Written PostHow to Start Watching (And Fall in Love with) Star Trek — Part Three!

How to Start Watching (And Fall in Love with) Star Trek — Part Three!

Welcome back to the most important blog series I will ever write!!  This is a guide to how a newbie should discover Star Trek!  In part one, I recommended fifteen stand-out episodes of the Original Series.  In part two, I recommended that, as a next step, a newbie watch the following four original Trek movies: the informal trilogy of Star Trek II, III, and IV, and then skip to Star Trek VI for the grand finale of the adventures of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and the rest of the Original Series cast.

If you’ve followed my instructions so far, I highly suspect that, by this point, you will be hooked!!

After watching Star Trek VI, you could go back and watch more of the Original Series.  (In part one, I listed many additional great Original Series episodes.)

But my general recommendation would be to buckle up and take a deep dive into the first live-action Star Trek TV show spin-off: Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Produced between 1987 and 1994, TNG ran for seven seasons and a total of 178 episodes.  That is a LOT!  The first two seasons were very rough, but by season three TNG had developed into a magnificent show, and there is SO MUCH amazing storytelling in seasons three through seven!  If you read on, I’ll give you my detailed instructions as to how to watch TNG, skipping all of the bad episodes to get quickly to the great stuff.  Be warned, though, whereas my initial list of Original Series recommendations was relatively short — 15 episodes out of the full run of 79 — I think it’s worth spending a lot more time with TNG.  But don’t worry — I suspect that, at this point, you’ll be into Star Trek and well-primed for the amazing journey that awaits you watching TNG.

First, an overview.  Star Trek: The Next Generation is a terrific Star Trek show.  For many fans, it’s the best of all the series.  It is certainly the most popular of all the Trek spin-off shows that came after the Original Series.  (Personally, I feel – correctly! – that Deep Space Nine is the best of all the Trek spin-offs.)

Just as I was upfront about some of the flaws in the Original Series, let me be honest about the problems with TNG.  First off, the first season is TERRIBLE and the second season is also PRETTY STINKY.  It doesn’t really become the show it would be until season three.  (Therefore, as you’ll see below, I’m going to suggest you skip most of those first two seasons!)  Second, aspects of TNG haven’t aged so well.  Interestingly, as a kid watching TNG in the eighties and nineties, I thought it was by far the best Trek, and the Original Series felt very old and dated to me.  Whereas watching these shows now I actually feel the Original Series is more timeless, and aspects of TNG weirdly feel MORE dated to me.  What do I mean?  1) There are some aspects of 80’s/90’s culture found in the show that don’t hold up so well today.  (Classic example: having the ship’s counselor sit on the bridge right next to the captain is an idea that feels very silly to me today.)  2) Many TNG episodes are very slowly paced in a way that is more noticeable compared to today’s television shows.  3) Some episodes have a sort of bright, “gauzy” visual look that is also a bit dated to today’s viewer.

On the other hand, the show has some FANTASTIC characters (Picard and Data are among the very best characters in all of Trek’s many incarnations), and many, many fantastic, stand-out episodes, with lots of intriguing sci-fi concepts, great characters, great drama, etc.

So here’s my suggested viewing order.

Season One:

I suggest you only watch 3 episodes:

* Encounter at Farpoint – The two-hour series premiere.  This will test your patience a bit – it’s stiff and somewhat boring.  But this is an important introduction to all the characters and also to one of the series’ best recurring villains, the alien Q.  (Watching this episode, you’ll likely wonder why I commented above that Picard is a great character, as he’s stilted and annoying here – but don’t worry, you’ll understand soon, as Patrick Stewart and the writers found a stronger balance for the character before too long.)

* The Naked Now – For the most part, TNG avoided ANY references to plots/characters from the Original Series for its first four years, preferring to stand on its own… with the curious exception of this, their second episode, a sequel to the Original Series episode “The Naked Time”.  This is not a good episode (the Wesley stuff is painful), but there are several important things that happen here that are expanded upon down the line.

* Heart of Glory – The first exploration of Klingons on TNG.  It’s not nearly as interesting as what we’ll get down the line, but does plant some new idea and story threads.

There are a few other consequential episodes that you might want to go back later and watch.  But my advice is to skip them for now, so that you can get to the better episodes more quickly.  But for future reference, these episodes are:

* The Battle – Delves into Picard’s backstory and we see the Ferengi, new TNG aliens.  Their depiction here is unsatisfying, but they’ll become much more important and far better developed in DS9.

* Hide and Q – The first return of Q.  Interesting for that, but far from essential viewing.

* The Big Goodbye — The first major holodeck episode; this introduces Picard’s enjoyment of the Dixon Hill character

* Datalore – This is not a great episode, but it delves into Data’s backstory and introduces the character of Lore who will be important down the line.

* Skin of Evil – not a great episode, but a main character gets written off the show, so it’s important for that plot development.  You MIGHT want to watch this one now.

Skip all other first season episodes!!

Season Two:

You’ll notice that the Dr. Crusher character is absent from season two, replaced by a different doctor character, Dr. Pulaski.  I strongly suggest you skip the premiere episode where this is explained.  Don’t worry about it too much.  Dr. Crusher returns in season three and remains as the doctor for the rest of the series.  Also, the season premiere introduces a wonderful new recurring character, Guinan, played by Whoopi Goldberg, who is an enigmatic woman with a mysterious past connection to Captain Picard.  She serves as the bartender at “Ten Forward,” a hang-out lounge introduced in the season premiere that will be an important and much-used location for the rest of the series.  (If you want to watch the season premiere, “The Child,” so you can meet these new characters, go ahead – but my recommendation is to skip it because the episode is very dumb.)

I think there are only four second season episodes you should watch:

* Elementary Dear Data – A solid holodeck episode (TNG will do many fun holodeck episodes!).

* The Measure of a Man – The series’ first truly great episode!!  I love this one.  It still stands as one of the very best TNG episodes.  It’s a terrific Data spotlight, and wow does Picard get to do some great speechifying.

* Q Who – A very solid episode in which Q returns and the series’ greatest villains, the Borg, are introduced.

* The Emissary – the first great Klingon episode.

Skip all other second season episodes!

Season three:

OK, dig in and enjoy.  You COULD watch and enjoy almost every episode this season.  But I suggest you watch this “best stuff only” version — thirteen episodes, all of which I think are pretty terrific:

Episode 6 – Booby Trap

Episode 7 – The Enemy

Episode 10 – The Defector

Episode 11 – The Hunted

Episode 13 – Deja Q

Episode 15 – Yesterday’s Enterprise

Episode 16 – The Offspring

Episode 17 – Sins of the Father

Episode 19 – Captain’s Holiday

Episode 20 – Tin Man

Episode 21 — Hollow Pursuits

Episode 23 – Sarek

Episode 26 – The Best of Both Worlds

Those episodes represent a great look at some very strong TNG episodes (and they only get better from here).  So I’d recommend you watch those thirteen.  I suspect at this point you’ll be completely hooked on the show!  Keep reading for my advice on what episodes to watch or skip in seasons four through seven.

Season Four:

Season four of TNG is amazing, and is probably the most consistently great Trek season since season two of the Original Series.  (It’s probably only rivaled by season four of DS9, and maybe season seven of DS9 as well.)  You could watch every episode, but there are a few lesser ones that you might want to skip, so I’ll give you my suggested viewing order below.  I will say that season four probably doesn’t quite have the highlights that season three does.  I don’t think there’s much in season four that can equal or beat shows like “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” “The Offspring,” “Sins of the Father,” “Sarek,” or “Best of Both Worlds part 1”.  You could make a strong case that all five of those episodes belong in a top 10 TNG episodes list… or at least a top 20.  But season four is more consistently good-to-great on an episode-to-episode basis than TNG ever was before (and perhaps ever will be again, though seasons 5-7 are all really strong and there are a LOT of spectacular episodes ahead).  Considering they made TWENTY-SIX hour-long episodes in season four, that is a truly amazing achievement.  There are a lot of great, classic TNG episodes ahead…!  Here’s my suggested guide of what to watch and what to skip in season four:

1 – The Best of Both Worlds pt 2 – A no-brainer!

2 – Family – A terrific episode, in which TNG makes the very rare decision to abandon its standard episodic format and directly follow up the action of the season premiere.  It is also, I think, the only episode in all of TNG in which the Enterprise isn’t in any sort of jeopardy.  This is an all-time great episode, in my opinion.

3 – Brothers – A great Data episode.

I suggest skipping episodes 4 & 5, “Suddenly Human” and “Remember Me”.  They’re not bad at all, just not that great or memorable.  (Well, “Remember Me” is memorable for getting a little silly, and not in a good way.)

6 – Legacy – You’ll learn more about the backstory of a character you probably didn’t expect to ever learn anything more about.

7 – Reunion – A FANTASTIC Klingon episode.

8 – Future Imperfect – A fun stand-alone.

9 – Final Mission – An important change for a member of the main cast.

10 – The Loss – Skip this.  It’s probably the weakest episode of the season.  (And don’t read anything into the episode title “The Loss” coming right after “Final Mission.”  The two episodes don’t have anything to do with one another.)

11 – Data’s Day – A fantastic Data episode, one of my favorites.

12 – The Wounded – One of my favorite episodes!!  This is a great spotlight on Miles O’Brien (who has been a side character since the pilot, where he was at the conn station on the bridge), and this episode introduces an interesting new alien race, the Cardassians.  This episode plants the seeds of what Deep Space Nine will be about.  I really, really love this episode.  It doesn’t usually make it onto best-of lists, but it’s one of my personal favorites.  There are shades of grey here that you don’t usually get on Trek (until DS9).

13 & 14 – Devil’s Due and Clues – These are OK episodes.  If you’re enjoying the season and not in a rush, feel free to watch.  If you want to push ahead to the best stuff, feel free to skip.

15 – First Contact – An interesting episode exploring contact with a pre-warp civilization, with a fun guest star appearance from Bebe Neuwirth (Lilith from Cheers and Frasier).

16 – Galaxy’s Child – an interesting sequel to an earlier episode (but I won’t spoil which, as that’d spoil the fun!).

17 & 18  – Night Terrors and Identity Crisis – two solid stand-alones.

19 – The Nth Degree – This episode is a follow up to the third season episode “Hollow Pursuits”.

20 – Qpid – The year’s annual Q episode and possibly the best one after “Q-Who”.  It’s very silly but I really quite like it.

21 – The Drumhead – A small-scale bottle episode that is nevertheless a fantastic drama and Picard gives one of his all-time best speeches.  I love this one.

22 – Half a Life – OK, so I’m not sure about this one.  Majel Barrett Roddenberry, who played Nurse Chapel on the Original Series, has a recurring role in TNG as Lwaxana Troi, Deanna Troi’s mother.  She appeared in “Haven” in season 1, “Manhunt” in season 2, and “Menage a Troi” in season 3.  Those are all mediocre episodes, so I’d left them off my list.  It might be worth going back to watch one or more of them now.  Or you can skip them all.  You could skip “Half a Life” too.  It’s not a bad episode but not a great one.  It feels weird for me to have someone watch TNG and not see any of the Lwaxana Troi episodes, since she is a major Q-level recurring character (not in terms of power but in terms of her importance as a basically once-a-year-recurring character)… but while I like her character, I don’t actually love any of the Lwaxana episodes… so I am a bit mixed on how to advise you here…

23-25 – The Host/The Mind’s Eye/In Theory – All solid, good-but-not-great stand-alone episodes.  None of them are perfect but they all have some good, interesting stuff.  I think they’re worth watching unless you want to rush ahead to the very best stuff.  (Of them all, “The Host” is probably the weakest.  I liked it a lot at the time but I don’t think it’s aged well.  It plants some interesting story threads that DS9 will run with, so that’s a plus, but it’s by no means essential viewing.)

26 – Redemption Part 1 – a terrific season-ender that picks up the Klingon stories from “Reunion” from earlier in the season.

Season Five:

Over-all, season five has some GREAT episodes, but also a lot of so-so stand-alone episodes.  You could make a very quick “only the best” run through this season (Redemption pt. 2, Darmok, Ensign Ro, Disaster, Unification I & II, Cause and Effect, The First Duty, I Borg, The Next Phase, The Inner Light, Time’s Arrow) or take your time to watch more of the stand-alones.  It’s up to you, based on how much you’re enjoying the stand-alones versus how much you’re in a hurry to get on to the best stuff in these later seasons (and perhaps to move on to Deep Space Nine, my favorite of the Trek series!!)

1 – Redemption Part 2 – Of course!

2 – Darmok – A highlight of TNG – a very unusual and unique episode.

3 – Ensign Ro – A strong introduction to a new alien race and a new recurring character.  (This episode also lays MAJOR groundwork for DS9.)

4 – Silicon Avatar – Skip this, unless you’re really desperate to see what happened to the crystalline entity from season 1’s “Datalore”.

5 – Disaster – A solid stand-alone.

6 – The Game – A decent stand-alone with Wesley Crusher back – and Ashley Judd in a guest role!

7 & 8 – Unification Parts 1 & II – A fantastic two-parter!  Part 1 is one of my very favorite TNG episodes.  Love it a LOT.  I don’t want to spoil anything so I will say no more.

9 – A Matter of Time – A decent stand-alone.  The guest role was originally written for Robin Williams, who in the end wasn’t able to do it.  It would have been a better episode with Robin Williams!!

10 – New Ground – A decent stand-alone.  Not great, but there’s some important character stuff here and Worf’s son Alexander re-enters the story.

11 – Hero Worship – Skippable.

12 – Violations – A decent stand-alone.

13 – The Masterpiece Society – Skip.

14 & 15 – Conundrum and Power Play – Decent stand-alones.  They’re skippable if you’re in a rush to get to the best stuff.

16 & 17 – Ethics and The Outcast – Skip these both.

18 – Cause and Effect – One of my favorite stand-alones.  A fun brain-teaser of an episode.  The pre-opening credits “teaser” sequence is one of my favorite pre-credits sequences from any TNG episode.  I love this one.

19 – The First Duty – A terrific episode and the best Wesley episode in the whole run of the series.

20 – Cost of Living – A Lwaxana Troi episode.  It’s worth watching if you enjoyed the other Lwaxana episodes.  But it’s not that good.

21 – The Perfect Mate – Some people really like this one but I always found it boring.  I haven’t seen it in years.  Famke Janssen (Jean Grey in the X-Men movies) guest stars.  I probably recommend you skip this one.

22 – Imaginary Friend – Skippable.

23 – I, Borg – The Borg return but not in the manner you’d expect.  This is a very interesting episode.  Some love it and some hate it.  Definitely watch and judge for yourself.

24 – The Next Phase – A great, fun stand-alone.

25 – The Inner Light – perhaps TNG’s finest hour.  It’s a very unusual episode.  I love it a LOT.  Definitely a top five episode in my opinion.

26 – Time’s Arrow – A 500 year-old artifact is uncovered on Earth: Data’s head!  That’s the beginning of a very weird and strange season-ender!

Season Six:

1 – Time’s Arrow Part 2 – Of course!

2 – Realm of Fear – Another fun Barclay episode.

3 – Man of the People – skip!

4 – Relics – An intriguing episode that you should definitely watch, though I have mixed feelings about certain aspects of it.

5 – Schisms – A decent stand-alone, skippable if you’re in a hurry to get to the best stuff.

6 – True Q – Not the best Q episode but worth watching.

7 – Rascals – A decent stand-alone.  This is a ridiculous, Z-level concept that shouldn’t work at all but, actually, weirdly, somehow does!  It’s not essential and is for sure skippable if you’re in a hurry to get to the better episodes, but I remember this fondly as being decently fun.

8 – A Fistful of Datas – I know some people who love this episode (in which a holodeck malfunction puts Worf, Troi, and Alexander into an old west simulation with Data/Brent Spiner playing all of the characters) but I never had much patience for it. If the premise sounds interesting to you, go for it, but otherwise you can skip this.

9 – The Quality of Life – Skip.

10 & 11 – Chain of Command – Another solid mid-season two-parter, and a rare example when part 2 is better than part 1.

12 – Ship in a Bottle – I love this one. It’s a great sequel to an early episode (I won’t spoil which one).

13 – Aquiel – Skip!  Oh lord, upon peril of your life, skip this, it’s one of the worst TNG episodes ever.

14 – Face of the Enemy – A decent stand-alone involving Troi and Romulans.  It’s skippable if you’re in a rush to get to the best stuff, but it’s a decent watch.

15 – Tapestry – A fascinating exploration of Picard’s backstory.

16 & 17 – Birthright part 1 and 2 – Another great two-parter!  (I particularly love the Data story in part one.)

18 – Starship Mine – A decent stand-alone. I have a friend who felt this was his all-time favorite episode because of a scene involving Data and his new “small talk” subroutine.  I think my friend is crazy to think this, but it’s still worth watching for some good hero moments for Picard.

19 – Lessons – A sweet Picard story.

20 – The Chase – A fun episode that tries to provide an in-universe explanation for why almost all aliens on Star Trek are fairly similar-looking humanoid bipeds.  I love it for that!

21 – Frame of Mind – A decent mind-bending episode.  Skippable if you want to hurry ahead to the best stuff, but a decent watch.  Nice spotlight on Riker.

22 – Suspicions – Skip.

23 – Rightful Heir – This mediocre episode does have some good Worf and Klingon stuff, and one plot development that will be referenced a lot down the line, so I recommend watching it even though this is not a great episode.

24 – Second Chances – Ugh, skip this.  (And just put in the back of your mind – because it’ll come up on DS9 when you least expect it – that somewhere in the universe is a transporter duplicate of Will Riker, from back when Will was a young buck of a Lieutenant, running around out there. Please don’t ask me to explain this any further because this episode is painful.)

25 – Timescape – A terrific stand-alone involving Romulans and a bizarre temporal anomaly.  I really like this episode.

26 – Descent – It’s a season-ender so of course it’s worth watching, but it’s not at the level of the other great season-finale cliffhangers…

One other note: The next spin-off, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine launched about halfway through this season. (Specifically, after “Chain of Command” pt 2.)  Miles O’Brien became a main character on DS9, which is why he and Keiko vanish from TNG after a few appearances for O’Brien early this season.  There are a few small crossovers between DS9 and TNG in TNG’s sixth and seventh seasons, but nothing you won’t be able to understand.  Most notably, you’ll start seeing a lot more of the Cardassians, in storylines that tangentially intersect with what DS9 is developing.  But I think the best way to watch these shows is to watch TNG through to the end before starting DS9.

Season seven:

1 – Descent part 2 – Not a great episode, but how could you not watch the end of the cliffhanger?

2 – Liaisons – Skip.

3 – Interface – Skip.

4 & 5 – Gambit part 1 and 2 – A fun (if not very consequential) two-parter.

6 – Phantasms – I love this weird episode, featuring more of Data’s dreams!

7 – Dark Page – Skip.

8 – Attached – This is a mediocre episode but I think it’s worth watching for some closure (sort of) on a long-running character relationship.  I have problems with this episode but I think it’s one you should see, having gotten this far in TNG.

9 – Force of Nature – There’s an interesting idea at the heart of this episode (an environmental message) but the episode is very mediocre.  You might choose to watch this, but I think probably you should skip. (Just know that the two-to-three times later in the season when someone refers to “warp speed limits” it’s a call-back to this episode.)

10 – Inheritance – A solid Data episode.

11 – Parallels – A terrific mind-bendy stand-alone.

12 – The Pegasus – A solid episode looking back at an incident from Riker’s past.

13 – Homeward – Skip.

14 – Sub Rosa – This is generally considered one of the worst episodes of all of TNG.  Skip at all costs.

15 – Lower Decks – A spectacular episode that breaks with the standard TNG format.  This is one of my very favorite TNG episodes and a definite stand-out in this final season.

16 – Thine Own Self – This is a decent Data episode, and there’s also a B-story that moves forward the thread of Troi’s role in the Enterprise’s command structure.  It’s an OK episode but I’m not sure it’s worth your time if you’re eager to move forward.

17 – Masks – A crazy Data episode that gets a bit silly at times but I sort of love it even though it’s kind of terrible.

18 – Eye of the Beholder – This is a weird stand-alone with an interesting mystery about the early days of the Enterprise-D.  It doesn’t come together the way it should, but there are some interesting ideas here.  As with “Thine Own Self,” this is an OK episode but skippable if you’re eager to move forward.  It’s a total stand-alone so you won’t miss anything if you skip it.

19 – Genesis – A fun and super-weird stand-alone; I enjoy this one a lot.

20 – Journey’s End – Wesley’s final appearance on the show. This is a flawed episode, but I think you should watch it because it is Wesley’s last appearance.  (Before you watch this episode, go back and watch season 1’s “Where No Man Has Gone Before”.)  This episode (and also “Preemptive Strike”, which is later on this list) crosses over with some of the Cardassian goings-on on DS9.  I believe it’s all explained pretty well in the episodes, but the short version is that the Federation and Cardassians have agreed to a peace treaty that has redrawn the border between the two nations, resulting in some Federation planets now being on the Cardassian side of the border, and vice versa.  This means certain colonies have to be relocated.  A group of Federation citizens calling themselves “the Maquis” has emerged to fight both Starfleet and the Cardassians, to resist these forced relocations.

21 – Firstborn – A mediocre episode but it gives some resolution to the Worf-Alexander relationship, so I think it’s worth watching for that.

22 – Bloodlines – a sequel to season 1’s “The Battle.”  These three episodes (“Journey’s End”, “Firstborn”, and “Bloodlines”) are all somewhat flawed.  They’re skippable if you’re impatient to wrap TNG up and move on to DS9.  But they also have some interesting stuff and all attempt to give some wrap-up to TNG character arcs, so I think you’ll probably want to watch them.  Up to you.

23 – Emergence – Our last fun weird stand-alone.  Not a classic but I like it a lot, and think you should watch it.

24 – Preemptive Strike – An important character returns one last time.  This is a strong episode.

25 – All Good Things – The two-hour finale.  At the risk of overselling it, I think it’s one of the five-to-ten best TNG episodes and it’s one of the best series finales ever made.  A fine conclusion to the series.  The last scene in particular, and the last line, are absolutely perfect.

The Next Generation movies:

There are four TNG movies.  I think you should watch the first two, after completing the series.  They are both flawed, but also have some really terrific stuff.

Star Trek: Generations – The first TNG movie.  It’s a somewhat misguided attempt to create a TNG-Original Series crossover, and there are some big things in this film that just don’t work.  But there are also a lot of things that work great, and certain scenes that are among my all-time favorite TNG scenes.  What’s great about the film is 1) it fills in some cool “missing pieces” of Trek history, 2) it does a great job at moving forward certain character-arcs and storylines from the show, and it isn’t afraid to make some big changes to the TNG status quo (which season seven avoided doing, for the most part), 3) they make some interesting changes to the main standing TNG sets/costumes/etc. for this big-screen presentation, which are fun to see, 4) there’s some good (but brief) Guinan stuff in the film, her only substantive appearance (which is a shame) in the TNG films, 5) there is a short but super-cool space-battle action sequence in the middle of the film that is one of my favorites from all Trek.  (Watch this on as big a screen as you can!  Do the same for First Contact!)

Star Trek: First Contact – The Borg return.  Most people say this is the best TNG movie, and they’re probably right.  Some say it’s one of their favorite Trek movies, period.  The plot has too many holes for me to feel that way, but there is still a lot I love about this movie, and it contains possibly my favorite Picard/Patrick Stewart scene of all of TNG.  (You’ll know it when you see it. It’s a barn-burner.)  There’s some cool action (and a great horror/suspense/action movie tone that is a shift for TNG but I think it works well in the film) and some interesting new ideas/concepts.  Again, watch it on as big a screen as you can…  (One note: this movie came out during DS9’s fifth season, and it contains one tiny DS9 crossover.  Don’t worry, it doesn’t spoil anything for DS9.  But just so you’ll understand, at one point early in the movie you’ll see that Worf has been put in command of a small mini-starship called the Defiant.  That ship appeared on DS9 and its backstory was that it was originally built to fight the Borg.  So it’s a nice continuity connection that when the Borg return in this film, the Defiant is brought into the action.  That’s all.)

Star Trek: Insurrection – It’s very mediocre, and I don’t think it’s worth your time.  It’s a very small-stakes story, and not much significant happens.  Had it been a two-part episode of the show, it’d have been OK.  As a movie, it’s disappointing.

Star Trek: Nemesis – An abject catastrophe.  Avoid at all costs.

And then… Deep Space Nine… my very favorite Star Trek series!!  I’ll be back tomorrow with my guide for DS9!

Click below to discover my complete blog series, describing how best to start watching (and fall in love with) Star Trek!

Part One: The Original Series

Part Two: The Movies

Part Four: Deep Space Nine

Part Five: Where to Go Next

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