Last summer, CBS debuted the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation on Blu-ray — the first offering in a massive ongoing effort to bring the series into the modern, high-definition era and preserve it for future audiences. CBS’s efforts on the restoration were laudable, to say the least. In the interest of getting the next release out as fast as possible, though, it was decided that restoration work on the second season would be outsourced, to avoid losing momentum.
Of course, change is a pretty common theme with seasons two, anyway — the temporary departure of Doctor Crusher, Worf’s move to security, and Geordi’s to engineering. It also brought in a whole new writing staff due to a WGA strike, and of course, recurring guest star Whoopi Goldberg. It’s also in the second season that the show begins to feel less like the original series, and begins to find its own voice, which would eventually make it worthy of a restoration 25 years later.
The first season of The Next Generation looked excellent on Blu-ray, with fantastic detail on the effects shots and great color and detail work on the interior shots. CBS had every right to be proud of their work on the show. Season Two’s Blu-ray release, while being a major upgrade in every way over the DVDs, unfortunately doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor. Noise reduction in more than therapeutic amounts has been applied to every shot, smearing facial features and other fine detail, and making poor Chief O’Brien’s often ruddy complexion into a full-facial sunburn. Even the visual effects suffer. The severity of this is wildly uneven, and it seems as if a more tempered hand comes to play after the first disc or so. Please keep in mind, it’s not horrible, but when you hold the first two seasons next to each other, you will notice the difference, and I want people to be prepared for that. I’m happy to report that the audio is uniformly excellent, and offers a slight improvement in fidelity over the first season. The show sounds as good as shows a decade its junior.
The best reason to buy Season Two is hands-down the bonus material. All the DVD extras are included here, with hours of additional material. The most notable of the new stuff is, of course, the first extended edition of a Star Trek episode ever, “Measure of a Man.” Widely considered one of the series’ best, the episode contains 13 minutes of additional footage from a rough cut version writer Melinda Snodgrass found in her archives. It’s presented in both in a restored, full-on high definition version, and in the reference rough cut with the footage from the VHS cut in.
Make it So: Continuing Star Trek: TNG is almost 90 minutes of new interviews with the cast and crew, including Season Two regular Diana Muldaur, which continues the excellence found in Energized! from season One. I have no idea how they’re going to keep up the level of depth and quality of information presented here over the next five seasons, but I really look forward to them trying. The best extra of the bunch is Reunification: 25 Years After Star Trek: The Next Generation, a full hour with all the principles on the couch cracking each other up, sharing anecdotes, and really letting you get a sense of the actual people behind the characters. Finally, an extensive gag reel, a segment from LeVar Burton’s Reading Rainbow where he toured the set, and a pair of commentaries on “Q Who?” and “Measure of a Man” finish up the package.
It seems fitting that the Blu-ray release is a lot like the original broadcast of second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation 25 years ago: full of compromise, some major clunkers, and some amazing bright spots that make it worth remembering, warts and all. The bonus materials are far and away some of the best ever done for a television show, and provide exactly the kind of red meat everyone’s looking for when they pick up an anniversary edition of their favorites. It’s just a shame that CBS Digital didn’t have time to give this second season the same loving video treatment as Season One.