Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Star Trek The Next Generation


I spent many months rewatching Star Trek The Next Generation after not having seen it for a decade or two.  I probably averaged about an episode per day.  I expected the show to be too dated compared to more modern shows, but this is only partially true.  It is the show that set the standard for every science fiction show that came after.  It has a mixture of many good shows and a few bad ones, but it also has many good things going for it ...

1.  It has a great set of characters.  In fact, I would say a perfect set of characters.  This is very helpful to the show because no matter what else is going on, the viewer wants to tune in every week just to see what happens to these people.

The only other Star Trek show that has equaled The Next Generation in terms of great characters is Star Trek Deep Speed Nine.  That show, in addition to having its own great characters, borrowed a couple of characters from The Next Generation series to maintain some continuity and to hedge their bet by giving the viewers characters that they already liked.

Other shows like Babylon 5, Star Trek Voyager, Star Trek Enterprise, and Star Trek Discovery have some interesting characters of their own, but their bench is not very deep.  There aren't as many interesting characters, and the series Star Trek Picard has at best just one interesting character, which is an older version of Picard from The Next Generation.

2.  The sets are gorgeous.  The inside of the ship Enterprise looks like a fun place to be and a place that you would want to visit every week.

3.  The special effects were great for their time, but still competent by today's standards.  There are times when some ships look like cheap models, but overall the special effects still work very well.

4.  The writing for the most part is very good.  The emphasis is on the characters and their interaction which is what worked well for the original Star Trek Series.

However, there are a few episodes that are duds and there are more of these in the final season.  It seemed like the show was running out of steam and it was time to bring it to a close.

This is a series that occasionally reaches moments of greatness, but the vast majority of shows I would describe as just good.  The episodic nature of the show makes it feel a little gimmicky, in that some life-threatening plot twist has to happen every week for the characters to overcome.  They keep inventing new threats, new technologies to counter those threats, and new forms of radiation good or bad.

Speaking of the series being episodic, this was good for people who want to tune in every week and not worry about having missed the previous week's show.  Except for some two-part shows, almost every episode stands on its own.  

However, later science fiction series became more *serial*, having plots that span entire seasons or multiple seasons. Star Trek Deep Space Nine improved from season 3 onwards by adopting a long-term story, although it would only visit that story occasionally. Babylon 5 was quite complicated having some story elements that would span multiple seasons. Individual episodes could be episodic, but there was a much bigger story lurking in the background. On the other hand, the immensely great TV show LOST was a serial from start to finish, with only a couple of individual episodes being standalone. Battlestar Galactica was also a fantastic series that benefited from being mostly serial. The rebooted Doctor Who had some epic plotlines that lasted multiple seasons.

The series finale, the double-length "All Good Things...", seemed fantastic at the time, although it is a time travel story that doesn't quite make sense.  It is a good send-off for the show.

Star Trek The Next Generation still holds up after 36 years, although in my mind just barely so.  It has since been surpassed by some more modern shows.  By comparison, almost all the Star Wars TV shows have been very good with The Mandalorian being truly extraordinary.

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