Where no one has gone before

I don’t watch much TV. We “cut the cord” in our home a few years ago and only use streaming services now, so occasionally (like once or twice a year) I’ll binge watch something. My most recent binge was in July when the third season of “Stranger Things” was released on Netflix. The previous binge was probably the second season of “Stranger Things.”

I’ve never seen a single episode of shows it seems everyone has seen, like “Game of Thrones,” “Breaking Bad,” Orange is the New Black,” “Downton Abbey” or many more. I just really don’t have much time for TV watching. 

My exception to this is my one hour each night at bedtime. I know, I know. Sleep experts say you shouldn’t watch TV before bed. I don’t care much what the experts say — watching TV before bed has been my routine for years now. It’s the only time of day I have to myself because I’m the night owl and everybody else in my house has gone to sleep. 

I could watch some of the above-listed programs at bedtime, but my sleep routine has some strict rules. The primary purpose of the routine is to shut my mind down so I have any hope of getting to sleep. When it’s quiet and dark I can lie there for hours thinking about things I need to do or even composing stories in my head. I’ve been known to get up in the middle of the night to start writing because I absolutely won’t go to sleep if there’s a thought really pressing on me; it’s like an itch that has to be scratched.

With this in mind, my sleep routine requires that whatever I watch can’t be overly stimulating. Therefore, I absolutely never watch anything I haven’t already seen because something new could keep me too alert, but something not at all interesting allows my mind to wander too much. Whatever I watch has to be just enough to keep my mind from wandering off to the things I’m trying to get away from.

 Sometimes I’ll watch movies I’ve seen more times than I can count, like “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “Harry Potter” movies or silly comedies. It can take me several days to get through one movie. 

Other times I watch TV shows that I’ve also seen multiple times. “Parks and Recreation” is a favorite, as is “Freaks and Geeks.” I’ll admit that on occasion I watch totally ridiculous shows from my much younger days, like “Dawson’s Creek.” I’d say that’s a guilty pleasure, but I don’t really endorse that term. I like “Dawson’s Creek.” Sue me. 

But my all-time favorite TV show and what I’m currently re-watching for the umpteenth time, is “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” I started watching it again to prepare for the upcoming release of “Picard,” but really, I know many of the episodes by heart and preparation wasn’t necessary. 

There’s an episode of “Friends” (a show that I actually have seen) where Ross develops his list of five celebrities he could pursue relations with and girlfriend Rachel can’t get upset. I jokingly (sort of) tell my husband there’s only one person on my list and he’s been there for years. 

Patrick Stewart, or Star Trek’s Jean-Luc Picard, is my end-all, be-all celebrity crush. To say that I’m absolutely overjoyed he’s returning to the role on the small screen after decades away is a huge understatement. I’m giddy. 

I’ll admit that when it first aired, starting in 1987, I wasn’t a fan. My stepdad (thanks Mark) used to watch it regularly and in what I guess was the stubbornness of a know-it-all young adult I wouldn’t give it a chance. Somehow, though, I got sucked into an episode one day and absolutely fell in love. 

Rewatching it now, I can’t help but feel that “Star Trek: TNG” was groundbreaking. For starters, the fact that the classic “Star Trek” intro was changed to “to boldly go where no one has gone before” as opposed to “no man” speaks volumes. Beyond that, however, my latest rewatching has clearly illustrated that “TNG” was so much more than a sci-fi show. 

What could have been a simple, formulaic weekly run-in with an alien species resulting in some kind of conflict instead became a character-driven series that dealt with real issues and addressed controversial subjects. 

Take, for example, one of my early favorite episodes, “The Measure of a Man” that originally aired in February 1989 during season two. The android Data is about to be disassembled for study by a scientist who insists he’s only a machine. Picard refuses to allow his friend to be disassembled and forces a legal hearing that becomes a thought-provoking argument about racial tensions, slavery and viewing others as less than human. 

Episodes like “The Host” in season four and “The Outcast” in season five address gender identity, misguided practices like conversion therapy, and the nature of love itself, with Dr. Beverly Crusher opining that “perhaps, one day, our ability to love won’t be so limited.” 

In another of my favorite episodes, “The Drumhead,” Picard takes on Admiral Nora Satie, who is engaging in blatant McCarthyism while claiming there is a conspiracy on board the Enterprise. After exposing the admiral for what she is doing, Picard tells his Klingon security chief, Lt. Worf, “Villains who twirl their moustaches are easy to spot. Those who clothe themselves in good deeds are well camouflaged ... but, she, or someone like her, will always be with us, waiting for the right climate in which to flourish, spreading fear in the name of righteousness.” 

Other episodes deal with refugees, the treatment of immigrants, environmental concerns stemming from energy usage, displacement of indigenous peoples, individualism versus the collective, vengeance, religious beliefs, what it means to be alive and more. The seven main characters grow, grieve, love and face their own failings and shortcomings in ways that challenge the audience to do the same. All too often, female characters in television shows do little other than engage in romantic relationships. In “TNG,” Crusher and counselor Deanna Troi do have love relationships, but also confront their roles as mothers and daughters as well as their careers and positions of authority. In short, they aren’t defined by their love interests alone. 

In what is my absolute favorite, the two-part “Chain of Command” from season six, Picard is taken prisoner by the Cardassians and is subjected to all manner of torture. More than a decade before waterboarding and torture received media attention around the world, Picard tells his captors, “Torture has never been a reliable means of extracting information. It is ultimately self-defeating as a means of control. One wonders why it is still practiced.” Later, when a Cardassian child is allowed to witness his suffering and torture, Picard expresses shock that a child would be deliberately exposed to such cruelty and points out, “When children learn to devalue others, they can devalue anyone, including their parents.” 

It’s a forceful and emotional performance that I never tire of watching. 

With only a few episodes remaining until I’ve completed my rewatching of all seven seasons, the January debut of “Picard” can’t come soon enough. I can’t wait to see what strange new worlds my favorite Shakespeare-loving, Earl Grey-drinking, thoughtful, intelligent, honorable captain is going to lead us to next. 


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