History, Legacy & Showmanship

Make It So: Remembering “Star Trek: The Next Generation” on its 30th Anniversary

December 11, 2017 - 2:09 pm   |   by
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Coate: Do you believe the show’s first episode, Encounter at Farpoint, served as an effective gateway episode? If not, which episode do you think works best as an introduction to the series?

Altman: Probably The Corbomite Maneuver [from The Original Series]. That’s all of Star Trek in one package, everything you need to know about it in one episode. That said, if you want to explore TNG, start with The Ensigns of Command [from Season Three] and go from there through Season Three. If you like that, keep going. If you don’t, try Deep Space Nine.

Burnett: The best introduction to the series, especially for modern audiences, is probably Season Two’s Measure of a Man. Still what I consider an almost “prototype” TNG episode, it’s the first of the series I’d consider a true classic, if not Top Ten, episode. Preferably the extended version from the Season Two Blu-rays. A fantastically well-written story by Melinda Snodgrass, with a still-compelling storyline illustrating Trek at its very finest, with a compelling science fiction premise and a great dilemma for three of the principal characters to face. There’s also two great guest characters in Commander Bruce Maddox and Captain Phillipa Louvois.

Hasan: This may sound contrary to my answer earlier, but I actually do think Farpoint is a decent jump-on point for the show. It’s clearly the first adventure, meaning we’re likely to grade it on a curve, and it sets up the characters and their world, while also leaves lots of room for the characters to grow. I certainly don’t think it’s perfect, but as an intro to the Next Generation era of Trek, it works just fine.

Nemecek: Gateway to a Trek fan, a sci-fi fan generally, or a complete mundane viewer? For all its faults, I might just stick with Farpoint. Either that, or The Measure of a Man. Or even Family.

D. Okuda: I think it would be The Best of Both Worlds: Part I because it has everything for which TNG is known. A great story, strong character conflict, action, and a fascinating s-f premise. And, of course, that powerful cliffhanger.

M. Okuda: Farpoint was a good first episode/pilot in that it nailed down a lot of the basic concepts for the show, but I don’t think it was a great introduction. Both Worlds is a good choice, as is Tin Man and Cause and Effect.

A scene from Star Trek: The Next Generation

Coate: Where do you think TNG ranks among the numerous Trek shows?

Altman: It’d be hard to argue that the series is more iconic than the original, it’s not, but it’s certainly the most well-known Trek show with the most well-known Trek characters other than Kirk, Spock and McCoy. That said, even though I think Deep Space Nine is probably the better show, it certainly has to be considered the second best Star Trek series next to the original and the most enmeshed in popular culture. At the time, it was clearly the first of the Trek shows to really appeal to families. You saw that at all the conventions where suddenly you were seeing kids and families for the first time and not just college kids and older. The biggest problem with TNG is in many ways it’s the most dated due to its static camerawork and dental office scores and so much that seemed so futuristic at the time has already been outrun by reality. The fact that TOS was far more stylized also helps make it more timeless than TNG which also is cursed in some episodes with a lethargic pacing that’s particularly in evidence when watched with commercials.

Burnett: Aside from The Original Series, it’s easily the most important of the entire Trek franchise, but it’s only my third favorite series behind TOS and DS9.

Hasan: For me The Original Series always goes first simply by virtue of it having blazed the trail that all others followed. But of the subsequent series, I’d place The Next Generation after Deep Space Nine, which I think is the best of the spin-offs and was in many ways a truer reflection of the ethos and worldview of the original. But just to be clear, that’s not to diminish in any way the remarkable sweep and scope of what TNG accomplished. It broadened the canvas and created room for all those other spin-offs to play.

Nemecek: Whew. It had #1 status for so long, competing with TOS as its prime generation faded; now DS9 makes a case as viewing habits shift. It’s definitely affected the most viewers and fans at the moment. As a champion of intellectualism and rationality, I think its power has faded somewhat after 9/11 and rawer storylines of DS9 and Enterprise “felt” more viscerally satisfying... but in the crazed anti-intellectualism of our times now I think TNG should reassert its prominence. They used to mock Picard for having staff meetings versus’ Kirk’s action! cowboy diplomacy — but we see the folly in the latter, too, now.

D. Okuda: Second to The Original Series.

M. Okuda: Yes. We both grew up with The Original Series, so will always be first in our hearts.

A scene from Star Trek: The Next Generation

Coate: Where do you think Picard ranks among the Trek captains?

Altman: A strong second to Captain James Tiberius Kirk with Captain Sisko and Lorca a close third. Stewart is brilliant in the role and Picard is an engaging and cerebral captain, but there’s only one Captain Kirk.

Burnett: Second only to James T. Kirk.

Hasan: Similar to my answer above, I have to place James T. Kirk at the top of my list, but Jean-Luc goes right underneath. Picard is very much the “perfected man,” representing the fulfillment of Roddenberry’s utopian ideal, and as such is a role model worth emulating. Calm under pressure, always ready with wise words, he’s both who we’d want to serve under and who we’d want to become.

D. Okuda: Second to Kirk.

M. Okuda: Yup.

Coate: Favorite TNG character?

Altman: McCoy? That’s not quite the answer you were looking for. Jonathan Frakes is my favorite person from the show who I’ve worked with as a director on The Librarians and think the world of and I do like Riker, but I’d have to say character-wise, it’d probably be Ensign Ro. Worf would be one of my favorites... on Deep Space Nine. Worst is Tasha Yar’s Roman doppelganger, Sela, because it was such a contrived and goofy conceit. I’d add Data was a wonderful character as well.

Burnett: I really love Worf. The character went from being almost an afterthought, added to TNG’s pilot very late in the game, to one of the series most richly-drawn characters, beginning with Season Two’s The Emissary and Season Three’s Sins of the Father and reaching out past TNG all the way to the series finale of Deep Space Nine. I’m sure not even Gene Roddenberry himself would’ve believed it. Even Michael Dorn’s somewhat limited range as an actor really served the character, eventually leading to some of the most compelling relationships in Trek history, especially those Worf had with both incarnations of Dax.

Hasan: While the good captain is my favorite, I have a soft spot for Commander Riker as well. You can’t help but relate to the guy who realizes how lucky he is to be on the Enterprise, and doesn’t want to take any promotion that’ll take him off that ship. After all, that’s where all the cool stuff happens!

D. Okuda: I think we’d probably both go with Picard.

M. Okuda: Just as Kirk was in many ways the ideal of a leader of the 1960s, a la John F. Kennedy, Picard reflected the notion that the world of the 1980s was more complicated, more nuanced, and it required a strong, thoughtful leader whose first instinct was diplomacy.

A scene from Star Trek: The Next Generation

Coate: What is the legacy of Star Trek: The Next Generation?

Altman: I think it will remain a beloved sci-fi series for many years to come and, for many, define what Star Trek is to them. It fulfilled Star Trek’s mission which was to deliver a series built on tolerance, acceptance and, for the most part, a liberal, optimistic view of the future. In the age of Trump, storytelling like this continues to be welcome and wholeheartedly embraced. It definitely reflects the era it was made, that of George HW Bush and his “thousand points of light” much the way that the original Star Trek is a product of John F. Kennedy’s “New Frontier” ethos.

Burnett: Without TNG, Star Trek would’ve probably ended with The Undiscovered Country in 1991 until the inevitable reboot, which probably would’ve looked very much like J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek ’09. Instead, Roddenberry was allowed to come back and not simply recreate, but continue to evolve and expand the Trek universe, updating it and making it relevant to brand-new audiences of the late ’80s. Twenty-five seasons of Trek followed, continuing to allow the universe to grow, and most importantly, birth all kinds of vibrant new talent which has propagated throughout the television landscape, even thirty years later. Trek veterans continue to create some of the most compelling programming of the modern era, everything from Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica and Outlander, on which Ira Behr serves as Co-Executive Producer, to Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal, Rene Echevarria’s upcoming Carnival Row and Brannon Braga’s current work on The Orville. Trek actors such as Jonathan Frakes and Roxann Dawson have vibrant television directing careers, and even the latest Trek incarnation boldly goes into the streaming space on CBS All Access. None of this would’ve been possible without the resounding success of TNG.

Hasan: I call The Next Generation “competence porn.” And what I mean by that is that it’s all about the thrill of watching a group of seasoned professionals who get along with each other, who will encounter and solve a problem inside of forty-five minutes. There’s something delightful and refreshing about that, especially in a day and age where it’s increasingly easy to wonder if we’ll ever work past our differences with each other, much less with people from other worlds.

By working so hard to stand apart from the original — not just in terms of aesthetic and technology, but also the worldview it advanced — Star Trek: The Next Generation was even more gauzy-eyed about mankind’s perfectibility than the original. At the time — and especially as the creative braintrust moved into the spin-offs — that utopianism was viewed as a drama-killer, but with three decades of hindsight what it’s also done is give us all a template for how to act and how to be. How to view oneself and how to view others. How to go boldly through this world.

Nemecek: The show that elevated optimism with rationality as the way of the future, the show that showed outside-the-box media business models could work without being a slave to The Establishment, the show that showed If You Build It They Will Come long enough for you to build an even stronger v2 a couple years in…if media bosses have patience and faith. It also made bald sexy, showed the “hive mind” as dangerous, fleshed out Klingons — in peace as allies! — along with newer mindless Borg and fascist Cardassians, and offered a speeded-up future look that saw the TOS communicator and raised it with the personal “PADD” tablet, planetary “datasets” and uplinks, and holography VR/AR potential in every living room.

D. Okuda: Star Trek: TNG’s legacy is a generation of families who shared these amazing adventures together every week, and in the process, were inspired by Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a better tomorrow.

M. Okuda: Star Trek: TNG represented the rebirth of Star Trek. The original series cast movies were wonderful opportunities to revisit our old friends, but I think most fans knew that the original cast would never return to weekly television. With Star Trek: The Next Generation, Gene Roddenberry proved that you can do Star Trek without Kirk and Spock and McCoy, that the dream of humanity reaching for the stars could be shared in many different ways, with many different characters, telling many different stories. And I think that all of us who love Star Trek are so much richer for it.

Coate: Thank you — Mark, Robert, Zaki, Larry, Denise and Michael — for participating and for sharing your thoughts about Star Trek: The Next Generation on the occasion of its 30th anniversary.

The cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation


Selected images copyright/courtesy CBS Studios Inc, Paramount Home Entertainment, Paramount Television. Star Trek is a registered trademark of CBS Studios Inc.


- Michael Coate

Michael Coate can be reached via e-mail through this link. (You can also follow Michael on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook)

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