20 years ago on May 23rd, 1994 the final episode of Star Trek The Next Generation aired.
Calling The Next Generation, or Next Gen or simply TNG as it’s commonly referred to on the internet, a landmark show is a bit of an understatement. This may well be one of the most influential shows in sci-fi history, possibly even more than the original Star Trek series. To this day the show still is relevant with memes and the Picard manuever. I don’t know if I’ve ever met a science fiction fan who didn’t enjoy the show on some level.
I know for me this show was my true gateway into science fiction. I am of the original Star Wars generation. We got our first taste of sci-fi action adventure with the Wars, but didn’t know what to do after 1983. After the release of Return of the Jedi, Star Wars was finished and the dark times began. The mid to late 80’s were a barren time for Star Wars fans. One thing helped to fill that gap, Star Trek.
Star Trek The Next Generation returned to television in syndication in the fall of 1987. It’s not unusual for us now because we live in the era of reboots, remakes and sequels, but in 1987 the idea of resurrecting a show from 20 years earlier with an all new cast was a bit riskier. Looking back on it now, the first few seasons of the show are pretty rough, in fact there are quite a few episodes from the first season that go beyond laughable and border on unwatchable now. However, the show progressed, the writing and acting continued to improve.
By the end of the third season, the show had it’s stranglehold on me. In what may be the greatest season finale cliffhanger of all time, the third season ends with the Best of Both Worlds. Captain Picard is kidnapped by the Borg, Riker issues the command to fire the superweapon, cut to black. We had 3 agonizing months to wait to see what would happen next.
Years afterward I was glued to my TV every week for the new episodes and reruns in syndication. I followed Star Trek into theaters and into 3 more spin off shows, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise. To this day, you can still find Star Trek reruns on TV regularly, and it continues to be one of the popular listings on Netflix and Amazon streaming services. I doubt we would have had a fraction of the sci-fi shows from the last 20 years if it hadn’t been for Next Gen.
I have seen every episode of Star Trek The Next Generation more times than I can count. But, if I see that it is on TV or if I can’t decide on what to watch from Netflix I can put on a classic episode like “Data’s Day” or “Measure of a Man” and be swept away again. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve seen it or how silly some parts may be. Next Gen is going home again, it’s science fiction comfort food now.
Science fiction and Star Trek may be an ever changing entity but I believe Next Gen will continue on inspiring future generations in much the same way that the original series did. The voyages of the Enterprise will always continue to inspire people to explore the final frontier.