A rewatch of Star Trek TNG

7 minute read Published: 2021-11-22

I took on the herculean effort (for my relatively low span of attention) to rewatch ALL 7 seasons of "Star Trek - The Next Generation". I am not a fan of the series but it helped coping with many weeks of medium-to-intense work followed by mental exhaustion on the sofa.

A quick context copypasted from Wikipedia: "Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) is an American science fiction television series (...) originally aired from September 28, 1987 to May 23, 1994 (...) spanning 178 episodes over seven seasons."

After having watched all the episodes, I have now the distinct feeling that TNG was a relatively low-budget production: scenes are shot in the same locations with some furniture rearranged, sometimes a vigorous acting reveals thin doors and flimsy panels. Everything is fake, people are randomly typing on fake touchscreens while babbling complete nonsense to explain dubious technological wonders (feels like a bit listening to a blockchain enthusiast in 2021).

The limited budget impacts also the alien cultures traits: apparently the whole universe speaks a perfect English and nowhere are breathing devices needed. It is also always mid-summer everywhere because the starship crew need to wear nothing else other than their uniform. Nonetheless, it is fun to see a convincing acting even when actors have cardboards around them. Aliens are still people dressed in rags with some cheap-looking rubber/polymeric make-up, just like the original series of the 1960s. Visual effects looks cheap for the time, even if they are provided by Industrial Light & Magic.

Most episodes' plots suffer also from budget restrictions. Interesting premises are eventually solved quickly with some hand-waving in order to stay under the ~40 minutes allocated for each episode.

Above all, it's an American TV series. The classic tropes and stereotypes are all there. The proudness of being American, the Good Guys looking upon other civilizations with compassion and contempt, the feeling of being the civilized country bringing their values to the whole galaxy; the military environment, the sense of order and respect of hierarchy permeating every situation, a self-centered view of society reflected in many parables. Rarely there is self-introspection of the main characters: if there is a problem, it has always to be an external cause, there's almost always a plot device they can point the finger to. The main characters never fall into human weaknesses.

I think this is all due to the imprinting of the original series creator, Gene Roddenberry, according to some random data I've gathered ("our Starfleet officers are still Starfleet officers in the true Roddenberry spirit").

Some social themes clearly transposed to the 24th century but still with the same obtuse orwellian mentality of the 1990s (example, when drug addiction is explained to a young ensign in episode s01e22 or suicide is briefly and lightly touched in s07e18). Alcoholics served on the starship are synthetic and don't cause hangovers. Rebellion or deviating thoughts (laughably mild by my standards) are rapidly calmed down and corrected with a paternal tone bringing back order and clarity of thought. Sometimes it feels like seeing an episode of the Simpsons, only without the sarcasm.

The model of the society they suggest is unrealistic: according to the main storyline, in 300 years from now diseases and poverty will be defeated and a fleet of starships (built with an unspecified amount of money paid by who knows) is flying around the universe without a defined purpose but trading and diplomatic (!?) purposes, respectfully refraining from interfering from "archaic" civilizations. This must be a joke and a not particularly funny one, seeing how today we are putting some serious effort into trying to make our planet inhabitable for us.

This naive vision of the near future makes me giggle, it's not even inspiring. I'd rather then believe the impossible and take any science-fiction production that is completely detached from reality (say, a timeline like in "Minority Report" or "Blade Runner").

Still, Star Trek TNG is relaxing. Stories are simple, intriguing (but not too much), the acting is calm and measured, there is no swearing and cursing, people rarely get mad, there is no blood and heroes never kill or indulge in revenge. I wonder if these stories are from a simpler past or were meant to be a light-hearted diversion also at that time. It's like visiting your grandfather after a hectic day at work. He is old-fashioned and distant from all the bad things you see around you on any level but it's ok and you don't want to care for a little while.

To summarize, things I liked:

I kept the best for a last laugh. In episode S02E12 "Royale", the captain recounts Fermat's last theorem, a still unsolved mathematical mystery dating back 800 years (according to the date of the episode); he looks at how much progress humanity has accomplished, starships and all the stuff. Humanity, though, shouldn't be too bold and proud because this old unsolved mystery proves that we are not so advanced.

The episode aired in 1989. In 1993 Wiles, a British mathematician, provided a proof for Fermat's Theorem ... LOL

In closing, a list of my favourite episodes for a future rewatch.

Season 1

Season 2

Season 3

Season 4

Season 5

Season 6 and 7: very few notable episodes, I'm not sure if the quality dropped or I was simply tired of seeing the series or maybe I was just pissed because of my own business. I distinctly noticed that the female main characters were filmed using a filter to hide their aging.