The Star Trek Chronological Binge – Next Generation Seasons 1-3

Jean Luc Picard

Having completed the TOS movies, we actually move backward in production order to Star Trek: The Next Generation. Initially, movie producer Harve Bennett wanted to step back and recast the original characters. That pissed off Gene Roddenberry and did not impress Paramount. But TV stations wanted more than the same 78 episodes rerun over and over again, especially with four big-budget movies out, and a fifth in the works. They wanted new Star Trek.

So Roddenberry and old hands Robert Justman, DC Fontana, and David Gerrold put together a new Star Trek, one set 85 years after Kirk and his crew. The new show would be called Star Trek: The Next Generation. It would have a shiny new Enterprise and a very different crew.

In place of the swashbuckling Kirk, we have the dignified, commanding Jean-Luc Picard, played by Shakespearean stalwart Patrick Stewart. The buckles are swashed by cocky young Will RIker (Jonathan Frakes). If he looks suspiciously like Star Trek: The Motion Picture‘s Will Decker, that’s because Roddenberry decided to update unused ideas from Phase II, the aborted revival of TOS. Aboard as Counselor is his former girlfriend Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis). And yes, she is a reworking of Ilia, only with more hair and less pheromones.

The doctor is a woman named Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden), a single mom with a son, Wesley (Wil Wheaton). More on him in a moment. There’s a Klingon on the bridge, Worf (Michael Dorn). The security chief is a nod to Aliens‘ Vasquez, Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby), and the pilot, LaForge (Levar Burton), is blind.

Lt. Cmdr. Data

And then we come to Data. Along with Picard, Data (Brent Spiner) is the Spock character defines TNG more than anything else. He’s an android, but wildly curious about humanity.

So, how’d this new Trek go?


Season 1 – It’s a good thing Trek has a patient audience. Any other show would have been canceled after thirteen episodes with a season like this. On streaming, it would run its ten, then disappear a month after the last episode dropped. Stewart is annoyingly stiff. They don’t give Crosby, Burton, Dorn, or, especially, Sirtis enough to do. The first episode is better than The Motion Picture, but, as the director admits, has too much episode for not enough story. Then things get choppy. “The Naked Now,” a callback to TOS’s “The Naked TIme,” is silly, though the ramifications of a delirious Tasha seducing Data are still being felt as late as Picard Season 3. Then there’s that episode. Ask anyone the worst episode of Trek ever. “Spock’s Brain,” “The Way to Eden,” “Shades of Gray,” “Move Along Home,” and that salamander one from Voyager all get bandied about as the dumbest of Trek. But “Code of Honor” is a horrific stain on a show that preached an end to racism. It was so offensive the cast demanded it be pulled from syndication and the director was even fired halfway through shooting.

Tasha Yar

Most of Season 1’s problems stem from the show finding its way and Gene Roddenberry not quite realizing he should really not rewrite every script. Also, Wesley is established as the annoying kid and know-it-all. Wil Wheaton has commented how one episode had Wesley respond to being blown off after coming up with a solution with “You’re welcome, ladies.” That, he says, was the moment Wesley was doomed. (OTOH, he’s now Gary Seven’s boss. I swear he was going to introduce himself in that scene with, “Hey, nerd!”) Season 1 saw the departure of Justman, Fontana, and, mercifully, Roddenberry’s overbearing lawyer, who apparently never read the WGA rules on script writing. (Like, you’re not allowed to overrule the writers room unless you’re invited. He wasn’t. Not even by Gene himself.)

Season 2 – The Next Generation‘s second season was a season of cleaning house. Gone was Denise Crosby as Yar, who asked to be written out. So they killed Yar off. Unfortunately, also gone were Robert Justman and DC Fontana. And, in one of the stupidest casting moves ever, Gates McFadden as Crusher. It seems McFadden ran afoul of showrunner Maurice Hurley, whom more than one writer and cast member has described as “a cigar-chomping sexist.” Not helping? A writer’s strike, which shortened the season to 22 episodes.

Set beard for stunning!

To balance out the loss of Dr. Crusher, they brought in Diana Muldaur as Dr. Pulaski, a reimagining of McCoy who doesn’t get Data. But Brent Spiner is not Leonard Nimoy. And Muldaur is not DeForest Kelley. Muldaur admits she didn’t really want to do the show, only coming aboard as a favor to Gene Roddenberry. She didn’t really gel with the cast.

Despite the continued exits–Writer Tracy Torme and the great David Gerrold–the show did start finding its footing. Stewart is much more relaxed even if Picard is still stiff. Worf does more than growl now that he has something to do. Data has a couple of episodes where Spiner gets to play on his unique comedic talents. And Riker has a beard! Season 2, unfortunately, established Wesley as a know-it-all. And had we started with Wesley’s hair cut and a decent pseudo-uniform like this season, Wil Wheaton would have much happier memories of how his character was handled. But the exit of Crosby let Worf take over a logical position. It had a cascade effect. Wesley becomes the pilot with time in engineering. Laforge becomes chief engineer, which he kind of was in season 1. Troi gets to be more of a psychiatrist and even stars in a resurrected Phase II story, “The Child.”

There are two grand editions to this season: Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan. And Riker’s beard! It’s probably coincidence Frakes’s performance loosened up when the beard arrived, but in a memorable episode where Riker says the quiet parts out loud for Picard, Q whines, “You weren’t like that before the beard!”

And then there’s Guinan. Let’s face it. Picard had a bit of a problem, and it was more the writers’ fault than Stewart’s Our Jean Luc was a bit of a marble statue. Guinan, a very old friend, appears and gives the captain a more human side. We see how he became this presence without having to reveal too much. Guinan became the conscience of the Enterprise, and it was a turning point.

In hearing the cast’s complaints, everyone besides Picard, Riker, and Data had stories focusing on them. We meet Lore, Data meets his “grandpa,” an egotistical bastard who thinks Data is just a machine and makes the Soongs look well-adjusted.. Wesley tries to go to the Academy. Troi gets pregnant, gives birth in a matter of hours, and Worf reveals he has a girlfriend. Season 2 is uneven, mainly because the writers room had a revolving door and Roddenberry’s declining health. Moreover, the cast missed Gates McFadden as much as Diana Muldaur missed not doing Star Trek 12 hours a day.

Locutus of Borg
Resistance is futile

Season 3 – Season 3 aspired to be, and somewhat succeeded, in being everything Season 1 of Strange New Worlds had been. Best of all, Maurice Hurley was shown the door. Michael Piller and Ron Moore had come aboard. And Gates is back as Crusher! Basically, Stewart told producers if they wanted a Captain Picard, Hurley could take a hike and Gates had to come back. And Diana Muldaur did not exactly weep when Stewart asked them to show her the door as well. It’s too bad we don’t know much more about that. She gets one mention, a scowl from Crusher when Picard points out an option Pulaski tried the previous season.

But Star Trek is finally back on TV. It feels like a Star Trek show, yet it’s its own thing here. Here, the seeds for every Trek that follows, be it continuations like Deep Space Nine, VoyagerLower DecksProdigy, or Picard (especially Picard), or prequels and branched timelines — the Kelvin movies, EnterpriseDiscoveryStrange New Worlds, are planted and already blossoming. And finally, with Roddenberry’s blessing, TOS is directly connected back to the show beyond a passing mention by Riker in a fanboy moment.

“Yesterday’s Enterprise” is the season’s standout show. We’re all comfortable with this cast. So when the Enterprise-C comes out of a temporal rift, the timeline shifts, and suddenly Worf disappears. Of course, he would. The previous starship Enterprise was lost defending the same colony where Worf lived as a toddler. In his place is the still-living Tasha Yar, chief tactical officer for the Battleship Enterprise. Everyone knows there was a peace treaty at Khitomer seventy or so years earlier. But the Klingons are pasting the Federation for failing to fend off the Romulans. And Picard realizes he has to ask Captain Rachel Garrett (Tricia O’Neil) to go back through the rift to certain destruction. It’s a hard sell, but ultimately, the right one. Meanwhile, Guinan, sensitive to the shifts and eddies of time, reluctantly reveals to Tasha she actually died in the “correct” timeline, and senselessly. When Garrett is killed before she can take back her Enterprise, Tasha transfers over to replace now-Captain Castillo (Christopher McDonald in surprisingly anger-free role. Thanks a lot, Adam Sandler.) at tactical. The timeline is restored, and we see Picard asking what the hell that big green swirly thing is outside. Worf, alive and on the bridge, shrugs it off and says it’s a temporal rift. Data leaves a probe, and we’re off to the next planet of the week, the crew blissfully unaware anything weird happened. (And probably disappointed.)

Worf is not neglected this season. We get a deep dive into his past and Klingon political intrigue in “Sins of the Father.” We’re introduced to the Duras family, who make the Trumps look like bad sitcom characters in terms of intrigue and clinging to power. Duras has Worf’s father Mogh framed for the destruction of Nerendra III, where Worf was rescued by a Starfleet officer. (And unknowingly saved by future Tasha Yar.) The family is far too powerful to allow Duras’s father, the real traitor, to be exposed. Chancellor K’mpec agrees to this deceit, not knowing Worf has a brother in the Klingon Defense Force and assuming Worf would simply carry on in Starfleet. K’mpec assumed wrong as Duras enters the f*** around phase of his antics against Picard. (In season 4, he finds out.) Worf, instead, allows himself to be shunned in Klingon society while his brother maintains his identity as part of another family. There will be consequences all the way into Deep Space Nine‘s final season.

Data meets his father and is denied real emotion (Let’s not kid ourselves. Data had them before the chip or moving into the younger Dr. Soong’s golem) by Lore. “Brothers” is a tour-de-force for Brent Spiner, who is the childlike Data, the smartass (and evil) Lore, and a whimsical old man named Noonien Soong, who sounds suspiciously like Jimmy Stewart. Noonien is not an asshole like the later Soongs of Enterprise or Picard. The one on Picard gave us Khan. (Thanks, loser. Not looking forward to that or the nuclear war that follows! Jackass!) But he lacks the more practical thinking of his son, Altan Soong. (Since we had to wait thirty-three years to learn of him, Noonien has to have been a horrible father for human babies. Focused way too much on Lore and Data.) In fact, Data gets the most on screen development of any character that season. “Ensigns of Command,” “Brothers,” “TIn Man,” “Legacy,” and “The Most Toys” are all Data-centric or Data-heavy episodes. Indeed, “Legacy” showed Data getting emotionally hurt despite “not having feelings,” while “The Most Toys” has our emotionally challenged android trying very hard to rationalize what is clearly a rage-driven attempt to kill Kivas Fajo (Saul Rubinek) as the only logical course of action. Then lying about it to Riker and O’Brien.

Oh, and there’s lots of O’Brien this season.

But the defining episode of the season is the finale, the first in Trek history. “Best of Both Worlds, Part I” pits Picard against his most ruthless enemy, the Borg. The Borg make Skynet look like an old Atari gaming console with a blown transistor and frayed connection to your grandma’s black-and-white Zenith. The Borg have decided it’s time to add humanity’s (and everyone else’s, except Data’s) biological and technological distinctiveness to their own. And they want Picard to be the mouthpiece. The episode ends with Picard captured and transformed–violated–and threatening the Enterprise. Acting Captain Riker is forced to kill his mentor and his best friend.

The episode and the season end with the most chilling one-word line of dialog in the entire franchise.


Enterprise NCC-1701-D