Various and Sundry

A Viewing Guide for Star Trek: The Next Generation

With the airing of the final season of Star Trek: Picard, my ranking of all the Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) episodes is getting a steady amount of traffic.

So going from the viewing guide for one of the least watched series in the franchise, Enterprise, let’s go to a Trek series that still ranks as the most watched… and based on feedback is clearly one of the most beloved.

Much like many of the Trek series, TNG takes a while to find its footing. A great documentary that details some of the specific reasons of how the show changed over time is Chaos on the Bridge, directed by William Shatner (yes, Captain Kirk himself). I’m given to understand it’s not the first to delve into the dirt behind TNG’s growing pains, but it comes across as even-handed and, importantly, explains why the storytelling style shifted so noticeably in the third season.

That style, which focuses on character arcs amid the familiar Trek explorations of ideas is what made fans tune in week after week by the millions. We also waited one long summer between seasons three and four thanks to one of the best cliffhangers in TV history.

For those of you encountering the TNG crew for the first time or the first time in a long time, I am sure you’ll find episodes that stay with you long after the end credits. The best of Trek is engineered to age well, and, yes, some of the space clothes may seem a bit too 80s or 90s at times, but, overall, the stories are strong.

I should pause and point out this viewing guide is not for everyone. I am sure there are TNG fans who are completionists. They do not want to miss the tiniest character moment — and skipping episodes, including episodes they themselves find underwhelming, would prompt a Picard-style speech about duty. If that rings true, this guide is not for you. In fact, I daresay you will find it logical to live long and prosper elsewhere.

This viewing guide is for the fans who want an abbreviated binge watch. It cuts down on turkeys and subpar episodes that don’t contribute to big character moments or major payoff later. It’s also a guide for those fans who want to introduce new viewers to TNG the same way you might introduce a friend to a band you love: not with every song from every album from the beginning, but with a curated playlist. If these new viewers find they absolutely love the show, those “deep cuts” are there for a rewatch.

For younger viewers or people who haven’t watched older TV shows in a while, remember that TNG does not match the newer series, and indeed most modern “prestige television,” in two key ways.

First, it adheres to a notion of the Status Quo common to countless shows prior to the 21st Century: no matter how big the plot developments are or how they might affect our characters, they’ve not going to change much. The very nature of the show visiting a new planet almost every episode means last week’s episode (and planet) and its problems are firmly in the past with no impact on this week’s planet.

Second, there’s going to be a lot of planets to visit. Each season has 26 episodes, an amount that would give modern line producers an aneurysm. In other words, you can leave many a subpar episode in the Briar Patch of Meh.

If we count all the double-sized episodes as two, we have 182 installments of TNG. This viewing guide cuts out 80, giving you a much leaner, more manageable 102 episodes to warp through.


Season One

  • #s1&2 – “Encounter at Farpoint”

Just the series premiere, you ask? Yes, really. In fact, I’d love to skip straight to season 3, but since this is a binge watch, there’s crucial payoff in the series finale that require that you Vulcan up and watch this not-best-of-Trek-series-premieres. Reflections on the now missing Tasha Yar are far more interesting in later episodes, so don’t worry about why she’s missing in season two. Plus consider the bright side: in a completionist rewatch, you have Klingon building toys, Romulan courtesy calls, and exploding heads to look forward to!

Season Two

  • #3 – “Elementary, Dear Data”
  • #9 – “Measure of a Man”
  • #16 – “Q Who?”

I debated including “Elementary, Dear Data” but it does set up one of the best later episodes and, presumably, will connect to Star Trek: Picard. It also preps you for the myriad “holodeck hijinks” episodes. The other two episodes set up events not only for TNG, but for a lot of the Trek series in the future, so they’re in.

Season Three

  • #2 – “The Ensigns of Command”
  • #3 – “The Survivors”
  • #4 – “Who Watches the Watchers”
  • #6 – “Booby Trap”
  • #7 – “The Enemy”
  • #8 – “The Price”
  • #9 – “The Vengeance Factor”
  • #10 – “The Defector”
  • #11 – “The Hunted”
  • #12 – “The High Ground”
  • #13 – “Deja Q”
  • #15 – “Yesterday’s Enterprise”
  • #16 – “The Offspring”
  • #17 – “Sins of the Father”
  • #18 – “Allegiance”
  • #19 – “Captain’s Holiday”
  • #20 – “Tin Man”
  • #22 – “The Most Toys”
  • #23 – “Sarek”
  • #24 – “Ménage à Troi”
  • #26 – “The Best of Both Worlds” (Part 1)

Now we’re getting to the good stuff. You can watch most of the season without a cringe — and, in fact, fans of Barclay or those into all things Holodeck will want to add episode #21, “Hollow Pursuits.” Other than that, you’re probably more than ready to check out the season four premiere — especially because you don’t have to wait all summer!

Season Four

  • #1 – “The Best of Both Worlds” (Part 2)
  • #2 – “Family”
  • #3 – “Brothers”
  • #6 – “Legacy”
  • #7 – “Reunion”
  • #8 – “Future Imperfect”
  • #9 – “Final Mission”
  • #11 – “Data’s Day”
  • #12 – “The Wounded”
  • #13 – “Devil’s Due”
  • #14 – “Clues”
  • #15 – “First Contact”
  • #16 – “Galaxy’s Child”
  • #17 – “Night Terrors”
  • #18 – “Identity Crisis”
  • #19 – “The Nth Degree”
  • #20 – “Qpid”
  • #21 – “The Drumhead”
  • #22 – “Half a Life”
  • #24 – “The Mind’s Eye”
  • #25 – “In Theory”
  • #26 – “Redemption” (Part 1)

A few more episodes snipped from this season, but some absolutely great episodes. Dr. Crusher fans may want to add back #23 “The Host” which uses the sci-fi setting to have some great moments regarding relationships.

Season Five

  • #1 – “Redemption (Part 2)
  • #2 – “Darmok”
  • #3 – “Ensign Ro”
  • #4 – “Silicon Avatar”
  • #5 – “Disaster”
  • #s7&8 – “Unification”
  • #9 – “A Matter of Time”
  • #12 – “Violations”
  • #13 – “The Masterpiece Society”
  • #14 – “Conundrum”
  • #15 – “Power Play”
  • #17 – “The Outcast”
  • #18 – “Cause and Effect”
  • #19 – “The First Duty”
  • #21 – “The Perfect Mate”
  • #23 – “I, Borg”
  • #24 – “The Next Phase”
  • #25 – “The Inner Light”
  • #26 – “Time’s Arrow” (Part 1)

20 all-around solid episodes.

Season Six

  • #1 – “Time’s Arrow” (Part 2)
  • #4 – “Relics”
  • #6 – “True Q”
  • #7 – “Rascals”
  • #s10&11 – “Chain of Command”
  • #12 – “Ship in a Bottle”
  • #14 – “Face of the Enemy”
  • #15 – “Tapestry”
  • #s16&17 – “Birthright”
  • #18 – “Starship Mine”
  • #19 – “Lessons”
  • #21 – “Frame of Mind”
  • #23 – “Rightful Heir”
  • #24 – “Second Chances”
  • #25 – “Timescape”
  • #26 – “Descent” (Part 1)

Right around season five and six, you might decide to just watch ’em all, but I’m committed to cutting out the subspace bumps, so here you go.

Season Seven

  • #1 – “Descent” (Part 2)
  • #s4&5 – “Gambit”
  • #6 – “Phantasms”
  • #8 – “Attached”
  • #10 – “Inheritance”
  • #11 – “Parallels”
  • #12 – “The Pegasus”
  • #15 – “Lower Decks”
  • #16 – “Thine Own Self”
  • #19 – “Genesis”
  • #20 – “Journey’s End”
  • #21 – “Firstborn”
  • #24 – “Preemptive Strike”
  • #s25&26 – “All Good Things…”

You definitely want to skip a number of episodes here. Some fans find #23 “Emergence” to be a meta-commentary on the series itself, but the actual series finale “All Good Things…” brings it home as good as any Trek series has.

So there you have it: a way to dive in and boldly go on adventures with the inimitable TNG crew without spending over 100 hours of your time. Enjoy!

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