Remember how excited and positive I was about the first incarnations of Star Trek (with some exceptions)? Remember how I also said these are my opinions, and I completely understand if your opinions differ, as long as we can discuss it logically?
Well, let's boldly go where no one has gone before, and talk about The Next Generation (TNG):
Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987 - 1994)
Gene Roddenberry finally got approved for a new Star Trek series for television! But was it the same...?
They decided to make this version eighty years after Captain Kirk, so we could see some advancements and they wouldn't have to be bound so tightly to the original series. This time, we follow a new crew on board the Enterprise, NCC-1701 D, as they boldly... well, you get the idea.
I think most fans agree, TNG had a very rough season one, but over time, the series vastly improved. Eventually there were many good episodes, but it still never quite felt like the original series to me. One particular problem I had was the dialogue and chemistry between characters. It seemed like everyone was unnatural and plastic, and conversations were laced with unnecessary amounts of technobabble. Sure the cast was talented, but it's as if they got the script an hour before shooting, and everything was filmed on the first take. Even with some good stories, the friendly banter often felt impersonal and almost forced.
Riker: "Here's where I say something witty and charming"
LaForge: "I'll chuckle appropriately, and possibly make a witty yet intellectual observation"
Troi: "Something about ice cream..."
Worf: *stares in Klingon*
*Audience laughs, because Worf just doesn't understand...!
Unfortunately, the writing team didn't have the benefit of creativity that the original series had when they used seasoned science fiction authors. And since it was an entirely different creative team simply writing for television, showrunner Rick Berman began crafting his own version of Star Trek. Which worked out okay in the end, but it took a while to figure out exactly what they wanted this Star Trek to be.
And honestly, I never liked the design of the Enterprise D either. It's obvious they wanted to make something simple for early computer effects, but it never quite looked right to me.
Even the music is just empty lush background orchestration. Other than the theme song, (which was from the 1979 movie), none of it ever stood out. From TOS, you know how the Vulcan mind meld music sounds. You know how the Doomsday planet killer music sounds. And you know how the standard fight music sounds. In TNG, I can't pick out any theme or motif in any situation they encountered.
But, if you never saw TOS, I completely understand why you might prefer TNG Because when this series was good, it was very good. And it helped that audiences were hungry for good science fiction.
So The Next Generation endured, for seven seasons, and several movies. And obviously, when you have so much time to fine tune things, you'll have some really great moments. And of course, some not so great moments too.
I'm not going to do a Top Five like I did with TOS. But if your curious, there are plenty of Top Ten lists for TNG posted all over the internets, and they tend to be fairly consistent. Otherwise, you're on your own here, kids. Just remember, season one has a lot of rough patches.
Oh, did I mention TNG had several movies? Beginning with...
Star Trek: Generations (1990)
This was the official 'passing of the torch (passing of the phaser?)' from one captain to another (Kirk to Picard). I should point out, it was an odd number Trek movie, so obviously, it was just okay (see part one of my review to understand where the reference came from). Although it had Malcolm McDowell in it, and he's cool...
Anyway, that brings us to...
Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
This was such a fun movie, and really a pretty good story too! Easily the best TNG theatrical release, and overall just a great sci-fi action film to watch.
Insurrection (1998) & Nemesis (2002)
These were both movies. I know I saw them. The word 'forgettable' comes to mind. One of them was the last of the TNG cast. I know they got my money. I might have shrugged.
Meanwhile, back on television...
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993 - 1999)
When Deep Space Nine began, TNG had been on television for a few years. At the time, I still did the occasional eye roll at what they did to my beloved Trek. But never did my eyes roll more than during the TNG story arc involving the Bajoran and Cardassian turf war. Their conflict was sooooo boring to me, and the Bajorans always sounded like a bunch of whiny bitches.
So imagine my enthusiasm when I learned there was a new series based on a space station in orbit around the Bajoran homeworld and the Cardassian occupancy! Ugh...
I saw the first few episodes, and not only did I still hate this endless soap opera, I also hated the characters. Dr. Bashir was like arrogant nails on a chalkboard to me! Not to mention, the cast felt like they really didn't have any chemistry. There were other cringy things that bothered me too. I still remember being offended when they were discussing a character being a 'fat Ferengi'. The actor just wore a badly padded fat suit. Why couldn't they have simply hired a heavier actor for the part?? It made no sense to me. The only person that seemed to be having fun in this series was Quark (Armin Shimerman). But it didn't help that I still felt generally the same about the Rick Berman Trek-verse in comparison to the original (meh).
While we're on the subject, let's examine another science fiction series about a space station where aliens met:
Babylon 5 (1994 - 1998)
Oh this was good... sooooooo good!
I want to clarify, this show has NOTHING to do with Star Trek.
Creator/showrunner J. Michael Straczynski pitched his idea for Babylon 5 to many networks. He had a concept about a space station where alien races could gather peacefully to work out their differences. One of the networks he pitched it to was CBS, but they rejected it. And before you can say suspiciously coincidental, CBS premiered Deep Space Nine... about a space station where all alien races could gather peacefully to work out their differences. Hmm...
Babylon 5 also had a rough season one, but the characters and concepts were fantastic! This series was designed to have a beginning, middle, and end, and Stracyznski fought very hard to keep this entire project alive. He was ultimately successful, and this is a show you need to watch if you can find it. Some of the best moments in science fiction ever are in this brilliant series.
Oh, sorry, I'm supposed to be talking about Star Trek...
The point I'm trying to make is, B5 had some great elements. DS9 had annoying and boring characters, with a boring story. The reality is, I can still be a fan of Star Trek, but I'm not a fan of bad writing. I'm simply a fan of good science fiction.
And I'll make a confession... I never finished Deep Space Nine. I know, I know, I can hear the collective nerd gasp from all of you, and I've heard it does improve. To clarify, what I've been told is it improved when they left the space station and got into the Defiant to explore space... sorta like a trek through the stars. A star trek. I swear I'll watch it one of these days. But really, I hated most of those characters so much...
Maybe the next version of Trek will be better...
Star Trek: Voyager (1995 - 2001)
The Federation starship Voyager gets shot out into deep space. I mean really deep space. Like suddenly it will take them a hundred years or so to get home. One might say they are... lost in space.
I was interested in the story, because it meant they could finally get away from those annoying ass Bajorans and Cardassians! But even moreso, I found most of the characters in Voyager were actually interesting. They finally created some unique characters, and the cast seemed to have great chemistry together. The interaction no longer sounded fake, and you believed the conversations were a bit more natural. Well, of course they still had an overabundance of technobabble, but this was already a big improvement to me.
One of my personal favorites was the Emergency Medical Hologram (EMH). Robert Picardo really had a great time with his role, and it showed throughout the entire series.
And while the writing and music still had that typical Berman Trek feel to it, the stories were good enough to keep me entertained and curious for more. And I want to make it very clear, I liked the show BEFORE they added Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan).
Yeah, yeah, I know what you're thinking, but truth be told, she was a very well developed character! Wait... let me try that again. Due to Voyager's low ratings, it seemed very obvious why they added her in season 4. And as much as I did enjoy it initially, it really felt like something in this series needed to be tweaked... wait, that came out wrong too.
In all seriousness, her character wound up being more than just eye candy. Seven's story arc was interesting and a unique addition to the Trek Universe. Unfortunately, when they realized her popularity in the show, she began to overshadow everyone else in the series. Which is a shame, because as I mentioned, they did have some decent characters.
Star Trek: Enterprise (2001 - 2005)
Never have I been more excited for a series, and yet so utterly disappointed. And no, I'm not talking about the silly mechanic jumpsuits they wore. Seriously, costume design, this is the best you could come up with?? Ugh...
Enterprise was to be the series before Captain Kirk, and even before Captain Pike, when Earth first started exploring space with warp drive. Starring Scott Bakula from Quantum Leap as Captain Archer, I thought, how could they possibly go wrong...
I had hoped for a return to the original look of the series, and an opportunity to explore the first contact with some of the classic alien races we love. There was so much potential, but sadly, the first couple seasons were generally bland or poorly written, with characters that I learned to loathe over time. One of the best reviews I remember reading at the time suggested changing out one of the characters with a potted plant to see if anyone would notice.
Communication officer Hoshi Sato (Linda Park) and Doctor Phlox (John Billingsley) were two of the best characters in the series. Unfortunately, they were overshadowed by a Vulcan in a tight bodysuit, with a lame bowl haircut (Jolene Blalock).
*See part one of my review where I said Vulcan women do NOT have bowl haircuts, Rick!
Other characters in the show were either boring, or extremely annoying, and... whyyyyy did they spend so much time in their underwear rubbing each other in decontamination???
This happened... often, (although not normally with the dog). Sure, I love a bit of titillation in my stories, cause I'm a dude. But after a while, it became uncomfortable even for me. Maybe because they didn't have any actual writing skills?
Okay, I'm being very harsh, and in reality, not all the episodes were terrible. In fact, they got a new and improved writing team in later seasons, which gave us one particular stand out, the two-part mirror universe episode, In a Mirror Darkly. I loved everything about this episode! Rumor has it, they planned on an entire season of mirror universe if the series continued. That could have been interesting...
But alas, it was too little too late, and the series was suddenly cancelled supposedly due to poor ratings. Although some have said that certain execs in CBS (Les Moonves and Alex Kurtzman) decided they didn't like Star Trek or science fiction, so they just killed it. It didn't help that there was also a split between Viacom and CBS which caused a bit of a custody battle over the rights. So sadly, this was literally the end of an era.
But before this version of Star Trek vanished, we at least got to explore a meaningful story about the Orion Slave trade.
I mean, it was a better story than the Bajoran/Cardassian conflict...
To be continued in part three...