Thursday, June 2, 2011

TNG Rundown: Season One

My buddy Sean Craven had perhaps the definitive review of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Episode One. He nails it on the head. I would describe it as awesomely horrible. TNG was one of the first attempts at a 'reboot' by Hollywood. With seven seasons and two spinoff series (some might say three, but Enterprise doesn't count), it can't be denied that TNG was a groundbreaker.

BUT! (And that's a big, bloated BUT!) Not all TNG episodes were created equal. I won't get into causes and effects. The influence of Rick Berman upon the various shows has been debated ad nauseum. This is an analysis of results, and it should be noted that Gene Roddenberry was in full command during Season One.

Now, these are my opinions, but they are qualified opinion, both as a writer and a fan.

I'm working from memory and wikipedia's very handy list of TNG episodes. If you've forgotten what an episode is about, check the link. Each one has a very brief synopsis.

I'll run through them ALL in the coming days, and give you an Enjoy It, Bear It, or Skip It rating.

1&2 – Encounter at Farpoint
The Pilot. Well, you know, win some lose some. It got us the series, so I guess it won some. People had to watch it, so I guess we lose some. Q, as always, steals the show.
Bear It.

3 – The Naked Now
They wanted to answer the BURNING QUESTION: Can Data get laid? Answer: Yes. And by a hottie, no less. Rawwr! Otherwise, this episode's only function is to give Wesley some screen time (Ugh. Wesley.) and to show us who wants to pounce on whom.
Bear It.

4 – Code of Honor
It's not the worst Trek episode ever. Some excellent throwbacks for the fight music. You can tell that Roddenberry's hand is still on the tiller. In a good way with this episode.
Enjoy It.

5 – The Last Outpost
And in a bad way with this one. Sure, we get to see the Ferengi for the first time, and there's the great line about our females being forced to wear clothing (such inequality we still force on our women, even in the 24th century!), but, do we still need Sun Tzu hammered over our heads?
Skip It.

6 – Where No One Has Gone Before
Wesley. Ugh. Roddenberry's middle name was Wesley. Did you know that? Writers often put themselves into their works, but very rarely as a Mozart-like super-genius. When I write myself that way, I end up as Wyle E. Coyote. Which reminds me, I'd like chicken for dinner.
Skip It.

7 – Lonely Among Us
My eyes. Oh man, my eyes. Someone tell me why Picard would still be in command after this? Please? Some entertaining Data-as-Holmes quotes, but... I'm afraid I don't hate anyone enough to recommend this one as even a 'Bear It' episode.
Skip It.

8 – Justice
My eyes! And by that, I mean YOWZA! Lots of eye candy in this one. And not too bad a story, either. Not great, but not bad. You can actually watch this one on mute and still get most of it.
Enjoy It.

9 – The Battle
Gives us The Picard Maneuver. Unfortunately, we stole the term and applied to another all-too-often-used maneuver of his. See episodes 15 and 28 for more info.
Skip It.

10 – Hide and Q
Ah, Q. He's starting to really get his personality now. The premise is a little silly, but if you've got a Jedi handy to say 'This is not the narrative you're looking for,' then you can actually enjoy this one. If for nothing else, Q has some great one-liners.
Enjoy It.

11 – Haven
We introduce Lwaxana Troi, the ultimate Space Cougar! As I had a massive crush on Nurse Chapel as a teen, I enjoyed this one quite a bit (as a somewhat older teen). However, the actual story plods along, with no direction at all. Some actual conflict, please? Anyone? Please?? At least Mister Homn gives us someone to root for. (And, if you've seen this one, you know just how much I'm grasping here.)
Bear It.

12 – The Big Goodbye
Picard talks morality with a fucking windows app. Are we playing God here? 'You only exist for as long as I keep this holodeck turned on!' Muaahahah!! I would totally do that to a bunch of holographic villagers. Yet, Federation values being what they are, one apparently must console your team members in Mass Effect 2 that, yes, the universe vanishes when you shut it down, but you'll be back to resurrect them tomorrow after work. Other than Picard's sweet hat, some entertaining Data one-liners, and Doctor Crusher's great legs (of which there's never nearly enough action) there's very little to recommend here.
Skip It.

13 – Datalore
Mixed feelings on this one. Lore is a solid villain that they could have done so much more with in later episodes. They set him up reasonably well in this one, and he threatens Wesley, so there's much to recommend, but the story has enough handwavium to render you sterile.
Bear It.

14 – Angel One
Riker gets laid. But the story moves along nicely. The heavy-handed moral message might give you a concussion, but at least you'll lose all the brain cells that disliked it. Also, eye-candy for the guys.
Enjoy It.

15 – 11001001
A fun episode, all things considered. And Picard has a good reason for setting the self-destruct. Unfortunately, he talks about it often enough (and does it often enough) that blowing up the ship became the quintessential 'Picard Maneuver'. One big positive was the character of Minuet. She behaved exactly as a hologram should; totally aware of her false existence as a program. Nicely written, and shows the program/user relationship in its proper light.
Enjoy It.

16 – Too Short a Season
And so we set our feet on the long, horrifying road of broken and corrupt Starfleet admirals. And in an awful way. If we were supposed to see Admiral Jameson as a man of grit and mettle, then he should have been in at least one episode prior. As is, we could really care less.
Skip It.

17 – When the Bough Breaks
Ugh. Wesley. Still, as far as Wesley episodes go, this one won't make your eyes bleed. And the heavy-handed message won't send you to the hospital. Not knowing how your tech works is one thing. Being willfully ignorant of it is another.
Enjoy It.

18 – Home Soil
Data earns some badass points. Still, this one could have been only half an hour long. Possibly fifteen minutes.
Enjoy It. (But keep the fast-forward button handy)

19 – Coming of Age
Ugh. Wesley. At least he's portrayed at the proper age and maturity level in this one. A very fun conversation with Worf about the nature of fear. Also, sets up a later episode. Not a great later episode, but worth a look.
Enjoy It. (Barely)

20 – Heart of Glory
Kingons! We could do without the Geordi Visor Monologues, but we get some insight into Klingons. Worth a look.
Enjoy It.

21 – The Arsenal of Freedom
Another episode where they got the computers right. Established Geordi as more than just a red-shirt. Finally. Plus some fun Catpain/Doctor interaction.
Enjoy It.

22 – Symbiosis
The best episode of this season. The morality only gives you a bloody nose, and only in one scene, and it's delivered by Wesley, so its easily ignored. A very entertaining employment of the Prime Directive.
Enjoy It. More than most in this season.

23 – Skin of Evil
Dear, Denise, 
I know the first season was rocky. Horrid, in fact. But, it was a paycheck. What else was so important? Didn't want to get 'type-cast'? Would a life sentence as the super-sexy Tasha Yar really have been so awful? Alas. It's the talking tar pit for you, my dear. Now, I suppose I have to rely solely on Marini and Gates for my eye-candy. With regrets and love,
Bear It.

24 – We'll Always Have Paris
One of the first attempts to give Picard some backstory and personality. It didn't take well. Data gets more badass points, but not enough to recommend this one.
Skip It.

25 – Conspiracy
Roddenberry's attempt at a meta-plot conclusion. Unfortunately, he didn't seed the earlier episodes nearly well enough. Admiral Jameson (and his untimely death) could have been a big piece here. Alas, 'Starfleet officers never have conflicts with each other'. Even when they do. Bullshit. You have to see this one, but only barely.
Bear It.

26 – The Neutral Zone
In a way, this is a very good episode. The execution stumbles a bit, but it does hold the people of the 20th and 24th centuries up side-by-side. I enjoyed Picard's attempt at superiority being handed back to him by the 20th century businessman. Also: Romulans, and the first appearnce of Marc Alaimo in Trekdom.
Enjoy It.

So there we have it. The Good, The Bad, and The Worf. Thinking back on the crap-tasitc television we had back in 1987, I'm still surprised that TNG survived season one. Looking at the rundown we've got:

Skip It: 8
Bear It: 6
Enjoy It: 11

Which I did not expect. Seems I skip more episodes that that, when I watch the series again, but the numbers don't lie.

We have the fans to thank for keeping TNG alive during its shaky infancy as it groped with both hands to find its feet. If not for the fans, the show would never have survived a heavy-handed producer and hamstrung writers (and a few sub-par writers, in all truth). It's always hard to tell exactly how much crap gets slathered on an episode in the writers' room and how much gets shoveled by the director and producer. Sometimes they polish it up. Other times, it's still sweating and attracting flies.

Season One gives us a bit of both. If you're a Trek fan, you've probably seen most of these. If you're not, you've got a map to the minefield. I'm warning you now: do NOT be tempted by the Skip It episodes. If you watch one and end up in the emergency room, you have only yourself to blame. If you've seen some of the Skip It episodes either on accident or while very intoxicated or during your brief (yet explainable) stay at Guantanamo, I'm sure you can relate.

Up next, Season Two. There are some true gems in that one, on both ends of the spectrum.


  1. Dude, I just sent this to the missus. After she threw me out of the room, she admitted she'd had a rough time with the episode herself.

    I'll let you know how it goes...

  2. Yes, I'd love to hear it!

    Really the best way through some of these is with a classic MST3K defense. The ones that must be borne like a cross are best enjoyed tongue-in-cheek.