Flashback Friday: Star Trek: The Next Generation

It’s not going to be a surprise to anyone who knows me, either in person or through the interactions I’ve shared with you here at my lair or my other online haunts, that today is particularly special to my little geeky heart. Twenty-five years ago, on September 28, 1987, one of the most influential shows of my life debuted.

I’m not going to bore you with statistics about the show or tell you about how I think TNG changed pop culture FOREVAH or even try to convince any of you who might not be Star Trek or sci-fi fans in general that this is mandatory viewing. Truth is, I can’t honestly say that. If you don’t like sci-fi, you don’t like it and that’s the end of it. Also? This isn’t a perfect show by any means. Ask any Trek fan who can be honest in their observations and they’ll tell you that there are several painful stretches of viewing displeasure (I’ve even heard some of my friends contend that the show didn’t really hit its stride until the fifth of its seven seasons; I would contend that it started dramatically improving somewhere around the third season, but I can see their point).

So what is the enduring legacy of this show? I could say something like its hope. Its optimism regarding the future of humanity and the human condition. Its progressive predictions about how far we could go if we could only unlock ourselves from the shackles of prejudice and ignorance. And if I did say these things, I would be telling the truth. These are just some of the factors that made me fall in love with TNG.

If I were to be completely honest, however, the reasons that I fell in love with TNG (and most of its subsequent Trek iterations) are purely subjective and purely personal.

I was an awkward, painfully shy adolescent, uncomfortable in my own body for many reasons. I had friends, but never really felt as though I fit in, even with them. I guess I could have tried harder, but I never really learned how to fake interest in the things I was “supposed” to enjoy. I remember all my girl friends leaving me behind as they began to show more interest in things like make-up and dating…while I just wanted to sit in my room and read all weekend and maybe get in a little batting practice after school before I had to do my homework.

TNG was one of the first TV series to show me something that I didn’t even realize I was missing: inclusion. It didn’t matter if you wore a banana clip over your eyes or had a turtle shell glued to your forehead…you were the galactic cheerleader with a chocolate addiction or the perpetually pissed off navigator with the crinkle-cut nose…even if you were the nerdiest, most annoying person in the universe (coughcoughWesleycoughcough)…there was a place for you on the NCC-1701-D.

While I was with the crew of the Enterprise, I wasn’t the outsider. I knew them. I knew that Captain Picard didn’t like children and that Commander Riker loved to throttle his trombone. Worf enjoyed a tall glass of prune juice after shift and Data’s whistle sounded like a vibrator stuck inside a toaster. Deanna couldn’t read your mind but she could state the obvious with deadly acumen, and Geordi couldn’t even figure out how to program a holodeck woman willing to spend more than a few hours with him before she was lulled nearly comatose by his presence.

These characters were my escape, my sanctuary, my dismissal from the unhappiness of reality.

And then there was Dr. Crusher.

It’s actually kind of a sad reason why I love this character above all others from this series, and one that now carries with it the added gilding of guilt for me. My mom was never well and things were particularly rocky for all of us throughout my teen years. She spent a lot time in hospitals and I spent a lot time feeling angry and alone in that wonderfully hyperbolic teenage way. I say that because deep down I knew that I wasn’t alone. My dad was always there for me. So were many other family members.

Looking back with a clearer perspective, I understand that my mom was there for me as well, as best as she could be. At the time, however, I found refuge in the “if only” maternal potential of Dr. Crusher’s constant presence (minus that awful second season, the existence of which I tend not to willingly acknowledge). She was there in ways that I couldn’t bring myself to allow real people to be there for me. She became and remains the most important fictional character I’ve ever known.

Like I said, it’s a rather sad reason I suppose. And I do feel guilty that, while my mom was alive, I spent such a large part of my adolescence wishing that a fictional character could take her place. Hindsight shouldn’t be so painfully in-focus.

So, there you have it. Today marks the 25th anniversary of the most influential television series in my life…and not solely for the reasons you might have expected. It’s been with me for so long that I can’t even remember a time before its existence. I think I once figured out that at the height of my TNG addiction, I watched more than 20 hours per week. When I wasn’t watching it on television, I was reading its novels, listening to its audiobooks, playing its computer games, wearing its T-shirts, drinking coffee from its mugs, going to its conventions, collecting its merchandise in ways that probably could have inspired a very special episode of Hoarders.

Happy anniversary to Captain Picard and his extraordinary crew. And thank you to the Great Bird of the Galaxy who planted the seed from which this galaxy-sized series grew.