David on Star Trek: The Next Generation

Having an enormous soft spot for the original series, plus a deep interest in science fiction in general, it's no wonder that I watched TNG almost religiously. Indeed, it was the reason I got cable TV at a time I began to divorce myself from television. As I watched the series, I built a videotape library (now replaced by disc). And then came the surprise: as I re-watched the episodes, my initial enthusiasm for the series began to wane. Deep down inside, it was hard to shake the feeling that too many of the episodes were.. well... just... lame.

Make no mistake, some episodes were truly brilliant. Overall the writing was above-average, occasionally inspired, and at the very least literate; the performances were (with some wince-inducing exceptions) generally superior to those of its predecessor; and the vastly improved production values made the show visually and aesthetically much more palatable. Yet it was hard for me to shake the sense that TNG was relying too heavily on TOS fans to carry it. "Easter eggs" were abundant—sometimes delightful, sometimes eye-rolling, and sometimes disastrous (think "The Naked Now"). In the end, what won the day (more or less) was the series eventually finding its own voice—even if that was after several seasons.

Most episodes suffer from a ponderous, sometimes nearly overwhelming amount of "technobabble," where plot devices hinge on totally improbable—even embarrassing—scientific nonsense. One could almost sense the writers gradually painting themselves into corners, and breaking out thanks only to the chief engineer arriving at miracle solutions, spouting endless variations on scientific buzzwords of the day. While the original series was not immune to this affliction—usually down to Bones divining the "miracle cure of the week"—the strength of the original series was its ability to deliver engrossing drama that was independent from science and technology. TNG was also occasionally guilty of TOS's tendency to preach morality tales, but thankfully this was done more subtly and less frequently.

Incidentally, one major bone I have to pick is the music score. It's so bloody anemic and lifeless that it makes me want to scream. And evidently Roddenberry himself was to blame: for reasons known only the late Great Bird of the Galaxy, he decreed that TNG's music should virtually disappear into the background—frustratingly ironic given that he was also behind the decision to make the score for TOS almost-over-the-top, in-your-face dramatic (which was fine by me).

Still, do not mistake my apparently harsh criticism for disdain; I enjoyed—and still enjoy—the series more than I dislike it. I seek out its best moments and revel in them, and do my best to ignore its countless patent flaws (funny forehead alien of the week, anyone?), as any Trek aficionado might. I mean, come on, who doesn't laugh when Worf pauses to break into Klingon opera?


Favorite episode: "The Measure of a Man" (which—true story—turned my Trek-hating girlfriend at the time into a Trek fan; indeed, she was far more upset when the series ended than I was)

Least-favorite episode: There's an alarmingly large number of them, and my choice may be different according to my mood and the phase of the moon. Although I'm tempted to say it's any episode with Wesley, and feel confident there'd be many nodding heads out there, today my least-favorite is "11001001." Why would bionic beings communicate by "streaming" audio code from their mouths like old fax machines, instead of—oh, nevermind...

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