The Overlord wrote:
Would the Neutral Zone have better without the 20th century characters? There were a lot of interesting plot threads in that episode, the Federation meeting with the Romulans for the first time in decades and a mysterious new threat that was attacking Romulan and Federation outposts in the Neutral Zone. But all of that got sidelined by some silly plot where the Enterprise crew interacts with and lecture some characters from the 20th century. Frankly the stuff with the Romulans and the missing outposts seemed far more interesting then the stuff with the 20th century characters.
My opinion of TNG's first season overall is that it was a very rocky ride. On balance, TNG season one is no better than TOS season three, and probably worse.
In my view, all things considered, The Neutral Zone
is an above average TNG season one episode.
The 20th century people are the meat and potatoes of the episode. The Romulans were the insignificant portion of the story that could have been easily deleted, any vague threat could have been inserted, with no impact on the A story.
I just love the way the 20th century "art of the deal" businessman sized up the Romulans within seconds, while 24th century "urbane" Picard sat in his captain chair absolutely clueless.
Offenhouse correctly sizing up the Romulans is my favorite part of the episode. That scene tells us a couple of things. First, that Offenhouse is going to be alright. He may be a man out of time, but he can adapt to the future. Second, the scene is a refreshing addendum to the evident thesis advanced throughout the rest of the first season (and even within the episode itself, unfortunately, as pointed out
by Jonas Grumby
), which is the notion that the smugly superior humanity generally exemplified by the main cast is in every way an improvement over present day humanity. Offenhouse surely has a thing or two to teach 24th century mankind. The idea that people out of time can still bring something to the table, to make worthwhile contributions, is a positive theme, and one returned to later, in far superior episodes such as Relics
and even Half a Life.
Anyway, to answer the OP's question: no
, The Neutral Zone
would not have been better without the 20th century characters. As I rate the episode above average for the first season as is, it likely would have been worse.