Entertainment,  Television

The Next Generation Arrives

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It’s a Saturday in late September, and the year is 1987. Half a dozen teenage boys sit around an old kitchen table in someone’s basement, engaged in a role playing game descended from Dungeons & Dragons, but with a greater emphasis on realism and detail. It’s the middle of a combat sequence. They clash with a demon that outclasses each of them individually by a wide margin, but is evenly matched with the group as a whole. If they work together, they may defeat the beast and live.

An alarm goes off. Everyone looks up.

Someone speaks, the boy whose house they’re playing in. “Okay, we’re done. Time for Star Trek.”

Did I ever mention that I’m a geek?

It’s actually Monday, the 26th of September 1987 according to various internet sources. I have no idea why I remember it as a Saturday, but maybe it switched to weekend broadcast at some point and I’m just matching that up in my head. Maybe it was the next weekend on Saturday. Things didn’t always happen at the same time in Canada in those days. And RPGs were a common thing whenever we could get away with it, but those were usually on weekends, too, because then we could play all day and into the night.

Either way, Star Trek: The Next Generation is about two minutes from coming on the air for the first time. No one at the table questions stopping the game. The demon will wait. The paper will wait. The dice will wait. Star Trek will not and should not.

The boy whose house it is turns the TV on, channel already set, presses record on the blank tape he preloaded into the VCR, and we settle into various pieces of old furniture to wait for the teaser and the opening credits.

It is strange. There’s a Klingon on the bridge, and he’s part of the crew. The captain is apparently French but speaks with a British accent. This is easier to reconcile for some of us than others. Wait a second. The Klingon is wearing some frilly sash. Are we sure he’s a Klingon? Well, he’s got the bones structure established by the movies, so yeah.

It’s exciting. A turn of events: there are three women in the primary cast. And, remember that we’re all teenage boys here, not only do at least two of them seem intelligent and capable, reserving judgement on the third since she’s not really given anything to do, but they’re all hot. There’s action, mystery, and adventure. And the special effects blow us away. We’ve never seen anything this good outside of a movie theatre.

It’s new. It’s different. It’s wonderful. It’s Star Trek.

That night began a love affair with Star Trek renewed, the Next Generation, a whole new experience. Fortunately for the show, and for most of the actors’ continuing careers, the writing was permitted to grow. A lot of the episodes in the first season don’t hold up very well and were a bit rough even at the time. You can say the same about quite a few of the episodes in the second season. The third season, it began to hit its stride. Fourth and fifth were spectacular, and six and seven were at least good, if not always up to the same bar.

No show today would be permitted that growth cycle.

But that first season, for all its flaws, for all that the actors were still trying to establish who the characters were, and fit themselves into the roles, we loved it. Star Trek was back, and it was big and it was new and was exciting.

And it was only on once a week, dammit. But there were VCRs and we knew how to use them. If it was only on once, that didn’t mean we watched it only once.

The Original Series has spawned seven other television series so far, with, apparently, three more on its way at the moment. Four of those, so far, lasted longer than the three seasons my original crew got. TOS found its life in syndication, slipping into the cracks and becoming pop-culture. The Animated Series you can almost count as an extra season of TOS. And there was a second planned TV series with the same actors. But Star Trek Phase 2, perhaps sooner, perhaps later, depending on whose version of history you’re looking at, transformed into Star Trek: The Motion Picture and the movies carried on from there.

There might have been a gap almost an entire generation long in the real world between the ending of TOS and the beginning of TNG, but there were other stories to tell when TOS ended, and Star Trek: The Next Generation told something around 170 of those stories, accounting for two-part episodes. Deep Space 9 followed, and then Voyager. These three shows all take place roughly in the same time frame, with a little bit of overlap from one to the next. Enterprise turned back the clock, and things were a bit different by then for television, so it didn’t get the same chance to grow. But it was still Star Trek and it got four seasons. How Discovery fares in the longer term remains to be seen. And Picard, a sequel series, is something different again.

It’s only fair that I give each of the other series a little bit of time. Yes, I grew up with Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Sulu, Chekhov, Uhura, and all of the other characters, minor and major, in the Star Trek universe. The original Star Trek universe. But more came later. And more will still come later. There are still stories to be told, and there is still hope for a positive future, for a Star Trek future. It will come.

Live long and prosper.

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