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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 12 September 2017 at 10:49am | IP Logged | 1 post reply

Okay, so, in the spirit of my similar thread on ENTERPRISE, I've be revisiting TNG, partly due to its 30th anniversary, and partly because Heroes & Icons channel is starting a new repeat cycle, tonight (as part of its ALL STAR TREK programming block). They're showing the Remastered versions of the episodes, but not in HD. I just hope that the show runs a full cycle, and isn't pulled before I can rewatch all of the episodes. Otherwise, I'll have to come up with another method of watching them, beyond a free one.

Anyway, unlike ENTERPRISE, I have a good amount of nostalgic affection for TNG. I was lucky enough to first be exposed to TOS when I was just a child, and that's the iteration which really grabbed me. Technically, though, TNG should have been "my" STAR TREK, since that's the show I actually grew up with in first-run. But, it never quite captured my imagination in the same way as TOS. I do have fond memories of watching many episodes in first-run syndication though--sporadically, at first, and then pretty much every week for the last few seasons. I'm nowhere near an expert on TNG's production history and whatnot, so this will be interesting, as will be revisiting the bulk of the episodes after having not seen them in many years. 

To prepare for this revisit, I recently relistened to the MISSION LOG Podcast's interview with David Gerrold, in which he described the troubled early days of TNG. I'll also be listening to MISSION LOG's coverage of each episode, too, as well as reading all of the trivia and behind-the-scenes info on the Memory Alpha wiki.

TNG is most certainly proof that you can't quite go home again. It was billed as the Second Coming of STAR TREK, and had reassembled most of the key behind-the-scenes players from TOS (Gerrold, Dorothy Fontany, Bob Justman, Bill Theiss, etc,)...most of whom ending up leaving within the first season or two. Rick Berman, who hated TOS, was a supervising producer, and took the reins after Roddenberry's health began to fail. And we all know how his reign went, over the next two decades.

Roddenberry, of course, had changed quite a bit since TOS. His health was failing, he'd become a drug addict, and his lawyer was exploiting the situation for his own gain (to the point of actually rewriting TNG scripts himself, in violation of Writers' Guild rules). After the fans had enshrined him in the 70s as a legend and visionary, Roddenberry began rethinking STAR TREK. THE MOTION PICTURE had a heavy emphasis on technology and the perfectness of humanity in the future. Prior to that, a heck of a lot of the groundwork for what TNG would become was laid down during the development of the aborted PHASE II TV series, with entire characters (Xon, Decker, Ilia) pretty much being ported over to TNG, a decade later. The first season of TNG is very much THE MOTION PICTURE 2.0, since Roddenberry had been booted upstairs after TMP went out of control, and so ended up bringing his new vision of TREK back to TV. A more politically-correct and Humanistic vision.

There are certainly things to like in the first season of TNG. Some of the design choices are interesting, and take TREK's tecnnology a step forward (going from hand communicators to tiny commbadges, the use of touchscreen computer interfaces, etc.). The ensemble cast works well together, although they really didn't loosen up until later seasons. ILM's effects for the pilot set a new standard for visual effects on television. 

That said, the show's problems in its first year have been much-discussed. The hotel-like interiors of the Enterprise-D. Having a therapist on the Bridge. The spandex jumpsuits. Scripts which ranged from bad TOS rehashes to bad original stories. A forced lack of conflict (and drama) between the main characters. Deliberately avoiding references to TOS. And so on. TNG didn't really come into its own and find its identity until later on, ironically after its creator had become less and less involved, but it did become a substantial hit in first-run syndication, and proved that STAR TREK could be successful without being dependent on the original cast. For all of the good and ill that implies. It's generally held to be the fan-favorite of the various TV series, these days, although DS9 has gained a lot of ground, in recent years. For me, there's TOS, and then the rest.

To help kick this rewatch thread off, here are some early promotional pieces for TNG:









Edited by Greg Kirkman on 12 September 2017 at 12:36pm
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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 13 September 2017 at 12:54am | IP Logged | 2 post reply

"Encounter at Farpoint" (Part I).

Of course, the pilot originally aired as a TV movie, and was broken up into two parts for syndication. Since I'm watching the series in syndication, I'll be rewatching each part individually.

That said, this episode feels more than a little padded. In David Gerrold's MISSION LOG interview, he states that Dorothy Fontana was given the runaround regarding what the runtime of the episode was supposed to be (90 minutes vs. two hours), which played havoc with her writing. Not much happens in this episode, plotwise. The first half deals mostly with Q's antics, and the second with introducing the rest of the main cast and preparing for the actual mission at Farpoint. The saucer separation sequence feels like gimmicky padding. 

It's very interesting to see the embryonic versions of the characters. John de Lancie hits the ground running as Q, providing an amusing mix of humor and menace which would exploited in the years to come.

Amazingly, and despite seemingly being born to play the role, the actor/character who feels most "off" is Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard. This early Picard is very much in the role of the stern old man, rather than an inspirational leader. Riker is the youthful man of action. This is a dynamic which traces back to Gerrold's THE WORLD OF STAR TREK, in which he made a number of suggestions to improve the show's format. The Captain aboiding unnecessary risks by delegating planetary missions to his First Officer was at the top of the list. And, since Gerrold wrote the series' "bible", a lot of his ideas like that ended up making it into the show.

Anyway, Picard orders Riker to manually reconnect the ship's two sections, and then orders him to make sure that the Captain presents a good image to the crew. Stewart's cold delivery of this dialogue makes Picard sound like an abusive spouse who's brow-beating his partner into making sure the kids down squeal to Child Protective Services when they visit. Not exactly a warm and engaging character. Fortunately, Stewart was allowed to exude his natural charm in later episodes, and Picard eventually became a more likable guy.

But, he also doesn't make a great showing of his command abilities in this episode, since he orders a step-down to Yellow Alert during Q's initial attack, apparently because he's annoyed by the Red Alert klaxon, and then surrenders, shortly thereafter. I'd make the stereotypical joke about a French Captain surrendering on his first mission, except that Picard is incongruously played by a British actor.

Of course, this series, while not depicting the actual launch of the Enterprise-D, is still essentially an origin story, since it features the crew coming together on their very first mission. I wouldn't exactly call it an improvement over the in media res style of TOS' two pilots, since not a lot is done with the "origin" aspect.

Admiral McCoy's cameo is the best part of the whole thing, since Fontana's dialogue and De Kelley's performance really have a lot of fun energy to them. And the fact that the unnamed McCoy both looks and acts just as he did in "The Deadly Years" is a wonderful little touch.

This show is very much what it claims to be: an updated version of STAR TREK. Not a lot of rethinking going on, here, in terms of the basics. (Nearly) the same opening narration. All the same technology and terminology, with just a few tweaks. The same fundamental series concept, with a new Enterprise having adventures. As I've occasionally noted, the TOS concept could conceivably go on forever, due to its flexibility. Just change out the cast and/or ship every few years. 

I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about the ship being named "Enterprise", though. On the one hand, it's useful in terms of brand-recognition, and is pretty much the only element of TNG which acknowledges the history and accomplishments of its predecessor. And, it follows the precedent set by the then-new Enterprise-A from THE VOYAGE HOME. On the other hand, it feels a little bit too much like copying and pasting key elements of TOS onto an inferior copy.

Compared to "The Cage" and "Where No Man Has Gone Before", this is something of a trainwreck of a pilot, in that the first hour does little beyond establish the characters and setting. The stakes and the drama aren't particularly compelling. 

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Jozef Brandt
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Posted: 13 September 2017 at 3:36am | IP Logged | 3 post reply


Good luck.  I think the first season is nigh unwatchable.
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John Byrne
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Posted: 13 September 2017 at 6:38am | IP Logged | 4 post reply

Amazingly, and despite seemingly being born to play the role, the actor/character who feels most "off" is Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard.

The tale is told that George Reeves invited Phyllis Coates to his dressing room for a drink when they began filming THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN. "Welcome to the bottom of the barrel, kid," he is alleged to have said.

My impression of Stewart in NEXTGEN was much the same. "So it's come to this....."

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Tim O'Neill
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Posted: 13 September 2017 at 8:19am | IP Logged | 5 post reply



I love TNG and really have not stopped watching it through the years, but I rarely if ever watch anything from the first two seasons.  I don't have them on DVD and continue to have no interest, with the exception of "Measure of a Man".


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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 13 September 2017 at 8:57am | IP Logged | 6 post reply

My impression of Stewart in NEXTGEN was much the same.  "So it's come to this....."
++++++++

As the story goes, he didn't even bother unpacking during his first few weeks on the job, because he thought it wouldn't last.

The fact that the show became a major success is pretty amazing, considering what it started out as. People have been making comparisons to the negative buzz and production problems around DISCOVERY, citing TNG's rough start as a precedent, but I'd say it's applies and oranges.
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John Byrne
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Posted: 13 September 2017 at 10:21am | IP Logged | 7 post reply

...applies and oranges...

I realize it's (probably) a typo, but I like this phrase!

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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 13 September 2017 at 10:45am | IP Logged | 8 post reply

I realize it's (probably) a typo, but I like this phrase!
++++++

I can't say if it's a typo, because my predictive speller is horrible. It often doesn't even recognize "the" as a word, and goes out of its way to turn simple words and proper names into incomprehensible gobbledygook.

I have literally spent minutes of my life screaming " 'THE' IS A WORD!" at my iPad.
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John Byrne
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Posted: 13 September 2017 at 12:11pm | IP Logged | 9 post reply

As I mentioned recently, my predictive speller does not recognize "abortion" as a word, even when typed out in full.
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Steven McCauley
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Posted: 13 September 2017 at 2:18pm | IP Logged | 10 post reply

Greg, have you seen Chaos on the Bridge?  It's a documentary from William Shatner looking at the chaotic first years of TNG.  I highly enjoyed it on Netflix.
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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 13 September 2017 at 3:31pm | IP Logged | 11 post reply

Haven't seen it.
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Joe Boster
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Posted: 13 September 2017 at 5:06pm | IP Logged | 12 post reply

I've made it as far as the TNG movies in 50 year mission: The next 25 years. It's mostly about writing and production issues. Not much about the cast and their travails. all first person quotes, which is fun. 

Thanks for the you tube clips. KCOP was my TV station. 

On a technical note. Amazon Prime is at full 1080p whereas Netflix seems a bit fuzzy.
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Joe Boster
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Posted: 13 September 2017 at 5:13pm | IP Logged | 13 post reply

That said, this episode feels more than a little padded.

--------

According to Dorthy in  50 year mission. it went from 1 hour to 2 then settled on 90 minutes. Then, when finally decided at 2 hour show, Gene said He'd Write the "framing"  which was Q. She would have gotten a bonus to write a 2 hour show and so she only got to write 90 minutes of it. 

10 minutes in why is everyone shouting?
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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 13 September 2017 at 8:51pm | IP Logged | 14 post reply

10 minutes in why is everyone shouting?
++++++++

I'm reminded of Spock's response to the similar threat encountered by the Enterprise in "The Corbomite Maneuver": "Quite unnecessary to raise your voice, Mr. Bailey.".

The professionalism of the TOS crew (and their ability to keep cool during a crisis) is one of the elements which makes that show so great.

In the TNG pilot, everyone is shouting during the initial contact with Q. Later, Tasha hotheadedly attacks one of Q's guards on her own initiative, then starts shouting at Q about how he should get on his knees and respect what Starfleet represents. Also, Picard almost looks like he's gonna cry when bargaining with Q and asking that humanity be tested by him. Not exactly the epitome of professionalism.

I find myself thinking of Janeway's backhanded compliment in "Flashback", regarding how the TOS crew was more inclined to pull their phasers than follow the Prime Directive, and that they'd all have been booted out of Starfleet during the era of the spin-offs. Yeah, sure.
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Wilson Mui
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Posted: 13 September 2017 at 9:31pm | IP Logged | 15 post reply

I love the series and still watch it whenever I see it on TV.

My favorite episode was probably Relics where Scotty guest stars.
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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 13 September 2017 at 10:49pm | IP Logged | 16 post reply

"Encounter at Farpoint" (Part II).

...and so we get to the meat of the story. That being said, ever since I was a kid, I found the final exchange between Riker and Picard to serve as unintentionally ironic commentary on the quality of the episode--"I'm sure most of (our missions) will be much more interesting.".

Some more focus on the characters, here, with the reveal of Riker and Troi's past history (a direct port of Decker and Ilia's from THE MOTION PICTURE), Data's desire to be human, Picard's history with the Crushers, and the reveal that Geordi's VISOR causes him constant pain.

As a fan of Michael Bell's voice acting career, watching his histrionics in the role of Groppler Zorn never fails to amuse me. 

An element of of Troi's powers appears here, which seems to have been downplayed later on: not only does she sense the emotions of others, she actually experiences those emotions, herself. 

And, correct me if I'm wrong, but this pilot also includes what would apparently become another changed premise: the simulated objects on the holodeck (which makes its first appearance here, unless you count TAS' "The Practical Joker") are made using what would soon come to be known as replicator technology, rather than holographic imagery combined with forcefields. 

This episode also contains one of the most bizarre and awkward line-readings I've ever heard, and it's been burned into my brain for many years. When Riker asks an Ensign to help him find Data, she asks the ship's computer to state Data's location: "Tell ME the location of Lieutenant Commander Day-tah.". She also checks out Riker's posterior as he walks away. 

There are a few more make officers wearing the skant-style uniform, in this episode, but those particular unisex uniforms wouldn't last much longer.

All in all, the pilot has very good production values for its era, and lays down the foundation for what would come, but it still deserves a lot of the criticism that's been aimed at it, over the years. There's a certain irony in that the Q subplot was added to pad out the episode (and the character comes across as something of a shameless ripoff of Trelane), but ended up being the most interesting thing about the pilot, and the foundation for many episodes to come. 

That being said, Q is something like Galactus, in that he's menacing the first time we see him, but each subsequent appearance diminishes that menace. To the point where he becomes a sort of casual, Mr. Mxyzptlk-type annoyance who'd appear once a season or so.
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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 14 September 2017 at 12:20am | IP Logged | 17 post reply

...watched CHAOS ON THE BRIDGE. Fascinating stuff, with a lot of key players interviewed. I'm glad to have watched it just as I'm getting into the first season, as it'll help provide some context as I go along.

I think that the fundamental differences between the STAR TREK of the 60s and the STAR TREK of the 80s come down to Roddenberry's personal shift from writer/producer to Visionary Futurist, and the shift from his attempts to make a name for himself as a producer to his desperately trying to cement his legacy during his golden years. 

STAR TREK went from action-drama storytelling which also provided insight into the human condition to a manifesto about how perfect the future would be, with lots of Humanism and free love. 

There's a point in CHAOS ON THE BRIDGE where it's stated that Roddenberry, who knew L. Ron Hubbard, felt that he could have started his own religion, if he'd wanted to. 

I think the case could be made that one pretty much started on its own!
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John Byrne
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Posted: 14 September 2017 at 8:47am | IP Logged | 18 post reply

Sure am glad I watched TOS in original broadcast with NO IDEA what was going on behind the scenes.
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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 14 September 2017 at 10:18am | IP Logged | 19 post reply

Sure am glad I watched TOS in original broadcast with NO IDEA what was going on behind the scenes.
++++++++

This makes me wonder (since I was too young to be aware of that sort of thing when TNG aired): How much of TNG's behind-the-scenes trouble slipped out to the public, at the time? I mean, yeah, the show had a mixed reception, early on, but was there a general sense of strife behind the scenes, too? 

I'd argue that STAR WARS: EPISODE I kicked off the modern age of extreme scrutiny of genre film/TV productions. Spy photos, blogs, message boards, and news websites examining every little detail and rumor (which led to the clickbait articles of today). Modern genre-fan culture is obsessed with spoilers and gossip. There are definitely pros and cons to this. 

On the one hand, I'm fascinated by the creative process, and love to learn about the mechanics of all this stuff, since I can still separate the art from the artists. On the other hand, there's a lot to be said for just letting people do their jobs and enjoying (or not enjoying) the final product based solely on its own merits, without a bunch of gossip and insider info getting in the way. 
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Tyler Kloster
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Posted: 14 September 2017 at 5:18pm | IP Logged | 20 post reply

It was probably 20 years later before I ever learned how troubled TNG was behind the scenes the first couple seasons.

I still remember the night "Encounter at Farpoint" premiered. After initially being hesitant about the announcement of a new Trek show without Kirk, Spock, and the gang, I had become quite excited for it. Although my local affiliate was going to air subsequent episodes on Sunday afternoons, the premiere was going to be in primetime. It was a big deal. And I was still young enough to truly believe that there was no such thing as "bad" Star Trek.

Once we got past the opening theme sequence, my excitement started to wane, to the point where I actually quit watching and went to do something else. I was recording it on the VCR, so I knew I could come back and watch all of it later, but the mere fact that I didn't really want to finish watching the first new Star Trek episode in almost 20 years as it aired was rather disconcerting.

I stuck with the show (although frustratingly my local affiliate stopped carrying it after that first season) and I'm glad I did, as TNG eventually became my favorite of all the Trek series. But that was a horrendously dull and awful first episode, and a very rough first season overal.
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Shaun Barry
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Posted: 14 September 2017 at 5:28pm | IP Logged | 21 post reply


I had just started my sophomore year of high school when I taped "Encounter at Farpoint" off the TV on its premiere weekend... and must have rewatched that thing about 10 times in a row before they ever got to Episode 2 ("The Naked Now").

Doesn't hold up particularly well today, but man, did I ever burn that one into my brain back in Sept./Oct. of '87!

Maybe I don't necessarily love it, but the nostalgia for that first season, for me, is HUGE.




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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 15 September 2017 at 12:25am | IP Logged | 22 post reply

"The Naked Now".

Ok, so you're doing a new and updated version of STAR TREK while trying to avoid comparisons and references to the original show. So, what do you do after the pilot? A remake of one of the original series' most beloved episodes.

Oh, man what a disaster. As George Takei put it, this is like watching the kids put on mom and dad's clothes and pretending to be adults. The writing credit goes to John D.F. Black (because it's almost a beat-for-beat rehash of his script from 20 years prior) and a pseudonym of Dorothy Fontana's (who took her name off the episode after her script was rewritten).


This episode marks the first appearance of Troi's unflattering first season look, the first of several one-shot Chief Engineers, and the first appearance of Supergenius Wesley saving the ship. It also canonized the original Enterprise as a Constitution class ship (and the Remastered episode replaces the incorrect computer graphic of the Refit version of the ship with Matt Jefferies' drawing of the TOS version, as seen in THE MAKING OF STAR TREK).

Despite this episode directly referencing TOS (including Riker's ridiculously convenient memory of reading about someone taking a shower while clothed), Picard casually reads Kirk's name off of a computer screen as though he's just some other Captain, and not someone of any historical importance.

This episode also retcons the Psi 2000 virus from "The Naked Time" into the result of shifts in gravity which affected that planet as was breaking up. This explanation allows for a similar virus to be caused by the gravity shifts produced by a star turning into a white dwarf. Um, yeah.

While the intended goal of this episode was to use a variant of the Psi 2000 virus to strip away the characters' inhibitions and give the audience an early look at what made them tick, the episode just fails miserably on that level. Geordi wants to see. Wesley wants to be an officer. Troi can't handle all the emotions around her. Tasha apparently wants to get gangbanged, and uses Data as a vibrator. Everyone acts goofy, horny, or both. Riker, despite being infected fairly early on, shows no personality difference whatsoever, and maintains his cool right up until he's hypoed with the cure. Not exactly a lot of deep character stuff being explored, here. Compare all of that to "The Naked Time", which provided crucial insights into Kirk and Spock. 

The one and only truly memorable moment from this episode is Tasha's afforementioned seduction of Data. Indeed, there's a lot of raciness, in this one. One of Fontana's objections to Roddenberry's rewrites was all of the sex stuff he threw in, often at the expense of the female characters. Geordi finds the frozen aftermath of what was clearly an orgy aboard the Tsiolokovsky. The virus makes Tasha horny and promiscuous. It makes Dr. Crusher horny. It makes Troi horny. It only makes the men act stupid, though.


This one is generally regarded as one of the worst episodes of TNG, although I find it to be something of a guilty pleasure. It's episodes like this which make me amazed that the show even made it past one season. I can only imagine what the fan reaction was, at the time. The episode practically dares fans to compare TNG to TOS in the most negative way possible.


Edited by Greg Kirkman on 15 September 2017 at 12:27am
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Eric Sofer
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Posted: 15 September 2017 at 4:01am | IP Logged | 23 post reply

Greg - using "Naked Now" must have been a great idea. Jar Jar Abrams used the concept (although obviously a different story) in HIS second movie. "I'll show YOU how to do it right!"
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Rob Ocelot
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Posted: 15 September 2017 at 5:21am | IP Logged | 24 post reply

I'll lay this out on the table right now:

Some TV series pilots suffer from what I call 'pilot-itis'.   

The symptoms are as follows:

*The episode spends more time explaining either the premise or the underlying technology of their world than telling anything resembling a story
*The episode spends more time demonstrating how the technology works
*The character dialogue is stilted and the characters act in annoying exaggerated ways that over emphasize the differences between the characters.   
*Characters over-explain their origins in excruciating detail at weirdly inopportune times to other characters.   Otherwise known as rampant TMI.
*Special effects are overdone and feel disconnected from the live action footage, to the point where the live action appears to spend more time and energy trying to hide that it was shot on the cheap in a barn as than part of a cohesive world.

All of these are mostly forgivable TV sins.   Series writers are still finding their points of reference (and a lot of pilots are ghost written by non-staff writers anyway).  Actors and directors are still finding their footing and characters.  Given the high turnover rate and low percentage of pilots that actually make series there's sometimes a palpable feeling they are conserving their energy for the next series pilot they are shooting later that afternoon.  It usually only lasts for an episode or two.

STAR TREK:TNG suffered from pilot-itis for it's first two seasons, more than any other television show I've watched.

All I'll add to that is

"Quick, Mr. Riker... I know you long to have your own command some day but we HAVE to separate the saucer section RIGHT NOW to save all of the politically correct families we inexplicably have on this military ship!"

<cue 5 minute long recycled sfx sequence showing the saucer docking clamps releasing to pad out time until the next commercial break>


Edited by Rob Ocelot on 15 September 2017 at 5:23am
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Michael Roberts
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Posted: 15 September 2017 at 5:48am | IP Logged | 25 post reply

on this military ship!  

------

The ghost of Gene Roddenberry wants to have a word with you. 
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