Star Trek: The Next Generation is often on people's top ten list of the best science fiction television shows, and for good reason; it improved on the already iconic original Star Trek series and managed to stand apart from it with its own greatness. Where the original series chose to focus on action-packed adventures in space, TNG chose to focus on the intellectual curiosity of space exploration, as well as the diplomatic repercussions of so many alien races co-existing in the universe.
It gave us a new captain, a new cast of characters, and a new Enterprise to boldly go with on new missions with new thrills. It forced us to be introspective about not just the human condition, but the condition of all living things while promoting tolerance, subjectivity, and inclusiveness. For all its big wins, however, there are aspects of it that haven't aged well. As a series from the 80s, there are obviously dated aesthetics and styles of dress, but there are also matters of pacing, especially given that television has left the episodic format behind in favor of linear and progressive storytelling. Here are ten things from the series that have aged poorly—but we're pretty sure won't stop anyone's marathons.
One of the ways we can tell what decade or era a television show was made in is to look at the hairstyles. In the late 80s when Star Trek: The Next Generation first began, we got some really great examples of big 80s hair which, while it might have looked fabulous at the time, doesn’t have a timeless look.
All the women suffered from this, from Counselor Deanna Troy to Dr. Beverly Crusher. As the show progressed, their hair got more coiffed and contained. It went from being large and shapeless to textured, highlighted, and given dimension. Similarly, Riker went from having a head of hair like a Ken Doll to something approaching realism.
Star Trek fans can still get into the look and aesthetic of the original series because the 60s kitsch style is very much in keeping with the time of early space exploration on Earth. Its space-age quirkiness combined with its inherent nostalgia now for a time of endless possibilities holds up better than the late 80s kitsch of TNG.
The late 80s and early 90s offered a bland, beige, neutral-toned color palette that wasn’t as punchy as the colorful original series. It was a period comprised of a cultural “No Man’s Land”, most fondly remembered for hair metal and family sit-coms, neither of which had an effect on TNG.
There was a puritanical aspect to Next Gen that is immediately apparent whenever a character in the series is taking a stance on drugs, sex, or some other area of ambiguous morality. The series has moral messages that seem reductionist in this day and age, mixed with an 80s puritanism that makes so many of the characters come off as stunted prudes.
Even Tasha Yar discusses drugs with Wesley Crusher in a way that might as well have been a D.A.R.E. PSA, and no member of the crew engages in anything approaching recklessness that isn’t caused by some interfering entity. The final nail in the interstellar casket is a lot of Picard’s grandiose sermons.
For much of the series, until perhaps the last couple of seasons, every scene in TNG looked like it was filmed in someone’s living room. Deprived of the kaleidoscope of color in the original series to distract from some of the unfortunate lighting, the series showed every flaw on the set and on the cast because it lacked any inspiring mood lighting.
Lighting creates ambiance and can generate emotional responses from both the audience and the characters. A lot can be done with lighting to minimize flaws and glaring budgetary constraints if it's utilized properly. Unfortunately, TNG’s house-style lighting failed to give it the cinematic look of Star Trek Discovery today.
The episodic nature of TNG—and in fact all of the Star Trek spin-offs of the ‘90s—is both a good thing and a bad thing. On the one hand, you can turn on episodes from any seasons and binge them in the background, knowing each story arc presented has a beginning, middle, and end, with it all wrapped up at the conclusion with a little bow.
On the other hand, it can be incredibly difficult to pay the sort of attention to them that you would to Game of Thrones. It becomes cumbersome and slow, causing your attention span to wander. Star Trek: Discovery mimicked other dramas and chose to take a more progressively linear approach, to some success.
While TNG has some of the best lines recited by any actor in all of Star Trek franchise history, its scripts can often be weighed down by their lugubrious pace. Nothing is said with any colloquialisms which, while it helps the series to not feel “dated”, doesn’t help convince viewers that this is the way people actually spoke.
Without modern 20th century English being employed, and with an over-reliance on technobabble, the acting can seem stiff, and even stilted. This can work for some characters like Picard, Data, and Worf, but not for characters like Riker, Geordi, and Troi. The acting doesn’t seem natural, and may make some fans long for the over-acting of the original series.
As you watch TNG, you’ll become immediately aware that some of the decisions made by its many directors seem pedestrian. It feels as though you’re watching a film student’s first shot at the big leagues, or like you’re watching a recording of a stage play. Often the crew members will simply stand around in a half-circle, arms held straight at their sides, their heads bobbing as each one recites their lines.
Not only is there very little natural movement or body language in the series, but there are odd close-ups that seem inappropriate and distracting, or over-the-shoulder shots that may seem important but don’t indicate anything relevant.
When TNG began, there was a certain liveliness to its music score, and some of the strange synth sound and midi xylophone melodies were catchy and distinctive. As the series progressed, however, these sounds became less experimental and expressive, and more mundane and trite, almost like elevator music.
But what it really lacked was music that matched its main theme song, and the rousing, cinematic score that the original series had. The music was flat and often uninspiring in places when it should have elevated emotional scenes. When the music, dialogue, and acting all came together, it was magical to behold.
There has been much debate about why the acting style in Next Gen seems so forced. Some have argued it was because Gene Roddenberry wanted his cast to seem disciplined as members of Starfleet. Some fans maintain it’s because they wanted to be as far removed from the ham-fisted acting of the original series as possible.
Still, others maintain that a Shakespearean style of line delivery was purposeful, requiring a serious level of acting talent which not many possess. Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard managed this quite well, but can the same be said for Worf and Riker, who often came across wooden and emotionless?
From the leisure-suit inspired Starfleet outfits in the early seasons to the patterns, hemlines, and cuff lengths of some of the casual dress, the 80s and 90s can be seen and felt all over TNG. Unfortunately, the clothing style doesn’t seem so much “futuristic” as the 80s interpretation of what “futuristic” looked like.
Overall, the color combinations of Counselor Deanna Troi’s catsuit, or the copious amounts of gold lame and shoulder pads makes it very much a product of its time. The original series suffers in no small way to its 60s bouffant hairstyles and sack dresses, but some find that more visually appealing.