Star Trek might be about a future in which humanity has put aside its petty differences, but Star Trek fandom is all about squabbles. Is Picard a better captain than Kirk? Are the Kelvin-verse movies fun popcorn movies or Star Wars in a Trek skin? Is there too much crying in Star Trek: Discovery? But for all of their disagreements, nearly all Star Trek fans can unite around their feelings about season one of Star Trek: The Next Generation: it stinks.
Turns out, those opinions are shared by the TNG cast. Over thirty-five years later, the cast has completed six more mostly great seasons of the series, four movies of varying quality, and an excellent reunion season of Star Trek: Picard, but they still look back in embarrassment at their first voyage on the starship Enterprise.
“I don’t think we got rolling until about the third season of Next Generation, in terms of chemistry,” Jonathan Frakes admitted to Deadline, a feeling shared by co-stars Patrick Stewart and Gates McFadden. “I must say I’m not happy with a lot of the work I did in that first season,” Stewart concurred. “It was a little artificial, not spontaneous, not being in the moment.” For McFadden, part of the difficulty came from her lack of experience working on television, having spent her prior years on the stage. “I also knew nothing of hitting marks, being mindful of the camera and the crew,” she confessed. “I was intimidated by it all.”
While the trio all points at various reasons for their struggles in that first season, they do agree on one main culprit: their tight Starfleet uniforms. “I’d never worn a silly spandex spacesuit with no pockets,” Frakes said. “I didn’t know how to act without my f*cking hands in my pockets. It was a lot to learn.” McFadden agreed, “It’s true that when you’re in this kind of leotard suit, it felt like some kind of heightened reality.”
After reading these complaints, one might assume that the trio wouldn’t want to tempt fate by reuniting decades after the great TNG finale “All Good Things…” and the less-successful movie Star Trek: Nemesis. And Stewart has been quite open about his reluctance to turn Picard into a nostalgia act. But credit goes to producer Akiva Goldsman and season three showrunner Terry Matalas for getting Stewart on board.
Stewart recalls Goldsman telling him, “Patrick, your life has changed in the past 20 years. So many things have happened to you. Are you the same person you were then?” That question helped Stewart realize that the series “didn’t have to make reference to The Next Generation at all,” and instead allowed the show to catch up with Beverly Crusher, Will Riker, and the others without being stuck in the past. “Each of the characters had to earn their entrance, and meet their position in the storytelling,” Frakes said in praise of Matalas’s story. “And we each brought those 20 years of life back to it.”
Thanks to the work of all involved, Star Trek fans now have something else on which they can agree: Star Trek: Picard season three is really good.