It's hard to recommend the Blu-ray set of the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation unreservedly — you already got the experience of seeing the Enterprise-D in high-definition and marveling at the restored visual effects, with the season one DVDs. And season two of TNG is mostly just as bad as season one, with a few bright spots.
But you know, when you watch a bunch of these episodes in a row, and consume all the zillions of hours of special features, you start to realize that TNG season 2 is like the ultimate misfit toy, the slightly melt-faced action figure that's missing an arm and its pants, that you can't help but love. Plus it's almost worth it for the extended cut of one key episode.
Images via Trekcore.
Star Trek: The Next Generation struggled with a couple of problems in its second season. There was the extreme earnestness and stiffness that had dragged season one down, with the characters feeling more like Gerry Anderson puppets than people. And then there was the 1988 writer's strike, which meant there were no scripts and no planning for the new season.
In fact, TNG very nearly got cancelled because of the writer's strike — on the special features, Patrick Stewart recounts overhearing Paramount execs making definite plans to pull the plug on the show. As it was, the show had to recycle old scripts and story ideas that the producers had laying around, including the season opener, "The Child," which was originally written for the scrapped 1970s series Star Trek: Phase Two.
And yet, rewatching the season on Blu-ray, it becomes obvious that this is the season where TNG becomes TNG as most of us remember it. Riker gets his trademark beard. Guinan joins the crew. At least some of the storylines become more philosophical, and less overtly preachy — asking questions rather than answering. We meet the Borg. Geordi goes to engineering. The crew is playing poker a lot. Nobody listens to Worf. A lot of the relationships feel pretty well cemented, and even the many terrible episodes have a nice moment here and there.
Most of all, this is really the season where Riker gets off the leash and starts acting like the lovably creepy uncle we all remember — including a scene where he and Guinan show Wesley how to flirt. Which, wow.
And there are some episodes of season two that really do hold up — we watched the Borg episode, "Q Who," on the big screen and it was pretty damn epic. Ditto for the extended cut of "Measure of a Man" (more on that in a second.) The "Riker joins a Klingon ship's crew" episode, "Matter of Honor," is still a total hoot. Data playing Sherlock Holmes with Geordi is as cute as ever — and made me realize that Data and Geordi are the original Troy and Abed.
As for the large number of truly terrible episodes in this set, they're sort of charming in an "embarrassing sixth grade photos when you wore that snaggle-tooth sweater and had feathered hair" kind of way. They feel lovably dorky, and the cumulative effect of watching four or five of these cheesefests in a row is that all of the clunky plot devices and borky acting tend to blur together into a kind of endless pantomime. And now, thanks to the absolutely insane Blu-ray restoration, it looks just fantastic instead of grainy and bleh.
And then there's the extended cut of "Measure of a Man" — the episode where Data is put on trial to see if he's a
witch person, because an incompetent roboticist wants to dismantle him. We watched it on the big screen, and it looks amazingly great considering that the deleted scenes were sourced from an old VHS tape that writer Melinda Snodgrass had sq uirreled away. And it's way longer — like, 12 or 13 minutes longer. There is a lot more development of the relationship between Picard and the Sexy Judge Lady, which is both cringe-inducing and lovely. And the overall story is fleshed out quite a bit, including a lot of Data trying to resign from Starfleet or otherwise avoid consenting to the risky procedure. The extended episode definitely drags a teeny bit, but it's also way more thought-provoking and fun this way. And it shows, once and for all, that TNG was already capable of expanding your mind even in its sophomore season. (Although I still cringe when Sexy Judge Lady says the real issue is, "Does Data have a soul?" Actually, no. "Soul" is not a legal concept, no matter what Bobby Byrd might say.)
And if you still need indoctrination into kind of grudgingly loving season two of TNG, there is a boatload of special features that will take you deep inside the making of these episodes, so you can at last know what the hell they were thinking. There's the latest two installments of the "Making it So" documentary which started on the season one boxset, created by Robert Meyer Burnett and friends, plus Burnett moderating a reunion of the TNG cast in which they rib each other mercilessly.
The documentary installments include a ton of hilarious anecdotes, plus clips of news coverage from 1988-89. You learn, among other things, that Patrick Stewart was furious at his castmates for goofing off on set or joking around between takes, and he called a meeting saying it had to stop. The other TNG castmembers protested that they needed to have fun sometimes, and Stewart sternly told them that they were there to work, not to have fun. Something that he later got reminded of constantly, when he finally loosened up. Also, Stewart was grumpy about being referred to in the trade press as an unknown Shakespearean actor — especially after Brent Spiner had those words put on his dressing room door.
There's also a gag reel, which shows plenty of the cast goofing around and cracking up in the middle of takes — so you can see why Stewart might have been a bit grumpy. A major gem is the episode of Reading Rainbow where LeVar Burton takes you behind the scenes of TNG as it was back then. Also pretty fun: some of the DVD extras from previous sets, where you see more of the cast and creators taking very seriously about how profound some of the episodes like "Loud as a Whisper" really are. Super, super profound. There are deleted scenes from a couple of other episodes, but they're not really anything to write home about. You can see the full list of special features, disc by disc, here.
All in all, TNG season two is like a goofy old friend that you haven't seen since high school, and who's kind of embarrassing to hang out with now. But the season grows on you after you watch a bunch of it, and the special features and amazing restoration will definitely increase your appreciation for this formative year of the show. Plus there's the Borg, Data proving himself, and a number of other genuinely epic moments.