Star Trek Best Trek

Star Trek: The Next Generation

The Next Generation jumps several decades into the future after The Original Series and The Animated Series. It features a less untamed galaxy with more worldbuilding establishing the Federation and its neighbors, along with more recurring faces and story arcs.

The ideals hinted at in those previous series - truth, freedom, equality, cooperation, and so on - are much more clearly the founding principles of the Federation and what Starfleet is working to protect. If The Original Series imagines a humanity that has progressed technologically and expanded into space, The Next Generation imagines one that has also progressed culturally and solved things like prejudice, poverty, and war.

Episodic or serial?

Mostly episodic. There are a couple of arcs and several two-part episodes, and a number of significant events get referenced or have interesting consequences. But most episodes are fairly standalone and the characters and their relationships stay largely unchanged. The show is best experienced in order, but jumping around is workable too.

Idealistic or cynical?

Idealistic. While there are moments of darkness and some tragic events, this is a show where sticking to your principles pays off and good defeats evil. Additionally, the Federation itself is largely presented as a utopia.

Worth watching?

Oh my, yes. Along with Deep Space Nine, this is a strong candidate for the best Trek series and the best embodiment of the franchise’s values. The things that make people love Trek are at full force here. And there’s a reason that this show’s captain is the only character in Trek to get their own series.

Unfortunately, it does have a rocky beginning. The first season is full of cheesy episodes, weak pacing, and inconsistent characterization. But there’s a lot of worldbuilding that comes back later and is useful to know. Most of the episodes I recommend watching in this season lay a foundation or set up later story arcs; for any episodes that set up useful information but aren’t quite worth watching notes are provided so you can just read those instead. If you find this season unbearable, don’t feel bad about skipping ahead - the show gets much better and most of what you need to know will be explained to some degree in the episodes where it comes back. But if you can stick it out, you’ll be rewarded - several later episodes are considerably more enjoyable if you’ve seen these early ones.

The second season is where the series starts to show its true potential, but it was also hampered by a Writer’s Guild strike. As a result, the season opens with a recycled script, features some excellent episodes but some stinkers as well, and ends after only 22 episodes. (Surprisingly, the fact that the finale is essentially a clip show was actually due to budget overruns, not the strike.) The good news is that the second season’s best episodes are legitimately good and there’s fewer bad episodes that turn out to be important later, so you can be more confident that the episodes I say to watch are genuinely worth watching on their own merits.

Season three is where the show really hits its stride. From there on out, each season features some of the show’s best episodes and even the few I suggest skipping are mediocre at worst. Starting in season three, if you don’t feel like checking the guide you can just watch all the episodes and you won’t often go wrong. Even the seventh and final season, where the writers seem to be running a bit short on ideas, has plenty of great episodes and a strong finish.

Note: This guide assumes you want to enjoy most of the show and just skip the worst of it. If you’re looking to save more time and just see the absolute best that The Next Generation has to offer, there are other more aggressive guides out there.

Anything else that should be watched first?

No hard requirements, but it wouldn’t hurt to have seen some of The Original Series.

A few episodes directly reference events or characters from The Original Series and you can better appreciate how The Next Generation’s expands and improves on its legacy if you’ve seen where it all began.

What should be watched after this?

If you want more of this crew, there are also four feature films. Some of them are worth watching.

Then you should head on to Deep Space Nine.

(Picard is a significant jump ahead and tonal change so I’d recommend waiting on that.)