Part XI: Star Trek Makes It So
As I stated well back in Part II, almost every episode of The Original Series (TOS) involves Kirk and Spock going down to some planet where the crew is faced with a situation to overcome. It seems that was their intention with The Next Generation (TNG) as well, as was evident in Season 1 especially. I’m fairly certain that what they intended TNG to be was just not what they ended up with. Like any good show though; they adapted. They noticed their strengths and worked with them. As it turned out what they ended up having was far superior to what their intentions were to begin with. More so, what they ended up with is something far superior than what TOS ever hoped to be. There… I said it.
Their original intentions, as suggested by the order in which the cast is given credit at the beginning of each episode, was to have lots of away missions on lots of planets and have Riker lead those charges while Picard holds down the fort on the Enterprise. Season 1, and to a lesser extent season 2 demonstrates this model. By season 3 though they figured something out. Maybe someone had learned that in time you will run out of good ideas for different planets. Maybe they figured it out own their own, or maybe someone had simply watched TOS, I don’t know. What I do know is that in seasons 3-5 of TNG, it feels like maybe 10 percent of the time they go down to some planet. So while Jonathan Frakes gets to enjoy that coveted second credit, William Riker gets tossed right to the side.
Sure, that’s sad for Johnny Frakes. Based on the progression of his figure though, I’d say it gave him more time to perfect beard maintenance and to hang out by crafty (or snack table for you real jobbers). So maybe it’s not so bad. But if you look at my previous post and read my description of Riker, I say he’s “more or less a brand new Kirk.” That’s the truth, he’s a smooth talking, ready for action, charming ladies man with a thirst for greatness. AKA Kirk. TNG is not the original Star Trek. It’s far more realized, the stories more engaging, the characters more fleshed out, the bar is certainly higher. With the confidence and footing the show found for itself it’s only human to look at the previous iteration with sense of smug superiority. Riker just kind of fell into that whole of the old show.
Though everyone, Riker included certainly gets a fair enough dose in TNG, and that’s what makes the show so great. Worf’s character arc throughout seasons 3-5 is incredible. Picard is heavily effected by the events of season 3 finale, and its great to see events that occur have repercussions. Data… well Data is just great (Honestly, Brent Spiner is such an incredibly talented human being and deserves that second credit Frakes has). The series does a mind bending twist that I’m still in awe of regarding one character. (Hint: It starts with the incredible “Yesterday’s Enterprise“.) Dr. Crusher gets a couple of very cerebral episodes all to herself which I highly recommend. Finally, after threatening to send Wesley Crusher to Starfleet academy over and over, guess what, that actually do it! This is the 90s where mid series addition of kids was the thing to do. TNG goes ahead and gets rid of the damn kid!
Season 5 feels a little different from 3 and 4. 3 and 4 feel like a collection in and of itself, but there’s a budget increase in season 5 you can see from the opening scene of the season. Then to avoid staleness I suppose, they go ahead and bring Ensign Ro (Michelle Forbes) into the mix. Honestly, wasn’t into it, not a fan of new characters. Though she proves her value in being a thorn in Riker’s side which gives him… you know… something. I’d say by season 5 their balance of using the characters is perfect. You notice I talk a lot about characters now right? It’s because that’s what this show is, a character driven show. It’s ultimately what makes it stand out well above TOS. It’s also why they can keep most of the series on the enterprise and still keep it as good as it is. Honestly, putting it out there, 30 seasons and 11 movies is a lot to take (especially when you watch it at the pace I’ve been going at). So if this blog has in any way inspired you to check out some Trek, I would say start at Season 3 of TNG and watch these seasons. You’ll thank me.