A bit of rumination on Star Trek: The Next Generation – my first fandom.
The always excellent SFDebris has a shortened version on Youtube of his review of the classic episode “Yesterday’s Enterprise.”
Like I said above, TNG was my first fandom as it was on TV right as I was growing up. Yet I had never quite gotten to see it all, so lately I’ve been working through it one episode a day on Netflix.
Wow, it is almost fascinating to rewatch. The first season is absolutely atrocious with the only salvagable episodes the two part premiere (purely for the introduction of Q) and episode 1.13 “Datalore.” Even those two are more an endurance test than entertainment. The fact that this show got ANY more episodes after the season was done is some kind of miracle. Again, compare this season to Firefly’s one and only. The later is some of the greatest ever scifi television while showing TNG season 1 to prisoners would count as a war crime.
Season 2 is where Riker grew his beard and you can see a marked improvement in things. Oh the episodes aren’t that great still, but it’s a marked contrast. Often while working through S2 I might be bored of an episode, but there would usually be that moment where you would spot a gold nugget in the script. Almost always it was around the midpoint where things would pick up. Like episode 2.16, starts out very sluggish, but once Q hurls them into the Borg’s path things pick up speed and tension steadily builds. Episode 2.15, “Pen Pals” is another example with a bad start, but becomes good scifi when Data finally makes contact. (I wonder if there’s any books or fanfiction dealing with Sarjenka’s future.) Episode 2.09 “The Measure of Man” is actually solid from start to finish though some of the performances are a little overdone. Though there are a few episodes in S2 (like 2.19 “Manhunt”) that are just awful.
Season 3 is where the show officially gets good and becomes the classic Trek we all know and love. The jump in quality from “Shades of Grey” (2.22) to “Evolution” (3.01) is so astounding viewers binging on the show might get whiplash. “The Ensigns of Command” I remembered as being a favorite episode and I was shocked to see that it was only the second in S3 (I thought it had been much later).
If you want an easy comparison, just look up any clip of Data from those first two seasons with one from season 3. I don’t know who’s idea it was but Brent Spiner has Data smirk a lot for an “emotionless” android. I suppose it was believed that he would pretend to smile to make humans more at ease – it’s just lands in the uncanny valley. Yes on a meta level I suppose it does fit that an android should invoke uncanny sensations in people (well… there are exceptions) still it makes you want to cringe as an audience member. Later on he becomes much more bearable and seemingly more realistic as an emotionless being.
If you’re just wanting to watch TNG, then I’d say only catch the half dozen episodes worth watching in the first two then go straight into S3. If you’re curious about how much of an impact the right team behind the scenes can have on a show, then binge on through the whole thing to grasp the full contrast.
I’m just grateful we got a great show earlier rather than later.