"Coming of Age" is definitely another artifact from the first season of Next Generation, but it's one of the first signs that this era of Star Trek would ultimately be definitively different from the original series.
It's also a pretty odd one. There are two halves of this episode to consider. I'm making this statement about one of them. The lead story concerns Wesley taking the Starfleet Academy entrance exam. When I say "odd," I mean that Wesley has to worry about competing against other potential cadets, which is "odd" because he's been presented as the boy wonder since the start of the series, an uncommonly brilliant mind that has often upstaged veteran officers. Why should this kid, other than to keep him around a while longer, have to sweat an exam, let alone worry about competition from others? We're meant to understand this dilemma better when Picard admits he failed his first attempt, too, but this is juggling apples and oranges. Regardless of what you feel about Picard at this point in the series, Wesley has already been demonstrated to be nothing like him.
Maybe some of this is an early indication, along with the Traveler from "Where No One Has Gone Before," that Wesley will not ultimately find his destiny in Starfleet. Although, again, the presentation of this character is easily the most botched aspect of the entire series (with all due apologies to Denise Crosby, who probably still thinks Yar was), and "Coming of Age," although it can be interpreted otherwise, is both one of the worst depictions and perhaps one of the best. It's "odd."
It does, however, allow us one of our best looks at the Benzites, who were clearly intended to be a signature alien species in this series, although they quickly disappear and never resurface, even in any of the other series. Their blue awesomeness was clearly stolen by the Bolians. And then back from the originals, the Andorians.
(Why so many awesome blue aliens, Star Trek? And why do none of yours sing cosmic opera?)
The other half of this episode is a prequel to "Conspiracy," which is unarguably one of the best episodes of the first season. That alone pulls "Coming of Age" above the stock of the first season, makes it notable viewing no matter where you stand on the general quality of the series to this point. "Conspiracy" doesn't ultimately lead to anything else, so the developments seen here might be seen retroactively as perhaps the most fascinating development of the storyline, in which paranoid Starfleet officers (or rather, members of the conspiracy we'll explain later) start harassing each other. A few of the characters in this episode actually reappear in "Conspiracy," making this whole episode far more serialized than just about the whole of the original series. In short, it suddenly pays to be watching Next Generation on a regular basis, both so you care about Wesley's future and why those visiting Starfleet officers matter so much.
It's not a great episode by any means, but it's another sign that the series is really figuring itself out.
franchise * series * essential * character
Memory Alpha summary.