Star Trek: The Next Generation was my first real Star Trek series. I was born too late for the original show (and the animated follow-up, for that matter), and as a kid, the re-runs just didn’t do it for me. But ST:TNG debuted when I was thirteen, and I was completely sold on everything from Picard’s calmness to Troi’s plunging necklines. I avidly devoured every new episode, and couldn’t wait for more… which should’ve been a sign that I shouldn’t have rewatched the show recently, really. Here’s ten things I had forgotten about the show
The Show Was Clearly A Product Of Its Time
You have to give The Next Generation this – It’s dated so much worse than the original Trek. I don’t mean culturally (Although the design of the original has at least had time to become retro cool by now), but the visuals: Being shot on video, and with special effects that ranged from pretty cool to really kind of terrible, the show now looks more like something far cheaper and lower quality than the average Syfy Saturday Night movie, and it’s hard to get that out your head while you’re watching.
The Show Was Offensively Inoffensive (1)
By the 24th Century, interpersonal conflict was a thing of the past in Gene Rodenberry’s mind… which makes for some appallingly dull viewing, when all of the regular cast is just one big happy family, getting along except for when one or more of them gets possessed by some alien that, more likely than not, was just looking for understanding all along. TNG is an amazingly therapist-friendly show, refusing to cast blame in almost any direction, which probably would make for a utopian society in which to live, but not one to set a drama in.
This Here Is An Allegory
The original Trek had its fair share of clunky allegories, don’t get me wrong, but at times it felt as if that’s all TNG was: Every single week, it seemed, the show would tackle a real world subject with the attitude of “But it’s happening to aliens,” and the crew of the Starship Enterprise would come along, frown and tell them off like their parents, and everything would be over within an hour. Which would’ve been more tolerable if the real world problems were more daring than “bigotry is wrong” over and over again.
The Show Was Offensively Inoffensive (2)
For a show that was so strongly politically correct, it was also surprisingly timid. Remember when the original Trek made television history by having the first on-screen interracial kiss? Yeah, nothing like that in TNG. Also, after the multi-cultural original cast, the almost entirely caucasian TNG crew seemed like a weird step backwards, especially considering one of the black actors played an alien, and the other spend most of his time keeping the engines running…
Riker And Troi: Science Fiction’s Most Passionless Unrequited Love
Yeah, that’s right: For all of their supposed backstory of lovers-torn-apart-by-duty (Recycled from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, as I realized when I rewatched that the other night; what can I say? I’m on a Trek kick, and it’s on Netflix Watch Instantly), Riker and Troi managed to keep their respective flames hidden by having almost no chemistry onscreen. I blame the actors, for the most part, but at least Jonathan Frakes had an air of constant amusement about him during everything past the second season, so the writing has to be partially responsible, as well.
Almost Everything About Data
I know, I know: This is like saying that I hate Santa Claus, isn’t it? But Data never really did anything for me beyond provide deus ex machinas and annoy me. We’d seen the “What does it mean to be… human?” thing before with Spock (and, weirdly enough, again with Ilyaprobe in The Motion Picture… Hmm), and Brent Spiner’s portrayal shifted from naive to oddly smug somewhere during the show’s run, making him all the more irritating.
While I’m At It, The Rest Of The Crew, Too
Okay, perhaps Patrick Stewart can be saved from the deluge of “Well, they weren’t the greatest actors in the world” scorn, but there really was a level of acting ability from the regular cast that seemed to favor broad soap opera-scale reactions to anything subtle, charming or believable wherever possible. I’m looking at you in particular, Michael Dorn. Klingon or not, there was far too much bellowing happening there.
From exciting two-time problems – their first appearance and the “Best of Both Worlds” two-parter – to completely and utterly overused characters that ended up becoming boring as a result, the Borg may be a masterclass in how not to use villains in a continuing narrative. I’ll admit that Voyager may hold even more of the blame for this than TNG, but still: This is where it all got started, and let’s face it: Voyager already has a terrible reputation (somewhat deservedly).
Oh, come on, like you don’t agree on this one, at least. Especially in the first couple of seasons, where they were all wearing those all-in-one things.
It Ruined The Franchise All The Way Until JJ Abrams Saved It
The Next Generation, through its success and the fact that it became the benchmark for what Trek should be all the way through to the cancellation of Enterprise, changed what had been a series about exploration, adventure and more than a little goofiness into something more sober, serious and… well, less fun, really. It took a lot of the imperfections of humanity out of the ideas behind the show, and replaced it with… well, I’m not sure that it really managed to replace it with anything lasting, given the way that each successive series tried a new gimmick to fill the gap. You can watch an original Trek and, yes, it’s nowhere near perfect, but there’s a sense of excitement and discovery and lack of embarrassment that’s compelling to watch, but The Next Generation has this… ashamed quality to it, as if just doing science fiction at all is a little too lowbrow for its own tastes, and so it’d rather do something more cerebral and “meaningful” instead. It took Abrams’ 2009 revival – which many claimed was closer to Star Wars to Star Trek, which may point to something in and of itself – to bring some of that stupid, gut reaction back to the franchise… and he left it so much better than it was, when he found it.
The Next Generation was a show that we loved at the time, perhaps, because it’s what we had: It was new, and it was on every week. But now that we can look back and see it in more of a historical context, surely I’m not alone in thinking it was kind of terrible more often than not, right?