In 1987, Buck Rogers didn't get turned into a popsicle stick for 500 years, but Paramount wanted to cash in on Star Trek's renewed popularity. But not with the original cast, who were too expensive. Result? A new crew, set some 80 years into the future.
Season 1 starts it all: While showing us a new Enterprise, with its holodeck, improved phaser emitters, separable hull, and so on, it relies more on updated special effects than it does characters, and doesn't really have much of a direction. A prime example is "The Naked Now", a gaudy rewrite of the original Trek's "The Naked Time", which not only wastes an opportunity to prove that rewriting old stories isn't always a waste of time, it also replaces character development with a frat party with everybody acting drunk and horny. Not a good way to show off a new series. Subsequent episodes also bypassed serious drama in favor of cheap frat jokes (e.g. "Justice"). Even the renowned episode "Conspiracy"'s pre-credits teaser has Geordi cracking a joke about sex in zero-gravity. Whatever... how the show survived its first season must be due to basic ratings figures because, let's face it, season 1 was simply too shallow.
Season 2: Geordi and Worf are promoted to positions that do their characters justice, the superlative Guinan is introduced, and Gates McFadden is fired in favor of Diana Muldar's under-appreciated Dr Pulaski. This season has more polish, the actors feel more 'at home' with their characters, and many stories really dig deep into some decent sci-fi concepts. "Elementary Dear Data" putting the holodeck to exceptional and truly ingenious use, "Q Who" introduces the Borg, "Time Squared" does a great job of utilizing a time paradox, "Contagion" deals with computer viruses with aplomb, "The Measure of a Man" deals with Data's status as an individual (and the basic plot premise is revisited several times throughout the series' remaining run)... "Unnatural Selection" showcasing Dr Pulaski's character beautifully (and is an example of re-doing a premise properly; it is a semi-rewrite of TOS's "The Deadly Years" and in every way is genuinely superior).
Season 3 sets the formula perfectly, though bringing back Crusher was arguably a mistake - I'll explain later, though in the premiere story "Evolution", we are reminded Wesley is an annoying little disrespectful prat. I'm amazed mommy didn't hit him...
Season 4 continues the feel of season 3, though the first 7 stories feel like condensed rewrites of "The Best of Both Worlds" as other characters have to live through nightmare situations or epiphanies. "Legacy" onwards shows a decent run of episodes. Sadly, the show's best composer, Ron Jones, was fired because his style did not fit the vision the producers wanted to move the show toward... It does end with the rather good "Redemption"...
So far, we've seen TNG start out with no vision, find itself, and move forward with an impressive amount of dignity and thoughtfulness. However, change is inevitable and this is when that pesky blindness kicks in:
Season 5: The show's new vision would focus less on sci-fi and more on character "depth"; meaning the discussion of modern day society issues, but slanted in favor of one viewpoint rather than a thoughtful, even-handed discussion of both sides. We are instantly treated to "Redemption"'s conclusion, which has Data acting very much UNLIKE Data, and some really bizarre ideas about a tachyon net that even Sela could figure out "Drive around it instead", yet doesn't. "Silicon Avatar" revisits the Crystalline Entity, but the charming concept of talking to it stretches credibility too far and Picard comes across as if he's constipated. "The Masterpiece Society" has Picard deciding to interfere in a balanced society and moans upon failing. The story's moral is the exact opposite of season 3's "The Ensigns of Command" (a bona fide classic)! Another turkey is "Ethics", which involves Worf being injured, wants euthanasia, nobody wants to do him in, and Crusher bickers with another doctor about "acceptable forms of research". Complete with Worf having a redundant brain which is how he can survive. This toddler scribble is not worthy as a script! If "Ethics" is Crusher's defining story, axe her and put Pulaski back, whose attitude in "Unnatural Selection" is far more worthy. "The Outcast", the cheap turkey complete with beaks and claws, seems to say that test tube babies are preferable to two people exchanging bodily fluids in order to make a baby. Whatever. Do I have to mention the disaster entitled "Disaster"? Also, a new character, Ensign Ro, is introduced, and is meant to add tension amongst the crew. I'm not sure she worked, but I liked the addition nonetheless. "I Borg" does the impossible and gets Picard (and Guinan!) to feel sorry for the Borg. And people thought TOS's "The Way to Eden" was tosh?! Mind you, "The Next Phase" has to be a highlight as it takes an interesting look at depth combined with the best sci-fi idea for some time, even if there are obvious questions about how they don't fall through floors and such. Plus, it reminds us the Romulans are a threat... Season 6: Well, the show continues to act and sound like a frog passing gas in a mud puddle. The first run of stories all involve transporter failures as their causes, some stories are followed up on "Ship in a Bottle"... "The Quality of Life" is yet another attempt to cash in on the now trite idea of "When does a machine get treated like a person" and is so heavy-handed in the script that it's not worth watching... Season 7 concludes the show by trying to get back to basics -- not going overboard with pandering, heavy-handed societal parallels and goes back into sci-fi territory. Which is nice. "The Pegasus" does remind us that TNG isn't worn out yet and that character drama CAN work as we discover an interesting slant to Riker's past and a cool technological development too... Even "Force of Nature" (the "55mph speed limit in space" episode) is watchable. It does end with "All Good Things..." which, one minor plot hole aside, ends the series so spectacularly that it should have been what Q was promising at the end about what Picard would discover. (unfortunately, those theatrical adventures weren't nearly as good as promised...)
All in all, as far as digging up old material and continuing it goes, and I'm not often partial to such remakes, TNG is very much worthy. Even if the earliest of episodes are so flimsily written, even the best of ideas ("Datalore", "11001001", "Heart of Glory", "Conspiracy") end up looking silly at times.
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