Star Trek: The Next Generation’s beloved android Lieutenant Commander Data (Brent Spiner) features prominently in some of Star Trek’s most enduring episodes. Introduced in TNG’s first episode, “Encounter At Farpoint,” Data was an advanced artificial intelligence who longed to become more human.
Data was incredibly intelligent and physically powerful, but he struggled to comprehend human concepts like humor and was limited in his ability to process and express emotion. Spiner’s understated performance could somehow evoke laughs and tears in equal measures, easily one of the most impressive acting jobs in Star Trek history.
By Star Trek: The Next Generation season 3, the show’s successful format had been established, with each episode generally focusing on one member of the ensemble cast. With the exception of Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), Data tended to get the most spotlight episodes, as the show’s writers and producers honed in on Spiner’s magnetic performance early in the show’s run.
Data episodes ran the gamut, from two-part Borg epics to simpler stories where he tries to learn how to dance. Data is one of Star Trek’s most enduring icons, with his empathy and drive to better himself evoking the best aspects of the science fiction institution.
In the 1992 comedy Wayne’s World, Wayne Campbell makes a wise observation about the comparisons made between sparkling wine and champagne. “It is a lot like Star Trek: The Next Generation,” he notes of sparkling wine. “In many ways it’s superior, but will never be as recognized as the original.”
Wayne was right about many things, but even he couldn’t have foreseen the cultural impact of Next Gen from his vantage point in 1992.
The original Star Trek series, starring the likes of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, was great, and the Star Trek films were intermittently so too – all following a crew of spacefaring idealists exploring the universe and having velure-ensconced adventures. But in 1987 the story of Star Trek recommenced with a new series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, which skipped a century ahead and charted a fascinating new course with an all new crew on a new and improved USS Enterprise, a ship with a continuing mission to explore the universe under the steady hand of the uptight but charming Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart).
But the classic franchise is on a pretty short list. Some 35 years after the premiere of that show, audiences are apparently no less thirsty for Picard, Riker, and the rest of the Enterprise-D crew, as seen in Paramount Plus’ ambitious legacy series Star Trek: Picard, which reunites those heroes for a third and final season.
Though early episodes may struggle to shake the writing and tonal tendencies that bogged the first two batches, Picard season three is, without question, the show’s strongest yet, recapturing a bit of that magic of The Next Generation and nicely utilizing its talented cast.
Here’s a wild statistic: There are nearly as many currently running Star Trek television series as there are completed Star Trek television series. The first 40 years of the franchise’s history include five live-action series and one animated spinoff, totaling 725 episodes.
In the past five years, five new series have launched (six if you count Short Treks as its own entity), airing a cumulative 130 episodes as of today. Star Trek as a brand is busier than it’s been since the mid-1990s, when Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and the Next Generation TV series were all running concurrently and shops around the world dedicated entire displays to Star Trek toys, novels, and video games.
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Having given a significant portion of their careers to going where no man has gone before, it’s only fitting that Star Trek legends Nichelle Nichols and DeForest Kelley, who respectively portrayed Lieutenant Uhura and Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy in the original series, will have their ashes laid to rest amongst the stars.
Nichols and Kelley are set to fly off into the unknown together aboard memorial space flight company Celestis’ inaugural ‘Voyager’-level offering, named The Enterprise Flight in honor of its prestigious guests, which “will launch from planet Earth and travel beyond the Earth-Moon system, beyond the James Webb telescope, and into interplanetary deep space – where it will join the other planets, moons, comets, and asteroids in our solar system on a never-ending journey through the cosmos.”
These are the on-screen voyages of Star Trek, a now-massive and popular franchise with 13 movies and over 800 episodes and counting. Star Trek: The Original Series went off the air in 1969, and was followed by two decades of movies about those same characters. Yet it wasn’t until the launch of the second TV series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, that we got to see new characters in this universe. Aptly named, Next Generation moved into the future from the original series, exploring new technology such as holodecks, and the universe-changing replicators, which could create almost any item you wanted in an instant.
As said in an article in the New Yorker, “It is hard to overstate how much of a departure the ‘Star Trek’ franchise’s eighties-and-nineties-straddling incarnation, ‘The Next Generation,’ was from the original series.” The show moved the Trek universe into a utopian future of post-scarcity. In one episode, for instance, Jean-Luc Picard, the current Captain of the starship Enterprise-D, tells a twentieth-century human concerned about his old stocks that, “People are no longer obsessed with the accumulation of things. We’ve eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions. We’ve grown out of our infancy.”