Today I present a special face-off, something I have wanted to do for a long time.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation and this will be one of a few articles marking that. I loved this show; I was a passive Star Trek fan before this show came along. I was vaguely familiar with the original series and did enjoy the movies (more on that another time). Then this show premiered September 28, 1987 I fell in love. After I got hooked on the new series I went back to watch the original episodes, and realized there was some really good stuff there. Pretty soon I went from a passive fan to a hardcore fan, I read the books, got the comics, bought the souvenirs. I even finally attended a convention in 1993. The debate over which show is better has raged for years; why not take a stab at it myself?
I will be using the format I use for the sitcom face off’s with one or two tweaks. Also for the sake of this discussion I am only talking about events in the series, none of the movies.
Category 1: The Captains
Kirk vs. Picard
Wow, talk about starting off with a toughie. This debate has been raging for, well, 25 years. So where do we begin? I actually hated Jean-Luc Picard when tng first came on. He just seemed so, boring. In “Lonely Among Us” I was actually hoping they were finally killing him off. However, as time went on I learned to really like this character. He was a strong leader and commanded full respect. However I tended to like him more when he actually got off that chair and did something. That wasn’t a problem with Jim Kirk. He also commanded respect but was definitely more a man of action. What can I say about Kirk that hasn’t been said? He loved the ladies, gave some long winded speeches, and was inclined to solve a problem with his fists. But, all the things I just said are kind of what hurt the character as well. To his credit, Kirk was supposed to be young and brash and that was certainly the way he was portrayed. Picard, on the other hand, was like the seasoned pro. He had his reckless days of youth when he would get into trouble, but he grew out of that to become the commander he is. One of the best things about “The Best of Both World’s” is the way Picard fights the Borg after he is assimilated. First we see the tear, and then at the end we find out Picard has somehow worked his way through the Borg nonsense to get a message to Data. How in the hell did he do that? In Rascals he is turned into a 12 year old, does that top him? Ok they were fighting Ferengi’s but still. Kirk is proactive but it seems like he always needs help at some point. In “The Naked Time” Kirk whines about the engine problem, it’s Spock who roles up his sleeves and actually helps Scotty. In “Wink of an Eye” Spock has to save the day, Kirk just stalls for time. I said that I hated Picard in the start but by the end I really liked him. Kirk is sort of “what you see is what you get”. You know you’re going to get a speech and you know he’s going to dive into the action. Picard was all over the place, reserved one minute and then the next he is jumping out of his seat to punch the terrorist who just appeared on his bridge. I know people pick on him for surrendering two minutes into the pilot, but that was the pilot you can’t really count that. The creators did that to make a point and I am not going to use that to damn the character. The one thing these guys have in common is they love their ships; there is never any doubt of that. However, I think Picard is just more believable as a leader. Kirk comes off a little too passionate; it’s why we need Spock to bring him down to Earth once in awhile. Picard will step up and be all “I will handle this”. So while I love Kirk, for being the better commander and just a stronger character, I go with Picard.
Category 2:Supporting Cast 1
Spock & McCoy vs. Riker & Data
Going to break the casts down to discuss them. That’s easy with TOS but TNG a little trickier since the cast functions as a unit rather than three leads and four supporting cast members. That actually is one of the big differences between these shows. Let’s talk about first officers first. Spock was the breakout hit for good reason. No one could play this character the way Leonard Nimoy did. He was serious and logical, and yet somehow possessed lots of charm. We enjoyed every moment he was on the screen. I think one of the many reasons Spock’s Brain is a failure is because, obviously, Spock is not in it. The dynamic just doesn’t work the same. Of course where Spock was cool and logical, McCoy was the emotional country doctor. He was the perfect contrast to Spock and it was their chemistry that made the show so popular. Riker evolved as TNG went on; in the early days he was bright eyed and full of enthusiasm which faded. What replaced it was a reserved self-confidence which made his character really cool. Data was the android and probably my favorite character. His exploration of humanity and naive child like ways made him so much fun to watch. Problem was his total lack of emotion sometimes worked against him. Spock was a stronger character because being half human meant he did have emotions and would fight them and even on occasion use them, whether it was to express joy when he found Kirk was alive in “Amok Time” or rage after what the Platonoians did to him in “Plato’s Stepchildren”. In my opinion, Spock and McCoy filled their roles so well that there is no contest here. Riker and Data were great, but I don’t think there are fans who watch the show just to watch them the way some watch the classic series to see Spock and McCoy.
Category 3:Supporting cast 2
Scotty, Uhura, Sulu & Chekov vs Geordi, Troi, Crusher & Worf
Well, this gets a little tougher here. Scotty and Geordi are our chief engineers. Thank goodness they made that change with Geordi because he was real boring as the navigator. Geordi was a bit more clam then Scotty who was definitely excitable and, more than that, just a better engineer. We can see this clearly in “Relics” the episode of TNG Scotty was in, where Geordi comes off as the jerk and then has to be talked to into the crazy rescue plan in the end. Scotty was able to do things that should have been impossible. In TNG it seemed like an episode centered in Engineering always needed Data or Wesley or someone else around because Geordi just wasn’t strong enough to carry the scene. Scotty didn’t have that problem. Uhura was the communications officer, and I loved her. She was my favorite character (well, maybe after Spock). There is just something about the way Nichelle Nichols played the character with such class. Worf is the closest analogy to her since he did activate the hailing frequencies. Of course he was also chief of security so he did a hell of lot more than that. Worf was another character I didn’t like in the early days, but he grew on me by the end. Sulu and Chekov were the helmsman and navigator, and while they did have some cute moments here and there neither were ever my favorite. Chekov was annoying in episodes and Sulu kind of bland. Speaking of that we also had Crusher and Troi, and while they filled different functions on the ship my feelings for them were the same. Troi was annoying and Crusher rather bland. So, who wins? I gotta be honest; the original cast just seems like a stronger cast. True on TNG their characters were explored more and many episodes of TOS the original cast appeared in five minutes if at all, but that kind of makes my point. Scotty, Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov had to work hard to get fans to love them because they had so little to do. Fans loved them because they were professionals who did their jobs as well as anyone would expect. Worf made mistakes, Troi was basically useless, Crusher was annoying, and Geordi was never the strongest character. So while I love both casts, I think I have to give the nod to the classic one. Just a stronger and more memorable group.
Category 4:Villains and minor character
What would either series be without the villains and those minor characters we grew to love as much as the main cast? Let’s talk about the villains first, and there is no contest here. On TNG the Romulans were more interesting, The Borg scary as hell, and they even took Sherlock Holmes villain and made a strong character out of him on there own. The original series never really did good with the villains. On that show the Klingons were silly, Romulans hardly appeared, and how many damn times was an episode centered on a “killer computer” that Kirk ends up destroying at the end? My only favorite villain was Apollo from “Who Mourns for Adonais”, and that’s because he wasn’t a villain he was a sad character who we really felt sorry for in the end! To be fair it took awhile for TNG to get right, the Ferengi were a joke and none of the villains of season 1 stand out (Armus?). But it got better by the time The Borg came along who set a new standard for a Trek villain. Ok, before everyone yells at me I am leaving out Khan, and to be fair he was one of the few exceptions on the original series. There is a simple reason Star Trek II was all about him. But let’s be fair, as cool as Khan was he can’t compare to Q who was one of the best villains ever. Now, what about supporting cast? On TOS We had Yeoman Rand, who disappeared for no reason, Nurse Chapel who was there to…be there (actually she did get one episode, more than Uhura, Sulu and Chekov ever got), and there were other familiar background faces that will only be recognized by serious fans (remember Mr.Leslie, who died and came back the next year?). TNG cared more about the characters other than the captain and first officer. Even supporting characters. There was an episode called “Hollow Pursuits” all about a shy man named Reg Barclay. Literally the main cast is supporting characters in his story! That would be like the original series doing an episode where Kyle the transporter tech was the main focus! We saw so much of O’Brien he went off to DS9. We also got Ensign Ro, Nurse Ogawa, Guinan, and Wesley…..well, they can’t all be good. For goodness sake we learn more about Data’s cat in TNG then we ever did the regular characters on the original series! Bottom line, Next Gen did a better job with its villains and its minor characters, giving each one a chance to grow and be more than just background fodder.
WINNER=The Next Generation
Category 5:Theme Song
These themes are obviously pretty close. Of course the original series opening is iconic, everyone is familiar with it and they famous â€œThese are the voyagesâ€¦â€ opening. However I am going to pick TNG. Why? Because all the names of the cast are featured in the opening credits! I know that was the way they did things in the 60’s, but it always bothered me that none of the other cast got billing. It also bothered me in The Brady Bunch, but let’s not get to far off topic.
Well, this is where it gets difficult. Both of these shows basically are about the same thing, learning about the human condition using a sci-fi backdrop. The episodes have moral and ethical lessons most of which are still relevant today. The original series delved into racism, Vietnam War, and (unfortunately) even the hippie movement. TNG took a look at things like drug abuse, terrorism, and even cults. But which show told their stories better? I give lots of credit to the original series for delving into these things at a time when TV shows were never supposed to. It was still a few years before Norman Lear would shake things up with his shows. It’s also hard to believe network execs didn’t see through it. How did that go, “Let’s see, we have an episode where two aliens are arguing because the colors of their skin aren’t the same. Gee, that sounds wacky with no cultural significance at all!” All kidding aside, unfortunately the network was what killed the show which is why Next Gen went the syndication route. Fortunately thanks to that, Next Generation could cut back on things like the network mandated extraneous action and endless romances for the captain. They could focus on the characters and the story. There are some episodes with hardly any action, and you got to give the show credit for that. Both shows could also be lighthearted at times, “Trouble with Tribbles” is a classic because it’s everything Trek isn’t, lighthearted and just for fun. Next Generation didn’t do many comedies but they did know how to sprinkle laughs in an episode, even just giving Data something silly to do. They also did more bottle shows. Seemed like almost every episode was on the ship while the classic Trek was beaming down every week. One thing that Next Generation fixed was Kirk’s “let’s beam down with our entire senior staff” syndrome. I mean, who was running the ship when the entire Bridge was on the planet? Next Generation took itself more seriously, where Trek was very much a product of the 60’s. Sure, it wasn’t Batman campy but there was silliness in there from the cheap alien costumes to the corny dialogue, and why did all the women where mini-skirts exactly? I do have to give credit however, when Next Generation first came on Gene Roddenberry kept it closer to the original series, and it showed those first two seasons! When Rick Berman came on in the third season, what a difference! This show was smart and well written, and I will never forget how my heart jumped out of my chest when “To Be Continued” popped up at the end of “The Best of Both World’s”. True, Berman would go on to ruin Star Trek but he gets full credit for making TNG the well respected show it became. I think TNG was just stronger because they took the time to tell their stories rather have unnecessary romances and pointless action. TOS was great, itâ€™s lived for over 40 years for a reason, but TNG took that concept and improved it.
WINNER=Star Trek TNG
So, in the end it comes down to the final season and episode. Which show got worst at the end? Yeah, this is obvious but keep reading anyway.
Category 7:Jumping the Shark
You’d think this would be easy, since Star Trek season 3 is considered pretty bad. However, TNG season 7 isn’t really that strong either. So, which is worst? Season 3 of Star Trek suffered from a horrible time slot and serious budget cuts. Some shows were just bad, like Spock’s Brain, and others were good but could have been better if the show had a larger budget. The final episode was Turnabout Intruder, and I didn’t hate that episode as much others. Still as a final episode of the series it isn’t very strong at all. TNG’s season 7 was bogged down by the fact that DS9 was on, Voyager was in the planning stages, and Generations was being worked on simultaneously (wish they had put some more work on that, but we’re not discussing the movies). For some reason the shows just got plain dull that season. Some episodes plain sucked like Sub Rosa and others could have been better like Masks. Even a decent episode like Lower Decks is just so boring! Picard seems to be missing in several episodes, and the pacing was just god awful slow. So, who wins? Well, it would be a tough call if not for a little show called “All Good Things…”. I freaking loved this series finale, and in another article I will discuss why in more detail. It was a fantastic episode (no, not perfect but still really good) and I have seen it a hundred times. That was just a great way to end the series. So, while the original series was really good and had very memorable characters that will forever live in our hearts, I have to say that the new series is just better. Better stories, better writing, better special effects, and even better action.
Final Thoughts=Star Trek is over 40 years old and will always be remembered and cherished. But Next Generation took that concept, and simply did a better job with it. Well, now that I have opened this can of worms I anticipate much debate. Let the commenting begin, just remember this was all in good fun. Till next time…..