Monday, September 28, 2015

How to read a review...

Recently I've been rewatching Next Generation's first season.  I've already reviewed, episode by episode, it here.  When I left off, I was in the midst of reviewing the show's fourth season.  Slowly, I've been making my way through every episode of the franchise.

Now, I've sort of rediscovered the first season.  Traditionally, it's been considered one of the worst seasons of Star Trek ever, a bad start to an otherwise excellent series.  It had a lot to accomplish, not the least being to prove that the franchise could be viable on television again, twenty years later, and with an entirely new cast.  After a somewhat equally shaky second season, Next Generation came into its own and officially entered the books with the landmark "Best of Both Worlds."

I've got two ways to read my reviews.  I've got the star system, and I've also got the franchise/series/character/essential designations I award as I deem warranted.  The start system should be easy enough to interpret.  Movies have been using them for decades.  The designations, which I've attempted to explain in the past, are always trickier, but in their way what I believe to be the best way to interpret Star Trek for new fans, and even open-minded existing ones (in this Internet age, very few people are open-minded, alas).  People tend to coalesce around existing opinions, which tend to the extreme.  You either love it or hate it.

At some point I found myself drifting toward "hate it" for Next Generation's first season.  In the rather brief way I talk about most episodes, you will know pretty quickly whether I recommend it or, well, hate it.  I don't bog myself down with in-depth analysis.  The whole point of what I've doing is to provide helpful shorthand, so you can decide for yourself everything else.

When it comes to judging an episode, the first thing I consider is whether it's worth remembering in the grand scheme of the franchise, if it evokes another episode, whether fairly or poorly.  Since most viewers can't be expected to watch the whole franchise and like it, the next designation is for the series itself.  If it's a particularly good episode, it can earn an "essential" distinction.  Because I've found Star Trek to explore its characters profitably, this is the fourth designation.  In case an episode doesn't stand out any other way, if you like a particular character (and they've all got a standout story or two), I figure that's another way in.

To speak of the story, its execution, that's implied in whether or not it's a good representation of the series.  A good episode reflects well on the series.  Very rarely have I given episodes no stars at all, no designations.  And even among those I have, cases could be made for one or other designation.  The point of omitting a designation is that the story is so run-of-the-mill, there are plenty of other episodes worth considering well before, if you must, you consider taking that particular one seriously.

Next Generation's first season is emblematic of the complaints fans have had against the least popular episodes of the franchise.  It tends to feature a lot of bad decision-making, not by the characters but in the storytelling itself.  And yet, even an episode like "Justice," which has always been one of my least favorite, the story seems perfectly self-aware of this fact.  The season knew it had a lot of work ahead of it, and that's worth remembering, too.

Reviews are hardly ever as cut-and-dry as they seem.  They're always laced with personal bias.  I like to remind any readers I might have of my Star Trek reviews exactly how I'm approaching them, in case it doesn't come through in the reviews themselves.  The truth is, the series has plenty of episodes deep into its run that are less than fully-inspired, and much of the love Next Generation has experienced over the years is as protective as hate-watchers love to follow something just to join in the hate.

Make sense?  Here's a handy guide to how people watch stuff like Star Trek (which is to say, anything, which is to say, how they read or listen, generally experience life):

  • Pleasure-watcher (These guys will like anything.)
  • Critical-watcher (These guys are the nuanced fans.)
  • Fan-watcher (These guys are usually the ones who don't have strong opinions of their own.)
  • Hate-watcher (These guys think they're nuanced, but they're really just piling on after someone else said how much they hated it.)

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