For many shows, the first season is a season of finding the right voice and settling in; of characters who are still in development and premises that are still undergoing revision. This was the case for Star Trek: The Next Generation. Wil Wheaton, a cast member, revisits his memories of the making of the first half of the first season, evaluating the episodes from the perspective of 20 years.
When I was very small, I had an irrational prejudice against certain shows and movies. I quite liked Star Wars, but I was anti-Indiana Jones, anti-TOS, anti-Doctor Who and anti-Battlestar Galactica for reasons I can’t now remember.
All the same, I don’t remember protesting at all when my dad took myself and my brother to see ST4 at the movie theatre. The rarity of such an outing cannot be overstated: I can’t remember a time before or after (until we became near adults) that my dad willingly took both of us to the movies by himself. I assume my mother had flatly refused to see this movie and my dad, not willing to appear so very selfish as to head out and see it on his own, decided we would be reasonable camoflage. And really, if you had to pick a Trek movie to which you should take two elementary school kids, ST4 is the one. By osmosis, I knew enough about the characters to identify them by name, but very little more than that (the significance of the end of the movie, where the Enterprise-A is revealed, was lost on me.)
Somehow, in between viewing ST4 and the arrival of TNG on television, I became a fan. Not of TOS (that came later still), but of the idea of Star Trek. I was SO EXCITED there was going to be a new one. I was worried (and cynically sure, even at age 11) that it would soon be cancelled. There were girls! Three of them! and a kid! (A boy, sadly, but I will rant about that later) and the guy from Reading Rainbow! By the time TNG ended, 7 years later, I was about to leave for college, I was an unabashed fan of all things Star Trek, Doctor Who, and I’d found a few sci-fi authors to follow as well.
Star Trek, and especially TNG, was a big part of my life for a lot of years. I watched it faithfully: new episodes, which were in first-run syndication, could be viewed at four different times during the week on a couple of different channels (five, if you count the station that only came in with much squinting and tinkering with the antenna). Older episodes were rerun at 6pm and at 7pm every weekday night. And I tuned in about 99% of the time.
Wheaton, who, as people (everybody?) know, played Wesley Crusher on the series, divides his thoughts on each episode into two or three sections. The bulk is found in the synopsis, which will be familiar for anyone who frequented Television Without Pity back before it went all to hell. Wheaton does not spare the snark in evaluating the success of these early episodes, and with his insider knowledge is often able to put his finger on the exact problem, be it the writers, the director, or the powers that be.
At times, I think he was a little hard on both himself and the writers in his reaction to Wesley in these episodes. It’s a fact that Wes annoyed a lot of people, but his presence also served a purpose — he gave kids watching an entry point, a character with which to identify, and helped to create a new generation of Star Trek fans. As an 11 year old, I didn’t find him annoying, and I found his behavior perfectly reasonable. The show lost something when Wheaton made his departure, and even though the later seasons were far stronger than the first two, I still wish there had been a better resolution for the Wesley character before Trek went off the air. (With all the time travel that was going on, he could totally have showed up on Enterprise…)
I also liked his insider’s view of the episodes, the bits he remembered from production and encounters with the guest stars. This is the kind of stuff that you don’t usually hear about (Wheaton has written several production diaries in the past couple of years when he’s guest starred on other shows, and this is the same sort of thing.) It also helps to drive home the work that’s involved in the creation of these shows that appear magically on our televisions. I know I can’t be the only one who has a difficult time thinking of acting as hard work requiring lots of training and effort, and as he’s done before, Wheaton really brings that side of things to life.
The whole idea for this book was brilliantly conceived, and I really hope that rather than stop at season one, Wheaton continues through and does the rest of the seasons in which he was involved (plus the handful of episodes where he was a guest after he stopped being a regular). I’m a sucker for snarky show recaps, especially ones as well done as these. Could have spared a bit of the OMG the writers! It was all the writers! [who made Wes obnoxious!] but overall this was great and I can’t wait for the next one.