Star Trek: The Next Generation – What to Watch

UK Netflix recently added every episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (and the other series, maybe I’ll do those later) and it turns out a fair few people I know on twitter have never watched it properly. Since attempting to watch all of TNG from the start is a terrible mistake, I’ve put together a watch/skip guide for anyone attempting the feat today. You can skip straight to the list by clicking here, or you can enjoy my musings on the series first.

Why On Earth Do People Watch This Goofy Show?

There are now people in their twenties who were born after The Next Generation ended, and they’re probably wondering why people like me have such a long love of a show that in inherently pretty fucking ridiculous. This is a fair point of view! It’s basically what I think of people who still have such nostalgia for the original series that they largely wrecked Star Trek in the 00s by trying to take it back to the 60s. For me there are two big reasons to watch Star Trek. The obvious one you’ve probably heard before, and one perhaps you haven’t.

Optimism and Exploration

This is the obvious one. Star Trek is a show about people going into space not because they’re lost or fleeing evil robots but because space is rad. It’s got that NASA spirit of exploration for the sake of exploration. It asks you what you would do in a society where all your basic needs are provided for and posits that the answer is ‘have awesome space adventures’. It isn’t always easy to write a show about that, but it is unquestionably different. Especially in today’s post Battlestar Galactica remake world.

A Show About Ideas

This is the other, less talked about reason that people like Star Trek. Like The Twilight Zone it was a show that was as much about interesting sci-fi ideas as it was about entertaining plots and interesting characters. It’s a show that can do entire episodes based around Isaac Asimov style questions of whether machines are people or property (Measure of a Man). Or the ethics of anti-colonialism via the Prime Directive, Starfleet’s law against interfering with pre-FTL civilisations (Who Watches the Watchers). It can also engage in thinly veiled political allegory, which in the case of TNG mostly involves The Cold War (The Drumhead). It’s the grand tradition of sci-fi short stories and pulp comics, adapted for television. Much as I love shows like Farscape and Firefly, I can’t imagine them really doing something like that.

So Should I Binge It All Then?

God no. The important thing to remember about The Next Generation is that the first two seasons are Not Very Good. It’s still trying to be like an even more new agey version of the original series, and some of Gene’s ideas of how advanced people in the future should be just make them come off as smug and unlikable. Watching lots of season 1 & 2 episodes is the best way to make yourself hate Star Trek. That’s the entire reason this list exists.

Once you get to season 3 and beyond though you should feel safe to dip into any episode you like the sound of, more often than not they’ll be good. TNG is largely episodic, so you don’t have to worry about losing track of the plot much. That said there are some small character arcs, and recurring antagonists, which I’ve noted where applicable.

Could You Tell Me a Little About The Characters?

Sure!

Captain Picard is the Captain, he’s in charge. He’s a lot less actiony and cool than Captain Kirk, but possesses an enormous amount of integrity and gravitas. He is famous for his ability to end a conflict merely by deploying a barnstorming speech about morality, and if you think that sounds hokey you’ve never seen Patrick Stewart give a full power Picard Speech (watch The Drumhead). Trust me, you would follow this man into hell.

Riker is the first officer. He’s basically Kirk-lite, a younger, more charismatic presence to offset Picard’s stodginess. It would probably be fair to say that part never worked very well. The best Riker episodes involve his insecurities about whether he is ready to step out of Picard’s shadow (The Best of Both Worlds).

Data is the show’s breakout character. He is a one of a kind emotionless android who longs to be more human-like. This can lead to some cringe worthy comedy, but also some good episodes about examining the human condition from the point of view of an outsider, something Star Trek has always excelled at. He also has small arc featuring his brother Lore, who does have emotions, but is a narcissistic sociopath. I hope whoever called Data’s evil twin Lore got a raise.

Worf is another breakout character and one of the big differences between The Next Generation and The Original Series. Back in the 60s Klingons were one note villains, here one of them is on the crew. Worf is an orphan who was adopted and raised by humans, eventually entering Starfleet. He has a long, long running plot (seriously it keeps going even when he moves to DS9) about his family’s history and the long running feud between Gowron and the Duras family for control of the Klingon Empire. To be honest though in TNG he mostly just advises the captain to shoot everything immediately and gets ignored over and over.

Dr Crusher is the Doctor. She’s briefly replaced in season 2 but then reinstated so that’s not important. She’s sadly a rather underdeveloped character, with the main hook being that she and Picard both have feelings for each other that will never be resolved because her husband died following Picard’s orders.

Wesley Crusher is everyone’s most hated character. He’s Dr Crusher’s son and a precocious whiz kid who seems to be good at basically everything. He was created to be a Robin-like character, letting kids imagine themselves on the crew, but ended up more like an obnoxious Richie Rich. Please do not blame Wil Wheaton for this.

Counselor Troi is the new ageyness of TNG writ large, believing that a counselor should be working on the bridge advising the Captain. She can sense people’s emotions, but this rarely leads to more than “this shifty looking guy is hiding something Captain”. She is also very bad at her actual job of giving the crew therapy. There are exactly two episodes in which she is competent (Disaster and Face of the Enemy). She is sometimes used in a love triangle with Riker and Worf that no-one cares about.

Geordi La Forge tragically underdeveloped chief engineer. LeVar Burton is very charismatic, but given little to work with. Basically all of Geordi’s stories revolve around him being friends with Data or being a lonely nerd with terrible luck with women. Other than that his visor (artificial eyes to compensate for being born blind) is a plot device. Unlike Troi and Wesley he deserved better.

Go to the next page for the actual list!