Our reviews of The Best Of Star Trek: The Next Generation (published May 12th, 2009), Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season One (Blu-ray) (published July 24th, 2012), Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season Two (Blu-ray) (published December 17th, 2012), Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season Three (Blu-ray) (published May 15th, 2013), Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Next Level (Blu-ray) (published January 29th, 2012), Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season One (published April 24th, 2002), Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season Three (published July 18th, 2002), Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season Four (published September 16th, 2002), Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season Five (published February 4th, 2003), Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season Six (published December 16th, 2002), Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season Seven (published February 10th, 2003), and Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Jean-Luc Picard Collection (published August 23rd, 2004) are also available.
Space, the final frontier…
Star Trek claims an interesting dichotomy in today's society. On the one side, it is an immensely popular television show that has become enmeshed in our pop culture. Watch television, go to a movie, or read a magazine, and sooner or later some reference to TrekQ will appear: "Beam me up Scotty." "He's dead Jim!" "Warp speed." It is reasonably safe to say that everyone knows Trek in some way. On the flip side, if you know too much about Trek or even express your affection for the show in any form, most people will label you a geek and ask if you still live in your parent's basement.
Hello. My name is Eric, and I am a Trekkie. And, no, I don't live in my parent's basement; I moved out last month.
Love it or loath it, Star Trek is firmly entrenched in our society, and I wouldn't have it any other way. There was a time when it was (somewhat) possible that Trek could have faded away leaving only fond memories of that original ill-fated series. Then that little movie called Star Wars came along and the rush to join the sci-fi frenzy fueled the rebirth of the franchise. In 1987, Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) burst forth upon our televisions. Because of the show's broad appeal, TNG ran for seven seasons and led the way to three more spin-offs in, what I now hope is, the never-ending franchise. And for the past 15 years I have been happily watching new show after new show (and quite a few reruns as well).
Which Trek series is best? Many who have an opinion will say TNG (but that is not to negate any of the others shows, which all have their own strengths). I won't argue with that opinion as I might vote that way myself. So, then, which season of TNG is best? That is a harder question to answer. Could it possibly be the second season?
Facts of the Case
Back in 1987 I was still in high school, and I recall the genesis of the new series and watching that first two-hour episode. I even recall that the following year as a freshman in college that I wrote a "critical examination" of the first season of TNG saying how poorly it was written, how "crude" the special effects were, and how violent the show was (namely in the "Conspiracy" episode).
Few would argue that the first season of TNG was very weak, which was to be expected, as there was so much to do in those first shows. Fortunately, the second season simply exploded in quality. That second year is filled with episodes that many list as their favorite from all seven seasons. What makes the leap in quality even more impressive is the fact that the second season was cut short by a writer's strike. Perhaps it is that fact that yielded the spurt of creativity, energy, and vitality to the fledgling show. With only 22 shows produced that year (instead of the normal 26), season two has the dubious honor of having one of the worst Trek shows ever aired: "Shades of Grey." This season finale (before there really was such a thing) "clip show" was pieced together because there was no time and no script to complete any other type of episode. It is quite possible that this is the worst episode ever, topping the classic "Spock's Brain."
Thank you, Paramount, for listening to the fans (in some small measure) and releasing complete seasons on disc and abandoning the two episode per disc format you used to butcher the original series.
The 22 episodes of the second season are presented in the order in which they were aired and not in production order (as found in the season one set): "The Child"; "Where Silence Has Lease"; "Elementary, Dear Data"; "The Outrageous Okona"; "Loud as a Whisper"; "The Schizoid Man"; "Unnatural Selection"; "A Matter of Honor"; "The Measure of a Man"; "The Dauphin"; "Contagion"; "The Royale"; "Time Squared"; "The Icarus Factor"; "Pen Pals"; "Q Who?"; "Samaritan Snare"; "Up The Long Ladder"; "Manhunt"; "The Emissary"; "Peak Performance"; and "Shades of Gray." If you need a synopsis for any episode, head over to the library section at StarTrek.com and you'll find all the information you will need.
A brief scan of the episodes shows you that season two, while exponentially better than season one, is still somewhat uneven. Aside from the vile "Shades of Grey," there are several other losers that should have never seen the light of day: Teri Hatcher's appearance in "The Outrageous Okana" is overshadowed by Joe Piscopo's truly lame attempt at humor; "Manhunt" is simply too campy and silly, and not in a fun "Trouble with Tribbles" way; and "The Royale" was bad to begin with but was made unwatchable because of the fan who was interviewed in Trekkies. (Send me an email if you have no idea what I'm talking about.) Fortunately, "Q Who?," "Peak Performance," "The Measure of a Man," "Loud as a Whisper," and "The Emissary" easily erase the sins of the father, er, bad episodes from this year.
I've gotten ahead of myself and need to take a quick step back because I've done nothing but paint broad strokes about season two. What changed? What made season two so much better than the premiere year? What made "The Emissary" a better episode than "The Outrageous Okana"? The simple answer is character development.
From Riker growing a beard ("It's cosmically unfair that my first officer has more hair on his face than I do on my entire head." I read that in a TNG novel, but I can't recall which one), to the implementation of the poker game and beyond, we gained insight into the new crew far beyond what was laid out during the original series. We caught glimpses into their backgrounds, their needs, their goals, and their desires. This allowed us to become vested with the characters and to want to learn more about them. Take, for example, a look at the stunning changes of Counselor Deanna Troi in season two. In season one, all we really knew about her was that she had a terrible fashion sense and that her Betazoid empathy could help her sense obvious dangers facing the Enterprise. The very first episode of season two is a "Deanna episode" and her character is nicely fleshed out in that episode. She is no longer a lame, one-dimensional character but a well-rounded person with motivation and drive.
Not everyone received an entire episode devoted to developing their character, but over the course of the 22 episodes (okay, just the first 21) we were able to learn a lot. How about Chief O'Brien? In season one episode one, he's simply a conn officer. During year two, he becomes Transporter Chief and gets some dialogue. By the end of TNG, he's an integral member of the crew with a wife and child.
And then there was the departure of two key members of the crew: Tasha Yar and Beverly Crusher. Departures can often sink a show (e.g. The X-Files) but occasionally they can be successfully worked into the show (e.g. NYPD Blue). Fortunately, TNG falls into the latter category. For some stupid reason, Denise Crosby got antsy in season one and asked to be killed off (but like athlete's foot, she just wouldn't go away!). Over time, Worf's character was slowly expanded to fill in the gap left by Yar. Soon enough, you forgot that Worf wasn't always Chief of Security. And for some reason that I am still unsure about (hey, bonus material possibility), Dr. Crusher left the show and Dr. Katherine Pulaski came on board. In an obvious ploy to copy the original show, a female Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy was put into sickbay. And, much to my surprise, Pulaski, in 21 short episodes, went from an annoying, crusty, old doctor with an android bias to a sweet, curmudgeonly person with a fondness for artificial intelligence.
Unfortunately, the writers mostly forgot to work on Wesley Crusher's personality during season two. No one's perfect.
I would be remiss if I didn't give a special mention to Worf. As with all the other characters, his background was nicely developed this year, but I think the writers had just a bit more fun with him. Aside from being poked with Klingon pain sticks and catchin' a little Klingon booty, one of my favorite personality quirks started to surface this year: the one-liner. Yes, by season four, some of his puns were quite horrible, but in this year they were very funny: "With all due respect, BE GONE. Commander." "Klingons never bluff." (Actually, I thought Vulcans never bluffed. Who knew those two races had anything in common?) "I am relaxed!" "Comfortable chair." Of course, they lose a lot in print.
And speaking of Klingon booty, there's Special Emissary K'Ehleyr. The originator of Klingon kleavage, the instigator of the catsuit, and the sexiest and funniest Klingon you could ever hope to meet, Suzie Plakson was the best new character introduced during season two. It's just a terrible shame she didn't last beyond two episodes. (Did you know that in addition to K'Ehleyr that Suzie also played Dr. Selar in TNG season one and the female Q in Voyager?)
The 22 episodes are spread out over six discs, with four episodes on the first five discs and two episodes and the bonus features on the sixth disc. Each episode is presented in its original full frame ratio. Overall, the transfer is nice but not exceptional and certainly not without its flaws. On the positive side: the colors are well defined and accurate, blacks are solid, there is no artifacting (even though there is a good deal of ambient fog in some episodes), and the picture is very clean. But, there are a few problems with the transfer. Overall, I found the picture much darker than I remember—so much so that I recalibrated my television and then went through the THX Optimode tests (which are not included in this set). Even after tweaking my picture, it still felt a touch too dark. Also, I did notice some edge enhancement; it's obvious, but not terribly distracting. What is distracting is the contrast. Even after using the THX Optimode, I was getting color bleed in some of the special effect shots—most notably on the blue warp nacelles and the red from the engines.
A small benefit of the clean transfer to DVD is being able to use the freeze frame to look at some of the graphics that normally fly by during an episode. When K'Ehleyr asked the holodeck computer to bring up a list of calisthenics programs, do you know what other options she had available besides Worf's hunting program? No? Well, you can now find out. In addition, other calisthenics' programs included: the Klingon Rite of Ascension, Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, and several Dixon Hill novels.
A key feature of the DVD release is the remastered soundtracks. Each episode was mixed to Dolby Digital 5.1 and is presented in addition to the original Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track. I had very high hopes for the new mixes, especially after perusing reviews on a few other sites. After popping in the discs, I am underwhelmed by the 5.1 mix. While a distinct improvement, I was just expecting more. Granted, the warp core reactor does put out a nice low thrum and the photon torpedoes do utilize the surround speakers, but it isn't an impressive mix. I wanted my subwoofer to pound when I heard the warp core. I wanted to hear the phasers and photon torpedoes fly around my room. I wanted to feel the Enterprise as it flies off into warp. Okay, my hopes were perhaps a bit too high for the soundtrack. I must remember that this is a fifteen-year-old television show, and that the 5.1 mix is truly an improvement over the original, as there is decent use of the subwoofer and moderate (maybe "minimal" is a better word) use of the surrounds. Also, as far as pure dialogue, while the voices were nicely centered and easily understood, I felt the center channel was a bit hollow and tinny. I don't recall Picard's voice being quite so nasally. Nonetheless, after two minutes of viewing, it really didn't even bother me.
And while speaking of a 5.1 mix, I think I'll mention the menu system. First, it's nice. Simple but nice. It's utilizes the LCARS computer displays that we are all familiar with from TNG. However, I was a little confused as to why they decided to have a medical theme for this menu system. I didn't particularly enjoy having a cross-section of a brain on the main menu page. Further, I was also disappointed that the menus weren't in 5.1 sound. I really thought that would have been a nice touch.
On disc six you will find the bonus materials Paramount decided were worthy of this collection. These mini documentaries are:
• Mission Overview: Year Two
In listing the items, it would seem that there is a respectable amount of material, but the truth is far from it. I was extremely disappointed with the bonus features because almost all of the information presented is outdated and generalized. Further, each feature only runs about fifteen minutes. What is most distressing, aside from the fact that all the information is "old news," is the idea that this generalized information is supposed to tell me more about season two. Many times the information didn't pertain to that year and sometimes it didn't even pertain to TNG! If it's called "Year Two" then it should tell me about TNG season two. The most interesting bonus feature is "Inside Starfleet Archives." It was fun to see some of the props used throughout the show's history. But, the woman narrator/curator was just a tad too enthusiastic about her work and she gave me the creeps. And, again, this feature should have strictly focused on TNG season two, but it didn't.
It really is an absolute shame that Paramount could not be bothered to do any better on the bonus features. No commentaries. No text information tracks. No current interviews. No deleted scenes. No bloopers. There is so much material available yet they didn't take the time to share it with the fans. Maybe it'll show up on the Ultimate Collection so they can double-dip us on the television shows as well as the movies.
Lastly, I am not completely impressed with the customized DVD case. While it certainly looks good, I could not easily remove the inner six-disc sleeve without turning the whole case upside-down and shaking it. Also, a very minor quibble (and shame on Paramount for not specifically catering to my needs!), but the DVD case is larger than any other case in my collection; thus, it sticks out past the end of my shelf. Heaven forbid!
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Taking a small step back to the beginning of my story, I've always wondered why Trekkies are frowned upon in society. Why is it that our passion is belittled and looked down upon? Why does it make us geeks, losers, or freaks to know the characters, be able to recite some lines, and just love the franchise? Why aren't sports' fans that know every statistic for the past thirty years laughed at? How is it that our joy is deemed unworthy by so many?
Is the second season the best of TNG? No. The Star Trek: The Next Generation Second Season collection is a definitive mixture of the good and bad of Trek. What you need to ponder is your love of the show as the neither the video nor the audio nor the bonus features are outstanding enough to make you want this set. You have to decide how much you enjoyed the stories from this season and let that be your guide in whether you want to own this set or not. There are some truly great stories but you're also stuck with "Shades of Grey" and "The Royale." Besides, where else will you find Q and the Borg in the same episode? It is my opinion that season two is a great place to start your TNG collection.
Paramount is guilty of taking advantage of its core group of fans. They know how popular Trek is and how much its fans want the best presentation of the material; however, Paramount doesn't seem to care. An adequate transfer and dismal bonus features show the studio's contempt for Trekkies. Paramount is sentenced to twenty years for their continued abuse of Trek fans everywhere. I reserve the right to increase the sentence to life if and when Paramount announces the double-dip.
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