Why TNG is the best TV show ever

Don’t get me wrong. “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (TNG) had some appalling episodes over the years, especially in its first two seasons. But it seriously showed its true colors in seasons 3-5 and became a classic because of some of the best-written episodes that television has ever seen.

Below I present the best 10 episodes of TNG in my personal opinion. No, these episodes are not actually the best in terms of action or pure entertainment. But they represent the best television work in terms of offering food for thought to the viewer. After you watch one of these episodes, your brain somehow stalls for about 10 minutes, because it rewires itself to new ideas and new points of view. These episodes are pure social commentary, not sci-fi. You educate yourself by watching.

If you are looking to just have some fun and indulge yourself to pure well-done entertainment, I can certainly recommend the TNG episodes “Cause and Effect”, “Best of Both Worlds”, “Deja Q”, “I, Borg”, “Clues” and according to some, the best TNG episode ever, “The Inner Light”. But let’s find some episodes where the viewer actually learns something useful. These are episodes that have immensely inspired me in my life. They were my mother and father, teaching me new points of view.

Who Watches The Watchers?
A team of anthropologists are secretly watching a race that it’s still in its Bronze Age. When one of the natives gets injured after he coincidentally found out about the secret lab, Enterprise decides to beam the man up to the ship, and cure him. While he is semi-sedated and treated, he sees Picard for a few seconds, and after he is returned in his planet, he believes that Picard is a God. He talks about his experience with everyone, and they believe him. Now Enterprise is responsible for interfering with the natural development of the species, a species that were not deeply religious before.
The question posed: At the very end, Picard and the crew reveal their true selves as mortal beings, but was the damage already done? And if the Federation is watching other species without their knowledge and consent, shouldn’t someone be watching them?

The Offspring
Mr Data decides to build an android, his daughter. Unfortunately, the Federation is interested in the technology and they want to take his daughter away. A similar theme was later explored in the episode “The Quality of Life”.
The question posed: Should artificial life-forms have the same rights as humans do?

An alien takes refuge in Enterprise, while many of his species want him back. Apparently, his species –after a period of time– are naturally transfiguring themselves into another species. But their society have grown to try to not allow this to happen.
The question posed: Should we be afraid to evolve and become different or should we embrace changes?

Suddenly Human
A human kid is rescued by the Enterprise among other alien kids. They soon find out that he was kidnapped while a baby and his parents murdered by the species who are now raising him. Picard is trying to get him to agree to go back to his grandmother, but the kid is confused by this new, strange, human world.
The question posed: When a person is raised by an alien set of social rules for years, should we push him/her to adopt a new set of rules just because genetically he is one of us instead?

Devil’s Due
After 1000 years the Devil is coming back to a planet to claim it as its own because its inhabitants signed a contract 1000 years ago with the Devil, in exchange of 1000 years of prosperity. Like the above episode, this is a slow-going episode, but with deeper meanings nonetheless.
The question posed: If you witness bed time stories or religious folklore come to life, do you become a believer to these stories, or do you keep your brain in place and try to find a scientific explanation for what you experience?

First Contact
One of my absolute favorite episodes. While Riker was on a planet with pre-warp technology (just a few years ahead of us today), he is captured and examined. In the surprise of all people involved, their belief that they are in the center of the universe begins to shatter. Some of these people are ready to accept the Federation and bring out the big secret that “aliens exist”, but others, don’t want this to happen because they are traditional, religious people that live happily in their small world. At the end, the president of the planet decides to not let the secret out to his people, he (correctly) moves money from the warp project to social studies and progress, and asks the Federation to reveal themselves only when they deem that his people are ready emotionally, physiologically and socially.
The question posed: Do you just tell everyone that aliens exist, or do you wait until your subjects are ready for such a major change?

The Host
The Trills are a host-based species. Some Trills are allowed to carry another, small being in them, which it then blends its personality and memories from previous hosts to new hosts. Dr Crusher falls in love with a Trill. When he dies, in order for the small being to not die (until a new Trill arrives to the ship), she plants it in Riker. But the personality blends with Riker, so feelings of the previous host carry on to Riker. At the long last, a new host arrives, but to Crusher’s dismay, she is a female!
The question posed: When you fall in love, do you fall in love with the body or the mind? If you know for certain that the mind of a person you once loved exists in another person, will you be able to love this new person too? And what happens when this other person is of the same sex as you are?

The Outcast
An androgynous species do not allow its people to act either as males or females exclusively. When one of them falls for Riker, she is dragged away from him, she is deemed “sick”, and she is medically treated to not have such feelings.
The question posed: Being gay, is it just a state of being, or is it sickness? The episode concludes the former via this ironic scenario.

The Game
There is a new video game in town and it’s extremely addictive. But only Wesley Crusher is able to see that this is not just a game, but a mind control tool in the hands of the wicked.
The question posed: How much faith do you put to technology just so you can have some good time?

The Chase
Romulans, Cardassians, Klingons and humans are racing to find what each think that they will find (Klingons think it’s a weapon, humans think that it’s an artifact etc), in this archaeology-driven episode. But what they find instead, it’s that all species in the galaxy (including the worst enemies) are having the same, common ancestor.
The question posed: We’re all star-stuff, coming from the same cosmic explosion. We’re One. The episode is amazingly inspiring and far-reaching. Here is a quote of the common ancestor alien at the end of the episode, appearing to the four enemies through a hologram. Read it and shiver:

“You’re wondering who we are; why we have done this; how it has come that I stand before you – the image of a being from so long ago. Life evolved on my planet before all others in this part of the galaxy. We left our world, explored the stars and found none like ourselves. Our civilization thrived for ages, but what is the life of one race, compared to the vast stretches of cosmic time?
“We knew that one day we would be gone, and nothing of us would survive – so we left you. Our scientists seeded the primordial oceans of many worlds, where life was in its infancy. The seed codes directed your evolution toward a physical form resembling ours: this body you see before you, which is of course shaped as yours is shaped, for you are the end result. The seed codes also contain this message, which is scattered in fragments on many different worlds.
“It was our hope that you would have to come together in fellowship and companionship to hear this message, and if you can see and hear me, our hope has been fulfilled. You are a monument, not to our greatness, but to our existence. That was our wish – that you too would know life and would keep alive our memory. There is something of us in each of you, and so, something of you in each other. Remember us.”

In conclusion: let your kids watch TNG (just start from season 3).

Post a comment »

Thom Holwerda wrote on December 26th, 2006 at 1:25 AM PST:

I liked Voyager not for Seven of Nine (OK I did a bit, I’m a guy) but more because of Janeway. She rocks!

Andrew wrote on December 26th, 2006 at 5:00 AM PST:

Out of those listed, the Chase would be my favourite. With ‘The Inner Light’ being the best overall episode.

I’m currently trying to get into DS9 since I mostly ignored it . I don’t think it will ever come close to TNG. I’m on the second season and could really take it or leave it.

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Eugenia wrote on December 26th, 2006 at 5:30 AM PST:

I never liked DS9 much. It feels very dark and claustrophobic. Not very inspiring. However, the “Little Green Men” episode of DS9, is one of the funniest and well-done Star Trek episodes ever.

Voyager was very so-so, thankfully the introduction of Seven saved the later seasons.

ST:Enterprise was boring.

Optimus wrote on December 27th, 2006 at 2:59 AM PST:

One of the most interesting posts I have read from you lately, and yes STNG is one of my favorite series just for the reasons you write here. Long time since I watched some episodes though.

Groo wrote on December 30th, 2006 at 3:48 AM PST:

Good article, highlighting some of the great unsung episodes of TNG.

Regarding DS9, however – I should note that when it was on at first, I quickly gave up on it, as early on it was dark and somewhat directionless. However, when I came back to it later via Tivo (and ultimately DVDs), I was surprised to find that as it got rolling, it actually turned into a great show, and one that was very different than TNG, in that it was *much* more of a running story, a la a show like Buffy (or, sigh, poor Firefly), versus TNGs more episodic nature (a la the original series). When watched en masse, it’s actually quite a rousing space opera. Plus, “Sacrifice Of Angels” from season six may contain the finest space battles of any sci-fi show *or* movie ever made, imho.

Anyway, just saying that I think DS9 gets a bit of a bum rap, and is worth another viewing that really d pays off once you get into the second half of the series. (Plus, always a plus: more Worf.)

And: I concur on “Inner Light” – one of the Patrick Stewart’s finest performances on any screen. However, I have always thought that “Inner Light” also formed an amazing sort of “inner world” trilogy across the three series, along with “Hard Time” from DS9, and “The Thaw” from Voyager, which were each some of the best episodes that the respective series’ had to offer.

Ken Jackson wrote on December 30th, 2006 at 5:09 AM PST:

I also like this show as one of the all-time best series.

But I rate The Outcast as the second worst episode. It is obviously contrived to smear an ugly political message in our faces with relatively little SciFi to entertain us. Who Watches The Watchers? gets the title of worst because of Picard’s emotional outburst against anything resembling the worship of God.

I agree that First Contact is one of the best. I think it captured probably current-day reactions excellently.

My favorites are all the episodes that touch on the nature of time, like Timescape in which time was fractured by attempting to help a Romulan ship that had some odd species using their quantum well as an incubator. The Next Phase gets special mention for uniqueness.

Brandon Sharitt wrote on December 30th, 2006 at 5:52 AM PST:

Those are some very good episodes of TNG, and I do agree it is one of the best sci-fi shows. I liked DS9 on kind of a different level, especially the Dominion War stoy arc. Voyager was just dull for me. I thought the three season of Enterprise sucked, but the fourth season was one of the best seasons out of any series in my opinion.

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Eugenia wrote on December 30th, 2006 at 6:39 AM PST:

> because of Picard’s emotional outburst against anything resembling the worship of God.

I don’t really believe in God either, so in my opinion, Picard’s reaction was normal. ;-)

ATinyMouse wrote on December 31st, 2006 at 2:53 AM PST:

I’m the proud owner of all 7 seasons of ST:TNG on DVD and watch various episodes from time to time. I skipped purchasing the second season due to my dislike for Dr. Pulaski and thinking it had no good episodes. However, after going through the episodes in the last season and not finding a few of my favorites I ended up buying the second season and discovered they were there!

I would have agreed with your statement about skipping the second season until I found out that “The Measure of a Man” is a season two episode. Based on the question you posed for “The Offspring” I’m surprised you didn’t at least mention anything about it since this episode explored that area to its entirety. :)

As far as the first season goes, I can think of one episode worth watching. “Home Soil” poses a big question, “What is life?” Although TNG covers this question a few times throughout its life. I also thought “11001001″ was an interesting episode, it doesn’t really pose any questions, but it definitely opens my eyes to something I hope does NOT happen to Humanity…

And quickly going back to the second season, I love “Contagion” and thought it was a cool plot. Even though they didn’t come out and say it, the fact that Geordi had to “reboot” the Enterprise is simply classic! :)

Mark Tomlinson wrote on December 31st, 2006 at 12:59 PM PST:

I enjoyed this blog. Personally, I rather liked the first 2 seasons of TNG – perhaps it was just becoming familiar with the differences from TOS.

And I guess I’m in a minority because I thought ST: Enterprise was really good – and (for the most part) getting better all the time. I think the renewed sense of wonder (wow! we’re actually IN SPACE!) and a certain naivety added to my enjoyment.

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