Star Trek TNG premieres

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Star Trek TNG premieres

Post  BoG on Sun Apr 25, 2010 11:05 pm

STAR TREK - TNG : 7 Seasons that continued the journey...

STAR TREK - The Next Generation (1987 - 1994) starring
as Capt. Jean-Luc Picard __ as Cmdr. Will Riker * also starring
as Geordi LaForge ___ as Lt. Worf ________ as Dr. Crusher ______ as Deanna Troi ______ as Data
as Wesley Crusher__ as Tasha Yar ___ as Dr. Pulaski ___ as Chief O'Brien
as Nurse Ogawa __ as Ensign Ro _____ as Keiko ________ as Q __________ as Guinan

When the TNG series premiered in 1987, it was not greeted very well by many of the old-time Star Trek fans, including myself. It didn't help matters that one of the earliest episodes, The Naked Now, was a superficial retread of the classic The Naked Time from TOS '66. The new episode should have served as a way of spotlighting several of the new crew, but all it did was show them all in heat and youngster Wesley behaving drunk & goofy. I wasn't too impressed back then. I was even less impressed with the new hostile alien race introduced in the 1st season; on TOS, we got Romulans & Klingons; on TNG, we get Ferengi. Pitiful.

The earliest indication of how this show differed from the Original Series was, of course, the pilot episode, Encounter at Farpoint. Roddenberry himself was partially to blame for the more bland atmosphere: he envisioned a future where all mankind had risen  - evolved - above our usual expected petty attitudes; this was nice, but the audience could no longer enjoy, as one example, a version of McCoy's knee-jerk verbal attacks on Spock or, as another, Kirk succumbing to pride & outrage or Scotty griping about his engines in a less-than-professional manner.
The 23rd-century Starfleet personnel were more evolved than us but there were still vestiges of 20th-century character weakness we could relate to. All that seemed to disappear in the 24th century - the new near-perfect Enterprise personnel were a bit too alien to us normal human beings, even the personnel who supposedly grew up on Earth. They were simply dull - the ideal - the glossy versions of the dynamic, flawed characters of TOS. The FX were better; back in the eighties, this was an expensive show to produce.

What did work was keeping the central theme of exploration (something lost in the offshoot, Deep Space Nine, though they tried to return to it in Voyager) and the atmosphere of a working, feasibly-organized starship. The new Enterprise-D was twice as large as the original, with about a thousand personnel aboard (as originally established, this was 100 years after TOS and 78 years after the TOS film events such as The Voyage Home). Capt. Picard (Patrick Stewart) was a more cerebral, diplomatic and older version of the ultimate explorer we had known as Capt. Kirk.  Whereas Kirk had been like Horatio Hornblower, Picard was more like Hornblower's no-nonsense superior when Hornblower was a young officer.

Picard wasn't too impressive in the first two awkward seasons, as some could mistake his caution for weakness (and, before he toughened up a bit in later seasons, too much caution and even trepidation informed his scenes during critical moments.) I think the actor, Stewart, took at least a year to find his footing with this admittedly difficult character who was in charge yet relied on a 'counselor' (Troi) for much of his decisions. The Kirk-like first officer Commander Riker (Frakes) was controlled by Picard, so the entire crew of Enterprise-D came across as a bit too civilized, too PC, too comfortable and too complacent for their own good. It's interesting that this complacency was fractured by the most memorable episode of the first two years, Q Who?, which introduced The Borg. All of a sudden, exploration was not a routine venture.

Of the other main characters, the android Data (Brent Spiner), 3rd in command, easily stood out by virtue of his unique status as an artificial lifeform. There was nothing very unique about his continual quest to become more human (shades of Pinocchio - not very subtle and, even, tiresome at times), but a self-aware machine offers glimpses into thought-provoking concepts, no matter how bland the execution. Similarly, the Klingon Worf (Michael Dorn) offered a startling visual of the new-style Starfleet - his gruff, rough demeanor, though of limited appeal, could be entertaining at proper moments.
But, all the characters, especially the more benign ones (La Forge, Crusher, Troi), suffered under a pedestrian style of writing which I presume was also 'script-by-committee.' Though new sci-fi ideas & concepts would be well presented eventually (as we'll see in later episodes), the interaction among the principles remained unexciting. Picard, for example, was irritated by children and a bit impatient about juvenile behavior, and that was the extent of any less-than-subtle behavioral unpleasantness. Besides the lack of any tension among the ranks, dialog became very predictable.

Worf's belligerence ("They have no honor!" & "We need more security!"), Troi's empathy ("A feeling of great joy / of great pain!") and La Forge's hardware problems ("We need the framistat in the thing-a-majig") quickly became cliches-of-the-week. This 'techno-babble' hindered many scripts all throughout the series, an aspect which made them less exciting than the stories of the original series. As Roddenberry himself believed, when characters spoke this way, it did not come across as naturalistic, except maybe when it was Data, the android. As mentioned, the engineer La Forge (LeVar Burton) was usually saddled with long, dull explanatory dialog for the audience about the latest technical problem.

Even worse, the techno-babble was used many times to actually solve a problem in an episode; a writer just had to come up with more gobbledygook dialog to address a dilemma. I'm also not too keen about the acting level in the first couple of seasons; everyone seemed stiff & in monotone, especially in comparison to the naturalism, intensity and even flamboyance of the original show. Picard even came across as disinterested in some episodes: there would be a possible problem brewing and Picard would behave as either clueless or someone who can't be bothered, antithetical to Kirk's ready, sharp awareness.
Tasha Yar, a fierce yet sweet woman as the security chief, was never given a chance to develop before getting killed off near the end of the 1st season (much like Yeoman Rand's departure on TOS; the actress, Crosby, was dissatisfied, though her efforts were less than inspiring and her overacting in the pilot was downright amateurish).

Dr. Crusher was little more than a cipher in the 1st season - a cold, humorless woman usually hovering around sickbay. Her son, Wesley, was the least favorite of the fans - the resident brat who usually spoiled an episode's plot. But, I  considered him as just one of several problems within the show's framework. Dr. Crusher was replaced by the even more callous Dr. Pulaski in the 2nd season, but Crusher returned in the 3rd season.

The double-length pilot also introduced Q, a cosmic being who behaved like an imp, patterned on the TOS character Trelane (The Squire of Gothos) - the trickster god; Q had a sinister side here but would return in several more episodes as more of a galactic jester (the next one was Hide and Q, still in the 1st season), including the finale.

There were some memorable episodes even in the first 2 years:  Conspiracy was an early invasion thriller, with a creepy, ominous tone; Where No One Has Gone Before was an ultimate attempt to define the exploring theme; The Big Goodbye was the first lengthy exploration of the holodeck concept, contemplating the nature of reality; Datalore was the intro of Data's evil twin, Lore, offering Spiner a chance to chew the scenery; Skin of Evil featured the death of Tasha Yar, with another intriguing villain; 11001001, featuring the quirky Bynar race, was perhaps the best holodeck story; and The Measure of a Man placed an android on trial.

Except for Q Who?, the 2nd season was even more of a letdown than the first, even if the mysterious Guinan (played by a beatific Whoopi Goldberg) was introduced as the ship's bartender (in the new Ten Forward Lounge) in a recurring role. Riker (and actor Frakes) was also allowed to grow a beard, to make him look a little more... experienced; this did work. Troi (Sirtis) was allowed a different and more pleasing hairstyle. La Forge was now chief engineer. And Dr. Pulaski replaced Dr. Crusher. There was a writer's strike during the 2nd season, resulting in a short season of only 22 episodes.
ABOVE: Guinan (Whoopi) tends bar and dispenses sagely advice; Dr. Pulaski smiles at Troi (the 2nd season, The Child)

Space started to percolate in the 3rd season. I liked The Survivors, introducing an entity resembling Q in a depressed mood, and Deja Q with both Q & Guinan squaring off, as well as other alien beings. In the 3rd year, truly innovative concepts such as the far-out parallel-universe adventure Yesterday's Enterprise began to appear, topped by the season-ender The Best of Both Worlds,part 1 in which The Borg returned in their first try at assimilating Earth. After this and the 2nd part, the TNG show was off and running, at full warp speed.
There were more than a few great episodes in the next 4 seasons; I tended to appreciate the wild, cosmic concept stories best: Parallels (season 7); Cause and Effect (s5); Timescape (s6); Tapestry (s6); and the scary Frame of Mind, Schisms and Genesis. There's also the mind-blowing Inner Light (s5), Conundrum, Ship in a Bottle (s6) and Second Chances.

The intense 2-parter Chain of Command was almost like a film, and the great return of Scotty in Relics was very entertaining, though it showed you can't go home again. The show also continued to tackle challenging social issues, as in The Host, The Outcast, First Contact and The Drumhead as well as political: Darmok, Rightful Heir, Face of the Enemy and The Pegasus.
The series ended on a strong note, the episode All Good Things... a double-length spectacular with nearly the budget of a feature film. But it wasn't really the end. A few months later, an actual feature film was released - Star Trek Generations (94). It's rather ironic that the TNG films couldn't match the innovation and creativity of the last 4 or 5 seasons of the series. Star Trek Insurrection (1998) for example, is a lesser effort than most of the episodes mentioned above.
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