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Thirty years ago Thursday, the crew of the Enterprise D zoomed into TV sets across the country.
Star Trek: The Next Generation achieved the impossible by becoming a worthy successor to the crew led by Kirk (William Shatner) and Spock (Leonard Nimoy) two decades earlier, thanks in large part to inventive writing an a loveable ensemble cast headed by Patrick Stewart. In honor (and in shock) of the big birthday, Heat Vision‘s Graeme McMillan and Aaron Couch are reporting for duty to share what the show means to them.
McMillan: Star Trek: The Next Generation turning 30 is one of those anniversaries that I think I’d rather ignore. I remember watching the series when it was first coming out! (Although, in the U.K., I watched the first episodes on video because they weren’t on the BBC for years after they were shown in the U.S.; it was the CBS All Access of its time.) It was “my” Star Trek, and I loved everything about it — even the parts that I knew were actively not very good. (Wesley, “Justice,” I’m looking at you.) I was just so ready for new Trek that I was willing to accept anything. Aaron, you’re younger and have more taste than me — did you have a more discerning palette when you first encountered it?
Couch: The first episode I remember seeing was “Skin of Evil,” the one where Tasha Yar is killed by a black goo alien … and it gave me nightmares. The episode first aired in 1988, when I was three, and I think I caught it around that time.
McMillan: You were three in 1988? Now I really feel old.
Couch: I didn’t start watching TNG in earnest until a few years later when it hit its prime with “Best of Both Worlds” and those episodes. It was my dad’s job to program the VCR to tape the show, which aired at 9 p.m. or something in Kansas City, and then we’d watch them the next day. Even when my parents split up and my dad moved out, we’d often watch them “together” over the phone. I was obsessed with Picard, more so than Kirk and Spock, whom I discovered a little after TNG thanks to VHS copies of the original crew’s movies. I wasn’t old enough to recognize any of the flaws of TNG (the perhaps not-so-great Mark Twain episodes were among my favorites at the time), but I did know enough to recognize when things were particularly good. I knew “Family” was great, even as a kid. It was surprising to see a character actually have to deal with the aftermath of something, and I knew Picard having a breakdown in the mud with his brother was something special.
McMillan: I loved “Family,” and the way it made “Best of Both Worlds” feel even more special and meaningful! I just finished a rewatch of the entire series, and a couple of things really stood out for me. Firstly, how amazingly dated it is — the costuming and sets scream 1980s in a way that I’d seemingly blanked out — and secondly, how … okay it is. There’s a consistency of quality (through the sixth season, at least; that last year is ropey) that makes the show reliably entertaining, if lacking the peaks of something like Deep Space Nine or the original show. That’s not to say there weren’t great episodes, because there were, but it’s as if, even when they were making the show, they were looking at it as the TV equivalent of comfort food. That does makes it easy to binge, mind you.
Couch: I’ve never gone back and rewatched the entire series. I generally just watch the best of the best again and again, so I have a definite warm and fuzzy view of the show. It’s remained the touchstone show for me and some of my closest friends. in that there’s still a shorthand there for certain episodes. When I got married a few weeks ago, the photographer needed me to laugh, and it wasn’t totally working. Then he asked my groomsmen to help, and one of them shouted “Picard in a blue uniform!” which he knows just cracks me up — and it worked.
McMillan: I cannot tell you how much I love that story, not least because I have no idea why Picard in a blue uniform is funny. But it’s weird to me that, as big as TNG was at the time, it feels somewhat absent from Trek as it exists today. Both the new Star Trek movies and Star Trek: Discovery have returned to the era of the original series, and both go for very different tones, but neither are the “responsible adult-ism” of TNG. The closest thing to TNG right now is Fox’s The Orville, and that’s not even a Star Trek show. As what’s probably the most successful era of Trek to date, shouldn’t it be better represented in the franchise’s current state? Is this the consistent-but-rarely-spectacular thing coming back to cause trouble?
Couch: That’s a good point that TNG doesn’t seem to be that present in new Trek. In a lot of ways, the TNG crew were the adults — especially Picard. Kirk was always a little more immature, and that’s particularly apparent in the J.J. Abrams Trek movies, where each movie it seems he has to learn again how to be a responsible captain. I’d like to see a little more of the TNG maturity get injected back into Trek. Then there’s always the question people ask (with varying degrees of horror): Will Next Gen be rebooted? I doubt it, and I hope not.
McMillan: I literally can’t imagine how they’d do that. Who would even play each character? It seems even stranger than recasting the original series, somehow. Okay, now that we’re sort of on the topic, as a closer: Who’s your favorite character on the show? Throughout the years, I feel like I’ve cycled through almost everyone in the core cast. Well, except Riker, of course. I have standards.
Couch: As a kid, Picard, Data, Geordi, Worf and Riker all vied for the top spots. As an adult, Picard. Duh.
McMillan: I have never seen you order tea, but now I want you to do it by just demanding, “Tea, Earl Grey, hot.” (That last bit always amused me. Who’d want cold Earl Grey?)
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