Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season One
"Next generation" indeed. For the new generation of TV viewers casual watchers and die-hard fans alike it's difficult to imagine a time when Star Trek meant only one, short-lived TV series. When Kirk, Spock, and company left the air in 1969 after three years of their five-year mission, it was only then that Paramount and the world at large came to see that something interesting had just ended. The 1970s witnessed an unprecedented ballooning of the show's pop-culture presence, with its expanding universe of related books, merchandise, and conventions, plus much rattling of cages to get that "continuing mission" back on the screen. After fits and starts, in '79 we received Star Trek: The Motion Picture. That begat a successful movie franchise, which begat more books, merchandise, and conventions.
Finally, in '87 an entirely new series launched with the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. As syndication's flagship series, it reinvigorated the Trek universe by opening its creative and conceptual territory, and for seven seasons it possessed the budget and the will to go where the 1960s original had never gone before. It made household names out of Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, and other cast members, and inspired its own successful enterprise of tie-in merchandising, publications, and movies. Its loyal fan following is still strong, and this first installment of Paramount's season-by-season DVD boxed sets will fuel further lively discussions of Star Trek history, trivia, plot and character analyses, and each episode's merits within the Trek canon's Holy Writ.
Of course, only Star Trek's Original Series can claim that Season One was its best. Each subsequent series struggled through bumpy starts, then improved year by year. Next Generation's first season introduced a great new starship Enterprise, characters with more potential for development than any we'd seen before, and a willingness to broaden the known Trek universe.
However especially when viewed through the clarifying lenses of hindsight Season One also reminds us of just how godawful this series could be. A typical episode relied on trite plots points, clumsy allegories, dry and stilted dialogue, or characterization that was taking too long to feel relaxed and natural. The writers, staff, and cast had to stumble their way through this new territory one adventure at a time. Moreover, even through Season Two they were constrained by creator Gene Roddenberry's own creative stranglehold, stunted by a timidity and conservatism of imagination, and didn't conquer the challenge of crafting from whole cloth a series certain to be scrutinized by an audience whose attentions sometimes manifested as a form of religious fundamentalism. So Next Generation didn't find its most confident space legs until Seasons Three and Four.
Each season, though, sported its share of classics and clunkers, a bell curve ranging from the sublime to the ho-hum to the utterly embarrassing. Judging each of Season One's 26 episodes is each fan's inalienable right, though we'll walk into the Klingon targ's den by naming "Where No One Has Gone Before," "Datalore," "Home Soil," "Heart of Glory," and "The Big Goodbye" among this season's better entries, and placing "Code of Honor" (a cringe-inducing return to the "jungle black savages demand foreign white goddess" movies of the '30s), "Justice," "Angel One," "Conspiracy," and "Symbiosis" down among the series' most dreadful offerings. There's no question that this first season, warts and all, was the first leg of a hugely successful voyage to seek out new life and new civilizations within the often lifeless galaxy of the TV airwaves.
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Paramount's Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Complete First Season DVD boxed set is a handsome, fan-friendly piece of work. Even with its hefty sticker price, this set delivers at least twice as much bang for the buck as Paramount's Original Series discs. These 26 episodes are spread across seven discs that, when removed from their silvery paperboard clamshell case, unfold in a digipak as long as a Ferengi's arm. They're supported by exclusive extras and Trek-sexy menus designed after Enterprise control screens. How do the episodes look? Allowing for the limitations inherent in TV prints from the '80s, they look great even without the crispness, contrast, or definition DVDs are capable of supporting. Preserved in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratios, they tend to look a bit soft on occasion, but overall they're very clean, very solid. They were shot on film, then edited on video, so some grain is occasionally present, as are some transfer compression artifacts here and there, but these are minor distractions. The audio is the real standout.
Originally recorded in Dolby Stereo, the new Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mixes are robust and crystal clear, with judicious use of the surround channels adding a dimension to fine effect. Dynamic range is impressive, particularly benefiting the musical scores. (Each episode also offers its original Dolby 2.0 stereo option, plus English subtitles and closed-captioning.)
Compared to, say, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer sets with their episode-specific commentary tracks and printed synopses, this ST:TNG set is thin in the Worthwhile Supplements department. Disc Seven holds four self-congratulatory featurettes produced specifically for this Season One collection. The first, The Beginning, is an 18-minute look at the show's genesis, with behind-the-scenes info supported by new interviews with members of the cast and crew plus archive footage of Roddenberry, who died in '91.
Selected Crew Analysis (15 minutes) gives us cast members discussing their early character development from actor auditions to onscreen evolution. Production design, visual effects, model work, and similar fundamental components are well covered in The Making of a Legend (15 minutes). And last, Memorable Moments (17 minutes) serves up cast and crew reminiscences of Season One that stand tall in their memories, from Jonathan Frakes's immersion in a pool of ink-blackened Metamusil to Denise Crosby's farewell shoot.
There's plenty here for fans to love and, with similar treatments for the remaining six seasons, it's clear that Paramount is an empire that, as Worf would say, is acting with honor.