Friday, September 23, 2016

Why I Love the Next Generation

Celebrating the five full decades of Star Trek should be a yearlong event, so I thought I would spread the love of all things Trek. Previously in this series I wrote about why I love the Original Series. Next up, Picard and his crew aboard the USS Enterprise D and my Five Reasons for why I love the Next Generation!

It’s hard to imagine that TNG is almost 30 years old. For me, this is the series that I grew up with. I remember the excitement of hearing about a new Star Trek series, and in 1987 we began a seven year journey that furthered the story and ideology of creator Gene Roddenberry. Sadly, it was during the height of TNG that we would lose Gene, but he was able to see a renaissance of the franchise that has carried it forward for decades to come. So, in continuation of my reasons for loving all things Trek, I give you my Five Reasons for loving what became not only a worthy successor to the Original series, but arguably the most successful series in the franchise.

1.     Familiar, yet new – Whenever there is a sequel to a popular series, fans are anxious because they want to see that which is familiar, but not have it be a blatant copycat of the original. TNG achieved this in grand style. The ship is still the Enterprise with a familiar approach to the design, but is now the flagship and much sleeker. While Kirk and Picard are definitely different as captains, there is a familiarity in Riker’s charm and swagger that reminds us of good ol’ James T. Even the uniforms are familiar yet updated, with the same basic colors (red, gold, and blue), just a bit of switching (how many of you were originally concerned that all captains now wore red shirts!). It brought us a sense that yes, this is Star Trek, but it is also something new and exciting.

2.     Star Trek became cool in mainstream – The Original Series was cancelled after three years (and we were lucky to get the third season) due to low ratings. While you will get no argument from me that Star Trek was and continues to be influential, the franchise really jumped into the mainstream midway through the Next Generation. TNG became a ratings juggernaut, which was impressive for a syndicated series. Soon, it was beating out all comers, including the traditional powerhouse Monday Night Football. When it ended its seven year run (which became the unofficial bar for all future series to meet), it went out on top. Many thought it could have gone on for a few more, but people were hoping to turn it into a successful film franchise. TNG helped a lot in making it cool to be a Trekkie. I can think of no bigger endorsement for Star Trek than to have Whoopi Goldberg request to be a part of the show. To have an Oscar-winning A-lister Hollywood want to be a large part of the franchise says something, and she was not alone.

3.     A strong main cast and the characters they played – I love the original crew, but the show revolved around the triad of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy for the most part. On TNG, an equally diverse cast spread the love a little more evenly. We had stories dedicated to each of the main crew, and the actors who played them were solid. Gates McFadden gave the compassionate Dr. Crusher a level of strength that helped her character grow. Levar Burton brought a level of vulnerability and eagerness to Geordi. Michael Dorn brought depth and respect to our favourite Klingon, Worf. Marina Sirtis gave Troi a fierce conviction. Johnathan Frakes brought a sense of professionalism and charm to Riker. Arguably the strongest actors were Brent Spiner, whose portrayal of Data required such great discipline, and Sir Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard, taking the leadership role to a new realm. Many of these fine actors brought their theatre training as one of their assets, and after watching an episode like “Frame of Mind”, “Brothers”, or “The Inner Light”, we can see just how great an asset it was.

4.     Story telling ahead of its time – Ask anyone for their top 10 favorite Trek episodes, and there will most likely be some real gems from TNG. “The Inner Light”, “Yesterday’s Enterprise”, “Relics”, “The Measure of a Man”, “The Offspring”, “The Drumhead”, and the list goes on. And let’s not forget the classic “The Best of Both Worlds” that kept audiences trembling with anticipation for an entire summer, desperate to know the fate of Picard in what is arguably one of the best cliffhangers of all time. Yes, there were some duds (looking at you, Code of Honor), but we had a good mix of wonderful tales that kept us coming back each week. We dealt with the death of beloved crew member in “Skin of Evil”, tackled themes such as sexual identity, torture, terrorism, and what constitutes life. The stories also, and appropriately, brought us the odd tip of the hat to the original crew, with episodes like “Sarek” and “Unification”. Suffice it to say, the stories were more often than not very well told.

5.     It has to be Q – From the first to the last episode, Q has been there. John de Lancie appeared in eight separate episodes and each one were memorable. OK, so “Hide and Q” may not have been the best episode (it was one of de Lancie’s least favourite), but we did see Wesley get the point! All bad puns aside, Q was often one of the highlights of the season. We had the silly fun Q stories (Deja Q and Q-Pid), the serious tales (Q Who and True Q), and the truly philosophical (Tapestry). And while the crew were ultimately frustrated by this omnipotent rascal, we the audience were delighted. I particularly thought that the pilot and series finale being the ultimate bookend to the introduction to Q was perfect for the series. Q was a perfect foil for Picard and gave us some great moments. Whether it was his banter with the crew (“Growl for me micro-brain! Show me you still care!”), introducing us to the Borg, trading verbal barbs with Guinan (likely my second most favourite guest character) or teaching Picard about the value of a life lived without regret, Q was always a welcome visitor to the show.

So there you go, my Top 5 reasons as to why I love the Next Generation. I have many others, and I am sure that you have your own Top 5 list. Please feel free to share the reasons you love Picard and the crew of the Enterprise D. If you want to know what my Top Ten favorite TNG episodes are, check out this link.

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