Everyone knows the greatest hero of the 24th century was Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the starship Enterprise, but what I propose is: Maybe he wasn't?
I love Picard as much as the next guy who is losing his hair and trying to stay chill about it, but, as '90s nostalgia for Star Trek: The Next Generation enters a fever pitch with the impending release of Star Trek: Picard in 2020, it's time to celebrate the true secret weapon of that Trek era. We're talking about Numero Uno himself, Commander William T. Riker, as played by Jonathan Frakes.
In real life, Frakes is much more than just the guy who played Riker. In addition to directing the fan-favorite film First Contact, he's also now directed three episodes of Star Trek: Discovery, with several episodes of Picard on the way. And, of course, along with a few other co-stars, Frakes is back as Riker in at least one episode of Picard next year. And the thing is, Riker's return is essential to making a post-TNG Trek show, and that's because Riker was part of the reason the entire show worked.
Riker's charm wasn't that he was cool; he was cool because he was kind of goofy. And in contrast to some of the earnestness of the rest of TNG, that was essential.
Here are five ways Riker's goofy charm saved TNG from being too serious.
The slow grin
If you want to understand the goofy charm of Riker, you gotta start with the slow grin.
It's not that he has a winning smile, it's that the smile is like a sneak-attack. In Trek canon, Captain Picard perfected a warp-speed tactic called "The Picard maneuver," which is when a starship appears to be in two places at once in the middle of a space battle. Riker's grin is like that; it seems like it's coming at you from all sides and it defies the normal laws of time.
The rare flip-kick
Riker's goofy charm also comes through in his mastery of straight-up weird fighting moves. We're all familiar with the intense grimace he gets on his face when he's trying to body-haul some bad guy across the room, but do you remember his out-of-nowhere flip-kick from Season 1? Back when Riker lacked a beard, he was apparently able to move his legs in the air like he was Michelle Yeoh.
If you want the best example of this, check out the totally nuts episode called "Conspiracy."
Why is it so funny when Riker starts yelling out of nowhere? The way Will says "Shields up! Red alert!" is arguably better and more thrilling than William Shatner's Captain Kirk, but it's also really over-the-top in the most perfect way.
But Riker doesn't limit his impromptu yelling to just starship commands. He yells in turbolifts, he yells at his friends, and perhaps, most memorably, he yells while performing a stage play in the episode "Frame of Mind" — but, in fairness, he is playing a crazy person.
Some fans argue that Star Trek: The Next Generation didn't really get its groove on until Riker grew his beard in Season 2.
Now, while Season 2 is much less stellar than Season 3, there is some wisdom to this belief. As much as I love smooth-faced Riker doing weird flip-kicks in Season 1, we really can't start to believe Riker has achieved his Riker-ness until he gets the beard.
In every single way, Riker's beard is a microcosm of the popularity of The Next Generation; it's both a little too much and perfectly restrained at the same time. It's trying too hard and yet sort of works even though it shouldn't. It lets Riker be a proto-hipster and an old-school macho man at the same time.
No one in actual life has been able to have the exact Riker beard. Trust me, I'm speaking from experience. Once, Jonathan Frakes asked me on the phone if my beard was "full Riker." I told him "I wish." True story!
The chair thing
If you're a fan of Riker and The Next Generation, then the one question on your mind relative to his return in Picard is whether or not he's going to do the chair thing. You know, that weird way Riker will sit on a chair in the most complicated way possible — often by looping one of his gazelle-like legs over the back, or sometimes, just by putting his foot up on the side of complicated computer consoles.
"The chair thing" also encompasses the moments in which Riker likes to plant his butt on top of computer surfaces, which is clearly some kind of power move. Either way, you can't imagine The Next Generation without Riker sitting on things in strange, new ways. He truly seeks out new sitting methods and undiscovered places to put his legs.
He boldly sits the way no one has sat before! Let's hope that next year, he keeps it going.