Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Blog #10: My Take On Star Trek, Part II

Blog #10: My Take On Star Trek, Part II
Hey there loyal reader this is Chris bringing you the second part of 'My Take On Star Trek Essay'. There is so much ground to cover I have decided to break down the essay into parts, this one focusing on Star Trek: The Next Generation. The first time I saw Star Trek, it was the original series and I was just a little kid, maybe 2 or 3. I remember my Dad watching the original series Saturday afternoons on CBC. I was immediately hooked and since then have been a life long fan of the franchise. I would consider myself a 'Trekker' and I am very knowledgeable about most things Trek. However I am also a very critical fan of the franchise as well. I'm often asked by people which series are best, what movies are good, etc. So I have decided here and now to break down the franchise and offer my opinions of each series and movie of the fabled Trek universe.

Chris & Jonathan Frakes (Commander Riker)

Star Trek: The Next Generation:
I didn't watch TNG until it was in it's third season. At first I was a little critical of this new series. Captain Kirk was my Captain, his crew was the only crew I wanted to see. Being a 7 year old kid I just didn't understand why they couldn't do a new TV series with the original cast. Also at that time my family lived in an area where TNG was not available on the air waves. But when we moved to our acreage in 1989 I was able to start watching TNG, now in it's third season, for the first time. I soon forgot my misgivings of them not using the original cast and quickly embraced this new cast of intergalactic travellers.
It was easy for me to get hooked into this series having watched it for the first time in it's third season, because in retrospect it was probably the series best season. Some of the finest episodes ever made in Star Trek can be found in the 3rd season of TNG. I'll break down each individual season and give you my take on each:
Season 1: Is probably the worst season this series did. it had many bad episodes and had this show not been on syndication it probably would have been cancelled. It definitely would have been cancelled by today's TV standards. Gene Roddenberry was tapped to re-create the magic that is Star Trek. Problem is although Roddenberry created the original series he was not the one who made it what it was. In fact in this writers opinion Roddenberry penned some of the worst Trek stories ever done. The pilot episode 'Encounter At Farpoint' , written by Roddenberry is the worst Trek pilot ever made. The only shining light in that pilot episode was John De'Lancie as the god-like 'Q', which was really a rip-off of the original series character 'Trelane' from the TOS episode 'The Squire Of Gothos'. Also Roddenberry ripped-off his own character ideas from 'Star Trek: The Motion Picture', as the characters of Riker and Troi were almost exactly like Decker and Ilia from the film. The entire first season was filled with bad scripts, bad special effects, bad sets. The only thing that saved this show, beside it being in syndication, was the actors and make-up artists. Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Levar Burton, Brent Spiner and the rest of the cast by the end of the season had stepped into their roles and were starting to work well together. However the death of Denise Crosby's character 'Tasha Yar' in no way affected the series in my opinion. She added nothing to the show and her death made way for Worf to step up and Michael Dorn too. Before that Dorn/Worf was just a background character.
Season 2: This season was a little better than the first. actually it was a lot better in many ways. Levar Burton's character was promoted from being ship navigator to being Chief Engineer, a very important position in the original series made famous by Scotty. Why Roddenberry didn't have a member of the main cast be the chief engineer in the first season is very odd to me. But things got set right when Geordi was made the Chief Engineer. Doctor Crusher, played by Gates McFadden was replaced in season 2 by Dr Pulaski played by Dianne Mulder. She was an older woman set in her ways much like Dr. McCoy from the original series. Again it appeared as though Roddenberry didn't have an original idea to use in TNG. Despite her crankiness and her constant putting down of 'Data', I actually liked the Dr Pulaski character and I know I probably am the only one who does like that character. Season 2 also saw Whoopi Goldberg join the cast as a regular guest star as the '10 Forward' bartender 'Guinan'. This was an original idea I liked. Goldberg is a very funny lady and I loved seeing her in every episode she did on the series. Season 2 had some high points like seeing the 'Romulans' appear and the introduction of the Borg. Season 2 had the weakest finales ever in television as it was essentially a 'flashback' episode from Rikers perspective. Season 2 was better, the characters started falling into place as far as the roles they would be playing. But they were still in the shadow of the original series at this point, but they would come into their own in season 3...
Season 3:  This is perhaps in my opinion the best season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. This was the season when they came out of the shadow of the Original series and became their own Trek. i think this was in huge part due to behind the scenes creative changes. Roddenberry  stepped back due to health issues and Rick Berman took over. He brought on board the creative talents of Micheal Piller and Ron Moore, who would later go on the produce the 'new' Battlestar Galactica. Season 3 saw the beginning of the 'cold war' between the Federation and the Romulan Empire. The Romulans were present in 3 of the seasons best episodes, 'The Enemy', 'The Defector' and 'Tin Man'. They introduced new costumes and fixed up the set in certain areas to make the show look a little better. Season 3 saw the return of  Dr Beverly Crusher and the apparent departure of Dr Pulaski. apparently the producers and actress Diane Mulder were not happy with the character and what she added to the second season so Dr Crusher was brought back. Season 3 also saw the return of Lt Tasha Yar in the brilliant episode 'Yesterdays Enterprise' which saw an alternate time line form after the Enterprise-C travels 22 years into the present future. 'Yesterdays Enterprise' is without a doubt one of the best Trek franchise episodes of all time. Patrick Stewart and Whoopi Goldberg in particular were amazing in that episode. TNG made a direct connection with the original series when Spock's father, Ambassador Sarek, made a great guest appearance in the episode 'Sarek'. Data created a 'daughter' android in a very moving episode 'The Offspring'. Finally Wesley Crusher was made a full Ensign. Despite most fans misgivings with the character of Wesley Crusher, I really liked him. I was just a 10 year old kid watching the 3rd season and I really could identify with the character of Wesley Crusher. This season we also got to see for the first time the Klingon home world and the inner workings of the Klingon High Council, and we discover that Worf has a brother in Commander Kern (played by Tony Todd). Now finally we get to the high point of this season, perhaps the best episode of Star Trek ever produced: Best Of Both Worlds Part I. The seemingly invincible Borg have sent a cube/ship to Federation space to 'assimilate' the Federations people and technology, to make them part of their 'Collective'. The season ends with an epic confrontation between the Enterprise and the Borg with Picard being captured and 'assimilated' becoming the voice for the Borg, also known as 'Locutus'. The season ends with Commander Riker ordering the Enterprise to fire on the Borg ship which will seemingly both destroy the Borg and the Enterprise too... BEST CLIFFHANGER EVER!!!  Picard is now a villain, Riker has to destroy his friend and Captain... very cool shit. this marked the first Trek cliffhanger as part 2 would not air until later that year in the fall as the first episode of the 4th season. It made for a very long summer...
Season 4:  After a long summers wait we finally got to see the fall out in part 2 of 'Best Of Both Worlds'. Or should I say lack of fallout. don't get me wrong I liked part 2 but everything wrapped up too soon and there was little change following the end of the season premiere. Riker was promoted to Captain of the Enterprise for 40 minutes but had to step down when they rescued Picard.  The events of Wolf 359 would have lasting effects in the Trek universe but the whole Borg invasion was wrapped up too soon and too easily. TNG never really attempted to create long lasting significant story arcs, like they did on DS9, and the Borg invasion should have stretched out for several episodes instead of wrapping up in just one episode. But that being said season 4 was still a great season. Not much changed this season except for the fact that Wil Wheaton left the series, Wesley Crusher finally got to go to Starfleet Academy.  they did some good episodes this season too, and the Romulan cold war continued to build leading into the season finale where Worf resigned his Starfleet Commission to fight in the Klingon Civil War, which was being engineered by the Duras family with help from the romulans. But the shocking conclusion to the season was the reveal that the Romulan causing all the trouble was the daughter of Tasha Yar, Commander Sela, who was the product of the alternate time line Tasha from the 3rd season episode 'Yesterdays Enterprise'. Sela too was portrayed by Denise Crosby. I had heard the reason she left the show initially in the 1st season was to pursue a film career, which it seems didn't work out so well for her. Maybe that's why she kept returning to the show despite her character being dead.  The focus on season 4 was 'Family' and we got to meet several members of the enterprise crew's family, including Worf's son Alexander. It is amazing how Klingons, who are partly human, can age so fast! Alexander would have been born during the 3rd season yet at the beginning of the 4th season he appears to be a 4-5 year old child. Maybe they age in dog years? TNG also surpassed the original series this season by reaching episode 80, TOS only made 79 episodes. Both Jonathan Frakes and Patrick Stewart got to direct episodes this season, with Frakes directing one of the best TNG episodes 'The Drumhead'.
Season 5:  Again TNG wrapped up the Klingon Civil War story quickly in the season premiere. It would have been cool to see this be an extended multi-episode storyline too. This was a great season again with several memorable episodes including the 2 part episode 'Unification', which featured the return and death of Sarek and the guest appearance of Leonard Nimoy as 'Ambassador Spock'. The Unification 2-parter seemed to mark the end to the Romulan Cold war story thread. Michelle Forbes joined the series as 'Ensign Ro' for several episodes. The season ends with another cliffhanger featuring TNG's first time travel story. Behind the scenes TNG creator Gene Roddenberry passed away. Despite my criticism of Roddenberry he did create this franchise and without him there may have never been anything like this on Television. The loss of Roddenberry was a very sad time indeed and he will never be forgotten.
Season 6:  This was another solid season. Star Trek: Deep Space 9 launched mid-season and TNG viewers saw guest star Colm Meaney (Transporter Chief O'Brien) and his family transfer to DS9. Season 6 also marked the end of Whoopi Goldberg's tenure on the TNG series. She only appeared on 3 episodes and never returned. Her character made no official exit and I to this day I am not sure why she never returned to TNG in season 7. TNG needed a shake-up and they got it in the great 2 part episode 'Chain Of Command' with Picard being transferred and Ronny cox coming on board as 'Captain Edward Jellico'. Jellico was a very strict commanding officer who was hard to please and this created great drama for the actors, especially Rikers epic confrontation with Jellico. Also in that 2 parter Picard was captured by Cardassians and actor Patrick Stewart got to play one of his best performances as Picard. Also James Doohan from the original series returned as 'Scotty' in the great episode 'Relics'. Despite having such a great season it ended with TNG's worst cliffhanger episode, 'Descent' which featured the lame return of the Borg and Data's evil brother 'Lore'. It would prove to be a preview of things to come in season 7...
Season 7: Aside from season 1 and 2, season 7 proved to be one of the worst in TNG. There were not many good episodes this season and sadly it would be their last as TNG was being groomed for the silver screen and 'Star Trek: Voyager' was being prepped for launch on the upcoming 'UPN' network. TNG just suffered extremely creatively this season. I'm not sure if the fact that DS9 was running and Voyager was being prepped that TNG didn't receive the creative attention it needed. There were more bad episodes than good ones, and many plotlines that had been building for several seasons were not resolved by the end of the show. The series finale 'All Good Things' proved to be a terrible send off for the TNG series as the events in that episode didn't really happen. TNG should have gone out in a blaze of glory, but it didn't.
The Next Generation SHOULD have stayed on the air for at least an 8th season:
Paramount signed a deal with its stars for an 8th season. Patrick Stewart (Picard) and Brent Spiner (Data) reluctantly agreed to an 8th season but no more. Paramount was apparently even considering bringing in other actors to replace Picard and Data for a 9th season. Ronny Cox who had played "Captain Edward Jellico" who took command of the Enterprise for 2 episodes would replace Picard and Elizabeth Dennehy as "Commander Shelby" would replace Data. It would have been interesting and an 8th season should have happened because the 7th season sucked, ending the show on a sour note because of it. Unfortunately it was business that destroyed the proposed 8th season. Paramount was set to launch their UPN television network and they wanted Star Trek to be its primary show, this new network was set to launch in January 1995. Problem was Paramount was already producing Star Trek: TNG and Deep Space Nine for syndication and couldn't put one of them on their network because of all the syndication deals they had in place. So the decision was made to end TNG at the end of season 7 and create a new Star Trek series for the UPN network. TNG ended in May 1994 with a lousy final season and final episode and the worst Star Trek series ever created was launched in January 1995: Star Trek Voyager. I'm sure if the Paramount executives could have foreseen the end of UPN in 2006 and the poor ratings and reviews for "Voyager" they would have stayed with TNG for at least one more season.
Despite all the growing pains TNG had, it still is tied with DS9 as being my favourite Trek series. Besides certain creative people holding the show back, I think what held TNG back was that it was limited by the era in which it was created. TNG was the first series in modern television that tried to do the things it did, but it was held back by the limitations of the time. Special effects were very costly and time consuming to produce which is why there were very few big battle scenes and the TNG crew often talked their way out of battles or just missed them (Wolf 359). Cheaper computer generated special effects really did not become the standard until the 4th season of DS9, 1995 or so. But I feel these limitations just made the writers work hard and thus TNG has several of the best Trek franchise episodes. TNG is a great series and is worth watching, but beware of seasons 1, 2 and 7 which are the worst of the series.
Chris & Son Bailey with Levar Burton (Geordi LaForge)
Well that concludes my discussion on the Star Trek: The Next Generation TV series. As I said earlier this is just the second part of my take on Trek with more to come in future blog posts. They break down as follows:
Part I: Star Trek The Original Series
Part II: Star Trek The Next Generation
Part III: The Star Trek Movies
Part IV: Star Trek Deep Space Nine
Part V: Star Trek Voyager & Enterprise
Part VI: The Future Of Star Trek
And that is a wrap for me. Take care and see you in the future!
Thanks again for reading.

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