Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season Two
Release Date(s)1988-89 (December 4, 2012)
Studio(s)Paramount Television (CBS)
“Your honor, Starfleet was founded to seek out new life. Well, there it sits... waiting.”
The second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation was unfortunately hampered by a Hollywood writers strike that cut the usual complement of 24-26 episodes down to just 22. The series’ writers and producers spent most of those stores trying to find the show’s voice and identity, so the result is a decidedly mixed bag. In addition, actress Gates McFadden was fired at the end of the first season, so Diana Muldaur took over as the new ship’s doctor but never really found her footing in script after script where her character was mostly saddled with technobabble. Making matters worse, the timing of the strike (and a need to belt-tighten the show’s budget) resulted in a truly terrible season finale, Shades of Gray, which was little more than a rehash of footage from earlier episodes. But if TNG’s second season had more than its share of dogs, it also delivered some real gems, including an episode I think is the series’ very best.
Over the years, when non-fans have asked me what Star Trek was all about, I’ve always said it has nothing to do with aliens, spaceships and phaser guns. The best of Trek, like the best of science fiction itself, is about ideas. There’s no better example of this than the second season episode The Measure of a Man. In it, a Starfleet scientist wants to disassemble the android Data as part of a reverse-engineering effort. The idea is to make lots more androids to do Starfleet’s dirty work. This leads to a legal trial to decide whether Data is the property of Starfleet or can choose not to participate in an experiment that could result in his destruction. With Starfleet’s local JAG office short-handed, Picard and Riker must act as defense and prosecution on Data’s behalf. But as the trial plays out, they quickly discover the real question: Is Data a sentient being with his own free will and right to self-determination? The Measure of a Man is a truly outstanding bit of storytelling, as effective and insightful now as it's ever been.
Other standout episodes of the season include the first confrontation with the holodeck version of Professor James Moriarty (of Sherlock Holmes fame) in Elementary, Dear Data, Riker’s stint as the First Officer of a Klingon ship in A Matter of Honor, the hunt for an ancient civilization in Contagion, a Mobieus loop of a brain-teaser in Time Squared and the ominous Q Who?, featuring Starfleet’s disastrous first encounter with the Borg – a seemingly unstoppable foe bent on the “assimilation” of other intelligent races. Season Two also features the welcome addition of Whoopi Goldberg to the cast as the ancient sage Guinan. And if Season Two ended weakly, it certainly didn’t prevent Season Three from becoming, arguably, the series’ very best.
CBS’ new Blu-ray release of Season Two is (like the season itself) a somewhat mixed bag. In order to meet a demanding release schedule for the Blu-rays, the remastering work for Season Two was subcontracted to an outside post-production facility whose work simply doesn’t meet the high standard CBS Digital set on the Season One Blu-rays. That’s not to say the HD video presentation here is terrible by any means, but it does suffer in comparison to Season One. Many of the re-jiggered visual effects shots don’t have the same “wow” factor of the first season – they’re all too often plain looking and just haven’t been given the same careful attention to detail. In addition, many shots have had excessive grain reduction applied – particularly close-up shots of the actors (see The Measure of a Man for obvious examples) and some of the rebuilt visual effects. The situation isn’t helped by the fact that Paramount switched film stocks for Season Two’s original production back in the day, which results in a different look to the show and greater disparity of grain from shot to shot. Make no mistake, the HD presentation here is good on the whole and remains a significant improvement over the standard-definition release. Colors are vibrant, contrast is excellent. In shots that haven't been grain-reduced, detail is abundant. I’m also pleased to say that the visual updating of the episode Q Who? is especially well done. Still, I'm more than a little reassured to know that CBS Digital is doing all the remastering work for Season Three entirely in-house. Audio-wise, the sonic experience of these episodes is excellent – just as good as the Season One Blu-ray release, with episode mixes presented in upgraded 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. No complaints there.
This set’s real strength lies in its fine batch of special features. Not only do you get everything that was on the Season Two DVD release (including episode promos and 5 behind-the-scenes featurettes – Mission Overview: Year Two, Departmental Briefing: Year Two – Memorable Missions, Departmental Briefing: Year Two – Production, Selected Crew Analysis: Year Two and Inside Starfleet Archives: Penny Juday – Star Trek Coordinator), you also get a host of all-new material, much of it in full HD. There’s a 1988 On-Air Promo for the series, a 1988 Reading Rainbow segment with LeVar Burton and a 2012 Reading Rainbow promo (HD), another great Gag Reel (HD – interestingly presented in the original full aperture 35mm of the negative so you can see all the light stands, microphones, etc. This is why widescreen presentation of the show would be problematic.), deleted scenes for 2 episodes and a pair of excellent audio commentaries on the episodes The Measure of a Man (with writer Melinda Snodgrass and Mike and Denise Okuda) and Q Who? (with VFX supervisor Dan Curry, director Rob Bowman and the Okudas). Better still, there are no less than 3 all-new HD documentaries including Energized! Season Two Tech Update (8 minutes – on the technical aspects of the season’s production and HD upgrade), Making It So: Continuing Star Trek: The Next Generation (which looks back at the season with the cast and crew – it runs 82 minutes in two parts, Part 1: Strange New Worlds and Part 2: New Life and New Civilizations) and my personal favorite Reunification: 25 Years After Star Trek: The Next Generation (62 minutes – which features the entire main cast of the series gathered together in a candid group interview as they laugh, cry, reminisce and tell stories about their experience together working on the show). As if all this wasn’t enough, CBS has re-assembled the original rough cut of The Measure of a Man in full HD (58 minutes – it’s labeled the Extended Version) based on a surviving VHS copy of the rough cut that writer Melinda Snodgrass had in her possession. It runs some 13 minutes longer than the broadcast version – which by the way is also viewable here in full HD – and it features some very interesting new scenes and character moments that add even greater depth to an already fine episode. There’s also an additional Hybrid Extended Version of the episode (56 minutes) that mixes the original broadcast footage (in HD) with rough VHS footage (in low quality SD with original on-set production audio). This cut offers still more unused camera angles and footage and is interesting in that it gives you a better look at how episodes of the series were constructed in the editing room. Once again, I have to tip my hat to producers Roger Lay, Jr. and Robert Meyer Burnett for their work in crafting the new content – this material is terrific and way more than I could ever have expected to get for this series on Blu-ray.
Remastering issues aside, Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season Two is still worth picking up for its improved A/V quality over the DVDs and its fine batch of extras. But I would very strongly urge the decision-makers at CBS to stick with their own in-house remastering team for future seasons of Trek on Blu-ray. CBS Digital’s work is simply unsurpassed and I can’t wait to see what they’re cooking up for Season Three, which features such classic episodes as Yesterday’s Enterprise, Who Watches The Watchers?, Sarek and the thrilling season finale, The Best of Both Worlds: Part One. (As it happens, there’s a preview for the Season Three Blu-ray release on the first disc of this set – look for it in stores in early 2013.) As for Season Two, my advice is to search for a good sale price and enjoy.