Sunday, November 18, 2012

S1E04 Code of Honor

Season 1 Episode 4: Code of Honor

Watchability: Skip
Short Answer: This an entirely forgettable "Prime Directive" episode.
Notables: None.

This episode is a perfect example of a throwaway episode. It does serve to introduce a plot device that is often used in the show. Starfleet has a "Prime Directive" which essentially says that they should not interfere in the laws of any race that is "less advanced". This is roughly defined as any race that has yet to develop Warp Drive (faster-than-light travel). The stated reason being that they might alter the evolution of an alien race.

It's a nice notion, and at times provides and explanation for why the Enterprise doesn't use it's often superior technology to get out of dodge. In those cases, the crew is forced to really examine the allegory set up by the "alien" culture. For this episode, I don't really see a lot that it brings to the table. For that I would say skip it.

Side Note: For those who have seen it, I was struck by an odd sub-thread in the episode. To recap, the plot of the episode, the leader of this planet captures Tasha Yar and claims her as a mate. In order to get out of this situation, she has to fight his previous wife. At several times throughout the episode, different people either hint or outright speculate that maybe she wanted to be kidnapped. At one point she says something like "I admit that I am a little attracted to strong men, but no one wants to be kidnapped!" For a show that is fairly progressive, it seemed completely out of place. By the third or fourth time it came up, it just seemed comical that no one on the ship believed her.

S1E03 Naked Now

Season 1 Episode 3: Naked Now

Watchability: Extra Credit
Short Answer: The episode is really bad. That being said it is one of the most "talked about" episodes, so it is probably worth watching for that conversation.
Notables: Rehash of an ST: Original Series plot.

This episode is probably the best "test" of my review format. I'll say this up front: It is one of the worst TNG episodes. In a lot of ways, this is a prime example of what made the first two seasons on TNG awful.

TNG came out almost 20 years after its predecessor. With that time gap came a lot of baggage. For one, there were several scripts that were written for the Original Series (TOS) that never made it to production before it was cancelled. Some of those were revamped to work for TNG. Also, there were episodes like this one, which merely recycled plots from TOS.

That being said, this episode is probably one of the most referenced episodes of TNG, because it is that bad. Data's often paraphrased line "I am FULLY functional" comes from this episode. For that reason, I have tagged this episode with "Iconic" and "Memes". This episode is not good, but chances are, if you are going to talk about TNG with anyone who has seen the show, this episode will come up eventually.

S1E1&2 Encounter at Farpoint

Season 1, Episodes 1 & 2: Encounter at Farpoint

Watchability: Recommended
Short Answer: It's the pilot, it would be hard to tell you not to watch it.
Notables: Introduction of the character 'Q'.

I got into TNG after it had been on for a couple of years, so I didn't watch Encounter at Farpoint until I had already become a fan. I remember this episode as being entirely cringe worthy. I still think it is not that great, but it does serve to introduce a lot of concepts of the show. As campy as it is, the character of Q and his test of humanity is a reoccurring theme through-out the show.

At the time I started watching TNG, I had been reading a lot of "Golden Age" SciFi authors (at least by today's standards: Asimov, Clarke, Pohl, etc). In most of those novels (and a lot of current SciFi television), the view of the future is a very gritty pessimistic "realism". While that aspect of SciFi does a lot to explore the "human condition", TNG was fascinating to me because it took the opposite tack. Gene Roddenberry's vision for the show was very firmly rooted in showing the best of humanity and what we can achieve.

The main thrust of this episode is Q's supposition that humanity is guilty for the "sins of the past". In this episode, we see examples of some of the fictional atrocities that happen after present day and before the start of the Star Trek franchise. At lot of it is really campy, but there are a couple of things I like about it. Mainly, I like how it gives Picard the ability to say that humanity learns from its mistakes. To paraphrase, he asks Q to "test us as we are, not as we were."

That notion is interesting to me, in the context of the show it is referencing very fictional history, but it also can be seen as talking about our actual recent history. Where we are today, is informed by the past (World Wars I/II, slavery, the Cold War, or whatever else), but we live in a very different world that would not be the same without that history. And still, what the show says is that we are constantly growing, possibly becoming the best versions of ourselves.

So I would say that this episode is definitely worth watching. It's a little rough around the edges, but it does frame the entire series nicely.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Why are we here?

Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) was a show that shaped a large part of my youth. It was the first show I can remember that I called my own. There were a number of shows that I watched with my family, I Love Lucy, Get Smart, and all the TGIF "Classics", but none of them held the same sense of ownership for me that TNG did. It was the show that I recorded and watched for myself. It was the first TV show that I can remember needing to see every week. And it was the show that caused me to dutifully maintain the VCR recording schedule.

But so much has changed in television since then. At the time, it was, for the most part, the only Sci-Fi show on television (at least American television). It also existed before the explosion of long-form story-telling. It wasn't until shows were sold on DVD that we saw season-long story arcs where every show needed to be seen in order. There were some outliers (Dallas, Twin Peaks and Babylon 5 all come to mine), but most shows were still one-off weekly stories. By having mostly self-contained episodes, TNG embraced the idea of Sci-Fi as allegory (much like The Twilight Zone). Each episode offered an opportunity to talk about something in everyday life in a way that, in their best moments, removed the baggage of the present.

Unfortunately, like many shows, TNG had some good days and some bad ones. In particular, I remember the first two seasons as being terrible. When the J.J. Abrams reboot came out, a friend of mine, who had never seen Star Trek, decided to watch TNG. She is a huge Sci-Fi fan and she had read several articles about how great TNG was. I tried warning her, but I don't think she made it through two episodes.

In a modern context, a lot of TNG does not hold up. Shows like Battlestar Galactica and Fringe have much better ability to present a hook that draws you in from the get go. Each episode serves as lead in to the next. I don't think that method of storytelling is a bad thing. As an "art", television has evolved by leaps and bounds. Because television writers are better storytellers, we are able to have Sci-Fi shows that are more accessible and reach a wider audience.

Does that mean TNG has nothing to give in the new era of television? Besides being a loaded question, it is the purpose of this blog. My brother, who is fifteen years younger than me, recently told me that he was watching TNG on Netflix (PSA the whole series is on there). It made me think about how he must see the show. He and I share a lot of interests, but he has grown up in a world where he will probably never own a CD, where no one will own a "home" phone, and where TV is smarter than it's ever been (Honey Boo Boo not withstanding).

How would I guide my brother (or my friend) to help him see TNG as I know it? It has been a number of years since I watched the show front to back, so I decided that I would re-watch it. After watching couple a episodes, I was shocked to discover that I liked the beginning much more than I remember. As a result, I decided that I would record my thoughts here. Hopefully it will serve as a guide of the episodes to watch and the ones to avoid.

I may put some other editorial content in from time to time, but main goal is to put a post for each episode. I would also like to tag them in various ways ("Continuity", "Iconic", etc) to help people see a list of interesting episodes at a glance. I will also label each one with a three point scale: Recommended, Extra Credit, or Skip. If I'm lucky, I will also give some interesting context/commentary as well. The main goal is to give a easy guide of episodes to watch for those who have never seen TNG. If you have seen the show and would like to add your own commentary about the episode, please do so in the comments.

Welcome to my blog, and I hope you enjoy as I explore The Next Generation for the next generation (give or take 5 years).