This article was originally published in The Daily Pulp on September 30, 2013.
Saturday, Sept. 28, marked the 26th anniversary of the premiere of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Although the first two seasons were a bit rocky, Season Three kicked the show into high gear, and the series consistently delivered thought-provoking entertainment for another five years.
TNG has been a major part of my TV-watching and film-going life. One of my earliest memories is of playing on the floor of my parents’ apartment while a TNG rerun was shown on TV. I’ve watched every episode at least once, and seen the films several times. (The films got massacred critically, save for First Contact, but they actually hold up quite well.) Finally, TNG introduced me to Patrick Stewart, who I have since seen in three Broadway plays and several TV movies based on classic literature. The man really is the greatest actor of his generation.
In honor of TNG’s 26th anniversary, here are 26 reasons why the show ranks up there with the all-time great television series. As far as I’m concerned, it’s in the top 10 shows ever aired:
1. By far, TNG exceeded the original Star Trek in terms of story quality, production values, and acting.
2. With that said, original Star Trek actors like DeForrest Kelly (Dr. McCoy), Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock), James Doohan (Scotty) and William Shatner (Captain Kirk) made terrific cameo appearances on the show, helping to link TV past and present.
3. As starship captain Jean-Luc Picard, Patrick Stewart gave us one of the most compelling portraits of a military leader ever put on television. Picard is an intellectual, a patron of the arts, compassionate and capable of great joie-de-vivre, but he is also tough as nails, principled to a fault and an absolute badass in combat.
4. Jonathan Frakes’ character, first officer Will Riker, is one of the most effortlessly cool characters in TV history. He shoots ray guns and plays saxophone, for God’s sake (not to mention romancing more alien women than Captain Kirk ever did).
5. The voice-interactive Ship’s Computer onboard the Starship Enterprise predicted Apple’s Siri technology 24 years in advance.
6. As on the original Star Trek, the medical tricorders – handheld multipurpose medical tools – provided the inspiration for real-life medical devices that are rapidly becoming a reality.
7. Brent Spiner’s Data and LaVar Burton’s Geordi La Forge made science and engineering look not only cool, but also essential to daily life.
8. As far as I know, TNG is the only sci-fi show where the main characters perform Shakespeare plays in their spare time.
9. As Klingon security chief Worf, who struggles to find his birth family and fit in among the majority-human Enterprise crew, Michael Dorn gave a rather poignant performance, even as he played one of the toughest TV characters of all times.
10. Whoopi Goldberg runs the bar on the Enterprise. Enough said.
11. TNG tackled serious issues like sexual assault, euthanasia, mental health and psychotherapy, old age, dementia, torture, political witch-hunts, artificial intelligence, revenge vs. forgiveness, perjury, longtime family conflicts, parents coping with the death of their children, the military-industrial complex, the search for religious truth, environmental pollution, and social tolerance.
12. TNG was ahead of its time in its portrayal of strong women in leadership positions, especially in a military environment.
13. As ship’s counselor Deanna Troi, Marina Sirtis did much to bring attention to the importance of mental health, as well as de-stigmatizing psychotherapy.
14. As ship’s doctor Beverly Crusher, Cheryl Gates McFadden gave a performance that masterfully balanced intelligence and grace with an intense, almost neurotic need to save her patients. (In reality, McFadden was one of the original Muppeteers and is a long-time college professor, so she’s basically one of the coolest people ever.)
15. The Borg are the creepiest TV villains of all time (save maybe the Weeping Angels from Dr. Who).
16. The lead characters sometimes disagreed in their ideas about ethics and morality, but they respected each other enough to live with the differences. In other words, this series gave a plausible portrait of a pluralistic modern society.
17. Before he caused a gigantic plane crash on Breaking Bad, John de Lancie was making people’s lives hell as the intergalactic prankster, Q, on TNG.
18. By living aboard a starship, traveling the universe, and ultimately turning out to be the next stage in human evolution, Wil Wheaton’s Wesley Crusher basically had the most enviable teenage life imaginable.
19. Without TNG, we’d never have Evil Wil Wheaton on The Big Bang Theory.
21. Episodes like “Family,” “The Inner Light,” “Chain of Command,” “Dark Page,” and “All Good Things” are some of the biggest tearjerkers ever aired on television. If you doubt me, I dare you to watch them and not start bawling at some point. Go on.
22. Despite some obvious shortcomings in their special effects, TNG’s plots and performances still hold up when seen today.
23. TNG has been criticized over the years for not being more daring in regard to gay rights. However, the episode “The Outcast” is an extremely effective allegory for gay rights and homophobia. I saw the episode when I was only ten or eleven years old, and I credit that episode with helping me begin to support gay rights.
24. The TNG films are really quite good. Seriously. I’m not lying here. Sure, the films are meant to be seen with prior knowledge of the TV show, but the films feature great production values and some interesting ideas. With that said, Nemesis was butchered by the studio – read the screenplay online to get a sense of the richness of plot and theme that was left on the cutting room floor. Give us an extended cut, Paramount.
25. Stephen Hawking once played himself in a virtual reality poker game, where he faced off with Einstein, Isaac Newton and Mr. Data.
26. Perhaps most obviously, TNG showed the importance of space travel and exploration in advancing human knowledge.
If you’ve never watched the show, you really should. Star Trek: The Next Generation is available in its entirety on Netflix.
The cover photo is archived from the original web layout. Source: