Monday, July 04, 2011

Star Trek: The Next Generation

We're moving through Star Trek: The Next Generation pretty quickly; Becca grew up on this show, and she's been excited as hell to watch it again. This is another show I haven't seen all of. It came on the year after I became a Trek fan, but I stopped watching it fairly early, a combination of a lot of less-than-stellar episodes up front, as well as my parents' divorce (the show aired on Saturday nights, so I wasn't always in a place where I could watch it).

What's interesting seeing it now is how much it feels like Star Trek: The Motion Picture: The Series. I mean that in both good and bad ways (I actually like that movie quite a bit). You can see the seeds of the series in the movie--Decker is Riker, Ilia is Troi, and the show places an emphasis on exploration and scientific understanding rather than skiffy action. The viewpoint is a little more curious and mature... but also has a tendency to be stuck in the past. A lot of the episodes in the first season feel like they wouldn't have been out of place on the original series, because they seem so firmly rooted in a 1960s attitude towards science fiction which seems out of place given the landscape of SF literature at the time. It honestly almost seems quaint that in the era of cyberpunk Gene Roddenberry was still so interested in How the Past Saw Tomorrow.

1 and 2. Encounter at Farpoint (my rating: 3 out of 5)
My understanding is that Q is a late addition to the pilot when Paramount asked for a 2-hour movie instead of a premiere episode. Which is amazing to me, because Q and what he implicates about evolution and human potential is the most interesting part of the pilot. We meet the characters and get to know them, and it is nice that it all hinges on what's become a modern trope of Doctor Who--that some problems are caused because human beings are still too biocentric to understand the intentions of other lifeforms--but it's not particularly dramatic. The characters are hit or miss so far: Picard is severe, Riker is a tentative Kirk, and Deanna Troi is particularly uninteresting. And she remains that way for the rest of the season. Also, Wesley Crusher is very obviously played as Picard's son. Maybe the idea gets dropped, but the conclusion here is inescapable.

3. The Naked Now (2/5)
It seems to early to define the characters by how extremely out of character they become. Also, ripping off an episode of the original series does less to cement the connection between series and more to make it appear like the new show is already out of ideas. It's very Gene Roddenberry, too, that the intoxication makes the men do all sorts of things, but basically just puts the women at varying stages of horniness. This is the beginning of Wesley Crusher, Boy Genius. I have to admit, I'd figured the talk of Wesley's being irritating had to be exaggerated, but it sure isn't. He's already smarter than every trained professional adult, and he's obnoxious about it. I liked the character of Assistant Chief Engineer Shimuda; I would've like to have seen him stick around, except I'm sure he was probably fired for leaving a kid in charge of his station even before he was infected...

4. Code of Honor (1/5)
Tasha Yar kicks ass. I wish Denise Crosby had never left this show. Her character is great, far more interesting than Deanna Troi in every way; I'm sorry Crosby got impatient and took off. This episode, though... Planet of the African Stereotypes.

5. The Last Outpost (1/5)
The Ferengi are embarrassingly lame. They can't decide if this is the scary new villain, an anti-capitalist warning, or Arab traders masquerading as terrorists. (I know that sounds racist, but here the Ferengi are presented that way. If the Klingons are Russians, the Ferengi seem like Middle Easterners to me, right down to a stereotypical attitude on the place of women in the social sphere; it's more bad racial stereotyping as science fiction allegory.) And besides that, the episode is just really, really stupid.

6. Where No One Has Gone Before (3/5)
I like this episode because the Traveler is an interesting character and idea, and I like how it reinforces the idea that the human race has only ventured into a relatively small part of the galaxy. I hate it when science fiction series take space travel for granted; I like occasional reminders that it's also incredibly dangerous and the mere act of exploring the galaxy carries a myriad of risks. It does, though, make me question why improvements to the warp drive aren't being carried out on some kind of test ship, instead of on a starship with hundreds of families onboard. I do like the idea of the Enterprise as a traveling community in space, a city unto itself, but too often the show isn't sure what to do with it.

7. Lonely Among Us (1/5)
I barely even remember this one already.

8. Justice (1/5)
A self-righteous examination of the Prime Directive plot device and capital punishment that never once stops to ask what the hell Starfleet is doing interfering in a pre-warp society, anyway. Doesn't that violate the Prime Directive, too?

9. The Battle (1/5)
At least the Ferengi come off a bit better and more fully-realized in this one instead of just running around like gerbils on crack.

10. Hide and Q (2/5)
Q's return is refreshing, but this episode is so self-righteous. There's an interesting discussion between Riker and Q about why the Q Continuum is so interested in, even scared by, human potential. But it's just unrelentingly cruel to everyone.

11. Haven (3/5)
Lwaxana Troi is another character I always like. This is actually a nice episode about people in space, where the dire situation and its possible outcomes (and final outcome) are driven by human motives and the characters' feelings instead of the emergency-of-the-week. Deepening the relationship between Troi and Riker is especially effective.

12. The Big Goodbye (2/5)
I like the atmospheric noir at this attempt to place Picard as Bogey in a holodeck mystery, but the science of this episode is ridiculous. I basically accept the holodeck as magic, because the science of it is silly as hell. So, Wesley (of course, Wesley, Boy Genius) can turn off the malfunctioning holodeck, but he can't do it without everyone inside vanishing? How does that even work? The Matrix makes more sense than that. I could accept it if the outcome was that the interactive virtual reality experience being shut off so suddenly could, like, give someone a headache or make them momentarily blind or something, but vanishing completely? I would love to know how the hell that's supposed to work. It's not like the crew have been digitized and turned into program files or anything. This makes zero sense to me. (Adore Lawrence Tierny, though.)

13. Datalore (4/5)
I have to admit, I don't always love Brent Spiner or Lt. Commander Data, but Spiner does a hell of a job here as both Data and his, well, evil twin, Lore. Doing the evil twin thing is as old as literature itself, but they have a lot of fun with it here.

14. Angel One (1/5)
Gene Roddenberry's viewpoint may have matured a bit, but not his attitude towards women in power. They all just need a good rogering to see sense, I guess.

15. 11001001 (2/5)
I'm already sick of dramatic holodeck malfunctions, but I like the idea of the Bynars. Why wouldn't they keep these guys around if they're such good engineers? Get them on the crew immediately to shore up Geordi La Warp Core Breach's work. That's part of the problem with Star Trek--for the sake of returning to point A when the drama's over, potentially useful developments that warrant expansion are just conveniently ignored.

16. Too Short a Season (1/5)
I hate hate HATE when young actors put on pounds of Ninja Turtle makeup and pretend to be old. It's just embarrassing and unseemly. They never get it right.

17. When the Bough Breaks (2/5)
About as exciting as ditch water.

18. Home Soil (2/5)
Basically a retread of "The Devil in the Dark" with General Gogol from the James Bond movies.

19. Coming of Age (3/5)
The first time Wesley was ever interesting. I find the whole process of the Starfleet Academy Entrance Exam fascinating, especially the psychological evaluation, giving everyone a sort of mini version of the Kobayashi Maru before they can even enter Starfleet. I'd still be very interested in seeing a TV series about Starfleet Academy (a movie would basically just use the same plot as SpaceCamp).

20. Heart of Glory (3/5)
I'm interested in the Klingons. It's interesting to see how even here the peace with the Klingons is still tentative at best.

21. The Arsenal of Freedom (1/5)
The whole point of this episode seems to be to really heat up the attraction between Dr. Crusher and Picard, but then it suddenly gets dropped. Always nice to see the late Vincent Schiavelli, though. And Geordi really gets a chance to shine. But it's being beaten over the head with an obvious message ("Weapons are bad and hurt people and stuff"). The first season is a little too preachy at times. Also, how can a civilization be destroyed by a weapon that can be shut off so easily?

22. Symbiosis (2/5)
This whole episode seems like it really wants to make a point about something, but then it just crumbles and becomes "Hey kids, stay off the drugs." And Picard is particularly self-righteous here. Star Trek II members Judson Scott and the late Merritt Butrick being in the episode is pretty neat, and they both play interesting characters, but halfway through someone drops the plot and simplifies the whole thing into pointlessness.

23. Skin of Evil (1/5)
I hate that Denise Crosby left the show, and doing it in such an ignoble way feels cheap and gimmicky. And her funeral scene, with the hologram, only makes sense if she's recorded her message that very morning. The crew's only been together a few months, guys. The rest of the episode is pointless.

24. We'll Always Have Paris (1/5)
As treacly and creaky as the romance between Picard and Michelle Phillips is, what bothered me more is the idea that a scientist can say he broke off a chunk of another dimension and that explanation can be accepted without a follow-up question or two.

25. Conspiracy (2/5)
Gross, and weirdly out of place. It feels more like a V episode than Star Trek. And then the idea of an invading race of aliens is totally dropped.

26. The Neutral Zone (3/5)
The Romulans are back. There, that, in one sentence, is pretty much the entire episode. I do like the other bits, with cryonically-frozen humans from the 1990s being found by the Enterprise (and I've never not liked Peter Mark Richman in something, even when it's as bad as Friday the 13th, Part VIII). But the reintroduction of the Romulans needs a better pay-off and a stronger enforcement. And we never do find out what's making all of those outposts disappear.

Not a home run by any means, but the larger focus on the ensemble makes things more bearable, actually, than the tedious third season of the original series.

Now on to the second. I remember not being crazy about that, too, but we'll see what happens over the next couple of days.


Bob said...

Spot on observations. Season One -- in retrospect -- was very weak. But when it first came out, damn if we weren't all glued to the tube to see it!!

For me, though, the series low point is coming up in Season Two. No spoilers, though. :)

By the way, did I miss your review of the First-half-season-ending Doctor Who?

SamuraiFrog said...

I'm about halfway through the second season now. It turns out I've seen surprisingly few of these episodes.

You know, I didn't talk about the first half-season of Doctor Who. I didn't have much to say; I didn't really enjoy a ton of it.

Jaquandor said...

Wow, you liked Tasha Yar? I thought she was a terribly half-baked character. Maybe they would have figured her out a bit, had Crosby stuck around.

I apparently liked most of these episodes more than you did. Some ideas that were eventually used for TNG were recycled from Paramount's aborted Star Trek II TV series, that would have anchored their proposed TV network in the late 70s. The show had scripts written and even got to the point of casting before Paramount dropped the whole thing and decided to make a Trek movie instead. This partially explains the early feel of TNG.

SamuraiFrog said...

I liked the potential of Tasha Yar. She's an unusual type of character to be on the Enterprise bridge crew. She seemed less likely to sit in dark rooms and discuss Gilbert & Sullivan in soft tones.

Roger Owen Green said...

Must admit I liked this show from the start. But I also haven't watched it since it first aired, so maybe it was just my general opportunity to get on this Trek ground floor...

Semaj said...

Good reviews

Datalore: Early in the series, GR seemed to want to make Worf look as foolish as possible. He goes out of his way to have Lore beat up Worf. Other than that it was a good episode.

11001001  : I actually love this one, I just watched it today. Note: did you notice the Bynars  finish each others glances too? Watch when Wesley looks over them. I also like the music and the reuse of the Spacedock stuff.

Coming of Age: Actually a good episode. That means  Remmick was an alien during this episode too. Kind of strange that the alien is investigating others.

Skin of Evil : Hated this episode. Cheap sets and cheap script.

Conspiracy : I love this one too. The original concept of this episode didn't involve aliens, but a group of high-ranking officers wanting to make Starfleet stronger. GR changed it. Plus, the gore was added to see how much they could get away with on TV. The censors didn't seem to care. This plot would be fully realized in DS9 with the same concept without the creatures.

The Neutral Zone : Not a fan of the frozen human stuff. None of the Earth stuff needed to be there. The story should have been about the Romulans and the coming of the Borg.

Semaj said...

have you seen "Time Squared" yet?

I can't believe how well directed this episode is. It is downright creepy.

look for Chris Latta, listed under a different name, in two guest roles in the 2nd season. (Starscream and Cobra Commander)

SamuraiFrog said...

Roger: I'm especially looking forward to season 3, when it really picks up. I haven't seen every episode, but looking ahead I see a number of my favorites in there.

Semaj: I went back to look at "11001001" again to check out the Bynars' glances. That's a fantastic detail. I'd have loved to see them again.

I think if they wanted to reintroduce the Romulans, they should've done so earlier. In "The Neutral Zone" they just feel like they're batting clean-up for the Ferengi being such a disappointment. "We're back now." That should've been the beginning of an episode, not the end.

I especially dug Chris Latta as Captain Kargan. Although the fanboy part of me wanted to hear the hiss...

daveawayfromhome said...

I always felt that the best thing about the death of Tasha Yar was that it showed a willingness to kill off a major character, something that never happened in TOS, to the point that "red shirt" entered into our vocabulary. At the time I was very excited by the possibilities, story-telling wise.
Besides, without Tasha's seath, we might never have gotten Sela, and that would've been a shame.