PARAMOUNT HOME ENT.
Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Denise Crosby, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Diana Muldaur, Brent Spiner, Wil Wheaton, Whoopi Goldberg
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Surround
Runtime: 999 min.
Release Date: 5/7/2002
• “Mission Overview” Featurette
• “Selected Crew Analysis” Featurette
• “Starfleet Archives” Featurette
• “Departmental Briefing: Production” Featurette
• “Memorable Missions” Featurette
Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.
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Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season Two (1988)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
Samaritan Snare didn’t quite live up to that level, but it still offered a generally positive program. The Enterprise encounters the Pakleds, a species of space simpletons. They all resemble Lenny from Of Mice and Men but somehow have managed to become interplanetary travelers. After Geordi helps them with some repairs, the Enterprise finds out how this occurred: the Pakleds use force to take technology from more sophisticated cultures because they’re too impatient to wait for their own evolution. They take Geordi prisoner, and it’s up to Riker to devise a plan to defuse the situation without assisting the Pakleds. In the meantime, Wesley and Picard take a shuttle to Starbase 515. Wesley goes there for Starfleet exams, while Picard needs a heart operation.
I could have lived without those last elements. Though I don’t despise Wesley as much as other fans, I must admit his presence usually isn’t beneficial to the show. It was good to get additional depth in regard to Picard’s character, but the sentimental bonding between the two was too sappy. Nonetheless, the events on board the Enterprise were quite compelling, as the story played out in a taut and dramatic way. The Pakleds offered unusual villains, and the tale came to a clever and satisfying conclusion.
Up the Long Ladder provided a story that seems timely today. The Enterprise needs to rescue two civilizations that branched off from Earth years earlier. One of them rejected technology and became a bunch of farmers, while the other took the opposite approach. Unfortunately, most of their people died due to a crash landing, so they needed to use tons of cloning to keep their society alive. This has started to lead to replication errors, and they need some fresh cells to spawn new blood. They want those from the Enterprise crew, which causes some problems.
Though the show featured some good ideas and seems eerily appropriate today, “Ladder” collapsed under its own weight. Part of the problem stemmed from the terribly disjointed story. We started with the poorly conceived farmers, all of whom were made Irish for no great reason. This influenced the actors, virtually all of whom behaved as though they remained in search of their Lucky Charms; to call the performances broad would be a gross understatement.
Though we got to know a couple of the farmers fairly well - and Riker had a fling with very sexy Brenna (Rosalyn Landor) - they abruptly disappeared midway through the show when the other clan appeared. As we learned about their plight, it always remained absolutely inevitable where the story would go. Plot lines vanished without a trace, comedic relief seemed forced and inane, and the whole episode felt like an awkward mess.
Manhunt contributed another semi-comic tale, but it succeeded a little better than “Ladder”. On yet another diplomatic mission, the Enterprise needs to transport some ambassadors to a conference. One of them turns out to be Lwaxana Troi (Majel Barrett), our counselor’s mother who also appeared during the first season. It happens that Lwaxana’s in the midst of the Betazoid menopause, at which time her sexual appetite escalates ridiculously. She sets her sights on Picard, who she decides she’ll marry. Under the best of circumstances, Lwaxana can be difficult to deny, but according to Deanna, it’s especially problematic while she’s in this excited state; any rejection would be absolutely catastrophic. Because of this, Picard and the other men of the Enterprise need to find tactful ways to avoid romantic entanglement.
Most of “Manhunt” embraced fairly broad comedy, something that Trek didn’t always do well. While this episode wasn’t a classic, it certainly seemed reasonably entertaining and enjoyable. Barrett provided her usual brash but endearing self as Lwaxana; Maj was never much of an actress, but she did nicely in this part and made the elder Troi much more likable than she should have been. “Manhunt” worked acceptably well, though it remained fairly forgettable.
Cameo alert: the credits note that rock star Mick Fleetwood appeared in this episode. You’ll be forgiven if you missed him. He played one of the fish-like ambassadors who remained in stasis much of the show. Buried under very heavy makeup, Fleetwood is totally unrecognizable.
During The Emissary, the series shed additional light on Worf’s past. Apparently the crew of the Klingon ship the T’Ong got put into cryogenic sleep many years earlier, and they’re about to reawaken. Someone needs to intercept them to let them know the war between the Klingons and the Federation ended, and the Enterprise is the vessel with the best chance to reach them in time. Half-human, half-Klingon Starfleet officer K’Ehleyr (Suzie Plakson) comes on the Enterprise to assist with the mission, and we quickly learn that she and Worf have a romantic history. The show alternates between their continued passion for each other and the attempts to solve the problems of the T’Ong.
I feel like a broken record: while I really do like attempts to broaden the characters, too many of these stabs seem excessively melodramatic, and that affected “Emissary”. K’Ehleyr was a fairly interesting character - due to her human half, she’s a Klingon with a sense of humor and good teeth to boot! - but her interactions with Worf felt somewhat forced, and the show pretty much degenerated into soap opera territory when they met. However, the plot concept was quite solid, and the storyline that involved the T’Ong was excellent; it provided much tension and drama, and also led to a cool resolution. Overall, “Emissary” offered pretty good Trek, but it failed to reach a level of genuine excellence.
Another positive program appeared next with Peak Performance. To prepare for inevitable encounters with the Borg, the crew of the Enterprise must take part in some war games. These pit Picard and the Enterprise herself against Riker on board an aging craft called the USS Hathaway. Though allowed to handpick his crew, the odds seemed stacked against Riker because the Hathaway can’t compete with the Enterprise’s firepower. Sent to supervise, consultant Sirna (Roy Brocksmith) irritates much of the Enterprise staff due to his arrogance. When he defeats the allegedly infallible Data at a challenging game, our favorite android sinks into a funk of self-doubt until he learns better how to deal with the possibility that he’s less than perfect.
You know how I’ve griped so much about poorly executed character development? “Performance” offered an example of positive material in that vein. Data’s crisis emerged naturally and effectively, without sappiness or melodrama, and it worked its way to a believable conclusion. In addition, the battles between the two Starfleet officers were fun to see, especially when the Ferengi - who made their only Season Two appearance here - entered the mix. All in all, “Performance” provided a fine example of what Trek does best.
Too bad it didn’t finish the season. Unfortunately, one episode remained, and it offered easily the worst of the year. Shades of Gray started with an injury to Riker. On the surface of an unfamiliar planet, something injures his leg. After he returns to the Enterprise, an infection quickly takes hold of his system and puts him on the brink of death. Pulaski seems unable to stop it until she learns that his emotional status affects its growth, and she attempts to manipulate his dreams to stave off the disease.
While that synopsis actually sounds fairly interesting, the actual show was terrible. Mainly the concept existed to allow the producers to create a clip show. This meant most of “Gray” just provided looks at prior episodes from both seasons one and two. In between, we saw shots of Pulaski and Troi as they looked worried and fretted about how to fix him. Because of its threadbare construction and lack of inspiration, “Gray” may well be one of the crummiest episodes of TNG ever made.
While “Gray” finished the season on a fairly low note, I thought it was a fairly good year as a whole. However, I think I preferred the developments of Season One better. Season Two definitely expanded most of the characters, as we started to get a better feel for many of the Enterprise crew. Riker emerged as more than just a new version of Captain Kirk while Data expanded as well.
Oddly, though the departure of Dr. Crusher was supposed to let Wesley grow outside of her shadow, I felt the opposite seemed true. Wesley appeared like a more minor character during Season Two. Some of that may have been intentional; fans never much cared for Wesley, so the powers-that-be might have purposefully attempted to de-emphasize his role. Nonetheless, it seems odd that Wesley became less prominent when he should have grown.
Speaking of Dr. Crusher, her replacement felt like a failure. From day one, the show’s producers tried to make her resemble a female Bones McCoy from the Original Series, and this didn’t work. During the season’s early episodes, Pulaski displayed a definite antagonism toward Data due to his lack of humanity. While this seemed like an attempt to replicate some of the Spock/McCoy friction from the old days, it failed. The dynamic between those two grew over time and developed naturally, whereas the relationship here appeared forced and prefabricated.
In addition, this choice made it hard for viewers to latch on to Pulaski. They’d grown to like Data during the first season, and now some interloper came in and treated him poorly. I suppose Pulaski’s edginess existed to make her seem different from warm and motherly Crusher, but Pulaski started on the wrong foot and was never able to recover. Later episodes definitely attempted to make her seem more likable and sympathetic, but it was too late by that point; the damage had been done.
Still, most of Season Two marked improvements in the character dynamics, and the addition of Ten Forward helped. At times Guinan seemed like little more than a forced guest star, but usually the character integrated fairly well within the program. The new venue allowed the characters to behave in less rigid ways and allowed them to expand naturally.
Clearly Season Two enjoyed a higher budget than did the first year, and we saw this via noticeably improved special effects. While they still have their problems, the visual effects came across as distinctly stronger and more believable. The effects during the first season were really quite terrible, whereas Season Two’s images appeared inconsistent but acceptable most of the time. In addition, the shows’ scores sounded richer and livelier. Though apparently all the music was recorded with a full orchestra, much of the time during Season One the scores sounded very synthesized and cheesy. That seemed much less prevalent during Season Two.
Both the first two seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation suffer from poor fan reputations. However, those thoughts seem like retrospective reactions. I can’t say how I’ll feel about Season Two by the end of the year; at that time, I’ll have seen all seven years of the show and can better put the whole thng into perspective. Until then, ignorance will remain fairly blissful, as I rather enjoyed my encounters with the crew of the Enterprise during their second year.
The DVD Grades: Picture C / Audio B+ / Bonus B-
Star Trek: The Next Generation appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on these single-sided, double-layered DVDs; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. If you saw the DVD release of TNG’s first season, you’ll largely know what to expect from the second year’s package. However, I did feel that this set offered modest but noticeable improvements in visual quality.
Sharpness varied. Much of the material seemed reasonably crisp and detailed, but that faltered on many occasions. Wider shots offered the biggest problems, as they often appeared somewhat soft and fuzzy. Moiré effects caused some minor shimmering at times, and I also saw periodic examples of jagged edges. Edge enhancement also created concerns. Haloes seemed noticeable much of the time, and these caused some distractions. They also appeared to contribute to the softness, as they helped render a few wide shots as less distinct than I’d expect.
While still a periodic issue, print flaws seemed a bit less heavy during Season Two. I still saw some speckles, grit, marks, grain and other debris, but these manifested themselves to a lesser degree than they did on the prior set. The defects occasionally became distracting, but they never were excessive.
Colors appeared somewhat erratic. ST:TNG didn’t offer the same breadth of hues found on the original series. That show needed to sell some color TVs, so the tones intended to make those sets irresistible to viewers. TNG didn’t need to do that, and it used a more restricted palette. At times, the colors looked nicely rich and distinct, but they also came across as dull and murky for parts of the shows, and some red light was somewhat runny. In general, the hues were acceptable but unspectacular.
Similar elements marked the black levels, which seemed reasonably deep much of the time, but they also could be a bit muddy on occasion. Shadow detail was fairly good. A few low-light sequences came across as somewhat heavy and dense, but much of the material was appropriately opaque and distinguishable.
Most of the comments above replicate what I said about Season One - so how did Season Two improve upon it? Objectively, the two seemed pretty similar, but subjectively, I simply felt that the programs appeared crisper and better-defined much of the time. Obviously most of the same concerns occurred, and some of them seemed a little stronger; I felt the edge enhancement of Season Two was slightly heavier and more intrusive. Nonetheless, the image generally came across as more stable and pleasing. Hopefully this bodes well for future packages, as I expect visual quality will get even better as the show progresses.
While I’m still not wild about the picture, the audio for Season Two continued the solid Dolby Digital 5.1 sound heard during the first year. These shows were originally mastered with Dolby Surround mixes, and the new 5.1 mixes helped broaden those nicely. The soundfields of the various shows seemed very engaging. The forward spectrum dominated, and it offered fine stereo imaging for the music as well as a strong sense of atmosphere. The front speakers provided a clear and vivid environment, and various elements like ships and phaser fire panned cleanly across the channels. Planet environments often came across nicely, as they offered lively and engaging audio.
For the most part, the surrounds offered general support of the front speakers. They showed some split-channel material at times. This occurred mainly via ship fly-bys, as crafts passed cleanly from front to rear. Otherwise, the surrounds mostly gave us a good sense of environment, and they also added musical support. The 5.1 remixes didn’t reinvent the wheel, but they opened up the tracks nicely.
Audio quality seemed quite good for its age. At times speech came across as somewhat flat and thin, but for the most part, the lines remained distinct and natural, and I heard no problems related to edginess or intelligibility. Music was nicely vivid and bright. I wasn’t wild about the synthesizer sound, but the quality of the music remained positive, as the score was consistently clear and bold. Effects showed good clarity and accuracy, and they displayed very few signs of distortion. All elements provided very nice bass response, as low-end seemed deep and rich throughout the shows. All in all, I was very pleased with the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Though not chock full of extras, Star Trek: The Next Generation does provide a smattering of supplements, most of which followed the same format as pieces on the Season One package. All of these consist of relatively brief documentaries, and they reside on DVD Six. Mission Overview offers a pretty general look at the ways the show changed between Seasons One and Two. During this 14-minute and 40-second program, we get show clips, shots from the set, and interviews with executive producer/creator Gene Roddenberry, executive producer Rick Berman, co-executive producer Maurice Hurley, associate producer Peter Lauritson, and actors Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis, Diana Muldaur and Whoopi Goldberg. The interviews mix sources from 1988, 1994 and 2001; in a nice touch, the subtitles indicate the date of the material.
”Overview” does what its title indicates, as it provides a broad look at the variations seen during Season Two. This means we hear about the writers’ strike, Pulaski, Guinan and Ten Forward. The gang offer some general comments about the year as well. It seems moderately informative and entertaining, but it’s nothing special. (One fun bit: we learn that Muldaur played two separate roles on the Original Series, and we see short clips from those.)
After this we find four more mini-documentaries. All of them featured the same format and many of the same participants. Selected Crew Analysis runs 13 minutes and 45 seconds and includes comments from Roddenberry, Berman, Lauritson, and actors Patrick Stewart, Sirtis, Frakes, Wil Wheaton, LeVar Burton, and Muldaur. This show gives us a decent little look at the characters, especially the ways in which they grew between seasons. Of particular interest is the discussion by Sirtis of her fears that Troi would get the boot; we get some nice comments about “The Child”, a Troi-focused episode.
Starfleet Archives gives us something different. This 17-and-a-half minute program concentrates totally on the official prop collection maintained by Penny Juday, the sole participant in the piece. Essentially she walks us through the warehouse and shows us a variety of materials. It’s a little flat at times, but it still shows some interesting pieces. Juday lacks much charisma, but she adds enough useful comments to make the show worth a look.
Departmental Briefing: Production gives us a good take on a number of technical issues. During the 17-and-a-half minute piece, we hear from Hurley, Lauritson, special effects supervisor Dan Curry, production designer Richard James, costume designer Durinda Rice Wood, and composer Dennis McCarthy. They cover a lot of issues, from the development of the Borg to the writing process to clothes and props. It’s revealing and entertaining.
For the last documentary, we discover Memorable Missions. This 16-and-a-half minute program concentrates on anecdotes that relate to specific episodes. It goes over seven of the 22 shows and includes interviews with Berman, Lauritson, Wood, Curry, property master Alan Sims, and actors Stewart, Michael Dorn, Wheaton, Brent Spiner, Marnie DeLancie, and John Tesh. We hear a lot of entertaining notes here, as we get details about a variety of elements. Obviously it lacks great coherence since it jumps from episode to episode, but it gives a reasonable amount of worthwhile and fun facts.
Note: as always with Paramount releases, all of the video extras include English subtitles. It’s a nice touch that too few other studios emulate.
Lastly, inside the DVD’s complicated fold-out case, we find a small booklet with a smidgen of information. It includes comments about the changes that occurred between seasons and it shows all 25 episodes listed in alphabetical order. Admittedly, this boxed set isn’t stuffed with extras, but what we find is fairly good, and the pieces complement the package pretty well.
During the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, small changes occurred but no one tried to reinvent the program. That’s a good thing, for the first year established the setting and the characters well and Season Two felt like a nice expansion on it. I felt the quality of the various episodes appeared a little more erratic, mainly because it included fewer obvious highlights and it suffered from a couple of genuinely terrible programs; even the worst of Season One still seemed decent. Nonetheless, I liked the shows as a whole and enjoyed the season. As for the DVDs, picture quality represents the original material, which means it shows a mix of problems. Nonetheless, the programs remain watchable, and sound seems very strong. Extras aren’t overwhelming but they appear interesting. I enjoyed my time with ST:TNG and the series’ fans should be happy to receive this nice package.
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