Thank God For Star Trek: The Next Generation

Last year, Star Trek celebrated its 50th anniversary. Today, Star Trek: The Next Generation turns 30. And while the original series is where it all began, modern Trek owes everything to TNG.

All images: CBS/Paramount

The Next Generation proved that Star Trek was more than just the adventures of a certain group of characters, but an entire universe. The question of whether you can do Star Trek without Bones, Kirk, and Spock was answered by The Next Generation, which was a hit right from the start.

The Next Generation kept the basics of the original series intact: there was a ship named Enterprise, and a crew on a mission to "explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilisations, to boldly go where no one has gone before."

If anything, the first season hewed too closely to its predecessor (for example, the episode "The Naked Now" was explicitly a sequel to "The Naked Time," a not-quite-classic episode of the classic series).

And yet, even in that season The Next Generation introduced some great things to Trek canon. Q, the omnipotent and capricious judge of humanity; the holodeck; Data's "brother" Lore; Worf and his relationship to Klingon culture; a genuinely horrifying infiltration of Starfleet that the show never mentioned again (see entry #2).

All of those things showed that The Next Generation was proudly carrying on the Trek tradition.

If The Next Generation had flopped it would have been disastrous, and Star Trek would surely have just withered away. We wouldn't have gotten Deep Space Nine, Voyager, or Enterprise at all.

I bet that a few years ago, Paramount would have remembered they owned Star Trek and rebooted the way everything is now, so maybe we'd still have J.J. Abrams' Star Trek movies, but we'd have nothing else.

While you can argue about the quality of some of the other Trek TV shows, they all had episodes that made them worth existing. And they wouldn't have without The Next Generation.

The Next Generation paved the way for the other shows to move beyond the Enterprise and its crew on exploratory missions. We saw the Trek universe on a space station, on a stranded ship, trying to get home. And then, yes, back on the Enterprise again, but this time at the dawn of the Federation.

Beyond keeping the legacy of Star Trek alive and expanding its scope, The Next Generation was iconic in its own right.

"Kirk versus Picard" wouldn't be a good debate if Patrick Stewart's captain wasn't a worthy, but very different, successor to the big chair. Data's journey into personhood was a vital part of this show, and a major character arc; the old show lacked anything nearly as long-term.

"Measure of a Man", the episode where Data's right to autonomy as a sentient being and not just an object is explored, remains one of the best episodes of television ever made.

The Next Generation is what gave us the opposite of jumping the shark: growing the beard. Will Riker grew a beard, and the show's quality improved markedly. You want to know what other tropes this show has named? Have a gander.

And here are some of the TV writers and makers that cut their teeth on TNG: Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica), Rene Echevarria (Teen Wolf), Naren Shankar (The Expanse), Richard Manning (Farscape), Hilary Bader (DCAU), and more all spent some time in this show's writers room.

While things were rocky behind the scenes and on-screen, The Next Generation has still earned its place not just in the pantheon of Star Trek, but in the pantheon of TV series, period. It's what all other science fiction shows aspire to when their spinoffs get started. And thanks be to whatever god, gods, or nigh-omnipotent-alien-being-masquerading-as-a-god that made it so.


Comments

    I still rewatch TNG and Voyager on the regular. So good. Like root beer.

    Quark: I want you to try something for me. Take a sip of this.
    Garak: What is it?
    Quark: A human drink. It's called root beer.
    Garak: I don't know.
    { Garak scowls/snears }
    Quark: Come on. Aren't you just a little bit curious?
    { Garak sighs, and cautiously drinks... }
    Quark: What do you think?
    Garak: It's vile.
    Quark: I know. It's so bubbly and cloying and happy.
    { Garak smiles slowly as Quark speaks }
    Garak: Just like the Federation.
    Quark: But you know what's really frightening?
    If you drink enough of it, you begin to like it.
    Garak: It's insidious.
    Quark: Just like the Federation.
    { later... }
    Garak: Do you think they'll be able to save us?
    Quark: I hope so

    So many great parables. So many good explorations of real world problems from a secular humanist perspective.

    Watching Star Trek Discovery, I just wish people just slowed the hell down, stopped the action for a sec and had a long conversation about some thorny moral quandaries.

    Also, Data and Geordi also rocked very fine beards. Very fine indeed.

    Also, look at the fine stylings of the bridge on TNG: http://d2rormqr1qwzpz.cloudfront.net/photos/2012/11/05/41413-bridge.jpg Really recalls those old sailing vessels, like the namesake of the Enterprise. The new bridge hurts my eyes.

    Last edited 03/10/17 9:32 am

      Isn't that DS9? I'm yet to watch TNG and that sounds very familiar.

      I'm with you on Discovery. I was hoping the third EP was going a to change the formula a bit more. They should've gone with an episodic structure: they tend to be hit or miss but they are freer to experiment and go deep on themes and characters.

        Yeah, DS9. Out of the Holy Trio, I like DS9 the least, but it's got its moments. Maybe it's because if there's one sci-fi series that nailed space station stuff that trophy goes to Babylon 5.

        New Trek is a little too Star Wars then Star Trek for now for me. I'll still watch it, though.

        Abraaaaaaams!

    I'm hoping that this is just the build up to an episodic series, but even if it does go that way it seems like the show will focus on a single, very flawed character instead of the bridge crew.

    I like that the new show out of the gate has a 'Previously on' bit. Shows have had that since the 90s and there were times when TNG needed it, hell DS9 really needed it.

    90s Trek was great but if Enterprise taught people anything is that by the year 2000 the TNG/Voyager self contained storytelling was over.

    It took the threat of cancellation for the people behind Enterprise to try serialization. Had they done it from the start they might have gotten more than 4 years

      S4 of Enterprise was the perfect solution, basically turning the season into a handful of multi-episode arc's was just about the best damn thing ever.

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