Set nearly 100 years after The Original Series is The Next Generation, which has polarized “Trekkies” ever since it first aired. With an all-new cast set in an all-new time on an all-new Enterprise, 20-year veterans had to decide whether to accept the new recruits or stick with the aging originals. It didn’t help that this show struggled to find itself in its first few seasons, while the Original Series crew was still making highly successful (and far bigger-budgeted) movies at the time. But nevertheless, this show, like its predecessor, has gone down in history as a classic, and if you’re a fan of The Big Bang Theory, a lot of that show’s jokes that went over your head before should make you laugh out loud now.
Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) is the new Captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise-D, and they’re on a continuing mission to explore the galaxy. With him is his “Number 1”, William Riker (Jonathan Frakes), Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis), a half-human/half-Betazoid, and they even have a Klingon (Yikes! No, it’s okay.) named Worf (Michael Dorn). There’s also an android named Data (Brent Spiner, who’s totally NOT a ripoff of Spock, okay haters?), a blind, visor-wearing Engineer name Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton), a doctor, Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden), her young son Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton), and the wiser-than-wise bartender Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg). Season 1 also has Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby), a short-lived and criminally-underwritten female warrior, a casualty of the show taking so long to find itself. Nevertheless, these characters go out and explore new parts of the galaxy and expand the Star Trek universe like never before.
I will admit to feeling a deep sadness that my “friends” Kirk, Spock, Bones, Uhura, Scotty, Sulu and Chekov were not with me this time, but the new characters won me over eventually. Led by the flawless Patrick Stewart, I grew to admire the harmless flirting between Riker and Deanna, the friendship between Data and Geordi, how out of place Worf is in any given situation, and the evolution of Chief O’Brien (Colm Meaney) from nameless extra to recurring cast member to (eventually…) one of the lead characters on Deep Space Nine. Some of the stories do become repetitive later on. I lost count of how many times Data malfunctioned, or how many women Riker took to his bed (seriously, he’s like the Charlie Sheen of outer space). Or how little Wesley Crusher is in the show’s later seasons. Or the fact that Geordi only seems to date white women. But idiosyncrasies aside, I still grew to love and care about these characters. If there’s one thing that makes Star Trek work, it’s a strong family dynamic.
Whereas The Original Series had the Klingons and Romulans as recurring villains (which promoted a kind of racism Gene Roddenberry preferred to avoid), The Next Generation gave us the Borg, a half-living/half-cybernetic species controlled by a collective intelligence. They’re quite reminiscent of the Cenobites from Hellraiser, but they behave more like Terminators. They’re emotionless, relentless, and only attack what appears to be a threat. The two-part episode where they “assimilate” Captain Picard, and rename him “Locutus”, is easily the series’ biggest highlight. Other villains, like the Ferengi, were too comical to be taken seriously and were rewritten to be more of a nuisance than a threat. There’s also Q (John DeLancie), whose over-confidence and constant teleporting make him seem more like a space wizard than an alien, but he at least becomes funnier and funnier with each new appearance. And for any Tasha Yar fans, there are some surprisingly creative “resurrections” you may find intriguing.
The rivalry between The Original Series and The Next Generation will probably never end. While this show stands on its own perfectly well, it never achieves the iconic highs of its predecessor. It was also the first of three consecutive Star Trek shows that overlapped in the 90’s, and is still arguably the best of them. The characters have great chemistry, the recurring villains are intense, and even though the stories become less interesting in later seasons, it still maintains its identity right until the end. If you’re at all a fan of The Original Series, then The Next Generation is essential viewing.
4 out of 5