Heroes & Villains Boldly Looks Back At Star Trek: The Next Generation

This week’s Heroes & Villains is positively HISTORIC because… I only have ONE book on my pull list. It’s technically the first Wednesday in July but it seems a bit like a Fifth Week. Granted I do feel a bit indebted to IDW to talk about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Urban Legends because they used my blurb in a trade catalog but I must…not…be…bought.

Instead, I’ll write about what I’ve been doing with my non-comic reading time because going out and being around people right now is still and exceptionally bad idea (especially if you’re in the USA.

“Space…the final frontier…”

Those words are right up there with the Green Lantern oath for famous speeches that nerds from all walks of life have memorized. I’m pretty sure they’re all part of some shared genetic memory and that a person who has never seen Star Trek or read Green Lantern could recite unprompted.

In the past, I’ve written about my life-long love affair with Star Trek and how one of the defining moments of my pop culture life was when my dad set me in front of the TV on a Saturday afternoon in the early, early 80’s and said, “Watch this.” A few years after that there was yet another defining moment when Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered. By then I was old enough to appreciate that there was going to be more, new Trek on a weekly basis instead of having to wait years between films.

I’m not sure how the show worked in other syndicated markets but WKBD in Detroit ran the new episodes twice during the weekend. A new episode of TNG would premier Saturday night and then get reran on Sunday afternoon…which was awesome. Since I was in grade school (and later Junior High) during the show’s run, I had less than nothing to do on the weekends. No job, couldn’t drive and so on. That meant I watched the episodes twice, absorbing all the details I could in the days prior to IMDb and online episode guides.

A double-dose of Trek was often the reward for a shitty week at school. At the time, Star Trek was still the cultural shorthand for the nerdiest of the nerds. I’m only slightly bitter that it took 50+ years, several spin-off series, and a sexy J.J. Abrams reboot to destigmatize it. I once made the mistake of wearing a Star Trek: Deep Space Nine t-shirt freshman year and the verbal pantsing I received from my classmates was second only to the time I wore an R.E.M. t-shirt.

In one form or another Star Trek has always been there for me. Deep Space Nine is my personal favorite, (the dark horse of the franchise which has only recently begun to get the attention it deserves) but Voyager and Enterprise were the shows that got me to “leave the church” as it were. I’m not going to take potshots at either of those shows but by the time they rolled around I was in college and didn’t have time for shows that didn’t meet the expectations that TNG and DS9 had set. I mean, I still got TNG movies every couple of years that I would go see with my dad. I suppose I had become the Trek equivalent of a C&E Catholic (Christmas & Easter).

The franchise was dormant for years after UPN unceremoniously canned Enterprise. The last TNG-era movie underperformed and all we were left with was reruns which I would watch if I just so happened to catch one. I’m not about to act like TNG and it’s various spin-offs were underground shows and unappreciated in their time when TNG literally kickstarted a mostly dormant franchise and paved the way for scores of other syndicated Sci-Fi shows. What I will say is that the appreciation for TNG has only grown in the three-plus decades since it premiered.

As I mentioned above, I’ve been spending a lot of time with Star Trek: The Next Generation. Within the last month I started rewatching the series on Netflix in order, from the very beginning. The first two seasons are…really something. They were more of an extension of the original Star Trek (in point of fact, several scripts were repurposed from the failed Star Trek: Phase Two series that was pitched in the 70’s) and with that came a lot of thinly veiled and corny social commentary TOS was famous for.

Anyways, if you’re going to do something don’t half-ass it. I paid my dues and slogged through the first two seasons of the show and a lot of the episodes are straight up bad. If you were looking to speed run the series and get though seasons 1 and 2 as quickly as possible you only need to watch the pilot episode, the episode where Tasha Yar dies, “Not Without My Data” (my title for it) in which Data is determined to be a legally free being and not property, and the episode where The Borg first show up. If you’re looking to watch two of the WORST episodes you should check out the “Space Irish” episode from season 2 and an episode from season one that Jonathan Frakes (Riker) referred to as a “racist piece of shit” at at 2007 convention appearance (you’ll know it when you see it).

Currently, I’m in the middle of season 4 which could be the sweet spot for TNG. Season 3 was notable for its jump to warp speed in terms of quality, the show had finally found itself and the plots became more complex. The actors were given a bit more to work with and the show became more interesting as a result. Characters became more three dimensional instead of being walking technobabble exposition dumps. Don’t get me wrong, it’s Trek so there’s still a ton of that.

The show still holds up, I’m happy to say. It’s solid sci-fi of the era without the cardboard sets and styrofoam rocks of the original series. A lot can and has been said about the tremendous work both Patrick Stewart and Bent Spiner turned in as Picard and Data respectively but the rest of the cast is spectacular as well. Also, Mick Fleetwood played a fish person in season 2.

I’ve recently come into possession of a “holy grail” collectible, a Franklin Mint Star Trek: The Next Generation Enterprise NCC-1701-D bridge dedication plaque. It’s a replica of the one that adorned the bridge of the Enterprise during the run of the show and it was something I long coveted when The Franklin Mint still had retail locations. For a time during my college years I actually worked at a Franklin Mint store (in all honesty it was mostly standing around and light dusting). Unfortunately, as a poor college student with an abysmal employee discount I was never able to buy one…until now!

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Did you know that eBay is still a thing and that people sell stuff on there? Well, I was able to get one for a virtual song and now it hangs in my living room. It’s such a cool piece of ephemera to have from a show that meant a lot to me.

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