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STAR TREK:  THE NEXT GENERATION
Season Two

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Brett Spiner, Wil Wheaton, Diana Muldaur
Directors:  Various
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Stereo
Video:  Standard 1.33:1
Studio:  Paramount
Features:  Five Featurettes
Length:  999 Minutes
Release Date:  May 7, 2002
NOTE:  Complete episode listing is available at the end of this review.

“The captain’s chair is the best place to be.” – Patrick Stewart

Shows ****

When Star Trek: The Next Generation wrapped up its first season in early 1988, my friends and I were convinced that the show was heading for success.  How much so, we could only speculate…and even then, I still think we grossly underestimated just how good the show was going to end up being, but one thing was certain…we couldn’t wait for season two.

I felt the same way when revisiting season one on DVD, courtesy of a very smartly packaged and long awaited release from Paramount…I was anxious for season two to start!  And now, like then, I wasn’t disappointed.  Season two proved to be an overall improvement over the first year, and an even greater harbinger of things to come for the new series.

Over the course of season one, we could sense the increasing confidence and rapport the actors had with one another.  We could sense the scripts starting to improve and get a little more daring.  Season two is the fruition of that artistic growth.  Star Trek was never afraid to tackle the big issues, and the second season covered everything from birth (in “The Child”) to death (in “The Schizoid Man”), and just about everything  else in between.  It continued a good mix of episodes that were smart and intriguing with shows that were just plain fun.

The Enterprise started its second year with some changes.  Because of Tasha Yar’s (Denise Crosby) death near the end of the first season, the position of Chief of Security went to Lt. Worf (Dorn).  Lt. Geordi La Forge (Burton) earned a well deserved promotion to Chief Engineer.  And the ship temporarily switched doctors, replacing Beverly Crusher with Dr. Pulaski (Muldaur) while actress Gates McFadden was taking time off to become a mother!

Also added was a new area of the Enterprise called Ten Forward…it was a bar for off-duty crew members to relax and just be people instead of Starfleet members!  Tending bar in this new location was Guinan, a memorable character played by Whoopi Goldberg, who had many of season two’s shining moments.

Oh, yes, and the biggest change…Commander William Riker (Frakes) grew his beard, something my friends and I thought to be a great improvement…it seemed to help him find his character.

Counselor Deanna Troi (Sirtis), with new uniform and hairstyle for season two, earned the spotlight in the premiere episode, when in “The Child”, she finds herself unexpectedly pregnant by an alien form!  The birth and early life of the child goes by quickly, and one can sense the sad ending approaching.

The android Lt. Commander Data (Spiner), continued to be a favorite for Trek writers.  He had many big episodes in season two, starting with a bit of holodeck fun in “Elementary, Dear Data”, where a Sherlock Holmes mystery goes frighteningly awry when the computer, in an attempt to create a puzzle Data couldn’t solve, created self aware programs that threatened the entire Enterprise!  Data’s best moments, however, were probably “The Schizoid Man”, in which he becomes a vessel to a departed elderly scientist, and “The Measure of a Man”, which posed the question of whether as an android he had free will or was the property of the Federation, with an unpleasant fate hanging in the balance.

Some of the other memorable episodes include “The Dauphin”, where young Ensign Wesley Crusher (Wheaton) gets his first romance, “Loud as a Whisper”, in which a hearing impaired but brilliant negotiator gets a chance to begin a historic peace process courtesy of the Enterprise, “The Emissary”, which will definitely change your mind if you thought there was no such thing as an attractive Klingon woman, and more.  The highlight of season two, however, definitely had to be “Q Who?”, which not only brought back Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s (Stewart) inimitable foe Q (John De Lancie), but introduced the Enterprise and Trekkies to the next generation (no pun intended) of Federation foes, the unstoppable Borg.

But as mentioned, some of the episodes were just good fun.  I enjoyed “Manhunt”, which returned Majel Barrett to the screen as Troi’s mother, and also included another return to the holodeck for Picard and his private eye character Dixon.  “The Royale” may have been a tongue-in-cheek take on 2001, when Riker, Worf and Geordi find themselves in an alien world set up for them like a big, classy hotel, which was actually taken from a rather banal 20th century novel.  The most amusing of the bunch may have been “The Outrageous Okona”, where the Enterprise picks up a funny and charming free spirited pilot, who is being chased by a couple of enemies who don’t find him so amusing.

The best aspect of the show, though, continued to be the cast, which was a terrific ensemble of actors obviously growing more and more comfortable with each other and bringing out the best in one another.  The Next Generation gave everybody equal time, and this teamwork aspect of the program was most appealing.

Season two was slightly shorter than the others owing to the writers’ strike of the time…there are only 22 episodes making up year number two.  But shortened or not, the second season continued to prove that Gene Roddenberry’s new formula was working, and continued to indicate that there were even better things looming for The Next Generation just over the horizon.

BONUS TRIVIA: Diana Muldaur actually had two appearances on the original Star Trek series, including a starring role in the memorable episode “Is There in Truth No Beauty?”.

Video ***1/2

Starting with the second disc in the series, a noticeable video improvement is apparent.  Prior to that, the shows looked fine for their age, but with occasional problems.  Starting with this set, The Next Generation takes a slight step up, with better coloring, sharper images, less apparent grain, and a generally cleaner look, with plenty of new special effects shots that come across quite well.  There’s still a few flaws here and there…in “The Royale”, when the actors are against a solid black background, the black isn’t as solid and pure as it should be, for example, but these are far less frequent than the first box set had to offer.  All in all, a solid presentation.

Audio ****

I very much enjoyed Paramount’s 5.1 remixes for the first set; on the second, they are even better and more daring.  Yes, the Enterprise zipping around still brings front and rear stages into play nicely, but the more adventuresome episodes add breadth to the dynamic range, and the .1 channel is almost constantly in use to deliver the hum of the 24th century machinery.  Action sequences are mixed even more boldly than before, with smooth crossover effects that will put you in the middle of the action like never before.

Features ***

There are five fifteen minute featurettes pertaining to the second season, all located on Disc Six.  The Mission Overview features some cast and crew members, including the late Gene Roddenberry, discussing the ideas and concepts behind the second year.  Selected Crew Analysis lets some of the cast members talk about their season two memories, combining both archive and new interview footage.  Inside Starfleet Archives takes a look at the production side of the series, including the sets, designs and props.  Finally, there are two Departmental Briefing featurettes.  One is on production, with more cast and crew interviews discussing episodes, special guests, and more, and the second is Memorable Missions, where cast and crew discuss their favorites from the second season.

Summary:

Star Trek: The Next Generation Season Two was more focused, more confident, and overall, more fun, as cast and crew grew more comfortable with the success of the series.  It was a year that gave more of an indication of just how good this show was going to be, but as the saying goes, the best was still yet to come!

COMPLETE SEASON TWO EPISODE LOG:

The Child The Royale
Where Silence Has Lease Time Squared
Elementary, Dear Data The Icarus Factor
The Outrageous Okona Pen Pals
Loud as a Whisper Q Who?
The Schizoid Man Samaritan Snare
Unnatural Selection Up the Long Ladder
A Matter of Honor Manhunt
The Measure of a Man The Emissary
The Dauphin Peak Performance
Contagion Shades of Gray