Trek Week: The Next Generation

By Shamus
on Dec 2, 2014
Filed under:
Nerd Culture

Here was a show that seemed to do everything wrong at the start, but somehow pulled it together after a couple of rough seasons and went on to tell some great stories. The Inner Light is some of the best sci-fi ever filmed, as far as I’m concerned. The Survivors was also really goodSir, may I say your attempt to hold the away team at bay, with a non-functioning weapon, was an act of unmitigated gall. I admire gall.. Tapestry was pretty good, too. There were a lot of other gems in the 7-season run, and the finale was a fun bit of fan-service that brought us all full circle.

The first season was so appalling I’m still amazed the show managed to survive. In going back over the episode lists for this series I realized that nearly all of my most hated TNG moments came from that first batch of episodes. Even back then, when I was a dumb teenager with no capacity for analysis and no taste, I still recognized these episodes as rubbish. I can only assume the show survived entirely on the pent-up demand for prime time sci-fi and the gee-wizz factor of the special effects, because the show had nothing else going for it.

The term Flanderization is used to describe the process where seemingly minor character quirks are intensified until they consume the character. TNG sort of underwent a broad reverse-Flanderization. The characters began as simplistic and broad. Data misunderstood everything in the most stupidly literal way possible. Picard was a stiff diplomat. Worf was all growls. Troi was a touchy-feely ninny with nothing useful to say. But as the show grew these traits gave way to solid characterization and nuance. As shockingly dumb as the first season plots were, the shows are even more insufferable to watch now that we’ve seen these same characters mature into something interesting.

Commander Data, are you SURE you’re an android? Is it possible you’re just maybe… stupid?

It’s probably my favorite Trek-thing. I could gush about it, but that doesn’t make for interesting discussion. So instead here’s some stuff that bugs me:

  1. I know Troi gets a lot of hate, but I actually like her character concept. And once in a while the writers would give her something interesting to do. But too often they just used her to tell us the obvious and to be the victim of the terrifying mental shenanigans of the aliens-of-the-week. She was a good idea with a bad execution. However, everything bad about Troi goes double for…
  2. …Wesley Crusher. As a teenager I really wanted a teenage character on the Enterprise. He was supposed to be our self-insertion character. Our window into this world. Our champion. Instead he was a joke and a plot device. He wasn’t my representative in the show, he was the representation of how the writers viewed teens: Annoying, whiny, entitled, foolish, but also super-smart because children are the future, or something. If those same writers made Wesley today, they would make a shallow meme-spewing tween that’s constantly taking duck-faced selfies and too busy poking his/her Social Media Tricorder to interact with adults.

    Every time Wesley did something dumb or annoying, I felt like I was being judged. I hated Wesley the way Batman would hate this, or the LEGO Movie Batman. He wasn’t just a bad character, he was a mockery of me and everything I aspired to.

    The fact that Wil Wheaton has come back and become the icon my teenage self wanted is kind of cool. There’s a certain karmic justice to the fact that Wheaton is celebrated and Rick Berman is vilifiedI don’t know if it was Berman’s fault, but it’s nice to have someone to blame..

    The way he was written off the show was a perfect distillation of everything the writers had done wrong: Sloppy, lazy, and annoying.

  3. I think killing off Tasha Yar was a good move. She and Worf both served the same purpose, story-wise: To be suspicious of aliens and to get in fights. And given the choice between the two, of course we’d rather watch a hulking Klingon fight than another human. On the other hand, I thought her death episode was kind of dumb. Then again…
  4. …this was grealy undercut by the period where the writers used Worf as a punching bag to establish the villain of the week. Aliens show up, kick Worf’s ass, then the episode begins. It was supposed to show us how dangerous they were, but in the end it just made Worf look like a pushover.
  5. Data was an interesting character, until they turned his ongoing character arc into a plot-activated device. The emotion chip was a dumb shortcut that failed to say anything interesting about emotions or androids. And don’t get me started on his evil twin. If you’re going to rip off a lame overused trope of yesteryear, you should at least have the decency to do it well.
  6. I liked Barclay. I have no idea how a man of his limited skill and social grace landed a position on the Enterprise, but I always liked it when he showed up.
  7. The Holodeck is a terrible thing. It’s a giant plot hole, a massive liability, it usually makes no sense and flagrantly violates its own ill-conceived rules, and even when its used properly the special effects of the day weren’t really up to the job. And now its an indelible part of Trek lore. Or was, until JJ Abrams maybe-erased it. I dunno. All I know is that in the late 80’s, whenever anyone mentioned the holodeck I rolled my eyes because it meant this week’s episode was going to be a stupid waste of time.

The Next Generation wasn’t all good. It’s possible it wasn’t even mostly good. but when it was good, it was really good.

Also, if you’re into the social media thing then I highly recommend these two parody Twitter accounts. The first is Riker Googling:

And the second is the episode descriptions for “Season 8” of TNG:

Enjoyed this post? Please share!

Footnotes:

[1] Sir, may I say your attempt to hold the away team at bay, with a non-functioning weapon, was an act of unmitigated gall. I admire gall.

[2] I don’t know if it was Berman’s fault, but it’s nice to have someone to blame.


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From the Archives:

  1. Matt Downie says:

    When watching a random episode of TNG, I like to work from the assumption that Troi is faking her empathic powers. Half the time she was just doing stuff like telling a crying woman, “I sense a great sadness in you.”

    • Her character is far more entertaining if one thinks of her having the same level of actual ability as Harry Potter’s Professor Trelawney.

    • Patrick the Red Shirt says:

      I always recognized immediately what Troi was and what she really represented. The exact oppositeof Spock.

      Everything Spock abhorred, Troi embodied. In so many ways it was the very thing, the way, the writers wanted to make TNG different from TOS. The even looked different in just about every way. Where Spock was tall and lanky, Troi was…well, Troi was not. I thought it was a very Ham-fisted way of shouting “THIS ISN’T YOUR FATHERS STAR TREK. WE AREN’T AFRAID OF FEELING THINGS!”

    • Thomas says:

      A competent Troi would have been really interesting. Pyschological profilers are all the rage in crime shows nowadays and Trek was basically getting there decades early.

      I guess part of the problem is that Troi couldn’t exactly give a complex breakdown of their character when half the time the character was just the sinister-alien-of-the-week.

      They needed to make her an excellent strategist. Someone who uses a lot of Batman Gambits and turns the opponent against themselves, then she could’ve shined (especially if they kept her compassion. That’d be an unusual combination of character traits)

      • Zeta Kai says:

        That’s the best fix for Troi that I’ve ever heard. It would’ve helped her character immensely.

        • Felblood says:

          True this.

          The trouble with Troi really boils down to a lack of imagination and vision from the writers.

          They posit a bold question. “What difference would it make if there was a race with psychic empathy, which allowed them to read the emotions of others at a distance?”

          Then the answer provided is, “I dunno. Eh, Probably not much, anyway.”

          The few episodes that do focus on her powers mainly revolve on how it makes her vulnerable to manipulation by psychic ghosts (Roman, and the murderer who committed suicide by jumping into the warp nacelle). Apparently even an empathic psychiatrist can’t be expected to control her feminine hysterics, with these writers around.

          What a total waste.

      • Grudgeal says:

        That description reminds me of Siri Keeton from Blindsight, a sociopathic autist included in a mission that was a very dark reflection of the Enterprise’s, whose job it was to read the emotional and informational topologies of the other crew and study them so he could report back to Earth everything they thought, not just what they said. Essentially he just looked at you and analyzed your mood and your psychological profile.

        Of course, he turns out to be very deeply flawed in his own way, but that’s neither here nor there.

    • Joe Informatico says:

      Rewatching the earlier seasons, the thing that stood out to me I never noticed before, was that almost every time Guinan shows up, she does Troi’s job better than Troi ever did. So I don’t understand why the same writers who wrote Guinan as a decent counsellor couldn’t do the same for Troi.

      Personally, I like the Guinan character (especially how they only really scratch the surface of her backstory and that of her people, and never get too deeply into it), and while I think Marina Sirtis’ acting was fine for TNG when she was given decent material to work with, she’s no Whoopi Goldberg.

      Apparently at some point in TNG’s casting, Sirtis might have ended up as “Macha Hernandez”, the Latina security chief, and Denise Crosby would have been Troi. I sometimes wonder how that first seasons might have turned out with that casting.

      • Thomas says:

        I bet they just found the whole ‘talking to the bartender’ interaction much easier to set-up. It’s practically a writing cliche right? Guinon is only on screen when she’s needed and to have her give advice they just need have the main character be stressed and go get a drink.

        Troi is on screen all the time, even when her counselling skills aren’t needed, and for someone to talk to her they need to basically formally approach a counsellor (or have the counsellor approach them). It’s a harder relationship to capture right? You’re kind of not sure who is in charge, and they’re only talking to the counsellor because they recognise something is wrong.

        (Although as you mentioned, Whoopi Goldberg’s charisma is a big plus)

        • Matt Downie says:

          One problem with the Troi concept is that if she’s actually good at what she does, it kills the drama. Imagine an episode that goes like this:
          Picard is having problems with Wesley being annoying. He goes to talk to Troi about it and she makes him realize Wesley’s trying his best, and he gets over it. Meanwhile, an alien tourist is actually a disguised alien spy. Troi senses this via her empathic powers, and Worf arrests him before he can cause any trouble. For the remaining half hour of the episode, the crew plays Poker. Troi wins lots of money, because she can tell who’s got what cards, except when it’s Data.
          The End.

    • Nimas says:

      This webcomic seems to agree (plus some of the observations on Star Trek are kind of hilarious)

  2. Dreadjaws says:

    I think the more-or-less general consensus was always that TOS was the best series but TNG had the best captain.

    Also, I find it curious that you link to the “Flanderization” page for TV Tropes but not the one for “The Worf Effect”, even though you actually make a pretty good description of it.

    Superman would suffer the same fate later in the first season of the Justice League animated series. The problem is that they make the most powerful member of the team fall easily… but then they make all the other members triumph instead of making them fall too, so the guy ends up looking like a pushover.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      “but TNG had the best captain.”

      Before ds9 came out,that is.

      • Zeta Kai says:

        Star Trek has many small shames, but one that hardly ever gets mentioned is the fact that the two best captains (Picard & Sisko) only ever had two very brief scenes together (in the DS9 pilot). They were both phenomenal, they both had indomitable wills, they had great chemistry together in their scenes, & the tension should be cut with a knife & spread on toast. The seething hatred coming off of Sisko was palpable, & Picard barely knew why. It was what epic poems were made of, back in the day.

        • Totino says:

          I find the above couple of comments very interesting, and perhaps it’s something to do with the age range of the audience (which I assume is mostly younger-than-Shamus, the way he talks to us, and I’m just a bit older), but I always thought Kirk was *the* captain, and he’s certainly my favorite by far. The triumvirate of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy spoken of in the previous entry was just the right amount of character. TNG and DS9 I found too diluted.

          *NOTE: I’m not suggesting that Shatner was the best actor.

          • Blackbird71 says:

            Kirk was an entertaining captain for a TV show, always jumping into the fray, the first one to beam down, grab a phaser, and shoot some aliens.

            Picard was the more realistic military captain, carrying the authority of command and actually sending those equipped and trained for combat encounters into the fights, while staying on the bridge and maintaining his responsibility over the ship as a whole.

        • Phill says:

          Yeah, I liked the few times we had Sisko and Picard together. Picard remains my favourtite captain, partly because he acts more believably like a military vessel captain than any of the others. Plus Patrick Stewart is by far the best actor of any of the Trek captains, and (IMHO) is massively charismatic.

          Nothing against Sisko though – he was also excellent, and obviously intended to be very different to Picard (and later Jake Sisko beats Wesley hands down for “best token teenager”…)

          I liked Janeway better than most people seemed to. Her voice wasn’t too annoying once you got used to it. But I think she had a much weaker supporting cast, and Voyager as a whole had weaker writing, so I don’t think it was ever possible for her to really shine.

          • Ringwraith says:

            Poor Janeway, she got such inconsistent characterisation depending on the writer, to the point she hated it as well.
            When it was good, it was good though.

            • Josh says:

              Janeway could have been an excellent character. Unfortunately, the only character traits the writers could all agree she had were “female” and “likes coffee.” Which just about sums up the immense skill of the Voyager writing staff, doesn’t it?

              • venatus says:

                could have been great but the writers coudln’t agree/didn’t know what to do with it pretty much describes voyager.

                it started off with a lot of promise and great ideas but almost all of them fizzled out.

                • Jake says:

                  I’m guessing the introduction for Voyager is going to be that it seemed to do everything right at the start, and it somehow seemed to fall apart after the first few seasons.

                  • venatus says:

                    more like fell apart by episode three. yeah it broke down real quick, almost all the good stuff was in set up and premise which was established in the pilot. for example, the maquis they were set up in TNG and deep space nine specifically to be used in voyager and the federation basically considered them a terrorist organization. in Voyager a federation crew and a maquis crew get stuck on the same ship and need to learn how to function.

                    sounds kinda interesting right, lot of different ways that could pan out. even before season one ended having maquis around was basically pointless cause everyone regardless of which ship they started on, acted like perfect star fleet officers.

                  • Not entirely. The premise of a “lost” ship with a mismatched crew was a good one, but the execution was lacking.

                    They blew up their only way home before even thinking about setting up a timed charge of some kind. For example, photon torpedo yields are customizible, and we’ve seen them home in on targets, so why not shoot one programmed to impact and detonate 30 seconds after launch?

                    They set the premise of “we go THATTAWAY and ONLY THATTAWAY” yet had villains that could somehow chase them and catch up. Even allowing for the “let’s stop and look at deadly stuff” plot devices, having the Kazon show up over and over and over again made little sense.

                    There’s more, but I should save it for the Voyager thread.

              • RCN says:

                I thought they all agree that she was also “strong willed”, but were so incompetent the only way they could portray that was “soul devouring harpy”.

            • Warrax says:

              I said below that Patrick Stewart was probably the best actor to ever work on Star Trek.

              I take that back; Kate Mulgrew was also amazing. Damn those writers though.

              We need a reboot of Voyager. Keep her (and Tim Russ), and recast the rest of the crew.

              • If we must, write out Neelix and Kes, make Tom Paris who he was supposed to be (the cadet that, along with Wesley Crusher, got another cadet killed doing an forbidden stunt routine at Starfleet Academy), and have the Maquis be at least moderately hostile to the Starfleet crew for more than 50% of the show’s run.

                And that’s just for starters. I have a list.

                • venatus says:

                  OK most of that Yes, but why does Kess need to go? she was my favorite character from that series and without neelix dragging her down I think she could have been a great addition to the cast.

                  • She needed fixing. Her species makes no sense, especially with a 1:1 reproductive cycle. I also think she needed a greater purpose other than being the psychic warning network and hydroponics person.

                    For example, before it went south, the show Andromeda had a character named Trance. She appeared to be a Manic Pixie Girl in a sci-fi cheesecake package, but later you learned she was a sort of higher being (possibly one of many trickster godlings), trying to use the ship and crew to attain the best possible future, indicating that she had a kind of Paul Atreides ability to see a limited distance ahead in the timeline(s).

                    • venatus says:

                      yeah there’s a lot about her biology that doesn’t make sense and was clearly written for cheap drama. but I wouldn’t hold that against her has a character.

                      she was also more then the hydroponics person in a matter of months she learned enough to be the doctors assistant and soon after could serve in his place when he wasn’t available (especially important when he was stuck in sickbay).

                      she’s also the likely reason why the crew started treating the doctor has a person and not like a replicator. she was the first to convince the doctor himself he was a person and she was the one that convinced the captain that the doctor deserved some respect before she talked to janeway they were thinking about reprogramming him, after they talked Janeway was willing to give the doctor control over when he was shutoff.

                      and in twisted it was shown that her memory was so good that she basically remembered where the crew lived.

          • Joe Informatico says:

            Related to my comments on the TOS post, Picard is the best model of that 18th century Royal Navy captain, Horatio Hornblower-type that Roddenberry idealized. He’s an officer and a gentleman, capable of leading missions of exploration, patrolling the frontiers of space, fighting ship-to-ship engagements, acting as a Federation diplomat, and engaging in scientific expeditions.

            Apparently the model for Sisko was based on The Rifleman, a Western TV series about a single-father sheriff and his son on the frontier. Then suddenly, this backwater planet with its second-hand space station becomes one of the most important places on this side of the galaxy. Eventually, it becomes the first line of defense in a war for the Federation’s survival. So Sisko’s trajectory isn’t your typical starship captain’s: he’s a smalltown frontier sheriff who has to become the commander of the Alamo, all while the natives believe he’s some important figure in their religious beliefs.

            • I’m of the opinion that DS-9 was Paramount “borrowing” the concept of Babylon-5 (which its creator pitched to Paramount around season 3 of TNG). If you watch both shows as they were aired in syndication, the parallels were often striking and hard to ignore, with B5 taking the lead on certain concepts (i.e. outfitting the station with buttloads of guns and having a massive battle with forces motivated by the show’s villains).

              That said, I was disappointed with DS-9 when they hamfistedly got rid of Kai Opaka. I appreciated making Kai Winn a more conservative and antagonistic character for Sisko to deal with as he grappled with his “Emisary” status, but that soon got thrown out the window pretty much as the series became episodic stand-alone with a vague threat from “The Dominion,” which, again, seemed like a made-up-as-they-went-along concept rather than a well-planned story arc.

              I was hoping for hints that Bajor and its people had once been one of those powerful ancient races with a tech level of the kind that built the Guardian of Forever in TOS and then “fell,” or that the Bajorans we know are the remainder of those that didn’t become the Prophets or whatever. Sadly, no, we just got a vague setup like a spacefaring Middle East without any really interesting backstory that the setup for Bajor seemed to deserve.

            • Blackbird71 says:

              For some reason, this comment made me wonder what sort of captain Roddenberry would have given us if he had been able to launch TOS with Christopher Pike as he had planned, instead of having to rework his show into more of a “space-western” with Kirk duking it out with the alien of the week.

      • Abnaxis says:

        Sisko was good, but…you really have to get used to Avery Brooks’s acting to appreciate the character. I was almost turned off of DS9 because he really over emotes in front of the camera at times, especially in the first season. Or maybe for all the seasons, but I eventually stopped getting creeped out and noticed it less after time.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          [joke]Are you saying he is weird because he is black?![\joke]

          • Blackbird71 says:

            Heh, kidding aside, Brooks is just weird. If you get a chance, I’d recommend watching William Shatner’s “The Captains” – it’s a very interesting look into each of the actors who portrayed a Star Trek captain, and what effect the show had on their lives and their careers.

            But it also shows that Avery Brooks as a bit of an odd side, to say the least. As Shatner puts it, “man, is he out there!”

        • Sigilis says:

          Finding the expression of emotions creepy is not universal, but I figure you recognize that. In any case, I never considered Brooks’ emotional range to be inappropriately employed in DS9. He does show that he has human emotions, but he is always restrained in public. It’s a nice counterpoint to Picard’s constant stoicism and let me know that DS9 wasn’t just planned to be TNG warmed over.

          For this and several other reasons, Sisko is my favorite captain.

        • Warrax says:

          Shatner could act when he wanted to. I don’t know if it was fatigue due to the demanding schedule they were on for TOS or what, but it felt like he rarely wanted to.

          Avery Brooks though. In intense scenes he could out “Shatner” Shatner, while still being able to carry a scene in quieter moments. I know not everyone does, but I loved In the Pale Moonlight

          I like Picard too. He is undoubtedly the best actor to ever work on any Star Trek. But if I have to choose between them, I go with Sisko.

        • SharpeRifle says:

          Hawk got much better when he grew the goatee back.

          Bonus points for anyone who gets that joke.

    • MelTorefas says:

      I don’t think that is even remotely a general consensus. :P

  3. Daemian Lucifer says:

    “Every time Wesley did something dumb or annoying, I felt like I was being judged. I hated Wesley the way Batman would hate this, or the LEGO Movie Batman. He wasn’t just a bad character, he was a mockery of me and everything I aspired to.”

    Only those two were done as a joke,and wesley was done in a serious fashion.

  4. Daimbert says:

    I liked Barclay. I have no idea how a man of his limited skill and social grace landed a position on the Enterprise, but I always liked it when he showed up.

    The various TNG and Voyager episodes revealed that Barclay was actually incredibly skilled, but did have reclusive tendencies, which impacted at least how skilled he appeared. It seems that on Enterprise that got worse, either because there were more people to interact with or because the crew were more cliquey than the Zhukov was.

    • I mentioned this earlier, but Barclay indirectly bugged me in the episode The Nth Degree: He pulls a new equation for the shields out of his alien-enhanced posterior and ups the shield strength by 300%. He later opens a subspace distortion that lets the Enterprise travel to the center of the galaxy.

      Not that his character was bad in this episode, far from it. Rather, the shield modifications, the neural interface to the computer he built, and the method of travel are never mentioned again, ever. Yes, it’s cliche in sci-fi for super-advanced tech to get blown up at the end so it becomes unobtainable, but that’s at least some kind of closure.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        At least its not as bad as voyager.Enterprise was at least not so hard pressed to get to a certain place,and they didnt find plethora of ways to get there if only they repeated the “thing of the week” but with newfound knowledge of how to do it safely.

      • Mike S. says:

        Trek generally suffered from being almost entirely episodic while allowing its characters to regularly invent or discover technological miracles with broad applications that there’s no reason they couldn’t reproduce. It never really occurred to them to try to solve the problem of the week with one of the solutions invented a previous week.

        (What got me watching Stargate: SG1 was the realization that they’d actually remember what they’d come up with from week to week, so that they both developed an expanding bag of tricks and would bother to explain why that solution doesn’t work this time.)

      • Dan Efran says:

        My friends and I hoped that everyone on the bridge would have those neural interfaces at the beginning of the next episode. I guess his inventions went to the secret warehouse instead. Even with its somewhat unsatisfying ending, The Nth Degree is still one of the great TNG episodes.

    • Abnaxis says:

      From what I remember of the episode he was introduced, Barklay was portrayed as being very good looking on paper, only really having problems socially. He was given stellar reviews by his former commander so he would become someone else’s problem, and he had good academy credentials, so the Enterprise picked him up.

      • Daimbert says:

        Actually, the only evidence that Barclay was talked up by the captain of Zhukov to get rid of him was a supposition of Riker’s, who wasn’t exactly the most unbiased person in the situation. It’s very easy to imagine that someone with Barclay’s personality might have been more comfortable or been in a more comfortable role on the Zhukov which didn’t carry over to Enterprise. Heck, I even think that Riker made a comment that his behaviour might work for a smaller ship, but not on the Enterprise, the flagship. If that pressure was added on, or if Barclay was promoted on joining Enterprise, it might well exacerbate his social issues, especially if he stumbled out of the gate.

        It is interesting to note that by the end of TNG Barclay is definitely known as being technically adept and not much of a social problem. He also interacts very well with Moriarty’s girlfriend in that episode, without any issues whatsoever.

        • Steve C says:

          Moriarty’s girlfriend is a holodeck character. Barclay interacts with ease with holodeck characters. He also interacted with ease in Voyager with the holographic assistant of the guy who made The Doctor.

          • Daimbert says:

            True, but it’s still a social situation. He just doesn’t have the pressure with the holodeck characters that he does with real people (and he didn’t treat her like the characters he created in his first episode).

      • Tom says:

        In that case, there are a *lot* of people out there for whom Barclay could serve as a very good self-insertion character.

    • Patrick the Red Shirt says:

      I was never able to see Barclay as anything other than Howlin’ Mad Murdock. I kept expecting to see George Peppard pull up in the van at any moment. IN FACT…..if you think about it, the greatest gag that show could have ever pulled would have been a holodeck recreation where they traveled “back to the 80’s” and had the away team foil the plot of a local band of thugs through hilarious hijinks. Picard (Hannibal), Face (Riker), BA Barraccus (Worf) and Barclay as ..well, Howlin’ Mad Murdoch.

      Seriously…Picard as Hannibal would have been AWESOME. Worf grunting some version of “I ain’t gettin’ on no plane with dis’ Foo'” Epic.

  5. Zukhramm says:

    My favorite Star Wars series was the one where they had a space station with the bald aliens and the space-lizards.

  6. Not just for TNG, but for every flavor of Trek, here’s an unofficial and possibly incomplete list of re-used props on the various ‘Trek shows. The “Blinking Tubes Without Function” is the bulky light-up prop I noticed the most on the various shows/movies.

    The site has even more “re-used” pages. Some of my favs:

    – All appearances/variations of the Angel One matte painting.
    – The times the Vasquez Rocks made appearances in the various series.
    – The repurposed and reused “other weapons” category.

  7. I confess, a couple episodes of TNG and I quit watching it for years.

    • Zeta Kai says:

      If you saw the wrong two episodes, I can completely understand. Even more so than most series of any genre, TNG could be very alienating (no pun intended). But it also has some of the best minutes on television, ever, in the opinions of millions. Take that for what you will. When it was bad, it was shamefully bad, but when it was good, it was awe-inspiring.

  8. Phill says:

    Ah yes. First series TNG felt very much to me like bridging the gap between old trek and new: the worst of 60’s era writing but made in the 80’s. But drop the first series, any episode based around the holodeck, and any episode based around Wesley Crushed ( or in which he has more than two lines) and you have some pretty good stuff on the whole.

    I think I’d have to agree with Shamus. The best TNG episodes are probably the best Star Trek episodes of any series.

    • Don’t forget to jettison the Riker clip show. It was made to save money, and it shows. I also found that Marina Sirtis and Diana Muldaur are really awful to watch when they’re the only actors on the set.

      • Daimbert says:

        In my opinion, there are DEFINITELY worse episodes than that one. It’s kinda like those fortune cookies you can get that taste like ice cream cones: bland, and not filling, but certainly tolerable and maybe even good, in small doses. It’s skippable, but doesn’t have to be skipped.

        • The only one that leaps to mind is the one where the crew is taken over by an “addictive” vidya game. That one is painful, but at least it’s not half recycled with some of my least favorite characters running the action.

          • Daimbert says:

            That would be “The Game”, but at least that had Ashley Judd in it. How about “Sub Rosa”? “Code of Honour”? “The Outrageous Okona”?

            Ultimately, I think that “Shades of Grey” is just, well, gray. I watch the series fairly frequently, and that’s an episode that I can watch, unlike others that I deliberately skip. I just won’t go out of my way to watch it, either. So, again, I don’t consider it bad, or good. It’s just blah.

    • Abnaxis says:

      While the holodeck episodes are rife with plot holes, IMO there were some OK character moments in them. They were goofy, but there’s fun in seeing an Brent Spiner play an android trying to imitate a human being an actor…

      • Ringwraith says:

        As many plot holes holodecks tend to introduce, they do give excuses for flat-out weird situations, which are just brilliantly silly to watch everyone try and escape some replica of a certain time period.
        I dunno, I just like the fact they had something that let them create some silly situations and actually did so.

        • Thomas says:

          It is a really interesting an example of writers deciding that sometimes they don’t actually want to write their show.

          The Holodeck is for whenever Star Trek wishes it could be Doctor Who

  9. I have a pet theory that the metaphor-based language in episode Darmok (the one with “Shaka, when the walls fell”) was inspired by Star Trek fans and/or nerds in general when they geek out about their favorite TV shows and movies. They created a race that spoke in nothing but references and quotes, much like how many of us here could talk for extended periods only using lines from Star Wars, the Simpsons, Star Trek, etc.

    You could adapt the show as a send-up of someone entering a comic convention for the first time, unable to speak clearly with the strange denizens therein…

  10. Ravens Cry says:

    “Reverse Flanderization”
    It’s called ‘Growing the Beard’ on TV Tropes, and is, in fact, named for this very show.

    • Zeta Kai says:

      Growing the Beard is a similar phenomenon, wherein a show gets much better all of a sudden after a relatively rough early period; it’s a general uptick in quality, regardless of reason behind it. But Shamus reverse flanderization is a more specific trend of increased nuance & complexity, without regards to the show’s overall “goodness”. In theory, an individual character could undergo this ReFlan process in a show that is of consistent, or even declining, quality.

  11. Angie says:

    When Next Gen first came on, I was incredibly excited. I watched Trek Classic in first run. I played Star Trek on the playground, when I was in first grade, in 1969. The Trek drought was pretty awful, with periodic rumors of a Star Trek movie never panning out. When the Federation Trading Post in Berkeley closed (shortly before what would’ve been my first visit, in my early teens) I was devastated. Someone had spraypainted Star Trek is Dead on the back wall facing the door, and it seemed to be true. Then the first movie (well, hey, it was something), and then finally Next Gen, woot!

    I watched the first few episodes, around four I think, and bailed. I was so incredibly disappointed. How do you ruin Star Trek that badly? My husband got me to watch more of it many years later, and okay, it did get better. But first impressions last.

    And seriously, what was up with Tasha Yar? o_O I despised her. Right out the gate, she’s all, “Unknown ship? Lemme blast him! Please, Captain, I’m sure they’re dangerous! I gotta blast ’em before they blast us! Must blast strangers!! Please please please lemme blast ’em!!!” WTF? Who decided to put this psycho in charge of a starship’s weapons?? [huge freaking eyeroll] When I heard they’d killed her off, I figured at least they’d done something right.

    Angie

    • krellen says:

      The bit about Yar I always love to bring up is that she was killed off by her actress’s request. Denise Crosby decided that this “Star Trek” thing wasn’t going to go anywhere, and wanted out of her contract so she could go do something better with her time. Then a couple years later she realised her mistake and begged to be written back into the show, and I believe the character they wrote to bring her back into the series is now in charge of the Romulan Empire in Star Trek Online.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Basically,she tried to pull a Nimoy,only wasnt as beloved by everyone for it to be logical to happen.

      • Zekiel says:

        I quite enjoyed that in the episode where they bring her back, Guinan (i think) says to her “You died in a really pointless way” – which was absolutely true in the first series.

      • Daimbert says:

        That might be a little exaggerated, as at least a big part of it was more that she was going to get typecast into a very minor and uninteresting role. I think one of the SF Debris videos mentions an interview with her where she said that if she’d gotten more episodes like that one, she’d never have left. But for the most part, her early role was to give status reports and, as supposedly she said “jut”.

      • Phill says:

        The thing is that she started out as much more of a main focus character. They kept having annoying flashbacks to her gorwing up on some hellhole slum planet (not very UFP utopia) and about her tough childhood. She got to sleep with Data in on early episode (!). She was basically one of the characters with a more developed back story.

        But, as often happens with these shows, the lovingly prepared back story rapidly turns out to be less interesting than the story that develops during the show. The Riker/Troi romance backstory was pretty generic. The Worf/Troi romance that developed over the years was a big fan favourite, because a) Worf became one of the best characters and b) it was so incongruous and anti-stereotype for both of them but worked well for those characters as characters rather than stereotypes.

        Tasha Yar OTOH never got much of anything written that wasn’t her rather cliche backstory. She did rather fade increasingly into the background, so I can understand Denise Crosby’s frustration with it, given the early billing of her as a more significant character.

        Sadly, if she’d stuck with it, she’d probably have ended up with an interestnig character. They even almost managed it with Riker, so anything is possible…

  12. Zekiel says:

    Man, this brings back memories. I LOVED TNG in my teens. Its only looking back that I realise how awesome Picard was. There were so many good episodes – ones like Q Who, Chain of Command, Cause and Effect, Parallels and All Good Things. Q was huge fun (before Voyager spoiled him), Data was always watchable.

    Ah nostalgia!

  13. krellen says:

    It’s time to have the Kirk or Picard argument. Sisko is not a valid choice, and if you say Janeway, you’re fired.

    I’ll start:

    It is impossible to pick between Kirk and Picard, because each was the perfect captain for their era. Picard’s dedication to diplomacy and peace would be out of place in the wild-west era that was Kirk’s Trek, where the UFP was still a growing, somewhat youthful enterprise still finding its feet. However, Kirk’s cowboy-like ways and hard-and-fast interpretation of the rules wouldn’t work at all in Picard’s UFP, which was by then an established and staid feature of the galaxy, arguably the greatest super-power there was. What served one captain well in his series would not serve him well at all in the other’s.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      “It’s time to have the Kirk or Picard argument. Sisko is not a valid choice, and if you say Janeway, you’re fired.”

      Alright then,let me be the first to say:
      Archer.

      *Runs for cover*

    • Dreadjaws says:

      I don’t think it’s that simple, there are other things to consider. For instance, I don’t believe anyone can deny that Sir Patrick Stewart is a much better actor than William Shatner, which in turn brings more life to his character.

    • I always thought they were trying to split Kirk’s personality into Riker (the smiling rogue with the libido of gold) and Picard (the diplomat and thinker). That didn’t appear to hold over the length of the series, especially after the “Best of Both Worlds” two-parter.

    • Mike S. says:

      Kirk’s a lot less of a cowboy prior to the movies than his reputation suggests. He is really very assiduous about obeying orders, even when he thinks the person handing them down is wrong. How many of the episodes are him trying to do the right thing without mutinying, in the face of an ambassador or commodore who has a different idea and outranks him?

      • Joe Informatico says:

        Yeah, a lot of “truisms” about TOS are often exaggerated. Kirk’s behaviour is one of them. Some people–including the writers of later Trek series–have this idea that Kirk frequently broke the Prime Directive. Leaving aside how ambiguously defined the PD was in TOS (not that it ever was), most PD episodes can be slotted into a few groups:

        1) Other Federation personnel have already broken the Prime Directive, either inadvertently (the book on 1930s Chicago gangs left behind in “A Piece of the Action”) or intentionally (the historian in “Patterns of Force” who intentionally created a Nazi government), and Kirk is just trying to fix the situation as best he can.

        2) An artificial intelligence is ruling a primitive society like a tyrannical god. In “Return of the Archons” Kirk tells Spock the PD applies to a “living, breathing culture–do you think this one is?” and that seems to mollify the Vulcan. However, Spock isn’t convinced when McCoy makes pretty much the same argument in “The Apple”. It’s been a while since I’ve seen either so maybe there’s a good reason why one situation is fundamentally different from the other. I guess in “The Apple” they’re not being controlled as mindless automatons, but neither are they being allowed to “progress”. On the other hand, they don’t need to–the computer is providing everything they need. It makes for a good debate, anyway.

        2) a) In “For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky”, the residents of the asteroid colony don’t realize their world is a spaceship, and currently on a collision course with an inhabited planet. Their God-AI is broken and refuses to change course. So Kirk has basically three options: 1) Don’t interfere, let the asteroid hit the planet, killing the thousands on the asteroid and probably millions on the planet, 2) destroy the asteroid and kill its residents but save the planet, or 3) turn off or destroy their God-AI and change the asteroid’s trajectory, saving everybody. The moral choice is obvious.

        3) The Klingons have already interfered with the society, and they don’t seem to have an equivalent to the PD, so the Federation has little to gain and much to lose by not interfering in kind. These are usually the Cold War metaphor episodes, where the Federation is the US, the Klingons are Russia or China, and the pre-warp civ is like Vietnam or Korea, e.g. “Friday’s Child”, “A Private Little War”. The latter’s an interesting example: the local civilization is probably around Iron Age/Early Medieval level technology at best, but then the Klingons give their local puppets early black powder firearms. This would imply that the Klingons don’t have a PD equivalent, but are also canny enough to not give primitive civs their most advanced tech (presumably out of a fear of revolt).

        4) The society has threatened the Enterprise or members of the crew. Usually in the latter case, Kirk finds a way to save them without violating the PD. And in the former case, if the society has the ability to threaten the Enterprise, are they really primitive enough to fall under the PD? “A Taste of Armageddon” is sometimes brought up, but in that case it was the idiot ambassador (or possibly the bosses who gave him his mission) who insisted on making contact with the civilization even when specifically told to stay away. He’s the one who broke the PD (with Federation orders?), not Kirk.

        • Mike S. says:

          RE #2, note that Picard’s interpretation of the Prime Directive said that saving a species from unavoidable extinction was a violation. (He was saved from actually following through by Worf’s human brother, but Picard was clearly unhappy about the interference.) I’m with Kirk and the 23rd century Federation on that one.

          (Even worse was the Enterprise episode “Dear Doctor”, in which the doctor decided not to help a species with a disease cure he’d developed, because obviously Evolution was determining that that one species should die out so that another could thrive. I don’t know if he also refused to treat victims of falls because he didn’t want to thwart the will of Gravity.)

    • JAB says:

      Picard’s dedication to diplomacy and peace is what bugs the crap out of me. His moral decisions are almost more suited to a Care Bears episode, and somehow everything turns out all right in the end.

      For example: I, Borg The writers would never allow it, but if it led to the human race being assimilated would anyone argue that this was the most moral thing to do?

      • Joe Informatico says:

        Yeah, there was a new Battlestar Galactica episode that had pretty much the same plot.

        I understand wanting to express the idea we should be charitable to our enemies, and treat them better than they would treat us. Even if it’s frequently bullshit in reality, it doesn’t hurt to be idealistic in fiction once in a while and remind us of the better angels of our nature. And if any fiction’s going to be idealistic, it should be Trek.

        But if you’ve established an enemy as a vastly-powerful machine-race ruthlessly committed to your species’ total extinction, and our heroes have no evidence there’s any widespread dissent or non-combatants within their ranks, and counter-genocide is the only feasible option available to stopping them, well at that point I’m firmly in the “Us or Them” camp.

        • krellen says:

          Except that Hugh’s character growth was direct evidence that there were individualistic tendencies in the Borg. The very “weapon” they would use was the proof it was wrong to use it.

          • Mike S. says:

            I bet Sisko would have been a little more reluctant to roll the dice on that.

            • krellen says:

              I’ve probably already made it clear what I think about DS9 and its “captain” (who was actually a commander for most of the series), but in case I haven’t, having that discussion is probably something we should do in the next post.

          • Making existence as a Borg a kind of “living hell” was a dumb idea. Voyager floated the idea of Unimatrix Zero, a kind of VR haven where assimilated minds would meet up covertly and basically have a giant chat room. The Collective should have had this as a feature to keep the minds in the collective healthy. It could manipulate the environment the minds experienced to foster creative and collective thought for problem-solving, innovation, etc. Not to mention that Borg cults should have sprung up among people who thought joining the Borg was akin to joining the Godhead or was a way to find ultimate purpose. This would’ve been a great concept and problem for the Federation, as citizens with potentially vital knowledge of their worlds would be giving that info to the Borg.

            In a way, the Borg should have become more like this version from the Bob The Angry Flower webcomic.

      • ehlijen says:

        That’s where the utopian optimism comes in. Trek, especially TNG, was about believing that a future in which you can make decisions that appeal to everyone’s better nature and things will work out.

        If that rubs you the wrong way, and I know this isn’t very helpful, then the show wasn’t really made to appeal to you. The whole point was to explore a future in which humanity will act like this and it will turn out well. Otherwise you’d end up with your usual dystopia instead very quickly.

        Yes, In the Pale moonlight was probably more interesting as an episode tackling a similar event, but it was also clearly written from a very different point of view (and it did not go over as well with many fans of older Trek).

        I think both episodes should exist as they are, simply because they add interesting material, if only for the old best captain competition.

      • krellen says:

        Star Trek is supposed to be Care Bears. It’s idealistic. That’s one of the main points of the series.

        I’m really sick of idealism being derided as childish, immature, and unworthy. Like, seriously really sick of it. I’m sick of living in a society that pretends pragmatists are the only grown ups in the room, that anyone that “sticks to their principles” is a chump and deserves whatever they get from the jerks in the world, and that believing in something is foolish and naive. I’m sick of Frank Miller being the epitome of “good art”.

        We are not living in an Apocalypse. Life is actually pretty fucking good for the vast majority of people on the planet – including most of the people living in Third World nations! It could be better, but it’s not bad, and hoping it will get better, working to make it better, and envisioning a future where it is better is not a sin worthy of derision. It’s a glorious triumph of the human spirit that should be lauded from the rooftops as loud as possible, because we desperately need to drown out this overwhelming din of doom and gloom that surrounds us today.

        And I say this hypocritically as someone that spends most of his time complaining about things. Dammit, I need Star Trek to be Star Trek to remind me that it is possible for things to be good.

        • mookers says:

          ^^^ This. So much this!

        • Patrick the Red Shirt says:

          Unfortunately, Idealism is the gateway to cynicism.

          And I feel hesitant to even say this to you, of all people, but I caution you against using phrases like “good art”. Art is neither good or bad, it’s just art.

        • Frank Miller is hardly the epitome of “good art” by any stretch of the imagination. At best, he’s noir, at worst, he’s a racist maker of screeds in graphic novel form.

          Just because noir and post-apoc come into vogue for a while (they wax and wane) doesn’t mean that’s what everyone wants to see. Often, it’s a reaction to the times or to fiction having swung the other way into Pollyanna territory.

          • krellen says:

            Aside from TNG and My Little Pony, I don’t remember any great abundance of “Pollyanna” fiction in my lifetime. M*A*S*H was great, but it was cynical as hell.

            • You cite MLP but completely discount “The Disney Afternoon” lineup? DuckTales? Gummi Bears? It was a shock to the system when the gargoyle Goliath caught a sword in one hand and we saw an actual drop of blood.

              M*A*S*H was an exception in a sea of inoffensive pablum for the most part, some of which was cavity-inducing (Silver Spoons, Small Wonder, etc.), but even M*A*S*H had to couch its message in a wrapper of one-liners, gags, and (sometimes) laugh tracks.

              I think Star Trek’s idealism became something that a lot of people found silly later on because of how the world changed: It appeared that things weren’t getting better, that technology wasn’t improving our lives, we weren’t going to space, our cities were becoming more like Robocop and less like 23rd Century San Francisco. TNG did change a bit to reflect that at times, but it was pretty rare.

            • ehlijen says:

              Have you ever given SeaQuest a try (Seasons 1 and 2, the third sadly made exactly the change I guess you wouldn’t like based on your comments on DS9) ?

              • Blackbird71 says:

                I remember SeaQuest when it aired, but never saw much of it. Recently I tried watching it on Netflix, but I had to shut it off after the first couple of episodes – it was truly horrible.

                I’m sure it’s a matter of taste, but the “save the environment” preachy-ness was way over the top for me, and really killed any chance the show had of holding my interest. That, and the writing just seemed terrible.

                • It was pretty good right up until they found an alien spaceship and their ratings went up. Then it got way silly.

                  Before, it wasn’t so much “save the environment” as “keep the nations from going to war in a world where you needed giant air recyclers to replace the rainforests.” I liked the political stuff, but that went the way of the Dodo when ALIENS could boost viewership.

                  It has a very underrated theme song, though.

                • Blackbird71 says:

                  It must have changed once it got going then, because the start of it laid it on real thick.

              • krellen says:

                I vaguely remember SeaQuest from when it was doing its original run.

        • Kalil says:

          Thank you. =^.^=

        • Blackbird71 says:

          I’m all for idealism and sticking to higher principles. The naivety comes in expecting your enemies to do the same, or to respond favorable to your attempts to do so and not take advantage of your adherence to principle. The challenge is in finding the way to keep your ideals while dealing with those who do not share them and would exploit them.

          Frankly, I think this is what made DS9 interesting. It showed characters attempting to hold such ideals in a universe that attacked them for it, and often they had to struggle with the consequences of those ideals, or with the means to maintain them in the face of adversity. In doing this, it showed that such ideals were worth protecting, but that at times it could be difficult or near impossible to do so.

        • newplan says:

          “I’m really sick of idealism being derided as childish, immature, and unworthy. Like, seriously really sick of it. I’m sick of living in a society that pretends pragmatists are the only grown ups in the room, that anyone that “sticks to their principles” is a chump and deserves whatever they get from the jerks in the world, and that believing in something is foolish and naive.”

          Cheap “idealism” of the Star Trek variety is actually very deeply cynical because in reality when you act as if your “enemies” are actually great people who don’t mean you harm what you’re really doing is selling out your actual enemies to agents who don’t threaten you in any way.

          A purely Star Trek example would be if some militant Federation types (i.e., the people that Picard views as the real enemy) had a colony that was being threatened by some alien power – the fake “idealistic” Star Trek approach is to disarm “your own” people (the militant Federation citizens) then wring your hands when the aliens kill them all.

          The real enemies get killed and there’s no blood on your hands.

          That it doesn’t happen on the show is because it’s propaganda.

    • Zeta Kai says:

      I will not participate in a discussion where Sisko is not a valid option. I may not always choose Sisko, but the choice must be there. It’s the only way.

    • Isy says:

      In my view, Kirk’s strength was his camaraderie with Bones and Spock. Picard was more aloof from his crew, but was the stronger captain on his own.

  14. Aitch says:

    I remember finding Tapestry to be such an obnoxious episode when I first saw it, having to imagine Picard as some teal shirted milquetoast. Later in life I grew to love it though, if only for the backstab laugh scene.
    It was while having a PICC line (like a semi-permanent IV tube) inserted through my left arm that the team ended up placing it about an inch too deep – so instead of it resting in free space, ended up poking me in the side of the heart from the inside, either with the guide wire or the tube itself. It didn’t quite hurt, and it certainly didn’t tickle, but I was suddenly and inescapably left with the most uncontrollably uncomfortable sensation to laugh. The doctors must’ve thought I was a madman at the sound of it, at least until the abnormal sinus rhythm showed up and they backed it off into its proper position.
    I’m still left a bit baffled by it all, having to wonder if there’s a sort of funny bone nerve somewhere in the vestibules of the heart and it’s a common occurrence, or if it was just such a horrifyingly novel sensation that my brain recoiled into its natural logic defense mechanism of uncontrollable laughter and it was all coincidence how something like Star Trek could get that sort of thing right. It’s not exactly the sort of thing that’s easy to Google information on.
    Either way, it made me actually sympathize with Picard for once and he eventually became my favorite character on the show. It took a good long while, but I finally realized just how much he held the place together and how difficult it would be for the show to carry on without him to hang so many disparate personalities on to. Truly, a captain’s captain and my favorite of any of the series.
    Also: “There. Are. Four! Lights!” So excellent.

  15. Daemian Lucifer says:

    So,now that we have enterprise and tng back to back,lets discuss why the first was canceled just when it started to be good while the second was allowed to flourish.Is it really just that there was nothing better to watch during tng,or it is that we allow two strikes,but not three?Or were the bad seasons of tng still a bit better than those of enterprise?

    • krellen says:

      It’s a combination of factors.

      Firstly, people were still watching TNG, whether it was “good” or not. People stopped watching Enterprise.

      Secondly, the television business changed in the interim; there were a lot more networks, and thus a lot more shows, when Enterprise was on than when TNG was on, so it became a lot easier to discard a property that wasn’t working.

      Thirdly, Star Trek was a much bigger name in the 80s then it was in the 00s. It had just finished a very successful run of four films that established a demand for the product that had faded by the time Enterprise was on the air (the poorer performances of Insurrection and Nemesis didn’t help the series at all).

      Basically, TNG came at a time when everyone was clamouring for more Trek, while Enterprise was the fifth course of the Trek dinner, and everyone was full.

      • Patrick the Red Shirt says:

        I’ve always believed that without Star Wars creating a ravenous demand for all things sci-fi, there wouldn’t have been a Star Trek:The Movie 2 years later. No V’ger…no sexy bald chick. Which also would have meant no Wrath of Khan….which is what realllllllyyy drove the demand for more and more and MORE Star Trek.

        So really, to me, without Luke Skywalker there wouldn’t have been a TNG at all. But that’s just me

          • Patrick the Red Shirt says:

            However…if Roddenberry hadn’t created TOS 9 years before Lucas even pitched his idea for Star Wars to a movie studio, would they have listened or laughed him off the lot? Would George Lucas even have created the idea for SW without Roddenberry (also Asimov) creating the entire idea?

            Soo…Did Roddenberry create an idea that was perfected by another? I wonder if there are any articles around where one discusses the influence the other had on their own franchise……

            • I think Lucas was more “inspired” by Kurosawa films and Frank Herbert’s “Dune.” He had several drafts of the first Star Wars script, and there’s a reason it was set on a desert planet with a semi-religious order that had mind-powers.

      • Hitch says:

        The biggest difference between TNG and Enterprise with regard to their longevity was how they were distributed.

        TNG was syndicated in the 1980s when there were very few original program in syndication. It was mostly reruns of old network shows. As such TNG could get decent ratings in each of it’s markets just on novelty. Not all of the episodes were great, but the first time around they had never been seen before.

        Much later Enterprise aired on a fledgling network and was supposed to be the centerpiece of their line-up. They didn’t have anything to replace it with for quite a while, but as it went on and ratings didn’t pick up, it was doomed to the chopping block. A lot more was expected from Enterprise.

        • Joe Informatico says:

          TNG was probably the first original syndicated show. (Technically there were some others, but they were news, sports, or variety-type shows. Trek was likely the first one-hour drama to air originally in syndication.) Its success helped pave the way for all the first-run syndicated series/small cable series we got in the 90s, ironically fostering an environment that would give Enterprise a whole load of worthy genre competitors that TNG didn’t really have to worry about.

          It also helped build the American television industry as we know it today. It was the only show of its time to accept spec scripts directly, without an agent. A lot of people who became big name showrunners, story editors, and producers got their first break on TNG.

      • Nidokoenig says:

        Not to mention, a lot of people who were generally into Trek had dropped out during Voyager’s run, or at least weren’t going out of their way to keep up with it. They’d come back for a couple episodes of Enterprise, see it was still shit and then leave again. It’s less a factor of being full up on Trek, the older series are still watched in syndication and over the interweb, and more that Voyager and Enterprise were warmed over leftovers prepared poorly.

        Besides that, Enterprise took three seasons to get good, and nobody was watching by the time it did. TNG, on the other hand, managed it after the first series, and considering the sunk costs of the sets, props and costumes, it was probably more economical to have another roll of the dice. Not to mention, the films were continuing alongside it and keeping the Star Trek name relevant, so there’s a lot of reason to give TNG a little more space that didn’t apply to Enterprise.

      • Bloodsquirrel says:

        That, and let’s face it, the standards for TV when TNG came on were much lower. TV has come a long way since then, and audiences expect a lot more in general.

        • Phill says:

          Very true. As I remember it, even the worst early TNG episodes were significantly better than any other sci-fi that was on at the time. Whereas by the time of Voyager and Enterprise, there were probably a dozen sci-fi shows of equal or better quality around. Stuff like Firefly or the new Battlestar Galactica are vastly better in almost every way than the worst modern Trek stuff. Meanwhile early TNG was, at worst, up against Galactica 1980 reruns, the arse end of the original batch of doctor who episodes, and some pretty forgettable stuff (“Jason of star command” ring any bells for anyone?) Even the (comparatively) well written stuff like Blake’s 7 didn’t exactly turn out brilliantly on screen due to the various production limitations.

          • RCN says:

            Not to forget that Enterprise was going against the giant that was Stargate SG-1. The late-90s early 2000s was dominated by Stargate when it came to Sci-Fi, and Stargate was so competently written that no-one would listen to Archer’s down’s syndrome ramblings when they could keep up with the Goddamn MacGyver witty banter with Daniel.

            Also, the characters had chemistry in Stargate, especially O’Neil and Daniel, while the best chemistry in Enterprise was between Archer and his dog. At least TNG had started with a bit of chemistry between Picard and Ryker.

            • Angie says:

              Didn’t Babylon 5 overlap Enterprise for a year or two…? Bab 5 was pretty awesome. Of course, I liked Enterprise a lot and was bummed when it was cancelled, but apparently there were only like fourteen of us around at the time. :P

              Angie

          • Blackbird71 says:

            Of course, with what happened to Firefly, I’m not sure that quality is much of a factor in a show’s cancellation.

        • Chris says:

          Not sure if the current audience expectations are doing us any favors. How many iterations of CSI do we really need in syndication?
          That said, CSI:Federation would actually convince me to watch cable television…

  16. Ambience 327 says:

    TNG brought us Data, Q and the Borg, the three best things to be introduced into Star Trek lore. For that, even the first season’s fumblings can be easily forgiven.

    • Mike S. says:

      Eh, they’re just retooled versions of Spock, Trelane, and V’ger. :-)

      • Ambience 327 says:

        I’ll give you the Spock comparison, as he’s one of the best parts of TOS, but Trelane was nowhere near as entertaining as Q, and as for V’ger – ugh. Even the worst episodes involving the Borg are miles ahead of V’ger.

    • Blackbird71 says:

      As I recall, Q was added on to “Encounter at Farpoint” after they realized that the script was too short to fill the two-hour pilot.

      It has always amazed me how a tacked-on time filler became such an important and interesting part of the Trek universe.

  17. Tychoxi says:

    TNG, the one I grew up with (alongside TOS movies). As campy and silly and awful as it could get, it was indeed really good too.

    In a sense this probably why I dislike the end result of the new Star Trek, if only they had updated and distilled the best of all the Star Trek lore! Instead it did this weird thing where it tried to be it’s own thing (generic space action-adventure) but at the same time relying on the original as a crutch in all the wrong ways.

  18. Dev Null says:

    I watched the first season of TNG when it came out, but never went back for more punishment. Can you blame me?

    I keep meaning to go back and watch a bit more of it, but the few later episodes that I’ve stumbled over here-and-there have failed to inspire me. I think the episodic nature of early Trek really lets it down; little continuity across episodes or writers makes meaningful character development hard.

    On the other hand, it does mean that you mostly don’t have to watch them in order; someone (whose impeccable taste agrees with mine, of course) should make a list of the episodes that are worth watching, so I can just watch those…

  19. Patrick the Red Shirt says:

    I can’t believe you didn’t mention Q. He was THE antagonist for TNG entire series run. He was in the first episode and the last, and made an appearance in at least every season. He served both as judge, jury executioner of the entire humnan race, and eevn gave us some of the best one-liners in the entire shows history:

    “Oh, very clever, Worf. Eat any good books lately? ”

    (to Riker)”Oh, you’re so stolid! You weren’t like that before the beard.”

    He introduced the Borg. He was, in some ways, the fulcrum the entire show rested on. In the final episode it is shown that throughout his entire “tormeting” of the crew he was merely testing them. That maybe he had a point after all. Maybe he was just accelerating their ‘evolution’ so to speak.

    Or maybe he was just an asshole. Either way Q was (IMO) as much, if not more, important to the TNG as anyone not named Picard.

  20. Mephane says:

    I am surprised no one has mentioned Lwaxana Troi so far. She is probably my most favourite minor character of any TV show, ever. :)

  21. Jimmy Bennett says:

    The Next Generation is the series I grew up watching and it’s still my favorite Star Trek.

    I remember my parents sitting me down to watch an episode when the show was just getting started, and I didn’t like it. They told me that I was probably just to young to enjoy a show like Star Trek (which was much more cerebral than Star Wars, which I loved). Anyway, a year later I sat down to watch the show and I enjoyed it much more. For a long time I figured this is because my parents were right and I was just too “get” the show when it first came out. Nowadays I suspect it has more to do with the fact that the show got a lot better in the second season.

    One thing about my age that did affect how I engaged with the show is that I actually really enjoyed Wesley Crusher. Because I was a kid at the time (I was seven or eight when the show came out) I looked up to Wesley like he was my cool older brother. He was less of a self-insertion character for me and more of a role model. Also, the fact that I skipped the first season probably helped me appreciate Wesley more. Most of the really egregious “Wesley” episodes are in the first season.

  22. John says:

    When I was very young, I sometimes watched TOS reruns with my dad, but they didn’t leave a lasting impression at the time. When TNG came out, I was older and had “discovered” science fiction, so the concept of a relatively high-budget sci-fi TV series was pretty exciting. The show was syndicated so it aired at weird times and my mom had rules about TV, but I watched whenever I could. I don’t think I noticed that the first few seasons were, uh, a little iffy until the third or fourth season, when a friend, a much bigger Trekkie than myself, said to me one day “You know, it’s really gotten better lately.” By the time the fifth season rolled around, I regularly–but not too regularly, lest people get suspicious–feigned illness so that I could skip going to church and stay home and watch TNG. (I could have been a righteous man, if only my family had owned a VCR.)

    TNG hit big, I think , for a couple of reasons. First, people were still excited about new Star Trek back then. In the dark days of the late 80s, Star Trek was still a rare and wonderful thing. Heck, TV sci-fi was itself rare and wonderful back in those days. Second, TNG had (relatively) high production values and was not–at least not obviously so–cheesy or campy, like TOS. TNG made it possible (in the popular mind) to take Star Trek seriously. You could admit to watching and liking TNG without being teased with bad Captain Kirk impressions.

    The later Trek shows didn’t have those advantages. They weren’t new and exciting and better, they were–a lot of the time–more of the same. They competed with each other–DS9’s run overlaps with both TNG’s and Voyager’s–they competed with the idealized memories of the Star Trek that came before, and, to an increasing extent, they competed with other, often better, sci-fi and fantasy TV shows like the X-Files.

  23. hborrgg says:

    So, after hearing that star trek was apparently inspired by the Horatio Hornblower novels, and having watched the 1998 Hornblower TV series (which came out after star trek), it is pretty crazy how trek-like that show is.

    Even down to the red shirts.

    • Peter H. Coffin says:

      The books are even more awesome. Especially when you realize that the author has not been in the Navy, has not been to sea even, never been in the military at all, and did the whole deal via the simple expedient of researching.

  24. Happy says:

    My college friends and I decided that the Holodeck was impossible, because once society invents a Holodeck, all human progress would stop dead. It’s a self-directed interactive nookie machine and wish fulfillment device. Why would anyone ever do anything other than Holodeck?

    • ehlijen says:

      Same reason not everyone likes books/movies/games/scifi or fantasy:
      Arbitrary notions of reality being superior.

      My high school english teacher really ticked me off once by trying to sell the line
      “We don’t need science fiction when there’s so much more real stuff to write books about!” as factual truth.

      You can make the realest holodeck you want, if someone decides they don’t like it because it’s fake, they’ll not use it.

    • Mike S. says:

      “[T]hey found it’s a trap. Like a narcotic. Because when dreams become more important than reality, you give up travel, building, creating. You even forget how to repair the machines left behind by your ancestors. You just sit, living and reliving other lives….”

      — Star Trek, “The Cage” (pilot)

      I’ve always found it amusing that something Starfleet (according to “The Menagerie”) decided was so dangerous that it was worth the death penalty to keep people away from, became a standard recreation a century later.

      (Even sooner, if you count the animated series. And the holodeck– er, rec room– malfunctions in that one too.)

    • Quent says:

      Because someone, somewhere, can get control of the off-switch.

    • Richard says:

      The long-term answer is that the people who can’t/won’t make the decision to leave the holodeck, don’t.

      So after a while, most of the people who will get addicted to holodecks are dead with no offspring.

  25. Cinebeast says:

    After reading through the comments I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m the only person who actually liked TNG’s first season. It wasn’t as well written or as polished, and the costumes truly are a bit distracting, but it simply had a bolder, more pleasing visual aesthetic, at least for me. The colors were brighter, the shadows were longer and darker, giving everything a Chiaroscuro look that I appreciated. And while the stories and characters were broader than the next few seasons, they were presented with a more laidback attitude, which made for easier viewing.

    It probably helps that I didn’t watch the first season when it was airing, though — I only got around to seeing it after I’d already experienced the rest of the franchise.

    • MichaelGC says:

      No, no, I liked it too! Admittedly I was eleven when I first watched it. I completely understand why folks criticise it, of course, and subsequent seasons were even better, but I’m pretty sure my nostalgia-goggles would be sufficient for me to thoroughly enjoy the first season all again if I were to re-watch it now.

      Hmm – actually … I may as well go ahead and test that guess out!

  26. Steve C says:

    There is a special term for a show getting good in the 2nd season. It’s called Growing the Beard.

  27. Otters34 says:

    Aw yeah, this show. This is what I grew up with, in the 2000’s. Didn’t even know it wasn’t a current thing, I just assumed it had been on TV forever since my parents had such fond memories of it.

    It could get weird, but it was certainly a pleasant show. “The Pegasus” was a favorite of mine for a lot of years, simply because of how it contrasted the casual use of the cloaking device by the Romulans and the secretive, furtive and almost paranoic way the titular ship was dealt with by the Federation.

  28. Joe Informatico says:

    So while rewatching TNG with my girlfriend, one thing I noticed is how good LeVar Burton’s acting was almost from the beginning. Stewart and Spiner usually get most of the accolades for their acting, and they definitely deserve them, but Burton should get his share as well. He got a feel for the character of Geordi pretty early on, that most of the cast wouldn’t match for several seasons.

    Even in Season 1, while most of the cast is still pretty stilted, Burton has a natural presence that makes Geordi probably the most relatable character in that season. At least, he’s the character who acts the most like a 20th-century human being, with emotions and enthusiasm and self-doubt (“The Arsenal of Freedom” is probably his watershed moment). He really grows into the role by Season 2 and made Chief Engineer. Burton gets more technobabble in his lines than anyone, even Data, and manages to convey them with a nice blend of conviction (as in, he makes me believe his character knows this stuff cold), enthusiasm (the way he portrays Geordi’s “eureka” moments), and professionalism (he gets to the point).

    And I think he remains the most relatable crew member (except maybe for Barclay?) throughout the series. He’s a nerd and enthusiastic about his job and incredibly knowledgeable, but can slow down and explain things to his bosses in ways they accept, so they have a lot of faith in him. He tries to be an efficient manager of his staff without being overbearing or intimidating. He dates women and is looking for an intimate commitment, in contrast to Riker’s philandering and Worf’s more old-fashioned, ritual-bound approaches to courtship, but hasn’t found The One yet. He’s like a grounded, positive version of the Trekkie fan-insert character that doesn’t tread into Mary Sue territory (unlike Wesley).

  29. Neil D says:

    Oh yeah, the Holodeck. Maybe it’s just me, but maybe after the second or third time the recreational center goes crazy and almost destroys the ship it’s time to pull the plug and break out the Parcheesi board.

    • Mike S. says:

      I would have agreed. But at this point maybe the equivalent is “your PC got infected with malware and compromised your bank and investment accounts? Maybe you should go back to tabletop games and a paper check register.” In practice, most people would just get the computer cleaned and hope to do better next time.

      (And after all, they could point out that none of the holodeck malfunctions actually destroyed the ship…)

      • Neil D says:

        No, I think the equivalent is more like “Your X-Box has the innate ability to release a toxic nerve gas, killing everyone in your house. But don’t worry, there are safe guards to prevent this and it hardly ever happens. Sleep tight.”

        Maybe on the starship you captain that’ll be okay, but not on mine is all I’m saying.

    • Zekiel says:

      On a similar subject – inspired by this thread I watched a clip from the TNG episode “Brothers” which has Data going rogue and taking over the Enterprise in order to return to his creator. It was a cool episode and everything, and I love Data as a character.. but you have to wonder why he was ever allowed to continue in his role once he had demonstrated (a) that he could single-handedly take over the ship and (b) that he could be controlled by an outside influence.

      Ah well, TV logic I guess.

      • Purple Library Guy says:

        Well, in the Trek environment “could be controlled by an outside influence” could apply to anyone else on the ship as well, including Picard who already controlled the ship . . .

  30. MadTinkerer says:

    “The Holodeck is a terrible thing.”

    This is incorrect and you should feel ashamed for contradicting everything you’ve ever written up until you wrote that sentence. WTH am I talking about? Go watch season 2 episode 8 again. It’s the most important science fiction story ever written. The episode is about what you already do in real life.

    And that is one reason why the Holodeck is not only not-terrible but actually more important than spaceships.

    • krellen says:

      I’m not sure the Season 2 Episode 8 you’re thinking of is the Season 2 Episode 8 that actually happened. Maybe a title?

      (I’m pretty sure Season 2’s only Holodeck episode was “Elementary, Dear Data”, which was pretty good.)

      • MadTinkerer says:

        Yes, that’s the one I’m referring to. Yeah, there’s the bit where “magically” Moriarty is self-aware, and the plot hole introduced by Gene Roddenberry meddling with the ending, but other than that it’s basically Clue using a set of Sherlock Holmes themed cards and using the 23rd Century’s version of Shamus’ Pixel City. And several of those things didn’t exist until after the episode was made. And that’s why the Holodeck is the most important plot device: because most of us won’t actually get spaceships but we all have computers right now that are on par or better than what was being speculated.

        Seriously: nevermind the mechanics of solid holograms or whatever, just think of it as videogames. Videogames where you tell the computer to make a London-style city and you get “the same London, but different”.

        Pay attention, Shamus!

        • Shamus says:

          Sure, the holodeck would be cool – REALLY COOL – in real life, but it didn’t do anything for me on the show. There are so many things wrong with the premise of that episode that it drives me NUTS:

          1) The holodeck is SMART ENOUGH to make a fully self-aware genius capable of outsmarting data, but SO STUPID it couldn’t understand they weren’t asking for the holodeck to try and kill them.

          2) So the holodeck can make a self-aware AI. Doesn’t that mean it needs to be at least that smart itself? Data was supposedly this technological marvel that we couldn’t re-create, but then OUR VIDEOGAME SYSTEM does it. By accident.

          3) Isn’t this the same computer that runs the rest of the systems of the ship? How is it not constantly misunderstanding other obvious commands. “Computer, open the door to the hangar bay!” [Opens the external airlock door without asking for confirmation or clarification, killing everyone working there.]

          4) Ha ha. The safety’s are off again, along with the means to disable the program.

          So yes, the holodeck is cool. You could build a whole show arounf the idea. But it had no place on the enterprise and the writers abused it badly.

          EDIT: It’s been 20 years, so I might be remembering bits of the episode wrong, or confusing it with another.

          • Shamus says:

            Ah, from your reply to Supahewok I see it’s the AI you think is interesting. Eh. It doesn’t so anything for me. I think it suffers from a terrible case of the writers having an overly simplistic view of AI, and projecting human motivations onto machines.

            • Dan says:

              I did think the second Moriarity episode was better than the first. The first ended with the crew committing Moriarty, a sentient, to death – or, as we find out in the second episode, life imprisonment. The second episode was about his attempt to attain his own freedom. Picards solution at the end was to give him the illusion of freedom. I think was a surprisingly kind way to deal with an entity that tried to take over his ship. Twice.

          • Abnaxis says:

            Whenever I watch Trek, or pretty much any other sci fi, I have to check my brain at the door. Take the transporter, for example–a 100 kg Klingon converted into energy equals about 9*10^18 joules. That’s about eighty times as powerful as the most powerful nuclear bomb invented. It’s enough energy that, if you use space magic to convert it into thrust with no loss of efficiency, you could adjust the orbit of the entire earth a few millimeters.

            Screw quantum torpedoes, all you need to do is part-way teleport a cubic meter of uranium just outside someone’s hull without converting the energy back to matter, then clean up the mess with the nacelles because a monatomic cloud will be all that’s left. Transporter malfunctions should wipe out entire worlds, not just woosh someone off to the ether as a dour technician informs the captain “I lost the signal…”

            As much as I roll my eyes at the miracle holodeck with juuuuust the right level of functionality, I am twice as dubious over any episodes where the transporter plays a crucial role in the plot. Same goes for warp drive, the replicator, the warp core, the med bay, phasers set to stun…There is literally not a single episode of Trek that I could tolerate if I was paying any attention whatsoever to the magic sci fi tech used. I mean, this is the same property that had Kirk us sling-shotting around the sun really fast to travel through time (both ways! Is it counter-clockwise forward, clockwise to go back? How does that work?)

            I am not saying Star Trek is bad. On the contrary, I love all the series great gobs much. I am also not criticizing you, for nitpicking at the holodeck episodes. I am interested, however, in why the holodeck seems to be a place where a lot of people start picking at the edges of the magic technology.

            Is it because we have computers today to compare to? Is it because a lot of the other tech needs a different skillset–biology, quantum physics, etc–before you see the holes? Is it because the transporter, warp drive, etc. have been a part of the setting since TOS, with the holodeck being one of the few technologies introduced later? Is it because the holodeck episodes were tonally different?

            • Dev Null says:

              We may have a cross-posting issue going on in here, but I think Shamus answers this pretty well in his comment above: its not the technology of the holodeck that bugs him (I am guessing, and would also agree with) but the way it breaks the story.

              But I also agree with you; transporters are just as bad (at breaking the plot.) In both cases you have a nigh-miraculous technology that could be used in an almost infinite number of ways. It is theoretically on the ship all the time, is occasionally used in interesting ways to solve problems… but then no one ever explains why they don’t use the same technology to solve the central problem of every other episode, which your average mischievous 12-year-old viewer can usually come up with some way to do. You could make a show entirely around either technology, but the fact that they didn’t makes it out-of-place in almost any other show.

              It’s like having Superman do a guest-spot in a Bond film; you can’t help but wonder why all this running around with guns the rest of the time.

              • Abnaxis says:

                I’m not sure of the distinction you are making. The technology is breaking the story because it stretches credulity–the holodeck malfunctions exactly enough to cause life threatening problems and yet inadvertently accomplishes things that are considered intractable for the rest of the series. This bugs him enough to break the story.

                Not just to Shamus, but also to the general hate I’m seeing from others aimed at holodeck episodes, I’m curious why the holodeck disasters are too dubious compared to the other “malfunction” episodes. I mean, take the specific example Shamus cited: “bizarre, counter-intuitive glitch due to a word used by a programmer that should have worked fine except for some remotely unlikely set of hardware and input circumstances that are virtually impossible to reproduce” describes, like, 99% of all bugs I spend hours troubleshooting. But that’s basically what birthed Moriarty. He’s essentially a mishandled exception, like a computer version of radiation that grants super powers instead of causing cancer.

                Why is that the thing that breaks the story? Is it because we expect more out of 24th century computers? Is it because we only ever see the holodeck when it doesn’t work*? Is it because the other deadly malfunctions happen to systems that have a more pragmatic application, so you can understand why they keep the tech around despite occasional ship-threatening exceptions**? Is it because the holodeck episodes fail in some other way, and that failure gets construed in terms of technology being too outlandish?

                * Presumably, they have at least four of the things running 24/7 when they aren’t at elevated alert levels, so it’s not like holodecks are that dysfunctional…

                **There’s an episode where O’Brien assures Dr. Pulaski that the transporter was “the safest way to travel,” and I can’t help but wonder how many retakes it required before Colm Meaney uttered those words with a straight face.

                • krellen says:

                  It always seemed to be that the transporter was mostly safe, in the same way air travel is – it’s pretty damn safe, and usually done in very expert hands, but when things go bad they can go bad really disastrously. Transporter operation always seemed to be a bit of a tricky task to me (most teleporter operators seem to be Chiefs, which, if you know military, actually means old-hands with years of experience,) one best left to the experts.

                  • Dev Null says:

                    Safe, sure. But also godlike powerful occasionally, and ignored the rest of the time.

                    I don’t even remember if it was a TNG episode, muchtheless which one, but I remember an ep where someone gets lost in a transporter accident, and they essentially resurrect him out of a copy from a cache or buffer of some sort. Which is a cool idea, and which flows nicely from the questions we want to ask about how transporters work… but once they work out that they can magically make new copies of people, why doesn’t every episode after that feature an away team comprised of 150 identical copies of the most badass marine onboard? It makes for a great short story, but including it in a serial should break the plot of the entire series (and when it doesn’t, then _that_ breaks it instead.) I seem to remember some handwaving about it being a freak accident, but once you’ve worked out that it’s even physically possible, the entire Federation swaps over to 100% research on making it happen again, because it’s a cheat-code game-winning direct-to-godhood button. To be honest, I think the only reason why you don’t hear as much ranting about transporters as you do about the holodeck is that it’s been there since TOS and we’re all so used to the idea that we don’t think about it any more.

                    • Abnaxis says:

                      I think you’re talking about the TNG episode where they discover a Dyson sphere, and there’s a 75-year-old transporter with Scotty’s signal still in it. Wiki says it’s….”Relics,” from season 6.

                      My go-to “oh, come on!” transporter, suck-me-out-of-the-narrative moment is in season 2, when they use the transporter to reverse Dr. Pulaski’s aging using an old transporter record of her. Basically, they invented the key to immortality, with no side effects (I was expecting her memories to be reset to when the record came from to justify them not using this cure forever) which was of course quickly forgotten.

                      Then they made a movie about a planet with mysterious radiation that keeps people young. Me: “Didn’t you guys figure out how to do that a decade ago?”

                  • Abnaxis says:

                    I dunno, it seems to me that if something is that susceptible to human error, and used that pervasively throughout society, then tons of accidents would occur by power of statistics. I always just figured they put a chief on it because it was Just That Important to make sure the thing didn’t ever mess up, even though the safeties had long since been “perfected”.

    • The holodeck has shown itself over and over again to be less a form of entertainment and more something you should drop on planets full of people you want dead. It’s as if everyone’s Playstation was certain to sooner or later cause injury, if not death, to its users by suddenly making the hazards it presents as fictional challenges into real-life kill-fests.

    • Patrick the Red Shirt says:

      The Holodeck was little more than a way of filling each season with an episode of some failed TV pilot they found laying around in a desk drawer. Watching Picard fumble around in some 1920’s gangland mobster drama was about as entertaining as it sounds. suggesting it is somehow more important than starships is like saying an old Chevy AM radio is more important than your car.

      Correction: An old Chevy AM radio that is constantly trying to kill you.

      • MadTinkerer says:

        Unless you are typing on a starship right now, I’m guessing you are typing on a computer with a 3D graphics card on Earth. That is why the Holodeck is more relevant to your life than the Enterprise.

        • Kian says:

          I think you’re mixing up “importance”, “relevance” and “real life analogs”. We might have a closer real life analog to the holodeck in our current computers, and with the oculus rift we might be closer to experiencing something like the holodeck than interstellar travel.

          That doesn’t mean that the holodeck in Star Trek was good for the show. Especially given the use it was given. Remove the holodeck from Star Trek, and you have a better show. Sure, I’d love to have a holodeck in my house (preferably one without removable safeties at all). But it had no place in Star Trek.

    • Supahewok says:

      Um.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Matter_of_Honor

      No holodeck in the episode.

      Maybe you’re thinking of another episode? I don’t really know of any episode with the holodeck I would call “the most important science fiction story ever written.” Maybe the one with Moriarty, as he gains self-awareness? If that’s the case I’m pretty sure that an AI gaining sentience is not that uncommon of a trope in science fiction…

      Edit. Psuedo-ninjaed. KHHHHREEEELLLEEENNN!!!!!

      • MadTinkerer says:

        “If that’s the case I’m pretty sure that an AI gaining sentience is not that uncommon of a trope in science fiction.”

        It’s everything else that happens in that episode other than the magical power surge. The bit where Geordi uses the term “Holmsian style” and the computer knows what that means. The parts where Doctor Pulaski points out that Data’s ability to solve a mystery created by the computer doesn’t prove that he has intuition.

        The way Doctor Pulaski’s character reflects our current understanding and attitude towards computers, but people think she’s being “mean” because Data is played by Brent Spiner and is on the opposite side of the Uncanny Valley to most real AI.

        The way the episode distinguishes “sentience” as having will rather than intelligence (which most stories on this theme utterly fail to do). The reason why Pulaski doesn’t recognize Data’s sentience at first is because he’s trying to persuade her without being “rude”. Conversely, the fact that one of the first things Moriarty does is express his will by kidnapping her, forces Pulaski to recognise Moriarty’s sentience right away so she doesn’t even argue the point with him.

        The implied point, which I think does apply right now to current issues of AI, is that AIs need to have the capability of acting like assholes and choosing to not act like an asshole needs to be the AI’s choice and not a rule imposed on it. An AI that cannot act like an asshole will never beat the Turing Test.

        Seriously, you guys: most important science fiction story ever written.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          “The way the episode distinguishes “sentience” as having will rather than intelligence”

          [nitpick]Thats not sentience,its sapience.[/nitpick]

          That aside,its not really that important.Red dwarf did the virtual reality way better,and sooner than star trek,and measure of a man is a better tng story about machine sapience.

        • RCN says:

          Your point on Pulaski is spot on. I never really got the hatred the fans have for her. She was, for me, hands down one of the best aspects of Season 2 (not that it is saying much, but even with everything else on Season 2 being so horrid, she still stood out for me as the only thing I wasn’t tolerating, but rather enjoying).

          It was quite nice to have an hyper-competent medic on the bridge who’s skeptic of everything the rest of the crew already takes as undeniable truths without question. Also, she was replacing Dr. Crusher, who was always just sooooo godamn boring and had absolutely no reason to stay on Enterprise other than being Picard’s crush (at least up to Season 4, still haven’t got past it in Netflix and if it could be so kind as to get TNG back so I could finish it…).

          When Dr. Crusher got back, I definitely felt it was a huge step back on crew competence. Pulaski always showed not only brilliance in her field, she also showed passion and interest in everything medical, while being skeptic of everything until she felt she was throughly persuaded of the contrary, meanwhile Dr. Crusher was so apathetic of her field, viewing it very much as just her profession because she wants to treat people, but doesn’t really have any interest in taking the field further or showing any kind of expertise at all when faced with new medical problems. Pulaski actually had to discuss and convince Picard to allow her wishes, while Beverly only had to wiggle her butt and Picard would allow her damn near anything (like allowing Weasley on the bridge).

          And above all, she distrusted the Transporters. After all the miscellaneous transporter accidents throughout the series and movies, you’d think there would be more people with the same thinking, but she’s the only one to show any bit of weariness about being transported. And apparently, that’s a reason to scorn her…

        • Patrick the Red Shirt says:

          “most important science fiction story ever written.”

          I would be skeptical if this was finished “ever written in Star Trek”.

          To say it is the most important sci-fi ever written PERIOD is just reckless. Mary Shelly? Jules Verne? Asimov? Frank Herbert? Without these people there would be no Star Trek at all. Almost every Star Trek character and topic could be said to have been influenced, if not outright stolen from one of those authors.

          Data basically is the future’s Frankenstein. Most important science fiction story ever written? Ease up there, Red 2.

          • Purple Library Guy says:

            Not to mention H.G. Wells, Ursula K. Le Guin, Kim Stanley Robinson, Vernor Vinge, Joan D. Vinge, Connie Willis . . . any of these and many more have written books I feel contain way more impressive ideas than a bit of Star Trek level AI talk.

            • MadTinkerer says:

              Okay, here’s the thing: I forget who it was, and I’m totally paraphrasing, but a famous science fiction author once said that all science fiction boils down to the idea of an intelligence different from our own (whether that intelligence be aliens or robots or monoliths or dinosaurs or whatever) and exploring the potential conflict between us and them, our inner conflicts regarding them and so on.

              Elementary, My Dear Data addresses this theme directly in a way that (accidentally?) is a direct analog to what you are doing this very minute. I am referring to your computer, right now, and what it is capable of and what your attitude towards it is. It is a real situation, much more real to you than aliens or starships. And yet that episode is actually about this. Right now.

              We may never see alien life. Most of us will never have spaceships. But we all have computers capable of making Different Londons. That is why it’s the most important science fiction story ever written.

              (Actually there’s one more reason why, but I can’t say it. The Different London thing is important enough. The other part, there’s very few people in the world who would believe me. But Chuck Peddle knows what I’m referring to, and he actually gave me the idea. But I’m keeping it under my hat.)

              • Purple Library Guy says:

                That famous science fiction author was quite simply flat wrong. That theme doesn’t even account for all that much of science fiction. It was a popular thing in the early days, but it wasn’t the only thing even back when and it’s practically a minor issue now.
                And the computer I am writing on is not an “intelligence different from our own”. It’s an amazing device which creates many possibilities, but thus far none of them have anything to do with interacting with other intelligences except as a communication device with other humans. So anything about that episode that is about that does not actually have anything to do with what I am doing this very minute. The episode could be good SF that’s about other things that relate to computers as technology and their impact on us. But you know, lots of SF deals with such issues, from William Gibson to Walter Jon Williams to Ben Bova even (and it’s not like Bova is an amazing writer–but look at The Dueling Machine, say).

                The impression I’m getting from your argument is that you don’t read a lot of science fiction so you’re unaware of just how good the stuff out there is. It’s like the way Margaret Atwood was under the impression that her “Oryx and Crake” was groundbreaking because she looks down her nose at genre SF so she’s unaware that the genre said everything she had in there decades ago and then went far past it.

        • Kian says:

          “The implied point, which I think does apply right now to current issues of AI, is that AIs need to have the capability of acting like assholes and choosing to not act like an asshole needs to be the AI’s choice and not a rule imposed on it. An AI that cannot act like an asshole will never beat the Turing Test.”

          My first question would be, why would you want to have AI that can beat the Turing Test? Sure, it would be a very difficult achievement, but it’s not really an useful one. We already have people for beating the Turing Test, we don’t need a machine to do it.

          The purpose of AI, as with most automation, would be to make our lives easier. Delegate stuff we don’t want to do on systems “smart” enough to perform them unaided. Why would you build a system that is smart enough to want to do something other than what you designed it to do?

          Are you trying to get a robot revolution? Because that’s how you get a robot revolution.

          The Turing Test is especially problematic, because you have to make a computer that can lie. To beat it, it has to answer “no” the the obvious question, “are you a computer?” Why would you want to do that?

          A computer that had the “freedom” to be an asshole and chose not to would be a very virtuous being, sure. It’s creator would be a monster.

        • Purple Library Guy says:

          “The way the episode distinguishes “sentience” as having will rather than intelligence (which most stories on this theme utterly fail to do).”

          My cat has will. Plenty of it. I’m not convinced most would agree that a computer capable of acting like my cat was a sentient AI.

  31. RCN says:

    Unfortunately, I was too young for TNG. And to this day I’m not really sure whether my father followed the show or not (he does seem to know quite a lot about Star Trek, but I don’t recall ever having him watching it).

    The first sci-fi series to grab my attention was Stargate Atlantis, mainly for being based on the Stargate movie (and I liked the movie back then, but mainly because I was very young and thought the “tastes like chicken” line was hilarious, but on later viewings I came to realize it was actually pretty good. Very stupid basic math and physics mistakes, but linguistics was spot on and the story was much more thought out than anything Emmerich would ever turn out again). I didn’t even know there was a Stargate SG-1 at first, I just know I heard two lines from McKay and fell in love with the series.

    From it I got to SG-1, Battlestar Galactica, Farscape, DS-9, and all other actual space sci-fi (as opposed to Space Fantasy, I already knew Star Wars, but I was never quite as obsessed with it as seemingly everyone else was). It was only with the advent of Netflix that I actually got to watch TNG. It took me an entire year to get through Seasons 1 and 2, though… but when things started getting really good on Season 4 Netflix got TNG out of the roster from my country… I wish I knew how it worked (did the license expire? Why didn’t they renew it? TOS was renewed, it seems).

    Why did I watch Season 1 and 2? Even though I knew beforehand they were very, very bad? Because for me, I can’t watch shows episodically. I just have to get the whole experience and see the evolution of the show on it’s own terms. Damn these seasons were riddled with cliches. I even think a couple of the episodes actually ended with the entire bridge bursting out in laughter, like the worst CARTOONS of the 90s…

    • syal says:

      Netflix Streaming has Season 2 of several shows without having Season 1. I can only assume they’re doing it on purpose.

      • RCN says:

        I’m unashamed to say I love animations and right now Netflix just got a batch of really lovely goodies. Samurai Jack, Gravity Falls, Gumball… meanwhile Legend of Aang has only got the second season… and no Korra as of yet. Or Adventure Time.

        On the other hand it just introduced me to Wakfu and I’m still drooling over the quality of the animation and backgrounds. From now on it’ll be my main argument to any idiot who claims technology ruined animations.

        And Parks and Recreations only has season 3. I was waiting for Season 5 and it instead just got rid of every other season except for 3. I can’t help but think that whatever studio, syndicate or network owns the rights to these shows force Netflix into really awkwards contracts to protect their interests by making streaming look inconvenient by comparison. Well, the joke’s on them, as awkward as Netflix roster can be, it’s still a hundred times more convenient than cable or (may the Gods help me) open TV.

        Also, still waiting on Burn Notice, Netflix. Get to it.

        • Blackbird71 says:

          Wait, what happened to Burn Notice on Netflix? I know it wasn’t that long ago I watched the whole series streaming?

          As to the sporadic availability of some shows and seasons, this is why I keep a Netflix DVD subscription. Of course, that’s probably their intent; limit the streaming content to force people to keep paying for a separate service.

  32. krellen says:

    You know, one thing that proves just how influential Star Trek has been is this: just look at their props. Now look at your phone, your tablet, all the electronic equipment around you, and realise how similar that all looks to Star Trek (especially TNG) props.

    It is not a coincidence.

  33. Seth Eliot says:

    Good article, but you may be wrong about this

    “the period where the writers used Worf as a punching bag to establish the villain of the week. Aliens show up, kick Worf’s ass, then the episode begins. It was supposed to show us how dangerous they were, but in the end it just made Worf look like a pushover.”

    Worf did not get beat up to establish teh aliens were dangerous. He go tbeat up to illustrate that his warriot ethic and use of force where old fashioned and wrong, and only the diplomacy and teamwork of the more enlightned crew could prevail

  34. Seth says:

    Good article, but you may be wrong about this

    “the period where the writers used Worf as a punching bag to establish the villain of the week. Aliens show up, kick Worf’s ass, then the episode begins. It was supposed to show us how dangerous they were, but in the end it just made Worf look like a pushover.”

    Worf did not get beat up to establish the aliens were dangerous. He got beat up to illustrate that his warrior ethic and use of force were old fashioned and wrong, and only the diplomacy and teamwork of the more enlightened crew could prevail

  35. Dev Null says:

    Oh wow.

    Inspired a bit by this series of posts (and a bit by being home sick with no new episodes of my current shows available) I went and watched the first two stories of Next Gen again today, for the first time since their syndicated release. I had forgotten just how quickly they introduced every single terrible aspect of this show. Holodeck; check. Troi over-emoting while “sensing feelings”; check. Wesley inventing entirely new branches of science to save the day; check. The power of lurrrrve conquering all. Q (because honestly – the actor is great, but the character is the worst thing to happen to Star Trek ever); square center of the first episode – double-check. And then some clever producer decided that, after a single story to establish their wafer-thin characters, the _second_ story in the show’s entire history should obviously be the time to trot out that old chestnut “everyone’s acting out-of-character and all craaaaaazy”. Before we even really knew what characters they were supposed to be acting out of. _And_ they have the robot catch a psychological “disease” which can be cured chemically, and don’t even bother to pretend to have an excuse for how that works.

    I’m starting to think the whole “season 2 is where it gets good” thing was deliberate; they figured they’d get all the ridiculous nonsense out of the way early, so they could get on with telling stories. There is no possible way anyone could introduce a series this badly without doing it deliberately.

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