Given how underwhelming most of the first ten episodes of TNG were, it’s a wonder the show didn’t get cancelled. Had it aired last year (instead of 25 years ago), it wouldn’t even have gotten past three airings. We’re lucky it started in 1987.
Best Episode: While “Conspiracy” was my favorite episode of the season, I’d have to say that, overall, “The Battle” (1.09) was probably the best episode. It was very Picard-heavy, and gave us a lot of insight into the character and his past. Also, we had our first Starfleet-on-Starfleet battle scene, and as those of us who’ve seen The Wrath of Khan know, you get some of your best battles that way. Unfortunately, “The Battle” also gave us a terrible Wesley scene, but nothing can be 100 percent perfect. Honorable mentions: Conspiracy (1.25), The Arsenal of Freedom (1.21), Datalore (1.13)
Worst Episode: The first season had a lot of big-time stinkers, but I have to say that “The Naked Now” (1.03) takes the cake. A recycled plot from the original series, the kid saves the ship, everyone acts out-of-character (except that we don’t know what these characters are really supposed to be like), and Data gets laid. Plus, it gave us the start of the rotating carousel of chief engineers, the phrase “fully functional”, and some really bad lines on Geordi’s part — which was too bad, because I thought he probably acquitted himself best in the pilot. Honorable mentions: Symbiosis (1.22), Justice (1.8), Code of Honor (1.4)
Most Underrated: It was tough for me to make a choice between two episodes for this one, but I eventually went with “Home Soil” (1.18). I know it doesn’t get a lot of good press, but I really liked this episode. It had a fair bit of pure science, which the show really hadn’t done in a while, and I’ve found over time that the more I see this episode the more I like it. The alien beings aren’t malicious on purpose, and as with TOS, the captain has to save the day without using harming this new life-form. Honorable mentions: We’ll Always Have Paris (1.24), 11001001 (1.15), The Last Outpost (1.4)
Most Overrated: “The Big Goodbye” (1.12) won a Peabody Award, and that’s nothing to sneeze at, but it also gave us a bunch of cliches that would continue to be used throughout the series: malfunctioning holodeck, safety interlocks, Dixon Hill (okay, that wasn’t too bad), and “ha ha we don’t understand 20th century things”. I can’t imagine any way that cutting power to the holodeck wouldn’t have solved the problem. Also, why does the Enterprise need an expert on 20th century history? The writing made it seem like that was all Mr. Whalen did, not that it was a hobby or something. Honorable mentions: Heart of Glory (1.20), Hide and Q (1.09), Where No One Has Gone Before (1.06)
Best Guest Star: Without a doubt, John de Lancie (Q) really set the stage for the way this show unfolded. He had a huge job in “Encounter at Farpoint”, setting himself up as the main quasi-villain for the entire show; he had to don multiple costumes, overact, take on Picard (played by a very well-established actor in Patrick Stewart), and not come off as too cartoony while still being sinister. Later, in “Hide and Q”, de Lancie’s scenes with Riker were really quite well-done as he played the tempter. Honorable mentions: Peter Mark Richman (Ralph Offenhouse), Vaughn Armstrong (Korris), Stanley Kamel (Kosinski)
Worst Missed Opportunity: I don’t blame the writers of “Conspiracy” for never coming back to the parasite creatures (although they did return in the DS9 re-launch novels), but here we had a great episode with really ominous ending that was never paid off. Fans wanted to know what happened to those aliens for years, but no future episode ever returned to what was quite a fallow field. As a big fan and a big Trek geek, I was really disappointed that I had to wait so long.
Strangest Thing: The way Tasha’s death was handled, I think, was actually pretty good overall. But back in the 80s, story arcs weren’t a thing that was done, not over multiple episodes like they should have. Contrast Tasha’s death with Jadzia’s — in the first three episodes of the final season of DS9, all the characters had to deal with that, and even on Enterprise there were longer arcs. I really would’ve liked to see the characters dealing with Tasha’s death — Worf getting promoted or told to be security chief, Geordi and Data commiserating, Troi losing her friend… but instead the only real reactions we got were in the tie-in novels.