For my money, Star Trek: The Next Generation was the pinnacle of the Trek franchise, perfecting the formula of high-concept archetypal morality plays set against an idealized future of the human race. Unfortunately, archetypal can stray into offensively stereotypical pretty easily, and high-concept can become a flat-out ridiculous gimmick in half a warp jump. These five NextGen missteps illustrate the dangers perfectly.5. A Fistful of Datas [Video preview]
I could (and probably will) do a sublist of terrible holodeck episodes, but "A Fistful of Datas" is the magnum opus of dumb holodeck premises. Set aside the visual ridiculousness of having Worf, Alexander, Troi, and Data dress up as Old West gunmen — how they got that ten-gallon hat to stay on a Klingon's ridged head I'll never know — but the entire notion of a holodeck glitch that turns every single NPC within an O.K. Corral simulation into Data, complete with lethal android strength and speed, is just idiotic. I know Brent Spiner loves to do the funny accents, but I don't need to see or hear cowpoke Data throw down with spur-stomping Worf even once, let alone several times in the same episode.4. Angel One [Video preview]
Ah, Season One NextGen, is there no cliche stereotype you can't invert to laughable extremes? What are the odds that A) there's a planet where females are the aggressive, macho gender while males are all fleshy versions of the mincing C-3PO and B) that planet names itself Angel One? About the same odds of an episode with this premise being any good. Naturally, the Enterprise crew have to rescue some rightly gendered humans from planet Mockingly Ultra-Feminist but not before Riker seduces their leader and convinces her that the men's suffrage movement is biologically inevitable. Pro tip: Any episode where it's Riker delivering the moralizing speech instead of Picard is probably a bad one, doubly so when Number One's condescending to his latest romantic conquest.3. Night Terrors [Video preview]
Otherwise known as the "flying green Troi" episode, "Night Terrors" uses the classic immunity plot wherein only one or two cast members are spared a plot device and must solve the problem before everyone else succumbs to over-acting. In this case, the crew are plagued by a combination of lack of REM sleep and waking hallucinations that will eventually kill them unless Troi — the only one left who can dream, and does so by floating in space under a green spotlight and shouting "where are you?" over and over again — can figure out why. If that sounds inane, just wait until you sit through 85 or so of these scenes hoping for Troi to solve the mystery the audience worked out 20 minutes ago. Painful is the word.2. Sub Rosa [Video preview] Everybody loves how Star Trek weds science fiction to other genres in often joyful and/or artful ways, but I'm pretty sure nobody was pining for the Trek version of a low-grade Harlequin romance. I'm very certain nobody wanted to see Dr. Crusher have psychic sex with the ghost of her dead grandmother's boyfriend, let alone see the possessed zombie version of said grandmother take a whack at Picard. The overbaked performances in this disaster push the envelope even for a series (and a franchise) that has never shied away from scenery-chewing, and the plot is worse. Watch only if Mike, Crow, and Tom Servo are seated in the front row. 1. Shades of Gray [Video preview]
Say what you will about the episodes listed above, at least they were actual episodes. The 1988 writers' strike gave us this travesty, the only clip show in NextGen history, wherein Riker spends the whole episode making faces on a hospital bed while we relive the most overwrought moments of Seasons One and Two. For added misery, Troi and Dr. Pulaski inhabit an inane frame story wherein they debate what kind of emotions make the best antivirus. Yes, seriously. This was the last time we saw either Pulaski or a flashback episode on NextGen, and that's the nicest thing you can say about "Shades of Gray." The prosecution rests.
Care to nominate an episode you think is worse than one of these fatal five? (To be fair, our list is rather blatantly Wesley Crusher-free.) Destiny awaits in the comments section.
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Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can also follow him on his personal blog.