Then there's the Essentialists. There's a core of an interesting idea with these guys, but they're so stupid that watching them is like watching someone slowly drool into a cup. They decide to protest against people relaxing and having fun on a planet specifically designed for people to relax and have fun. That's like going to a beach and complaining that there's sand there. If there's sand in an office-building and it gets into people's shoes, that's something to be legitimately annoyed at, but leaving the office and going to the beach to complain about the sand in the office? That makes you a loon.
That's a very good point, and when you put it that way it reveals how little thought went into the New Essentialists. The writers seem to think that Risa would make the perfect target for a group concerned with Federation decadence, but you've just neatly explained why in fact it's a very poor choice of target for any group whose concerns are credible. We might say that the New Essentialists are supposed
to be viewed as having the wrong idea - that's clearly the intention - but I don't think they're supposed to be morons. Sadly, there's nothing interesting for the audience in a setup where the philosophical opponent for the heroes comes across as stupid. Again, we might question whether there was actually supposed to be any philosophical depth to the episode, but if there wasn't, why bring in the Fullerton character and give him a political motivation?
I agree that there's an interesting concept buried in there somewhere; characters from the main protagonist nation who view their society as decadent and weak, playing on the beach as warfleets mass beyond its borders. An antagonistic group who aren't presented as an external enemy but who instead offer a different sort of "insider's view". If the writers insisted on creating him, Fullerton should have been a provocative character.
Combined with your runabout comment, it makes me wonder what could have been if the writers had tried making a provocative Risa episode. As regards the runabout issue, what if the New Essentialists had made that very point? What if we spent half an episode mucking about on Risa only for Fullerton, in his interactions with Dax and co, to explain his own view on what we've just been seeing - and point out, for example, that a military outpost heavily involved in an ongoing political crisis involving two well-armed and aggressive nations, and which is the gateway to the realm of a third aggressive nation that they know is a mounting threat, just lent one of its military-issue vessels to two off-duty officers so they could go to the beach. Now that
would have been well-played, because we, as the audience, are, as you say, used to this sort of thing as one of Trek's little quirks, and to have the writers sit up and take notice, to challenge and question how they present the protagonists to us, might make us
sit up and take notice. We might well be thinking "this guy's got a good point there; how will Dax and co respond?"
And then we have a potentially interesting episode.