Star Trek: The Next Generation viewer’s guide

The Inner Light (Original Air Date: 6/1/92)

InnerLight

One of the most obvious choices, I agree. But it’s such a powerful episode – for writing and humanization of the seemingly infallible Captain Picard, and not effects or action – that it simply must be included.

Within the first few minutes of the episode, Picard is zapped by a strange probe and awakens in a village where everyone calls him “Kamin.” At first he demands to be returned to the Enterprise, but the rather docile and non-threatening villagers say he’s just waking up from a deadly fever and all that stuff about spaceships and aliens is a hallucination. Naturally he resists this, but as weeks, months, years roll on, he finally accepts that Kamin is his real name, and his real life is on this planet.

And that’s basically the whole show. He lives an entire lifetime in the span of one show, a life he never had, with a family, close friends and children. Imagine returning from that, only to wake up back on the Enterprise and realize 20 minutes have passed. It’s a humbling, devasating, enriching moment for Picard, one that ultimately won the show a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation.

 

Tapestry (Original Air Date: 2/15/93)

Tapestry

By this point in the show, we know Picard has an artificial heart. It’s the result of a rather brash decision he made in Starfleet Academy, where he cheated and then assaulted a group of alien thugs despite being outmatched. He ended up impaled with a knife and gravely injured, and this consequence changed his life – it brought him down to earth, essentially taking the Kirk out of him and molding him into the disciplined Picard we know.

Sadly, that same decision also leads to his modern-day death, as Tapestry opens with his artificial heart irreparably damaged by phaser fire. If he had a regular heart, he would have lived. So, Q takes this opportunity to show Picard “what might have been” and let him survive, but only if he can change his fate by avoiding that academy scrap  in the first place.

Of course Picard succeeds, but this breach of character sends him down a mundane, totally average path in life. That difficult lesson was never learned, and instead this Picard learned to play it safe, to avoid risks and stay within the norm. You see the blue science uniform above? That’s the highest he can rise in this world, and this new, juxtaposed Picard (old mind trapped in the new ‘safe’ reality) would rather die than carry on like this.

As is Star Trek tradition, they undo and solve all this mess in the last five minutes. And again, Q steps in to save the day (though his intervention is what allowed the episode to take place at all, so it’s expected). But hoo boy, what a ride.

 

Timescape (Original Air Date: 6/14/93)

Timescape

Ah, back to some sci-fi weirdness. There’s no Big Question to consider or huge character arc to see, it’s just a fun, visually striking episode about the fabric of space/time. Neato!

Picard, Troi, Data and Geordi return to the Enterprise only to find it locked in battle with a Romulan Warbird. But like, literally locked – it’s frozen in time, with phasers and explosions floating in place. After some technical trickery, the quartet is able to pierce the time bubble and examine it, but once on board things only get weirder.

They see things like Dr Crusher apparently being shot by a Romulan. They see a warp core breach in progress. They travel to the Romulan ship and see similar, seemingly contradictory events unfolding there as well. In some places it seems like the Enterprise was trying to assist the Warbird, others it looks like they’re fighting to the death. Whaaaa?

The answer is… some technobabble silliness best left to the show. I just wanted this in here to balance out all the ACTING ACTING ACTING of the previous few episodes.

 

All Good Things.. (5/23/94)

AllGoodThings

Ah, symmetry. Notice how this image is just like Encounter at Farpoint? That’s cuz Picard once again finds himself at the mercy of Q and his omnipotent judgment. But this time, it’s supposedly Picard who’s responsible for the crisis – a spacial anomaly that travels back through time and undoes humanity!

This double-length series finale takes us to the future, back to the past (specifically the first episode’s costumes, cast and set design) and through a roller coaster ride in the present. It’s the best possible ending for the show, and better than any of the TNG movies produced afterward. For all the crap I give Ron Moore (and others give Brannon Braga), they crafted what I consider the best final episode of any show, ever. I can’t think of another show that wraps everything up so well, rewards longtime viewers yet still delivers a tale that anyone could watch.

I remember tuning in to watch this on the exact day – May 23 – and feeling completely satisfied. I’d already been watching reruns every day for years, and was already at a point where I could tell you the name and season of an episode within the first 60 seconds (all books, people – no internet yet!). I can’t think of anything in the modern era that closed out something so many people loved so well, and in a way that pleased just about everyone. I don’t recall much dissension about this episode… it’s pretty much regarded as one of the best, period.

I’m sure there are numerous shows that pulled this off… but did they have the social cache of TNG? Did they break ratings records and justify the entire medium of first run syndication? Did they outperform all expectations and leave things at the height of popularity instead of waiting for the cash to dry up? Did they run for seven acclaimed years and inspire memes 20 years into the future? No seriously I’m asking, I don’t watch that much TV these days. I guess The Shield had a pretty good ending. Sopranos? People talk about that show a lot.

Anyway. That’s a good start to TNG, as curated by a super opinionated whiner. If you like what you see, I fully suggest watching the entire show, but I understand that’s a lot to ask. However, if you want to see something that I put right alongside The Simpsons as a personality-defining piece of pop culture, you won’t be disappointed.

SHOP SOME STAR TREK AND SUPPORT LASER TIME!

16 thoughts on “Star Trek: The Next Generation viewer’s guide

  1. I tried to watch next gen a few times, but the the show just feels off to me. I’m usually pretty good at getting over things I dislike in a t.v. series I know I will enjoy, but there is just something that puts me off about next gen.

  2. I recently watched Where Silence Has Lease and though I can understand A) the points you make and B) why people enjoy it, I just found it awfully, uh… long. Boring. I really couldn’t wait for it to end. And the ending itself is.. stunted?

  3. Thanks a lot for writing this Brett. I’ve actually never seen a single episode of TNG before, but I’ve been meaning to get into it for while ever since I realized it’s all on Netflix. I’ll definitely use this since I probably wasn’t going to fully commit to watching every episode anyway.

  4. So If I were to watch TNG, should I watch the HD remastering or is the original quality the way to go?

    1. Seeing as the whole series is on Netflix, that’s probably the easiest path to take. The Blu rays do look markedly better though, so if you watch the first four eps on this article and enjoy, Season 3 onward is much better and might be worth upgrading to BD.

  5. I finally started TNG because you always talked about how good it was and when they put out the Blu-Rays, I jumped in. I just got to season 3, the first 2 seasons are patchy but luckily this blog http://jphalt-startrekindex.blogspot.co.uk/ has been quite good at letting me know what episodes I should skip. Seems like from Season 3 onward most episodes are great

  6. Good job of convincing me to jump on the wagon (…).
    even though I was around when it aired originally, I only checked it sporadically and it didn’t catch me. but as the saying goes – “with great bandwidth comes great availability” – and knowing where to start should do the trick.

    another thing i’d like to know is what transformers episodes onw should see before the 86 movie (saw it years ago, didn’t recognize a single character), and what later episodes are actually worth watching.

  7. Excellent article Brett, and well done for avoiding at least some (heh) of the obvious episodes to recommend. I personally also love Silicon Avatar, which I’m watching again right now and hasn’t lost anything.

    Deep Space Nine had a pretty damn good finale as well, although that had the excuse of finishing the Dominion War which was always going to be cool.

  8. Oh wow, I’ve been interested in checking out TNG since that Lasertime, so this is basically exactly what I needed. My mother loved it so it’s something that was always on in the background during my childhood but I could never really comprehend what was going on, though weirdly, one of my earliest memories is putting a banana over my face and pretending to be Geordi.

    Also, poor Worf… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=edflm7Hh3hs

  9. As a kid I never got Star Trek, and it wasn’t until recently after many years of listening to you guys podcast (and friends begging me to watch) that I finally folded.

    Man, I regret not watching it sooner. Season 1 is rough, but Encounter at Farpoint blew me away with how… large its scope was, especially for a pilot. Then the episode Where No One Has Gone Before (with the Traveler adjusting the Enterprise’s warp engines so they fly across the galaxy to parts unknown) cemented how incredible this show is.

    I can’t put it as elegantly as Brett, but even now, to someone who only knew of it through pop culture references, it still shocks me. So few things have a positive outlook on the future, and considering this stuff is 20+ years old? That’s the real kicker.

    Star Trek 4 Dummies was a great, great episode and I would love to listen to a monthly, quarterly, whatever-would-work podcast where Brett and guests mused and talked about Star Trek.

    I’m just about to finish season 2 and I cannot wait to start season 3 after the incredible hype its received from everyone.

  10. About a year ago I made watching Star Trek a part of my “sleep schedule”, passively watching an episode before bed on weekends. I started with ToS, which was alright, but Next Gen has been great.

    I’m nearing the end of Next Gen, and I’m really glad I gave the series a fair shot. It’s entertaining enough, and I’m even more glad that I can appreciate the milieu of references and at-length conversations on the subject. I enjoy most of the popular episodes, including those mentioned here.

    Two of my favorite episodes took me by surprise as they were basically horror-themed; “The Game” and “Night Terrors”. The Game was basically Body Snatchers, but Night Terrors felt like the beginnings of a Dead Space scenario… I even grabbed a few screens: http://willwakeup.tumblr.com/post/35524148495/star-trek-tngs-night-terrors-somehow-gave-me

  11. I watched TNG almost religiously as a kid and i’m sitting here reading this piece just nodding my head in agreement to every entry.

    Then i get to the top of page three and see the pic of Picard at the end of The Inner Light and, i shit you not, teared up.

    I probably haven’t seen that episode in almost a decade, as it is rarely shown in reruns on Syfy today or on TNT, USA and a few others in years past, and for some reason that episode resonates with me the most…

  12. Just finally watched this show over the course of last year and it is one of my favorite shows ever, I will be going back to this throughout my life many times for certain. Just wonderful, thanks for always talking about it Brett as that definitely helped in getting me too check it out.

    Working on the fifth season of DS9 now and enjoying that quite a lot as well, can’t believe I had pretty much just watched the movies and some random episodes until so recently.

    Thanks again for always pushing ST Brett very good article I will probably keep in mind when trging to sell this to friends.

  13. Started watching this lately on Netflix and this list seems to be a pretty good guide so far (even though I’m watching it all anyway). Thanks Brett!

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