charlie Sheen/Emilio Estevez.
I’ve always leaned towards the Star Wars side of things (along with The Beatles, chocolate and Estevez), and to that end I’ve never before watched an entire episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The original series I’ve seen from beginning to end over the years, but The Next Generation? Never gave it the time. Which reminds me… the world is also divided into people who prefer Captain James Kirk and those who prefer Captain Jean-Luc Picard.
The show ended its seven-season run in 1994, but the series has never received the high definition treatment that fans have been clamoring for. That HD drought ends this week as CBS-HD and Paramount bring all 25 episodes of the show’s first season to Blu-ray along with a strong complement of special features.
And now I’m no longer an NCC-1701-D virgin.
The First Season:
Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG going forward) was the first hour-long drama made exclusively for syndication, and it was an immense gamble. While most shows had homes on the networks this one was a risk that had to pick up affiliates one at a time. Its eventual success helped pave the way for our current television model where many of the best hour-long dramas are off network shows and found in places like FX, AMC and HBO.
That success lasted seven seasons, but it all started twenty five years ago in 1987. The show was ahead of the technological curve then, but watching now makes it difficult to appreciate what must have been cutting-edge effects. Still, old shows (like all media) have value beyond their contemporary presentation. The Twilight Zone, The Greatest American Hero and even the original Star Trek are incredibly dated, but they’re still wonderfully entertaining and thought provoking series. (Well, Hero is obviously more of the former.)
Watching TNG for the first time it’s easy to forgive the high tech world of the 80s, and instead it’s in the scripts and ideas where the show feels the most dated. We get it. Humanity in the future is pretty much perfect. They’ve eliminated racism, sexism, hunger, herpes and the lack of carte blanche options from cable providers, and while they’re constantly called to task for the crimes of mankind’s past the men and women of the USS Enterprise consistently show themselves to be humanity at its finest.
It’s a recurring theme throughout season one, and it works as often as it doesn’t. I watched all twenty five episodes in order, and while some of the episodes stood out for their writing or events (“Conspiracy”) just as many stood apart for less positive reasons (“Code of Honor”). Here are my quick thoughts on each along with a rating on a one to ten scale.
- 1: Encounter at Farpoint – The Enterprise’s maiden voyage finds them sent to investigate a space station in this two-parter, but their mission is interrupted by a seemingly godlike being named Q intent on judging humanity for its crimes. Q is an interesting character, but the defense of mankind is bit oversold. The original series’ McCoy makes a brief appearance in this two-parter as an old man from Texas walking down a hallway. (6/10)
- 2: The Naked Now – An untraceable contaminant infects the crew with symptoms resembling someone pretending to be drunk. The most memorable element here is knowing that Data gets to bone the hot head of security, Lt. Yar. They promise to never speak of it again, but it’s something I’ll never forget. A second callback to the original series is found here as the infection is traced back to an appearance on the first USS Enterprise. (5/10)
- 3: Code of Honor – A race of black humanoids who carry spears and wear loud tribal outfits easily kidnap Lt. Yar as an act of honorable heroism. It’s difficult to take this episode seriously watching the all-Black species talk and act like an African tribal community. Because, really? At least the stunt doubles entertain with their utter lack of similarity to the actors they’re doubling for. (3/10)
- 4: The Last Outpost – The Ferengi are introduced as both their ship and the Enterprise are held captive by an unknown source on a nearby planet. Mankind’s questionable behavior is once again brought under scrutiny, but the rat-like Ferengi with the permanently furrowed brows are the real animals here. (4/10)
- 5: Where No One Has Gone Before – A technique meant to boost the ship’s engines instead sends the Enterprise millions of miles outside the known universe. This is a somewhat aimless ep, and the random characters affected by their imaginations calls to mind the random characters affected by space alcohol from a few eps prior. Two highlights of note include the ship’s engineer being hilariously named Argyle and the introduction of a character known as The Traveler (aka the Travelling Pedo) who takes a creepy interest in Wesley. (5/10)
- 6: Lonely Among Us – An unknown alien being resembling a blue light special possesses members of the crew and the ship’s computer while the Enterprise is playing host to two feuding alien species. The ep plays fast and loose with real science, most notably when Picard is transmitted as pure energy into a space cloud… only to return into the ship’s electrical system where he communicates by forming a ‘P’ out of LED lights… then beams back to human form complete with his uniform intact. (4/10)
- 7: Justice – The discovery of a planet populated by half-naked, blonde nymphos brings trouble when Wesley is accused of trampling a flower and subsequently sentenced to death. This is the first truly great ep of the series, and it marks the first time the show’s sense of humor really clicks across the board as the crew comes face to face with some very friendly people. Riker shows off his Captain Kirk-like interests with a mischievous grin, Wesley gets some awkwardly hilarious dialogue and not even the propensity of obvious wigs can’t lessen the entertainment value here. Beyond the laughs though this is the first time the show confronts a truly moral question with real smarts and strong writing. (7/10)
- 8: The Battle – The Ferengi return and bring an abandoned Starfleet ship with them. Picard once captained the ship where he was involved in a mysterious conflict with a Ferengi vessel, and it seems revenge may be the theme of the day. This is a pretty boring ep aside from Wesley’s unspoken observation that adults are ungrateful bastards. (4/10)
- 9: Hide and Q – While en route to assist survivors of a mining disaster the ship is stalled by the reappearance of Q who this time is interested in playing games and tempting Riker with untold power. Q’s petulance comes even clearer as he grows frustrated with Riker’s refusal to join the Q club, and while the action here is limited the script offers up some interesting exchanges especially as the crew is offered incredible gifts. The ep does give Riker multiple opportunities to embrace his favored expression… smugness. (7/10)
- 10: Haven – Counselor Troi’s mother arrives to celebrate her daughter’s impending marriage… an arranged union that the empath had not seen coming. Riker is not pleased by this news. The ep is a bit annoying at times as the visiting mother-in-laws seem more at home in a Meet the Fockers movie than a science fiction series. (3/10)
- 11: The Big Goodbye – Picard uses the Holodeck to take advantage of some down time, but when he sets the world to recreate the 1940s NYC of his favorite fictional detective problems arise. Death in the artificial world becomes a real threat, and those trapped in the computer generated world risk never returning to the present. Picard and Data have real fun with the locale and dialogue, and it makes me wish for more Holodeck-set episodes. (7/10)