I recently looked up a few clips of Star Trek: The Next Generation and noticed, to my surprise, that it evoked no feelings of nostalgia whatever. This is curious because I was watching it at the same time as I watched Murder, She Wrote, which certainly evokes nostalgic feelings. (Murder, She Wrote ran from 1984-1996, while ST:TNG ran from 1987-1994.) Moreover, I liked The Next Generation back when I first watched it.
There might be various reasons for this. Science fiction may be less conducive to nostalgia because it is supposed to be set in the future. Since different science fiction stories are set in the same future (ours) and thus contradict each other, there is a certain degree to which it is simply impossible to suspend one’s disbelief, and hence to enter into it in a way conducive to nostalgia. This may be related to how the costumes have changed with current fashions, and possibly a great deal more how the computer technology of the day is largely an extrapolation from current technology and thus becomes horribly dated and in no way plausibly The Future.
Of course, if that were the issue that it should be even less possible to feel nostalgic for Star Trek than for Star Trek: The Next Generation. But, at least for me, it’s not. In some ways I think that the original show has aged better than its successor despite its successor having far more accurate technology. The original was simpler and had something of the utilitarian feel of a navy warship. Much of it was almost cartoonish (in the sense of abstract but representational art). It was almost like a sketch of the future rather than a fully done painting. TNG was, by contrast, more filled out and directly representational. You can see this in how they ate colored cubes, cylinders and such-like (the futuristic food was probably variously food-colored marshmallows, to give you an idea of what it looked like if you haven’t seen it). In TNG they just ate normal food produced by a “replicator”. The result was that you are inclined to take TNG more at face value. The problem with taking TNG at face value, however, is that it was a heavily armed and armored diplomatic science vessel upholstered something like a luxury cruise ship that also had a school and a daycare, whose saucer section could separate from the main part of the ship for combat because it makes no sense to bring the daycare into battle, but they never separated after the first season. (For that reason; looking it up they did separate it during the battle with the Borg and Wolf 359 for tactical purposes, i.e. to have two targets).
Another possibility is that Star Trek: The Next Generation was an episodic show with inconsistent characterization. It’s hard to feel nostalgic for characters who one didn’t feel like one knew because they could (and did) change so much from episode to episode. Murder, She Wrote was episodic, but Jessica was mostly a consistent character—as were any of the other characters that did recur. Plus there were elements that were just consistent, even if the show is (somewhat) incorrectly described as formulaic. (This spoof is highly recognizable despite actually describing very few of the episodes.) The only thing that was really reliable in Star Trek: The Next Generation was the technobabble.
Which gets us to what I think is the real reason I don’t feel nostalgic for the show.
Star Trek: The Next Generation just wasn’t very good. Bureaucrats in Space are not really more interesting than bureaucrats are anywhere else. The writers didn’t really care about quality, as far as I can tell. Legend has it that the technobabble was filled in by consultants after the script was written, with placeholders in the script for the technobabble. The ship itself was nonsensical; no one who could conceive of the greatest warship of the federation being a science daycare could not possible care about quality.
In some ways nothing sums up the approach of the series so much as the episodes Best of Both Worlds parts 1 and 2. They started with a neat idea that they didn’t think through at all, painted themselves into a corner, then used technobabble that made no sense to get themselves out of it. (The Borg were a hive mind, not a computer; they should have had no problems at all with reconciling different impulses since their hive mind was always the summation of many individual minds.)
It’s almost enough to make me want to watch Chaos On the Bridge.
The technobabble could have been forgivable if there was some reason to forgive it, but there never was. I think that this might be part of the reason that the Q episodes were, generally, the best episodes: the Q episodes didn’t have technobabble. It’s not that the technobabble was bad in itself, but it was cheating. Q threw all rules out the window, so the episodes with Q in them were the rare episodes in which the writers didn’t cheat.
That may be the real key, here. Murder, She Wrote, for all of its flaws, was written in earnest. If the writers made mistakes they were honest mistakes where the writers didn’t notice. They occasionally had Jessica trick the murderer into confessing, but Jessica at least figured out who it was she needed to trick on her own, and generally legitimately. She never made up a way to extract fingerprints from thin air, only to forget about it in later episodes. She never just added tachyon particles to the murder weapon and suddenly the murderer was in prison, already convicted.
In short, I don’t think it’s possible to feel nostalgic for something that the writers didn’t take seriously.