I can’t remember if I’ve told you this story before; bear with me if I have. You might recall that I am a sometime employee of Barnes & Noble. I work in the cafe, which is not Starbucks, no matter how many times you try to shove your Starbucks gift-card in my face, and I’m truly sorry about that, I really am. Customer service is awful to work in because of the emotional beatings you regularly take, but the truth is that the vast majority of customers I deal with fall pleasantly in between the extremes of Regular-Customer-Who-Confuses-Service-Employees-With-Friends, and Completely-Entitled-Douchenozzles (the crazies are the rarity, they’re just so crazy you think there are ten of them). There are actually some pretty nice people that frequent my place of employment, it’s just hard to remember that sometimes.
A particularly pleasant and memorable encounter occurred a couple of months ago now — right smack-dab in the middle of my race to the finish of The Next Generation, a new customer started coming in. He (or she, I’ll be honest, I’m not sure of the correct pronoun to use here . . . I think he is a cross-dresser, so it’s still ‘he,’ yes?) came up to the counter very quietly with a friend and politely waited for me to finish whatever I was doing. He would have stood out enough even if he hadn’t said what he said next — long hot pink hair is pretty attention getting — but when I asked him what he wanted he said, “The Jean-Luc Picard Special,” and didn’t elaborate. His face was totally deadpan. I repeated it back to him, absolutely dumbfounded. He smiled kind of impishly and said, “Have you seen Star Trek?” “Of course I’ve seen Star Trek!” I said, and then just kind of gaped at him open-mouthed, desperately attempting to hang onto my nerd-cred. I guess he could see my wheels turning or something, because he kept prodding me: “Come on, you can do it . . .” And then it hit me, and once I knew, I felt like an idiot. You can’t watch TNG for any length of time without knowing that Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the USS Enterprise always asks for “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.” Anyway, after the embarrassment subsided, I felt a wonderful sense of accomplishment. That was the moment. I was in, bitches. In the know.
It’s hard to sum up just exactly what happened in seasons five, six, and seven of TNG, largely because the show wasn’t serialized, and thus there isn’t really a beginning, middle or end point to the “story” of the show, but also because it’s been awhile in between viewing and writing. The details are mostly lost, and what’s stuck with me is the general stuff, and, well, the memorable stuff. My review of seasons one through four is much more detailed in a way that I’m just not capable of at the moment, but there is no question in my mind that seasons five and six in particular (and great stretches of seven) represent TNG at its most fully mature and focused, and thus its most successful. I admit that after watching the first three seasons, I was (severely) skeptical that TNG could ever inspire levels of weeping-induced greatness in my television obsessed bosom. It was good, not great, as far as I was concerned. “The Best of Both Worlds” is landmark television, but it in no way reflected the show as a whole, which still had a tendency towards mediocrity and every now and then, produced a stinker. Later TNG, however, is simply solid, quality television at the top of its game. Even the worst season five and six episodes are quality television in a way that it was impossible for me to imagine as I watched seasons one and two, and the best of the bunch are phenomenal, classic episodes of television. These last three seasons, more than anything else this show has produced, indicates to me why The Next Generation has been so revered, and how its legacy has helped to sustain almost twenty plus years of the franchise.