The important word in “science fiction” is “fiction”

Because there are always naysayers, and because the naysayers are not always wrong, something called The Geek Nerdom has a few negative things to say about “Star Trek: The Next Generation”:

Star Trek: The Next Generation was my first genuine Star Trek series. It appeared when I was in my teens and I was totally taken in about everything. This ranged right from Picard’s serenity to Troi’s diving necklines. I devoured each new episode and couldn’t wait for more. However, I shouldn’t have re-watched the show recently. Here are ten things I detested about the show;

1. Offensively Inoffensive

Interpersonal clash was a relic of the past in Gene Roddenberry’s brain by the 24th Century. This makes for some dreadfully dull viewing especially when the greater part of the regular cast is one huge happy family. They get along well except when one, or many of them, gets possessed by some alien that was simply searching for understanding right from the beginning. TNG is a great therapist-friendly show. It refuses to blame in any direction. It would most likely make for an idealistic culture in which to live, yet not one to set a drama in.

This is the biggest flaw in TNG, though changed in “Deep Space Nine,” although in both cases the interpersonal conflict mostly occurred when the Enterprise types interacted with non-Federation species, or non-Enterprise people, such as Captain Jellico vs. Commander Riker in “Chain of Command” (read here for comments from actor Ronny Cox, who played Jellico) or Riker vs. Commander Shelby in “The Best of Both Worlds” (both two-parters, interestingly), or Riker vs. his father in “The Icarus Agenda.” As I’ve said on this subject before, if you think thousands or millions (depending on your worldview) of years of human nature will be nullified in the next 300 years, you’re mistaken. Whenever you have human interaction, you will have conflict, and conflict isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For that matter, accepting orders without question should be somewhat frightening to contemplate.

From here on, the reasons start to get less and less logical:

2. It Was Clearly A Product Of Its Time

The Next Generation is so much more awful than the first Trek. I don’t mean culturally. However, the visuals: Being shot on video and with special effects that extended from truly cool to truly horrible, the show now looks more like something cheaper and lower quality than the normal Syfy Saturday Night film. This is difficult to get that out your head while you’re viewing it.

Every TV series is a product of its time. The Original Series was a product of the 1960s (hence the female Enterprise crew’s “skorts”); TNG was a product of the 1980s.

3. It’s An Allegory

The original Trek had many allegories. Don’t misunderstand me, yet it felt as if that is all TNG might have been: Every single week, the show would handle a genuine subject with the state of mind of “But it’s happening to aliens.” Thereafter the crew of the Starship Enterprise would come, glare and reprimand aliens like their parents and everything would be over within 60 minutes.

Wrong reason, right rationale. It isn’t that there were too many allegories; it’s “glare and reprimand aliens like their parents.” The moral smugness in the series sometimes got quite overwhelming; it marred one of the best first-season episodes, “The Neutral Zone,” when Picard proclaimed “We have eliminated need.” (Irrespective of the bad economics, but you knew about that.) I used to hate episodes with Q (which included the first and last episodes, plus the introduction to the Borg), but at least Q smacked the Enterprise crew in their moral preens.

4. Very Inoffensive

For a show that was so unequivocally politically right, it was shockingly timid too. Do you recall when the first Trek made TV history by having the first on-screen interracial kiss? Definitely, not at all like that in TNG. Additionally, after the multi-cultural unique cast, the altogether caucasian TNG team appeared like a step taken in reverse. This is particularly considering one of the black on-screen characters played an alien and the other invested a large portion of his energy keeping the engines running.

Well … I’m not sure from this what the writer has in mind. It’s one thing to be “diverse”; should you count cast members’ ethnicities based on their characters (La Forge is black, but there are no Asians) or the actors (Michael Dorn as Worf)? Or: How about following the suggestion of Martin Luther King (a big fan of TOS) to judge others based not on the color of their skin (or what planet they’re from, presumably) but on the content of their character?

5. Riker And Troi: Science Fiction’s Most Passionless Unrequited Love

Better believe it, truth is stranger than fiction: For the majority of their assumed backstory of lovers torn apart because of duty, Riker and Troi figured out how to keep their feelings covered up. They did this by having no chemistry onscreen. I find the actors at fault. However, Jonathan Frakes had a demeanor of steady amusement about him amid everything past the second season. Therefore, the scripting must be blamed too.

I believe Riker and Troi were not supposed to be an item in TNG, in order to be able to (1) have Riker channel his inner Kirk the ladies’ man and (2) have Troi be able to be unattached. I admit to not liking the Worf and Troi romance (if that’s what it was), but they fixed that when Riker and Troi got married in the “Insurrection” movie.

6. Nearly Everything About Data

I realize that this is similar to saying that I abhor Santa Claus. However, Data never truly did anything for me except give deus ex machinas and irritate me. We’d seen the “What does it mean to be… human?” thing before with Spock (and, peculiarly enough, again with Ilya probe in The Motion Picture), and Brent Spiner’s depiction moved from innocent to strangely conceited amid the show’s run, making him even more irritating.

To quote the late John McLaughlin of “The McLaughlin Group”: “WRONG!” So Data was TNG’s Spock. I fail to see what is wrong with that. One would expect a science fiction series to cast at least one alien to observe us humans, wouldn’t you? Data was played sort of as a cross between Spock and, well, a puppy, eager to learn and eager to please. (Well, minus the part about using the floor as a bathroom. I think.) Odo played a similar role in “Deep Space Nine,” and Neelix and eventually Seven of Nine did the same thing in “Voyager.”

7. The Rest Of The Crew

OK, maybe Patrick Stewart can be spared from the storm of “Well, they weren’t the best actors on the planet” hate. However, there truly was a level of acting skills from the regular cast that appeared to support soap opera scale responses to anything unpretentious, enchanting or reasonable. I’m taking a look at you specifically, Michael Dorn. Klingon or not, there was a great deal of howling there.

Well, maybe the directors watched TOS, which was filmed in a day where TV acting was closer to stage acting than movie acting. I can’t say I buy this objection, though some characters were easier to watch (Riker, told by Roddenberry to act like Gary Cooper) than others (“Shut up, Wesley!”).

8. Those Uniforms

I’m sure you agree with this. Especially the main couple of seasons, where they were all wearing those all-in-one things.

The uniforms certainly improved when they became less form-fitting. Maybe by the 23rd and 24th century everyone will be in perfect physical condition, but 20th-century actors are not necessarily so. (See Shatner, William.) Others would argue that the uniforms shouldn’t have deviated from TOS’ palette of greenish-gold for command, red for engineering and the security redshirts (R.I.P.) and blue for science and medical. (For that matter not that many characters died in seven seasons of TNG vs. three seasons of TOS.)

10. It Ruined The Franchise Until JJ Abrams Saved It

The Next Generation changed what had been a series about adventure, exploring and quite goofy into something calmer, genuine and less fun. It took a ton of the imperfections of humankind out of the thoughts behind the show and supplanted it with… well, I don’t know.  Each successive series attempted another trick to fill the gap. You can watch an original Trek and although it’s not perfect, there’s a feeling of excitement and revelation and is convincing to watch. However, The Next Generation has this embarrassing quality to it. It’s as though simply doing sci-fi is excessively lowbrow for its own tastes, thus it’d rather accomplish something more brainy and “important.”

The concept that Abrams “saved” Star Trek with a bad ripoff of TOS is blatantly offensive and demonstrates that the author has as much brainpower as a Morg.  As with every Abrams thing not named “Lost,” Abrams’ approach is to assume that original fans will be satiated by references to the previous series, while doing a shoot-’em-up for today’s attention-span-deprived audiences. Abrams’ second Star Trek movie grotesquely miscast Benedict Cumberbatch, a fine actor who nonetheless looks like neither an Indian (Khan) nor a Hispanic (Ricardo Montalban). His third movie, which swiped the tired trope from the previous Star Trek movies of destroying the Enterprise, has done so poorly at the box office that it may well have killed Star Trek as a movie franchise.

 

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