Friday, August 09, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Star Trek: The Next Generation, season 3 (1989-1990) ****

TV-PG, 26 45-min. episodes
Creator: Gene Roddenberry

Directors: Winrich Kolbe, Cliff Bole, Les Landau, Robert Wiemer, Gabrielle Beaumont, David Carson, Robert Scheerer, Timothy Bond, Jonathan Frakes, Chip Chalmers, Robert Legato, Tom Benko

Writers: Gene Roddenberry, Michael Piller, Michael Wagner, Melinda M. Snodgrass, Richard Manning, Hans Beimler, Ronald D. Moore, Ron Roman, Richard Danus, David Kemper, Hannah Louise Shearer, Sam Rolfe, Robin Bernheim, Ed Zuckerman, Ira Steven Behr, Trent Christopher Ganino, Eric A. Sitwell, René Echevarria, W. Reed Morgan, Drew Deighan, Dennis Bailey, David Bischoff, Sally Caves, Shari Goodhartz, Peter S. Beagle, Marc Cushman, Jake Jacobs, Fred Bronson, Susan Sackett

Starring: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Wil Wheaton

Guest starring: Whoopi Goldberg, Colm Meaney, Ken Jenkins, Eileen Seeley, Mark L. Taylor, Richard Allen, Mart McChesney, John Anderson, Anne Haney, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Ray Wise, James Greene, Pamela Segall, John McLiam, James McIntire, Lois Hall, Susan Powell, Gabriel Damon, Susan Gibney, Albert Hall, Julie Warner, John Snyder, Andreas Katsulas, Steve Rankin, Matt McCoy, Elizabeth Hoffman, Castulo Guerra, Scott Thompson, Dan Shor, Kevin Peter Hall, Lisa Wilcox, Joey Aresco, Nancy Parsons, Stephen Lee, Marc Lawrence, Elkanah J. Burns, James Sloyan, John Hancock, S.A. Templeman, Jeff McCarthy, James Cromwell, J. Michael Flynn, Andrew Bicknell, Kerrie Keane, Richard Cox, John de Lancie, Richard Cansino, Corbin Bernsen, Craig Richard Nelson, Gina Hecht, Mark Margolis, Juli Donald, Denise Crosby, Christopher McDonald, Tricia O’Neill, Hallie Todd, Nicolas Coster, Judyann Elder, Charles Cooper, Tony Todd, Patrick Massett, Thelma Lee, Stephen Markle, Reiner Schöne, Joycelyn O’Brien, Jennifer Hetrick, Karen Landry, Michael Champion, Max Grodénchik, Michael Cavanaugh, Peter Vogt, Harry Groener, Dwight Schultz, Nehemiah Persoff, Jane Daly, Saul Rubinek, Mark Lenard, Joanna Miles, William Dennis, Rocco Sisto, Majel Barrett, Frank Corsentino, Ethan Phillips, Peter Slutsker, Rudolph Willrich, Carel Struycken, Mark Lemura, Charles Dennis, Elizabeth Dennehy, George Murdock

Who’da thought that adding collars to the costumes would make such a difference in the Star Trek universe?

“Star Trek: The Next Generation” season three is a perfect example as to why I like to review television series by individual seasons. This is the season that the show really found itself, and it wasn’t just because of a minor uniform adjustment. The episodes in season three show a confidence, a diversity, a consistency, and a science fiction purpose unlike either of the previous two seasons of this cult hit spin off series. The writers, directors and performers of the series show an effortless will to change genres and emotional atmosphere from episode to episode. Some episodes are serious science fiction, some pure adventure, some romantic in nature, and some on the lighter comedic side and they all blend together seamlessly over the course of the season.

No longer is there a sense that the series needs to justify each character’s place on the Enterprise. No longer can the effort to make the audience like the characters be felt. No longer is there a sense that the creators are unsure which ideas will work and which won’t. Each episode is forged into naturally, as if these are the true voyages of the starship Enterprise. And more than before does their mission really seem to be one of exploration rather than an excuse for sci-fi adventure.

A few of the past season’s mistakes are rectified in season three as well. Doctor Crusher, while not as interesting a character as Dr. Pulaski, is returned to her post where she feels more like a member of the Enterprise family than Pulaski ever could. In perhaps the season’s best episode, “Yesterday’s Enterprise”, the writers deal with the fairly carelessly handled surprise death of Lieutenant Yar in the first season. Denise Crosby returns to play Yar in an alternate future for the Enterprise crew and is given a much more fitting send off this time around.

But all the episodes, even the more lighthearted ones seem to have more commitment behind them in terms of quality of storytelling and production values. They finally achieve the same sense the original series had to alternate between comedic stories and more serious fare and maintain the accessibility of the material. The characters have a good deal to do with this. Patrick Stewart seems more comfortable as Captain Picard and the primary guide of the Enterprise morale, and the rest of the actors seem to fill in around him with a true sense of a supporting crew on a military vessel and a supporting cast. No one character seems to be vying for the spotlight from episode to episode. This is finally a show that has that familiarity of family that is a must for a classic television enterprise, as it were.

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