Not Guilty: Star Trek: The Next Generation Season One

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Apr 29, 2019, 7:22 AM EDT (Updated)

In Not Guilty, we look at movies and TV that the general consensus tells us we should feel bad for liking, but that our hearts tell us we should embrace -- "guilty pleasures" we don't feel guilty about. This time around, we take on the first -- and, many would say, worst -- season of the series that brought Star Trek roaring back into the spotlight: The Next Generation.

Almost every geek considers Star Trek: The Next Generation to be a sci-fi television touchstone. Except for that first season, which is the worst, right? WRONG!

Very rarely does such a successful show have such a viciously maligned first season. But, despite the fact that it spawned three more shows and four movies, and influenced countless other shows and films even to this day, geeks the world over are resolute -- TNG season one stinks.

It's not just the fans, either. Even people who are part of Star Trek, including actors and writers of TNG themselves, have not been kind to the episodes that rebirthed the most popular franchise in sci-fi history. Here's a quick rundown of the hatred: George Takei referred to sophomore episode "The Naked Now" as "young children putting on their parents' clothes and trying to act like grown-ups." Jonathan Frakes called third episode "Code of Honor" a "racist piece of s--t." Nearly every writer and producer the show has ever had was furious with Gene Roddenberry over his intense rewrites. Even Wil Wheaton himself, while reviewing much of the show's run, tended to blast most episodes from that year.

It was, to put it mildly, a rough ride for all parties involved.

But what's funny is, if you ask any fan, producer, writer, actor, gaffer, gofer or caterer of TNG, they'll still be able to find episodes from that season that they have a soft spot for. Heck, there might be a few they even *gasp* LIKE.

And what I submit to you is this: All those challenges, all that unpredictability, and the entire unformed mess that was TNG season one led to more accidental magic than most shows ever accomplish at all.

Yes, TNG hit its stride once it found a formula that worked in season three. But the painful truth is that from that point onward, the show clung to that formula so tenaciously that, over time, it became incredibly predictable and, dare I say it, boring. Sure, we still had these wonderful characters to cling to during the dull moments, but that unpredictability that so many maligned was lost.

Even with a sixth season soon to be re-released on Blu-ray to dazzling effect, the episodes I keep coming back to are the ones that feel stunningly not TNG, the ones in which no one was quite sure what they were doing, back when, for better or worse, you never knew what show you would get from week to week.

And with that, this installment of "Not Guilty" becomes a list of episodes that made season one deserve better than the reputation with which it's saddled. So set aside the racism of "Code of Honor," the drunken antics of "The Naked Now," the costumes (or lack thereof) from "Justice," and any other TNG hangups you may have. It's time to revel in the things that made this season you've hated so much your whole life actually kind of good.