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More matter, less art: maturity isn't a substitute for drama
A very mature and intellectual show, Star Trek: The Next Generation was not as much science fiction as drama. Whereas many other science fiction shows are about wars or hardware, TNG goes after the no less valid stories of the human condition. At the centre of these stories are a core group of characters who, although living in a completely different universe, are quite believable and ordinary. Even the aliens are very human which may or may not be a good thing for a show supposedly set in deep space.
The maturity of the show is manifested in the way problems are dealt with. Very rarely are problems solved by shooting at people, but instead by investigation, analysis, and diplomacy. In this way, TNG strives to get away from older science fiction shows (like its predecessor). This is a blessing, for it defines the style of TNG, but it is also a curse.
As TNG has moved away from traditional drama, it has left behind the ingredients of good drama. Characters in TNG rarely suffer any huge catastrophe, and when they do the true depth of the horror is often glazed over, and by the next episode everything is all right again, save for the occasional mention of the incident in a later season. The effect of this is to flat out kill any drama the series could have. In addition, the characters are portrayed as far too perfect, with only minor flaws that really don't cause a problem for anyone. Add to this the utopian setting of the show and the aura of invincibility the characters have in their powerful ship, and a great deal of emotional conflict is removed.
In place of emotional content is intellectual conflict, but this fails to work, as the almost magical technologies of the future give the characters a means to solve any problem. They merely wave their magic wand, let their technological god out of its box, mumble some technobabble, and the problem disappears in a puff of smoke.
The show also portrays a very simplistic morality. There have been few true moral conflicts in the series; more often the conflict is with morality and legal issues. Life in the future seems easy and the writers and producers have created a world that offers few problems for its inhabitants. Actions in the TNG universe rarely have consequences beyond that episode (those that do are usually the best episodes). The series also makes attempts to address moral issues, but often preaches a correct solution, and in some cases (such as `The Outcast', `Half a Life', and `Ethics') barely addresses the other side of the argument. A very American and politically correct point of view is also forced into the pontificating, effectively beating the audience over the head with the moral of the story a moral some people may actually not agree with. Add to this the assertion by the writers that all problems can be solved with talking and personal crisis' can all be solved by merely confronting your emotions, and one is left to wonder what world the writers are actually living in.
The series also has the tendency to repeat certain plot devices that are far too specific to the TNG universe to have credibility if used repeatedly. A good example would be the holodeck-gone-haywire stories, the space anomaly stories, and the humans-used-as-lab-rats-in-an-experiment-by-some-god-like-alien stories. It would also be nice to see some parts of Earth other than San Francisco and France, to learn a bit more about countries other then the US, and to hear some quotes not written by Shakespeare.
Outside of plot difficulties, TNG does have quite a bit going for it. The make-up is decent (though under done, too many aliens look like funny looking humans), the acting is good, the dialog is well written, and the FX are generally well done although some of the spaceship models are over used. The sets are generally good, but very little of the series takes place out of a high-tech, artificial environment, so there is not much challenge for the set designers.
Still, its original sense of style makes TNG a worthy sci-fi series, but it is still overrated.
The Body Electric (1985)
An interesting diversion, especially fun for RUSH fans
The Body Electric is an interesting little piece of sci-fi from the mid 80's. The story is not particularly original and is far too short for it to work properly, but combines many themes and ideas from Rush songs, particularly the Body Electric and Red Sector A. Those familiar with the band will recognize trademarks from their songs: the lone youth against the system, the futuristic post-armageddon feel, and the relationship between man and machine. Non-Rush fans will probably find The Body Electric forgettable despite it's entertainment value, but Rush fans will find it a treat. Rush songs are used as the background music for the entire story. On the whole, I find this piece to be quite a little gem, and a good companion piece for the music from the band that the mainstream has spent decades ignoring.