I got excited when ‘Picard’ came out, although, admittedly, I have yet seen a single episode. I wanted to re-watch all of Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes before I committed.
At the time, I didn't realize how big of a task it was and I am still making my way through the seventh season but it has given me time to reflect on how television shows have changed throughout the years.
Surprisingly, unlike a lot of other sci-fi shows, The Next Generation actually holds up 26 years later. However, the special effects are not amazing, for a television show in the late 80s and early 90s and with a minimal budget, they hold up surprisingly well, although they have been touched up. The sets are also surprisingly detailed and elaborate.
As one might expect for a show that relies heavily on made-up science, there is a significant amount of separation from realism and logic jumps that the viewer has to overcome, but for any Trekkie this is par of the course. It is my summation that Star Trek: The Next Generation is still one of the best television shows ever produced. The show touches on deep issues such as what it means to be human, the importance of a collective history, and how science and technology impact the way that we relate to the world around us.
What a modern audience will find most challenging to accept in this Netflix-binge era is the episodic storytelling; for example, a main character might die in one episode and barely get a mentioned in the next. This is, of course, dictated by the rules of television at the time.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which came three years after the end of The Next Generation, was a pioneer in this longform type of storytelling that is so natural to a modern audience. Buffy was ingenious because it managed to merge the episodic format with a story arc that lasted through several seasons.
One might say confined to an episodic format is a failure in Star Trek and, therefore, should be a strike against it. For any television lover, it hard to argue against this type of thinking; especially as you look at a normal human emotional arc; things don't get tied neatly at the end of a single episode. Grief does not end after 40 minutes but is a complex process that happens over years if not your entire life. Taking Buffy as an example again, the writers did an excellent job of writing Buffy is a complex human character who has the ups and downs of any normal person. Her love and subsequent loss of Angel is an overarching theme during the entire series.
The Next Generation tried to achieve this – and to a limited extent, they were successful. The best episodes were indeed the ones that stretched the boundaries of the episodic events and took on a more long-form type of storytelling. Many Trekkies will point to a fan favourite at the end of season three and beginning of season four; part one and two of The Best of Both Worlds where the Borg attack the Federation are among the most popular. Normally once the Borg were inevitably defeated, the Enterprise crew would go on to the next task as if nothing will happen. But it's interesting to note the next episode, Family’ was all about how Jean-Luc dealt with his brief and his role and the Borg damage in the previous episode.
It's interesting to see how storytelling has evolved over the decades and how format plays an essential role in the way stories are told today. It is also refreshing to see how content creators are currently playing with content length, story arcs, and characters in different and unusual ways. Now that we all have instant access and format is no longer restricted we are seeing shorter episodes but longer story arcs. My guess is that long-form content and story arcs are here to stay.
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