William Riker's freshly grown, expertly manicured beard isn't the only great thing about the second season of 'Star Trek: The Next Generation.' Season two is where the show hits its stride with its characters, as far as I'm concerned. The first season felt them out. We were introduced to a crew that wasn't used to each other. A group of people who were still trying to find themselves. Season two dives into the characters, offering up much more in the way of development.
Among the character exploration is the examination of Data. Figuring out what makes him tick, how he reacts to certain situations, and his affinity for Sherlock Holmes is a fascinating aspect of the season. It feels like you really get to know Data this season. He becomes more than just an android.
The same goes with the other characters too. While we're introduced to a new, somewhat lackluster character like Dr. Pulaski (Diana Muldaur), the show mainly focuses on the core group of characters that we came to know in the introductory season. Another memorable character that's introduced in season two is Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg). Guinan runs the Ten Forward bar where many of the show's characters tend to converse and ponder. The Ten Forward is a place of public congregation that season one sorely lacked. It's where many of the straight-laced characters can let their guard down and enjoy each other's company.
It's true that after season two is when the really memorable seasons started to air. Like season one, the second season is still looked upon as another building block of sorts, leading to greater things. However, season two does have quite a few gems. I've always loved watching Data play the role of Sherlock Holmes in the all-Holodeck episode "Elementary, Dear Data" where Data (as Holmes) and Geordie (as Watson) find themselves locked into a battle of wits with a computer created Moriarty (Daniel Davis). Moriarty appears again in the 1993 episode "Ship in a Bottle." Davis is only Moriarty for two episodes, but he creates one of the most memorable ancillary characters the show had to offer.
Old villains are back too. Picard revisits harsh feelings for his arch nemesis Q (John de Lancie) when he encounters the all-seeing being in "Q Who?" Q and Picard will meet a few times over the show's run, but this is an episode where we see them truly define the relationship that is to follow them.
I could go on and on about the episodes that stick out to me, but I'm sure many of you know it much better than I do. I wouldn't call myself a rabid 'TNG' fan, but I find immense joy in watching each episode. I embrace its corniness along with its, oft times, poignant philosophies on life, human instinct, space travel, and evolving as a species.
It really is an indelible show. A series that means so much, to so many. Paramount's pledge to release every season is music to every fan's ears. Revisiting the first and second season has been a treat. Not only have I been able to reconnect with characters from my childhood, but I've also been able to realize how good the show still is compared to other science fiction on television. In many ways 'TNG' (along with the other iterations of 'Star Trek') was before its time. Sure, season two has its stumbling blocks and its own growing pains, but I enjoy most of it.
Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Paramount's packaging is identical to the first season. The slipcover and artwork matches uniformly to the first season's, which is nice. They look great next to each other on the shelf. Season two boasts 22 episodes which are spread across five 50GB Blu-ray Discs. The set is region free.
The first season had some dubious problems with the audio that was subsequently fixed by Paramount and an exchange program was issued for the affected discs. Here it seems that the 1080p transfer of the second season is catching the ire of some.
Many fans, across the web have been pointing to VFX screenshots as proof of wrongdoing. With much of the remastering work subcontracted to another agency, many of the season's visual effects are being called into question. Keep in mind that the remastering, and sometimes reshooting, of the visual effects in the series has been a marketing calling card for this series' Blu-ray release. Paramount has been highly touting their meticulous effects work for restoring and enhancing many of the special effects used in the series. That's why it's fairly disappointing to see some of these VFX scenes that don't measure up to the wow factor that many of these same scenes had in the first season release.
Many of the remastered VFX scenes looked like they've been slathered with unsightly DNR, causing many of the shots to look depthless. Blue light bleeds through edges, causing much of the Enterprise to look hazy in many of the VFX shots as it orbits planets and hurtles through space. This DNR also seems to be a problem during many live-action scenes, which is a real shame. If you compare the visuals in season two to that of season one, two things are apparent. First, it just doesn't measure up to the meticulous attention to detail that was performed by CBS/Paramount in the first season; and second, it's pretty obvious that the work was done by someone other than CBS/Paramount (specifically a company called HTV Illuminate).
Now, as far as I'm concerned, nitpicking and screenshot comparisons can border on lunacy. If you find yourself going frame by frame to find flaws you're going to find them. The question is how does it look at normal speed. That's when I have to say I'm pretty disappointed with the outcome. When medium range shots look waxy because of applied digital noise reduction, and many VFX scenes look the same, that's cause for concern. The inconsistency in the season is obvious and becomes irritating.
Even though I've spent much of this video review portion talking about the cons, there are quite a few pros to discuss. Overall the show looks sharp when it isn't hampered by outside factors like DNR. Grain does tend to fluctuate from scene to scene. At times, especially when characters are walking and talking with each other in the hallways, grain seems very busy. Colors are strong though. The yellows, reds, and purples exhibited in the uniforms is strikingly clear. Blacks tend to mush together though. Counselor Deanna Troi's hair appears usually as a black mass rather than noticeably individual strands with varying shades of black. Blacks are also quite a bit busier in terms of noticeable noise.
I'm glad that Paramount is remastering and releasing these seasons on Blu-ray, but season two really doesn't live up to the high bar set by the first. On the whole much of the action in season two looks well done. Over the season's 16-plus hours of entertainment there is more good high-def than bad. The problem is the badly DNR'd scenes stick out. Waxy faces and fuzzy VFX shots, while infrequent compared to the rest of the visuals, still become irritating after a while. It's a step up from the DVDs for sure, but there's a much better, more consistent job that could be done on this season.
This is where the problems arose in season one. Dialogue had been mixed poorly in a handful of episodes spread across the season. The worst part of the audio mess up was when the dialogue ended up being piped through all of the front speakers at the same time during "Encounter at Farpoint." After the problems were discovered Paramount repressed affected discs and sent out replacements to customers. This time around, I'm happy to say that the audio department passed with flying colors.
After the mini-fiasco of season one, I wanted to make sure that season two didn't feature the same problems. I found myself listening far more closely than one would listen if they were just sitting back enjoying the episode. I was pleased that I didn't find any real notable issues that needed addressing.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix is everything it should be. Rears are alive with action as beeps and blips can be heard as Picard issues commands from the bridge. Dialogue comes cleanly through the center speaker as the front speakers are used for directional effects and dialogue. Listening closely I didn't hear any instances of dialogue being mixed erroneously through the center and front speakers at the same time. There are a few instances where dialogue seems to bleed into the rear channels every so often, creating a momentary echo, though. This issue is very infrequent, however. Most of the time the sound is crisp and clear. At least we won't be getting an audio recall this time around.
I think I like season two more than other people do, but that's okay. I like most all the seasons of 'TNG' anyway. I can't really pinpoint one specific season and call it my absolute favorite. It's simply an amalgamation of them all. The characters, the science, and the drama; this show has it all. It's too bad that the video presentation is pretty inconsistent with this release. The audio doesn't feature any recall-worthy problems though. The brightest note is that the special features package is packed with all sorts of exclusive goodness. A lot of care went into creating some brand-new features and documentaries, and they will no doubt be enjoyed by many. I'm lightly recommending this season. In light of the inconsistent video it's hard for me to give this set a firm Must Own recommendation. Much of the season looks fine under the microscope of HD, but its irregularity in quality will soon become apparent to many. Still, overall, this is recommended.