what did TNG era TV and movies get right and get wrong, in general of course. Is there something specific about the TNG brand that fans of TOS hated, or really liked? ... So I say again, what did TNG era TV and movies get right and get wrong in your opinion?
Back on the Onion AV Club, when they did their series of TOS reviews (by Zack Handlen), someone posted in the comments (those comment threads were outstanding) something along the lines of: "Imagine it's 1968, and you've just participated in an awesome letter-writing campaign – and you have saved your favorite TV show! Star Trek returns for its 3rd season: and you are one of the reasons why! Flushed with triumph, you sit down to watch the season premier. And you get: Spock's Brain."
That sense of confused disappointment is exactly what TNG delivered. Star Trek returns to TV in a weekly series! Flushed with anticipation, I sit down with a bunch of my friends to watch the series premier. And we get: Encounter at Farpoint. WTF? Instead of the crackling energy of a diverse bridge crew featuring sharp dialogue like from Corbomite Maneuver, we get a bunch of New Age stiffs sitting around a Ramada Inn lobby. At every point where they had to make a decision about which way to take a telling detail that could have been awesome, they went in exactly the opposite direction. They denatured it of story.
- The Kirk-Spock-McCoy triad occasionally featured sharp criticism. How to treat that element, in creating the new series? I guess GR felt that in "the future", we will have outgrown interpersonal conflict. So all the regular crew were bland and agreed with each other all the time. It felt very California. This was both obviously wrong, and telling of the kind of mistakes the TNG creators would make. When you are designing a storytelling vehicle, like say a TV series premise, you have to design-in places where drama can be found. TOS did not get a ton of mileage out of interpersonal dynamics within/between the crew, but it got some, mostly in early s1. Corbomite is the most obvious example: Bailey, and Kirk vs McCoy because of Bailey, and then lots of sidebars, including Kirk vs Spock when Spock fails to find a viable recommendation, and Scotty bantering with Spock to cheer up the junior officers. But other episodes contain examples, like Balance of Terror (Stiles vs Spock), Dagger of the Mind (Kirk vs Helen Noel), and Conscience of the King (Kirk vs Riley). And stretch a point a little, Enterprise crew can find themselves at odds with honest blue collar Federation people, like the miners in Mudd's Women and the miners in Devil in the Dark. The TNG creators essentially closed the door on this type of conflict, and therefore on this element of story.
- They had a decision to make about what to do with the place that in TOS was occupied by Spock. Spock is so utterly sui generis, the absence of someone "like" him would leave a big hole that fans would notice. So they took what they felt were the features that made him identifiable, and they split those into three parts and farmed them out among the rest of the bridge cast. Stoic alien = Worf. Technocrat with a reporessed human impulse = Data. Scattershot telepath = Troi. Seriously they schematically split up the "Spock" character, and farmed him out, and in the process snuffed out everything that was awesome about him.
- Klingons! For anyone who was a fan of The Final Reflection by John M Ford, TNG's handling of Klingons was an especially bitter disappointment. They had an opportunity to incorporate Ford's stuff, and they threw it aside. I can understand them ruining Spock, because they had to fiddle with the Spock-shaped hole in Trek. But why did they have to go out of their way to ruin Klingons too??
- Data. I winced when I saw him: he was a cliche from the first second he appeared. I felt I already knew all the storylines that would involve him: he wanted to be human, he would get to experience humanity but it would be taken away, he would be altered but then restored; and worse, they would use him to solve all of their technical problems. The most ghastly storykilling use of Data was in an episode where we learned that, decades earlier, Capt Picard had invented an utterly unstoppable, devastating maneuver in ship-to-ship battles. No counter has ever been found! Then at the climax, as that maneuver is about to be used against the Enterprise, Riker shouts "Data! Devise a counter to the Picard Maneuver!" And he does! In an instant all human achievement and formidability is washed away. So stupid of the writers/producers.
- Q. I don't understand why it is not obvious to TNG fans what a storykilling device Q is. TNG fans have countered to me that Q was not so different from Trelane, Charlie Evans, Sargon, Appolo, etc etc. But Q was utterly different, in one hugely important way. In TOS, the god-like character from the (2nd) pilot died in the pilot, killed by Kirk. Trelane was taken away by his parents, Charlie was taken away by the Thasians, Sargon & Appolo vanished, etc. The godlike presences did not linger. In TNG, Q announces that humans have piqued his interest, and he will be keeping an eye on them. Instantly every other storyline in TNG is reduced in importance. The only important story is what Q will decide to do. His existence diminishes everything else. Quite stupid.
Right from the start they crippled themselves. Seriously the only thing that was at all an improvement in TNG over TOS, was the special effects. Everything else was terrible.
The rest of season one, or rather that portion of it I could stand to watch, just drew out the crushing heartbreak of it all. And I've been angry at TNG for 25 years.
I mentioned the comment threads on the Onion AV Club. Several posters there tried to convince me that there were some good TNG episodes; that in fact the show DID suck in its first season, but finally found its stride in season 3, and became good. I eventually let myself be swayed, and did finally see a good TNG episode: First Contact, from s4. That one was pretty impressive. Since then I've seen & enjoyed Best of Both Worlds, Cause and Effect, maybe a couple other good ones. So my black Sicilian vendetta against TNG has eased a bit. I've seen some good episodes and have a short list of other good ones to look for.
The very best episodes of TNG, from what I've read and seen, have to write around the mistakes they made in setting up the show. Either they get Picard away from the rest of the crew, since basically the rest of the crew is a bunch of duds (Inner Light, Darmok, Chain of Command); or they eschew the "cerebral" stuff by going wall-to-wall action (Best of Both Worlds); or they acknowledge and partially correct their terrible handling of Tasha Yar (Yesterday's Enterprise); or they go all-in to perfectly execute a gimmick (Cause and Effect). No great episode of TNG uses the normal TNG premise; they have to sidestep it to make any kind of greatness possible. That's not the case with TOS. Because TOS was set up correctly, they can tell strong stories within the normal storytelling premise. Maybe the very greatest TOS episodes are departures: City and Amok Time. But many very strong episodes evolve quite naturally from the premise: most of s1, for example.
If the first two seasons of TOS had been as bad as the first two seasons of TNG, there would never have been a third season – and there would never have been a TNG. TNG coasted on the good will created by two decades of TOS. The people working on the show finally got their act together and became good, and that is to their credit; but it sure took them long enough, and they owe a huge debt.
Bad TOS was silly, but energetic and promising. Bad TNG was heartbreaking and pompous and inert.