May 30, 2013

[TV] Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season 1

So I've already managed to get Tobie to watch Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine from beginning to end and so the latest Trek that I'm having him watch is Star Trek: The Next Generation. We had started this project some time back but other shows came along and it got pushed to the back burner. So now with a lot of the current seasons ending, we found some time to return to Roddenberry's universe for a little warp speed adventures.

TNG started out as quite the triumph for the Star Trek fan community. After the rather premature departure of the original Star Trek, it was nice to finally return to the future and the rather Utopian vision of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. And with the success of the movies in theaters, it was the pretty much the perfect time to have a new Star Trek on the small screen.

The first season is not without its faults, of course. Clearly the writers were struggling to define this show initially. Did they just want to be a continuation of the original series or did they want to explore new ground? This, I feel, become one of the more fundamental questions of the show in its early years - a question that is not easily answered by any one individual.

This first season may not have been the best for the show, but it certainly made the most of this second chance on life for the Star Trek franchise as a whole.

Synopsis: Star Trek: The Next Generation marked the return of the Star Trek science fiction franchise to television 21 years after the original series had been cancelled. Gene Roddenberry, Rick Berman and Michael Piller acted as the shows Executive Producers.

The show is set on the fifth Federation starship to bear the name "Enterprise" - in this case its registry is NCC-1701-D, to be precise. In the Star Trek timeline, it's about 80 years since the original Enterprise ended its journey. And this is a very different galaxy than before given the overriding principle of the Prime Directive that forbids involvement in civilizations who have not achieved warp power. The Klingon Empire is no longer at war with the Federation and are allies at this point in the show. The only clear enemies that remain from the original series are pretty much the Romulans.

With the Enterprise being the flagship of the Starfleet once more, they had to make sure that they had a fitting captain in charge. Thus we have Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) with Commander William Riker (Jonathan Frakes) serving as his first officer. But the show had its share of interesting characters including Lieutenant Commander Data (Brent Spiner), who happens to be an android, Lieutenant Worf (Michael Dorn), who is the first Klingon serving in Starfleet, and Lieutenant Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton), who is essentially the blind man steering the ship. The rest of the primary crew included Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) as Chief Medical Officer, Deanna Troi (Maria Sirtis) as Ship's Counselor and Lieutenant Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby) as Chief of Security.

The show certainly kicked things off with a bang with introducing the seemingly omnipotent character Q (John de Lancie), put ensnares the Enterprise and puts humanity on trial. They go on to explore other interesting themes like the richness of Klingon culture (primarily through Worf), a new alien race in the form of the greedy Ferengi and of course the many different adventures on the holodeck - a holographic simulator that is one of the many forms of entertainment on the ship.

The first season certainly struggled and it seemed to try to tell the same old stories as before - something that could be attributed to Gene Roddenberry's heavy involvement in the writing of the show. The characters were also trying to figure out how they wanted to portray their roles as the show progressed - a typical challenge of any new show.

Patrick Stewart certainly shined as Captain Picard. He was already quite the stellar actor to begin with and he certainly brought a rich sense of presence to the show. Thus we can forgive the little irony of an Englishman playing a French captain. But he pretty much set the tone for the whole show and set a rather high bar for everyone to catch up with. And it was an amazingly brilliant idea to make Picard uncomfortable around children, thus giving young Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) a lot more purpose as a character. Let's kindly ignore all those times Wesley almost magically saved the ship though.

Brent Spiner as Data was another brilliant casting choice - it's not easy portraying an android after all. And rather than going for a strictly unemotional depiction of a character as was the direction for Spock, Data has a more childlike sense about him as he spews out random facts, thinks out loud and struggles to understand humanity. Thus Data isn't always emotionless - if anything he makes it a point to try to practice emulating human emotions and mannerisms in order to fit in better.

The rest of the crew had their highs and lows for sure. Riker didn't have a clear purpose in life other than being next in command. Troi's use of her empathic powers usually resulted in her stating the obvious. And Tasha Yar was just so angry all the time. But hey, it's a first season.

Star Trek: The Next Generation certainly tried to start well, but any franchise trying to redefine itself for a new generation is bound to hit some snags. At the very least this first season certainly got the ball rolling and it set up a number of key plot points that would factor further in later episodes. Thus this first season gets 3 "Picard Maneuvers" out of a possible 5.

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