I think Wayne Campbell said it best: "Star Trek: The Next Generation. In many ways it's superior but will never be as recognized as the original."
For a while, the Next Generation show was in no way superior to the original. In fact, it was downright inferior. Gene Roddenberry's epic future seemed out of date. The plots were lame and the characters lacked depth. And even though the budget was greater than the original, it felt cheap.
Despite all of this, Star Trek: The Next Generation grew into something greater than the original. I would choose to watch most episodes of this series over first Star Trek.
The key, I think, was tapping into the hidden potential of the characters. Patrick Stewart brought such an amazing depth and gravitas to the role that I marvel at the power of his commanding presence. At first he seemed like milquetoast replacement for the red-blooded Kirk. But as the series went on, Picard showed more dimension that Kirk ever did on his show.
The supporting cast of characters also opened up wonderful story possibilities. The show fired on all cylinders when it used the mode of science-fiction to explore universally human concepts. It used the largeness of space to explore the largeness of the soul.
On top of that, the show became more adept and showing exciting action sequences in an epic space opera style. And it always worked best with a deep emotional core.
Of course, the show failed miserably when it tried to preach instead of telling a good story. This was particularly annoying with Picard ranting against religion in "Who Watches the Watchers?" And it is for these reasons that the show is not higher on the list. But despite these bad episodes, the show was able to make some pretty spectacular television.
"Skin of Evil."
This was the first time that the show telegraphed the idea that it was not like its predecessor. And it did so by killing a man character. Tosha Yar (Denise Crosby) was the tough-as-nails head of security. She had been on many adventures with the cast and crew and then was shockingly murdered in this episode. Not only did this set a new tone of danger, but it added richer emotional texture, especially at her memorial service at the end.
JUMP THE SHARK
While the beauty of sci-fi is that lets you explore new and strange stories, I cannot tell you how uninteresting it was to find an episode where a number of crew members are turned into children. I understand the themes they were exploring, but it came off as cloying and pointless. It was at this point it began to feel like the series was running out of ideas.
There are many things that are terrible about this episode: the acting, the plot, the in-your-face and too-on-the-nose attack on capital punishment, and several other annoying things. But for me, the worst part was when the physically ideal people of the planet say that they run instead of walk to get where they need to go. I know this sounds petty, but this was visually and logically incredibly stupid. It was at this point that I was about ready to give up on this show completely.
"Chain of Command."
This is, hands down, the best story that Star Trek: The Next Generation ever told. Everything about this episode focused on conflict and authority and how do we resolve those conflicts. Ronny Cox does an amazing job as Captain Jellico, a character that could have been a dimensional bad guy, but instead came off as understandable and sympathetic even when you disagreed with him. And David Warner was never better as Picard's torturer. Alternately rational and ruthless, his game of wits and wills against Picard is some truly fantastic television. I will never forget him putting Picard to his final test.
And then there was that haunting final line of the show. That stayed with me for years.
Star Trek: The Next Generation is a classic example of a show coming into the world unsure and malformed, but maturing into something truly wonderful and beautiful. I truly believe that Star Trek may have never seen its resurgence without this truly wonderful show.