Friday, October 31, 2014

Ship's Log, Supplemental Bonus: “Oh, don't even go to the first season!”

Was what LeVar Burton once said in an interview with the now-defunct Star Trek Magazine when the DVD box sets for Star Trek: The Next Generation started being released. Even cast members, when prompted in fan environments, will tow mainline fandom's party line and cringe on cue at the prospect of the series' supposedly irredeemable first season. And while I grant there are issues to be found in this year's crop of episodes, there are issues to be found in *all* of Star Trek: The Next Generation's seven seasons and I'm still resolute in my belief the first year is unfairly singled out for blame. No, it's not what we've come to expect from Star Trek: The Next Generation and yes, it's a bit awkward in places, but Jonathan Frakes is correct to point out this was a year where the show took risks it wouldn't take later on. And, love her or hate her, this is your only opportunity to see Tasha Yar as a crewmember.
So these are my picks for the absolute best of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Year One. Not every episode is a masterpiece, but each one is far better than its reputation would have you believe and well worth a look during any journey through the show's mythos.
  1. “Encounter at Farpoint”
  2. “Haven”
  3. “Where No One Has Gone Before”
  4. “The Last Outpost”
  5. “Lonely Among Us”
  6. “The Battle”
  7. “Too Short a Season”
  8. “The Big Goodbye”
  9. “11001001”
  10. “Home Soil”
  11. “Coming of Age”
  12. “Heart of Glory”
  13. “The Arsenal of Freedom”
  14. “Symbiosis”
  15. “We'll Always Have Paris”
  16. “Conspiracy”
  17. “The Neutral Zone”
Addendum: If this is your first visit to Star Trek: The Next Generation, I have to begrudgingly throw in “Datalore” as well. It's not good, but the events it sets in motion come back to play an important part in later story arcs. But even without it, I look at this list and still see a pretty formidable success-failure ratio. I'm recommending roughly the same amount of episodes from Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 1 as I would from the entirety of the Dirty Pair TV series-While this season doesn't have anywhere near the same number of unmitigated masterpieces as that one did, that's pretty high praise coming from me.
Speaking of...
Since we're compiling enumerated episode lists anyway and since I never officially did one for this show, here are my picks for the very best episodes from the Dirty Pair TV series, for the five DP fans who actually follow this site. While as of this writing I'm still going with Dirty Pair: Affair of Nolandia as my absolute favourite Dirty Pair story overall, the first two novels are a must-read if you can find them and Dirty Pair: The Motion Picture is probably worth a look at least once, they're not included here (nor is any Classic DP material I've yet to cover) as I'm strictly focusing on the 1985 anime TV series today. With that in mind, I highly recommend...
  1. “How to Kill a Computer”
  2. “Go Ahead, Fall in Love! Love is Russian Roulette”
  3. “The Chase Smells Like Cheesecake and Death”
  4. “Criados' Heartbeat”
  5. “Lots of Danger, Lots of Decoys”
  6. “Love is Everything. Risk Your Life to Elope!!”
  7. “Gotta Do It! Love is What Makes a Woman Explode”
  8. “Hire Us! Beautiful Bodyguards are a Better Deal”
  9. “Hah Hah Hah, Dresses and Men Should Always Be Brand New”
  10. “What's This?! My Supple Skin is a Mess”
  11. “Dig Here, Meow Meow. Happiness Comes at the End”
  12. “An Unjustified Lover's Grudge. Let Me Love You Without Revenge”
  13. “No Way! 463 People Disappeared?!”
  14. “We Did It! 463 People Found!”
  15. “Something's Amiss...?! Our Elegant Revenge”


  1. Since this is a listing post, I'll respond with one of my own: the season 2 ratings from my spreadsheet, since you'll presumably be getting to these stories fairly soon.

    209. The Measure of a Man - 92.58%
    216. Q Who? - 91.33%
    208. A Matter of Honor - 74.00%
    221. Peak Performance - 73.91%
    211. Contagion - 71.28%
    203. Elementary, Dear Data - 64.80%
    220. The Emissary - 63.42%
    206. The Schizoid Man - 56.36%
    202. Where Silence Has Lease - 56.30%
    213. Time Squared - 53.04%
    217. Samaritan Snare - 51.38%
    215. Pen Pals - 47.37%
    205. Loud as a Whisper - 47.32%
    212. The Royale - 43.45%
    207. Unnatural Selection - 40.00%
    214. The Icarus Factor - 39.39%
    218. Up the Long Ladder - 38.72%
    201. The Child - 34.17%
    219. Manhunt - 33.06%
    204. The Outrageous Okona - 31.91%
    210. The Dauphin - 30.95%
    222. Shades of Gray - 8.73%

    (While it's no surprise that Shades of Gray is at the bottom, the percentage is quite noteworthy: the next lowest for the entire series is more than 25%.)

    Getting back to season one, then: of the eight stories not on your list, four match up perfectly with the least-liked in my spreadsheet, and two more are 30th and 31st from bottom for the entire series. Datalore is an exception (of course), Hide and Q also does significantly better, and the ordering of stories in your list bears no resemblance; but you're still not as alone as you fear. With the usual caveats about regarding online polls as barometers of public opinion...

  2. It's interesting to me - and I planned on posting a longer few paragraphs about it the other day but got side-tracked - how wrong-headed the maligning of Season 1 is. I feel like it's only ever remembered for it's lowest lows, but here we have 17 episodes I'd put up against a lot of the later stuff. The show hasn't gotten into a comfort zone yet, and that's a good thing - when a show finds its comfort zone it loses its cutting edge, usually permanently.

    It's premature to get too far into it but I think I now hold Season 1 in higher regard than, say, Seasons 6 and 7. Those later seasons do have the benefit of long-term storytelling - they're working with characters who have seven years of build-up behind them, and writers who are willing to finally address fan demands and questions in interesting ways. But very few of them feel cutting edge in character or storytelling work.

    So to reiterate; I prefer Season 1 to Season 7 and think it has more good-to-great episodes.

    It's also early, but I will mention that I'm a firm believer that TNG's (in spite of the writer's strike) second, third and fourth seasons build toward it's peak, where skill and efficiency maximize, comfort zones aren't yet "firmly" established and are still pliable enough to feel some edge, and yet there's enough character history to feel like stakes have more significance.

    Now we're getting into the good stuff.

    Final rating for Season 1? Well, it doesn't feature much in the way of "Solid Runs". The early ... two thirds ... of the season seem to alternate between cool stories and the terrible, memorably awful ones. But "Symbiosis - Conspiracy - The Neutral Zone" can be called a good run of episodes.