A friend said on Facebook the other day that I’m perhaps too locked into talking about depressing miserable things like Brexit, and perhaps do something a wee bit more uplifting and here it is! A quick appreciation of in my eyes, the programme that refined Science Fiction on American television, Star Trek: The Next Generation (STNG).
From 1987 to 1994 STNG managed to turn American SF from something locked into episodic aliens/monsters of the week plots into something different by adopting a few things. The main thing it did was to turn programmes like this into soap operas, though from the first season it’s hard to see how it could become a success at anything as the first season is complete and utter crap with only a handful of episodes having any substance or quality at all.
I’ve been in and out of hospital of late so I’ve had the time to go back over all seven seasons as they’ve been recently added on Netflix, so all of STNG is fresh to me. Watching the first season is an easy task as so many episodes were terrible but a few stand out, and although the second season is better (the introduction of the Borg, a genuine threat to add real drama), it’s still mainly quite poor. It isn’t until the third season that STNG starts to really click and it’s here the soap opera of later seasons really starts to form, which isn’t a bad thing. Soap operas can be used to tell stories relating to people’s lives (Eastenders and Brookside are two examples of such programmes that did that very well back in the day) and science fiction can deal with current affairs in ways more palatable to an audience than say, a Ken Loach film. Combining both seems a simple idea yet for STNG it was groundbreaking and managed to form the basis of its third to seventh seasons where some of the best SF drama on American television was broadcast.
Of course it helps the cast were good solid actors, but with Patrick Stewart they had a then fairly hidden gem and his Captain Jean Luc Picard was the bedrock on which the entire programme rested, and Stewart also helped the programme work through some terrible scripts, even in the good years. When he had great scripts though he shone and the cast (who are all good solid, if unspectacular actors) raised themselves in accordance with what Stewart was doing.
By the end of seven seasons STNG had changed from a pretty poor SF series to a full-on drama series which was science fiction, and that in its own way helped change American TV and helped push it towards looking at SF with less contempt that it used to. As for the spin off series that followed STNG they have their good points, but it is with STNG for me that Star Trek hit its full potential for greatness and it’s a joy to be able to revisit some fine pieces of television again on Netflix.