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STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION
Season One

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Denise Crosby, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Brett Spiner, Wil Wheaton
Directors:  Various
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Stereo
Video:  Standard 1.33:1
Studio:  Paramount
Features:  Four Featurettes
Length:  1183 Minutes
Release Date:  March 26, 2002
NOTE:  Complete episode listing is available at the end of this review.

“To the bitter end, Captain?”

“I see nothing so bitter about that.”

Shows ***1/2

Exactly two days after my 18th birthday (September 28, 1987, to be exact), the world was treated to the beginning of the television resurrection of Star Trek.  Called The Next Generation, the show went forward some 76 years from its predecessor, but seemingly even further than that in terms of its look and special effects.  It brought together a whole new cast and crew with some surprises, and it came into existence with the unenviable task of trying to live up to a legend.

Seven years later, when TNG finally completed its TV run, one can only conclude that it not only lived up to the original, but surpassed it in many ways.  It spent more than twice as long on the air, it developed a more ensemble crew where emphasis was never focused on just three main characters but on everyone, and the stories and science had all been improved.  Some of the best TNG episodes, in my opinion, rank amongst science fiction’s greatest offerings.

Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season One is a wonderfully packaged and produced 7 disc box set that takes us back to the first year.  All 26 episodes are included in broadcast order.  These were the shows that established the new cast and characters, the new and more advanced ST world, and most importantly, laid down a promise for the future…a promise that was fulfilled arguably better than even the most die hard Trekkie could have hoped for.

I still remember the two hour, two part pilot “Encounter at Farpoint” like it was yesterday…not only the details of the episode, but the countless hours spent with friends in the following week discussing, analyzing, and critiquing the new show.  We all felt there was some indication the program could be good, but of course, we left the jury respectfully out on whether or not TNG would come to full fruition on its own.

Some of our thoughts:  surprise that the captain was a bit older and balder, although we all agreed that Patrick Stewart’s Jean-Luc Picard made a formidable leader.  The inclusion of a Klingon on the Enterprise was an even bigger shock (remember, this was before Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country explaining the integration of the traditional enemy into the Federation), but we liked Michael Dorn’s Worf and felt that his presence offered a lot of dramatic possibilities.  And the new Galaxy Class version of the Enterprise offered a surprise or two of its own…it didn’t take long before we were praising the saucer separation sequence as a terrific innovation.  The ship was designed for a thirty year run, so families were on board as well, and that meant children…something our intrepid captain was amusingly uncomfortable with!

Other aspects were not so surprising.  The original show dared to put women in position of power, so it was nice to see Gates McFadden playing chief medical officer Beverly Crusher (her lines weren’t as memorable as DeForest Kelly’s Dr. McCoy, but she was definitely more agreeable to the eyes), Denise Crosby as chief of security Tasha Yar, and the alluring Marina Sirtis as Counselor Deanna Troi, whose ability to sense strong emotions would come in handy more than once. 

There was no Vulcan this time around, but we were pleased to see the introduction of an android character, Data (played by Brett Spiner), whose desire to be human seemed fraught with story options.  Also included was a handicapped character, Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton), but in typical Star Trek fashion, even though he was blind, he was equipped with a visor that allowed him to see more than normal sight ever could.  And of course, the presence of children on the starship meant at least one main one…the astute Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton), son of Beverly, whose intelligence would eventually impress the impenetrable Picard.

Interestingly enough, none of us were impressed with Jonathan Frakes as First Officer Will Riker…initially.  His character developed over the years (and most of us think he really found it when he grew his beard), but out of the gate, he seemed a little too rigid.  Frakes of course would later prove to be a formidable director and an invaluable asset to both cast and crew…first impressions don’t always mean everything.

From the two part pilot “Encounter at Farpoint”, the new Trek showed promise, but like many burgeoning television shows, it took a few turns before everything started to gel for real.  Remembering the episodes as they first aired, “The Naked Now” was a little disappointing as an undisguised take on one of the original series’ most popular entries, “The Naked Time”.  The next episode, “Code of Honor”, had to be one of the most embarrassing ones in the history of Star Trek.

But as the cast became more confident, as the scripts got better, and as the overall vision for what the show could be improved, TNG began to flex some serious muscle.  “Where No One Has Gone Before” was an instant classic to me and my friends, and the shows continued not only to improve, but to expound upon Star Trek’s original themes.  “Justice” put the Enterprise crew against the prime directive when the boy Wesley breaks a trivial law on a strange planet and faces a death penalty.  “The Big Goodbye” was sheer Trek fun, as Picard, Data and Dr. Crusher end up trapped in a holodeck simulation of a film noir world.  And “Hide and Q” proved that the strange entity Q (John de Lancie) from the pilot episode would continue to be an entertaining and formidable foe for Picard and crew. 

By the season’s finale, “Conspiracy” and “The Neutral Zone”, we had no doubt of the assured success of the new series.  Everything had fallen into place perfectly; the stories were becoming smarter and craftier, and most importantly, we loved the new crew of the Enterprise.  Then, as now with this DVD series, I can’t wait for Season Two.

As mentioned, though, one aspect that really made The Next Generation special was the attention it gave each crew member.  Each one became the focal point in different episodes:  “Datalore” gave Data the spotlight (and Spiner the chance to play dual roles), “Haven” focused on Counselor Troi and her pre-arranged marriage, “Coming of Age” showed something of Wesley Crusher’s mettle, “Angel One” was Riker’s turn to shine (and to wear a costume you have to see to believe), “Skin of Evil” offered Tasha’s sweet and sad farewell, and so on.  The element of team chemistry and excellent ensemble acting was always present, but the show had enough faith in each character to let them lead as well as support.

But what really made all of Star Trek so special to its fans was its unerring sense of optimism for the future, and The Next Generation kept that spirit alive from the first episode on.  We live in a world of wars, terrors, upheavals, disease and more…Gene Roddenberry certainly knew that, but his show presented a vision where mankind not only survived it all, but emerged on the other end of it better, smarter, more tolerant, more open, and with an infinitely brighter future.  This was the man who dared put a Russian on board the Enterprise the first time around, and included a Klingon the second time.  We watch the people of the Federation and see ourselves as we would like to be…and more importantly, we watch and believe that we are in fact capable of being that.

That is the legacy of the original Star Trek, and even more so, the legacy of The Next Generation, which gave us glorious hope for our human race right from the start.  It’s a vision of the future that might not be so far-fetched…it’s simply up to us to “make it so”.

Video ***

It’s almost hard to believe these shows are as old as they are…Paramount has done a very nice job in preserving these modern classics for Trekkies on DVD.  One can see actual improvements over the chronological course of the episodes:  if there’s an occasional bit of grain or softness in earlier ones, they are replaced by stronger, more integral images later.  The space scenes all look clean and crisp, with bright images and good detail.  All in all, a clean and quality offering.

Audio ***1/2

I’m happy to report that the 5.1 remixes are quite special…you can listen to the original stereo tracks if you prefer, but you probably won’t.  The subwoofer keeps the machinery of the Enterprise alive and vibrant from episode to episode, and front to rear stage crossovers mimic the swooshing of the ship in warp to perfection.  Dialogue is always clean and clear, making good use of the full front stage for effect.  Dynamic range is even a bit more formidable than you might expect…a terrific effort!

Features ***

On Disc Seven, there are four featurettes, each about fifteen minutes long.  The first, “The Beginning”, briefly chronicles the resurrection of the new Star Trek, and even features some classic interview clips with the late Gene Roddenberry.  “Selected Crew Analysis” brings us close to each of the main cast members, who talk about their roles, working with the others, and the pressures of following the success of one of television’s most memorable shows.  “Making of a Legend” talks with some of the production crew, who discuss the art design, special effects, and even the music.  Finally, “Memorable Missions” ” is a nice trip down memory lane with some of the cast members, who each recall some of their fondest (and not-so-fond) memories of first season episodes.  All featurettes combine older and newer interview footage with cast members.  I enjoyed all four, and I think most Trekkies will, too.

Also included is an attractive booklet filled with background information on the main characters.

Summary:

Gene Roddenberry’s vision was preserved and furthered in Star Trek: The Next Generation, one of television’s great success stories.  It stepped into the shoes of a bona fide classic and not only filled them, but carved their own niche into science fiction history as a result.  This Season One box set is a well presented DVD collection that Trekkies are sure to love…it definitely whets the appetite for the even better seasons yet to come.

COMPLETE SEASON ONE EPISODE LOG:

Encounter at Farpoint (2 hours)

11001001

The Naked Now

Too Short a Season

Code of Honor

When the Bough Breaks

The Last Outpost

Home Soil

Where No One Has Gone Before

Coming of Age

Lonely Among Us

Heart of Glory

Justice

The Arsenal of Freedom

The Battle

Symbiosis

Hide and Q

Skin of Evil

Haven

We’ll Always Have Paris

The Big Goodbye

Conspiracy

Datalore

The Neutral Zone

Angel One