Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season Two
Season One of Star Trek: The Next Generation was a rough shakedown cruise for the fledgling series. The good news is that things improved so much in Season Two, which aired during 1988-89, that hindsight renders that first year all but perfunctory. The best is still yet to come, though, and Season Two certainly has its share of cringes among the classics.
With this six-pack set of DVDs, you'll notice actors and writers finding welcome rhythms for the characters and plots. Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, and the rest of the ensemble explore opportunities for enduring character development and good humor, particularly for fan faves Mr. Data and Lt. Worf. Oscar-winning Trekkie Whoopi Goldberg debuts as Guinan, the wise and enigmatic bartender in the starship's new lounge, Ten Forward. Actor Gates McFadden temporarily and rather mysteriously leaves the show, so Dr. Crusher is stationed back on Earth for the season. Replacing her is acerbic Dr. Pulaski, played with refreshing dimensionality by Original Trek veteran Diana Muldaur.
Geordi La Forge is promoted to head of Engineering, and Worf becomes a more interesting security chief than the late, not-very-lamented Tasha Yar ever had a chance to be. Whiz-kid Wesley Crusher is somewhat less annoyingly precocious and the writers try valiantly to give him a better fit.
Two changes this season are especially long-standing and influential Riker gains the beard, simultaneously dislodging the dilithium rod from his butt, and Star Trek finds its best Big Bad, the cybernetic Borg. The Borg are, in fact, the only new alien race of any interest introduced this season, and we witness ST:TNG's dire dependence on the "forehead of the week" formula setting up shop permanently.
Story-wise, Season Two's quality bell curve displays a couple of classic entries on one end, a few godawful embarrassments on the other, and a fat majority in the middle that are entertaining enough but about as distinguished as the average Mentos commercial. Time twists, the accidental creation of sentient lifeforms, and spatial anomalies off the port bow eventually became Trek tropes, but in the second season they're still reasonably fresh plot hooks.
Likewise, stories hung on holodeck malfunctions won't be a tired staple for another couple of years yet, and one of Season Two's better offerings, "Elementary, Dear Data," serves up a holodeck Sherlock Holmes fantasy gone awry when dastardly Prof. Moriarty acquires sentience and threatens the ship (the character was so good he returned in a later season).
Among other highlights Mr. Data's status as a free being is put on trial in one of the best "issue" stories ("Measure of a Man"). The cosmic trickster known as Q (John DeLancie) appears again and solidifies his place among the all-time favorite recurring characters ("Q Who"). Worf's old flame makes forehead ridges cool and sexy in "The Emissary." Riker takes the center seat on a Klingon bridge ("A Matter of Honor"). Counselor Troi experiences sex-free motherhood thanks to a Tinker-Bell alien ("The Child").
That crashing sound you hear is the show's dignity during Joe Piscopo's lounge comic shtick in "The Outrageous Okona."
Because of a Writers Guild strike kneecapping the production schedule, the number of stories here is down from 26 to 22, and the year ends with a contrived, cheapjack "clip show," an episode that most fan polls agree is, in the words of The Simpsons' Comic Book Guy, the Worst Episode Ever.
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As before, Paramount's Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Complete Second Season DVD boxed set is a handsome, well produced cinder block. Disc for disc, these 17 hours of material provide plenty more dollar value than we found in Paramount's Original Series two-fer releases. Once all seven ST:TNG seasons are released in this format, these matching sets are going to look mighty impressive all lined up on a shelf, and Season Two's packaging starts the build by complementing its predecessor. The 22 episodes here are spread across six discs that, when removed from their thick, silvery paperboard clamshell case, unfold in a digipak that spreads open to about the length of a skateboard. Pop a disc into the player and the menus designed after Enterprise computer readouts are the height Trekkie coolness. Now the bad news the lack of printed episode synopses remains a problem for anyone who's not a fanzine-toting Trekker.
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're generally very clean and solid, if occasionally a tad soft. The rare speck pops up now and then, as do some transfer compression side-effects here and there. Still, these episodes are well preserved, considering.
The greater standout is, again, the audio. The new Dolby Digital 5.1 and original Dolby 2.0 stereo options are clear and strong. The 5.1 surround mixes aren't robust, though the stereo and surround channels give background and ambient sounds ample spreading-out room. Dynamic range is very good.
What about the supplements? Disc Six does hold more than an hour of new material produced for these Season Two discs. These are five short documentary featurettes put together from both new and archived interview sources (the onscreen interview dates are a welcome addition). Unsurprisingly, they're from the same gene pool as the Season One extras, so count on them being slickly produced, each roughly 14-18 minutes long, and predictably horn-tooting the video equivalent of glossy fan magazine reportage.
Mission Overview: Year Two offers Diana Muldaur, Whoopi Goldberg, Marina Sirtis, and other cast and crew (plus archive footage of the late Gene Roddenberry) discussing this season's changes. With Patrick Stewart, John DeLancie, and others, Selected Crew Analysis: Year Two looks at the growth of the continuing characters and new additions. Interviews with producers Rick Berman and Peter Lauritson, designer Alan Sims, and other production staff give us behind-the-scenes trivia, such as makeup processes for the Borg and Worf, in Departmental Briefing: Production. Assorted guest stars (John Tesh, for example) and production staff discuss favorite moments such as how to get pigs in space in Departmental Briefing: Memorable Missions.
Finally, we discover a True Fan's dream job in Inside Starfleet Archives, a personal guided tour through the Lost Ark warehouse of Star Trek props, models, and set pieces. Rounding out the set is a glossy fold-out slipsheet with a portrait of the crew, each episode's original airdate and "stardate," and a blueprint of the Enterprise.
Paramount's second addition to that shelfload of seven silvery bricks loaded with ST:TNG discs offers more for fans and newbies to reminisce about and argue over before they dive into the onset of the series' Golden Years. (Now, where oh where is that blooper reel we know exists out there?)