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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 4/26/02

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season Two
1988-89 (2002) - Paramount

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season Two Program Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/A-/C+

Specs and Features
Approx. 1,012 mins (22 episodes at 46 mins each), NR, full frame (1.33:1), 6 single-sided, dual-layered discs (containing 2-4 episodes each - bonus content on Disc Six), custom "clam shell" case with inner gatefold packaging, 5 "behind-the-scenes" featurettes (Mission Overview: Year Two, Selected Crew Analysis: Year Two, Departmental Briefing: Year Two - Production, Departmental Briefing: Year Two - Memorable Missions and Inside Starfleet Archives (Sets & Props)), booklet insert, animated program-themed menu screens with sound effects and music, scene access (8 chapters per episode), languages: English (DD 5.1 and 2.0), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

Picard: "Your honor, Starfleet was founded to seek out new life. Well, there it sits... waiting."

Year Two of The Next Generation was unfortunately hampered by a Hollywood writers strike that cut the usual 24-26 episodes down to just 22. And sadly, the timing of the strike resulted in a really terrible season finale, Shades of Gray, which was a rehash of footage seen earlier in the series. But if the second season had its share of dogs, it also delivered some real and true gems, including what I think is the series' best episode bar none.

Over the years, when non-fans used to ask me to tell them what Star Trek was all about, I've always told them it has absolutely nothing to do with goofy looking aliens, spaceships and phaser guns. The very best of Star Trek, like the best of science fiction itself, is about ideas. And there is no better example of the ideas at the heart of this series, than the second season episode The Measure of a Man. In it, Lt. Commander Data, who as most of you know is an android, is placed on trial because a Starfleet scientist wants to experiment on him to see what makes him tick. The idea is to make lots more disposable androids to do all the galaxy's dirty work, and the trail is over whether or not Data is the property of Starfleet. Stuck on out on the edges of space, Starfleet's local Judge Advocate General (a.k.a. JAG) office is short-handed, so Picard and Riker are forced to act as defense and prosecution on Data's behalf. And as the trial plays out, they soon discover the real question... is Data a sentient being, with free will and the right to choose? Writer Melinda Snodgrass submitted this episode as a spec script and got hired on the spot for its strengths, eventually becoming one of the show's story editors. It's truly a truly outstanding piece of Trek.

But it's not alone. Other standout episodes of the second season include the first confrontation with the holodeck version of Sherlock Holmes' Professor James Moriarty in Elementary, Dear Data, Riker's stint as the First Officer of a Klingon ship in A Matter of Honor, the hunt for an ancient civilization in Contagion, a Mobieus loop of a brain-teaser in Time Squared and the ominous Q Who?, featuring Starfleet's first, disastrous encounter with the Borg - a seemingly unstoppable foe bent on the "assimilation" of everything. And if the season ended weakly, it thankfully didn't prevent Season Three from becoming, arguably, the series' best.

The 22 episodes included in Paramount's second DVD collection (in a boxed set of 6 discs) are as follows: The Child, Where Silence Has Lease, Elementary, Dear Data, The Outrageous Okona, Loud as a Whisper, The Schizoid Man, Unnatural Selection, A Matter of Honor, The Measure of a Man, The Dauphin, Contagion, The Royale, Time Squared, The Icarus Factor, Pen Pals, Q Who?, Samaritan Snare, Up The Long Ladder, Manhunt, The Emissary, Peak Performance and Shades of Gray. As with Season One, I won't go into the episode stories here - you can visit the official Star Trek website for complete summaries of each.

Like Season One before it, the Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season Two is presented on DVD in its original full frame aspect ratio, and the video quality is generally good... with the same basic limitations we saw in the first set. The show continued to have a somewhat "digital" look to it, most visible in special effects shots. By Season Two, it was starting to look a little less "processed", but the show still suffered from the videotape quality of the day. That means it tends to look a little muddy, with less than crisp detail and somewhat crushed blacks. You may notice a bit of grain in the film stocks used in a few episodes, but you shouldn't see too much in the way of digital artifacts due to MPEG-2 compression. Color reproduction is generally excellent, with well rendered flesh tones. Despite a few issues, these episodes on disc look better than you've ever seen them before, definitely better than the original broadcasts and certainly better than your off-air VHS tapes.

Again, it's the audio side of these episodes that is the most dramatically improved, having been remixed in full Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound for DVD. Dialogue is clean and front-centered, with lots of sound effects panning from channel to channel and great ambience and direction play in the surrounds. The dramatic tension in Q Who?, for example, has never been higher, with phaser blasts and photo torpedoes flying every which way around the listening space. Music is well balanced and there's good low frequency sonic reinforcement in the mix. There's plenty of fun factor on the sound side to be sure.

Once again, the collection's weakness is in the extras department, although to be fair, things are a little better this time than they were for Season One. Because there are only 22 episodes on this set, Paramount included 5 featurettes on the last disc rather than just 4. Mission Overview: Year Two (15 mins) features the cast and crew (including, thankfully, Gene Roddenberry) looking back at the season and some of the changes the it added (the construction of Ten Forward and a full-sized shuttlecraft, along with the cast additions of Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan and Diana Muldaur as Dr. Pulaski). In Selected Crew Analysis: Year Two (14 mins) the actors remember this time of the show and how their characters were developing. Departmental Briefing: Year Two - Production (18 mins) addresses some of the interesting production ideas and challenges of the season. Departmental Briefing: Year Two - Memorable Missions (17 mins) has various guest stars recalling their turns in different episodes. And a new type of featurette, Inside Starfleet Archives (18 mins), gives you a very cool look at the models, props, sets and other bits of cool production material on all of the shows, but particularly The Next Generation (hope we see lots more of this). I still wish we had episode trailers, deleted footage, outtakes, bloopers and the like, because EVERY fan knows they exist. What about an episode commentary or two per season for the best episodes? Don't get me wrong - these featurettes are pretty great. But they're just a bit too formula. It's too easy - too cookie-cutter. We'll have to make do with them for now, but I definitely want more extras-wise than we're getting.

Just FYI, the packaging for this set is in the same format as Season One, with slightly different markings and coloring. Gotta admit, it's growing on me.

Fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation should, by and large, continue to be pleased with these DVDs. They are improving, slowly but surely, and they're definitely worth having in your collection. Just wish we'd get a little more non-featurette supplemental meat to chew on...

Bill Hunt
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