Why Star Trek Next Generation works

Welcome to week two of our why Star Trek works series. This week, we’re talking about Next Generation. 

Full disclosure, I have a soft spot for this series. It’s the one I watched with my grandmother when I was a little nerdling. So I might be biased when I say that this is the best Star Trek ever. But I also think I’m critical enough to judge the show honestly. After all, we’re harder on the things we love than anything else. 

Taking place 78 years after the original series, the show included a fancier more advanced Enterprise with an entirely new cast. The mission remained the same. To explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no one has gone before!

The show aired from September 28th, 1987 to May 23rd, 1994. Since then, there hasn’t been a time when reruns haven’t been available on tv somewhere. 

I’d like to say the popularity of the show was just because the characters were great. They were great, after all. But it goes so much deeper than that. 

To start, the show was intelligent. Not so much in the science, most of that was bullshit. It was the creative writing that had to be smart. The show was working within a world that had already been established by the original series. They could make some changes, blame them on advancements. But some things they were just stuck with. 

It would have been easier to just make it an extension of the original series. But they went past that and did it well. Picard is a different kind of captain than Kirk. Dr. Crusher is a world away from Bones. While the positions remained the same, the people who inhabited them were wildly different.

Another thing that stayed the same, aside from the mission, was the lesson of inclusion and equality. It’s one of the first times we see an enemy race become allies in the Klingons. While sometimes the relationship is strained, they aren’t volatile. Over and over we’ll see this trend. Even into Picard, where we see the Borg become friends. But we’ll talk about that later. 

One thing I appreciated about Next Generation is the willingness to pivot. When something wasn’t working, they tried to fix it. One great example is Wesley Crusher. His character was an irritating pain in the ass. Mouthy, smarmy. He thinks he’s smarter than everyone around him. Spoiler, he’s not.

Wesley got taken down a peg when he goes off to school and messes up, hard. He becomes a better person after that and a better character. This decision was made after a huge wave of fan hate directed at the kid.

Brag in the comments if you know what he’s drinking.

(Will Wheaton, by the way, is the actor who played Wesley. He’s an adorable cat dad who makes me smile on Twitter all the time.) 

Finally, let’s talk about the comedy of the show. It wasn’t overall a laugh riot. It has some of the darker episodes of anything I’ve ever seen.

There are four lights. If you don’t get that, look it up. Then watch the episode and cry.

Somehow they manage to blend this with some really funny things. Like Data’s cat, Spot. Spot the cat hates everyone. No one can take care of this little monster. She put Riker in the medical ward. Even Worf is scared of this fluffy orange cat. Oh, and in case you don’t know, she doesn’t have a single spot on her. 

The whole crew would shred you if you hurt this cat.

Hilarious. 

There are so many lessons a writer can learn from Next Generation. I’m just going to give you a bullet list below.

-Don’t be afraid to be funny, even in a serious series.

-Let your characters be wrong sometimes.

-Think out your storylines in advance.

-At the same time, don’t be afraid to pivot. 

I hope you’re having as much fun with this series as I am. Next week we’ll be talking about Star Trek, Voyager. 

You can support Paper Beats World on Patreon.

You can also buy me a cup of coffee on Ko-fi.

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