Though the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation was inconsistent in terms of its writing and execution at times, it built a good amount of cameraderie with an […]
Though the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation was inconsistent in terms of its writing and execution at times, it built a good amount of cameraderie with an excellent ensemble cast, distinctive production design and some impressive visual effects, many of which still hold up today.
Behind the scenes shenanigans – including the effects of the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike – unfortunately mar the second season a little, with the most immediately noticeable change being the removal of Gates McFadden as the ship’s chief medical officer, Dr Beverley Crusher. McFadden’s contract was not renewed for season two, leaving an opening for the medical position on the Enterprise. Enter Dr Katherine Pulaski, played by Diana Muldaur – unfortunately, the change is not a good one. Whether it’s Muldaur’s portrayal or the Pulaski character herself, the new Doctor struggles with a seemingly detached, icy temperament and never really feels like part of the crew. The original cast members, over the course of the first season, start to feel like a family, with great chemistry and cohesiveness; Pulaski, unfortunately, just never really gels.
A huge coup for the show back in the day was the addition of Whoopi Goldberg to the cast as empathetic bartender Guinan; despite her being a new arrival on the ship – and in stark contrast to Pulaski – she fits in immediately. She absolutely radiates warmth and interacts with the original cast members wonderfully. At this stage in the 80s, I recall Goldberg being known for overly comedic roles and wondered how she’d ever fit into the show; I needn’t have been concerned. She’s fantastic.
Then there’s Riker’s beard, which seems to have taken down his horniness a notch, though there’s a few notable occurrences of that coming back to the fore – an out of place quickie in season low point Up the Long Ladder is where this is most noticeable, but not for the ‘right’ reasons. Data seems to get a lot of development over the second season too, though not all of that is a roaring success – most notably awful are his attempts to learn comedy from a 20th century comedian, featuring real life SNL cast member Joe Piscopo, who is unbelievably dire. His Jerry Lewis routine is one of the most cringeworthy things I’ve ever seen. Couldn’t they have got a funny comedian to have Data learn from? No wonder he finds it such a struggle…
Though the second season features a few absolutely essential episodes, there’s still a few terribly misjudged stories that are a real slog to get through. Season opener The Child is somewhat problematic in its treatment of Troi (who’s essentially sexually assaulted by an energy being – and the implications of this are just glossed over, with the character being written terribly here to boot), aforementioned Up the Long Ladder is full of jaw droppingly bad Irish stereotypes and a poorly handled cloning subplot (honestly, this episode has been the absolute nadir of TV Trek for me so far), Manhunt is full of misjudged moments (most featuring alien menopause as a punchline, with Troi’s mother Lwaxana being the unfortunate and undeserving butt of the jokes – this is not yet a show that does well by its female characters a lot of the time) and, finally, season ‘finale’ Shades of Gray is essentially a clip show, albeit one that arrives far too early in the show’s lifespan – we’re ‘treated’ to clips of episodes we feel like we’ve only just seen, with weird justification for their inclusion and several that just feel incredibly out of place. Can you imagine if a big TV show ended a season with a clip show in the social media era? Madness!
Yet despite all of those lows, the highs are glorious in season two. A Matter of Honor is a standout, with Riker assigned to a Klingon ship as First Officer – it’s a great look into Klingon culture and I’ve always had a soft spot for the (non-TOS, non-Kelvin) Klingons and the harsh aesthetic in their tech design – a stark contrast to the comfortable, brightly lit surroundings of Starfleet. It’s a great showcase for the Klingons and Riker himself. Though it doesn’t quite pay off in a satisfying way, the pulp novel shenanigans of The Royale set up an intriguing situation and put our characters in a nicely glitzy 20th century setting too. Time Squared is a brilliant exercise in past/future timey-wimeyness and would have been my favourite season two episode if it wasn’t for Q Who, which is notable for being the first appearance of the Borg, but also features the return of John De Lancie’s Q, once again having so much fun as the powerful, mischievous extra-dimensional trickster who we first encountered in the very first episode of the first season. Guinan even gets a cool little standoff with Q, with both characters being wary of each other – it’s a great little moment of worldbuilding in an episode that’s full of neat touches (including the creepy Borg nursery, complete with the shudder-inducing appearance of Borg babies!). It is easy to see how the Borg became so popular – their terrifying indifference and the body horror implications of their biomechanical appearance give them such a stark contrast to the empathy and compassion of our Starfleet heroes.
One area in which the show excels is in its visual effects and production design overall, with some stunning work being done on relatively low budgets, presumably under serious time constraints. Q Who is again notable here – the zooming out to reveal the matte-painted interior of the Borg ship is jaw dropping for its time and the Borg themselves are wonderfully realised creations.
Though Season Two is again a little inconsistent, with a few of the episodes being absolutely awful (yes, Up the Long Ladder was even worse than I’d been led to believe before watching it), those standout episodes really do make a huge impact. And throughout the season, as was the case in the first, the cast and their camaraderie are a joy to watch; again, Patrick Stewart has this undeniable knack of elevating even the most terrible material (one or two exceptions aside – I won’t mention that episode again) and the rest of the cast have such fantastic chemistry.
I’ll soon be boldly going where many millions of people have gone before and watching season three in its entirety for the first time (as with the first two seasons, I’d seen the odd episode here and there). With the return of the much-missed Gates McFadden to the cast and a truly explosive return for the Borg, I genuinely can’t wait to sink my teeth into it.
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