When the holodeck breaks down, Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise face their greatest challenge yet: staving off boredom by pursing an ancient Earth passtime Geordi reports was known as a Role-Playing Game.
I feel like I should note here that (a) the Aquans really are an alien race in the Star Trek universe and (b) they are in fact fish people, and (c) they only ever appeared in one episode of Star Trek: The Animated Series, and (d) that apparently qualifies as series canon, and (e) I only know any of this because I looked it up on Memory Alpha when I needed some aliens for Picard to blow up.
I like Star Trek a lot — I have watched more of it than the average person, that much is safe to say — but I’m not an encyclopedic superfan, so it’s handy that there is an actual encyclopedia maintained by actual superfans. Because I’m gonna be leaning on that thing a lot.
I will say that among my favorite moments on TNG were episodes where Patrick Stewart, a very fine actor indeed, got to play Jean Luc Picard, Lousy Actor, whether in the holodeck or on stage in one of Bev Crusher’s community theater productions. You have to give the guy massive credit for managing to be so convincingly, effortlessly cringe-inducing in his affected badness.
It’s funny, though, we almost always saw holodeck episodes, at least the earlier ones, as things where the bridge crew in general were sort of awkward and self-conscious about what they were doing, which seems sort of weird if taken at face value: this holodeck thing is the best video game ever but everybody’s all weirdly stilted about it? But it’s not so weird if you accept that it’s these characters, specifically, who were bad at it. Maybe because they were career-minded enough that they just didn’t get time in there? Maybe because they just weren’t naturally disposed to that kind of thing? Or maybe they were just a bunch of squares, I dunno.
Reg Barclay certainly knew how to get into the spirit of things, at least until everybody went and messed that up for him, so clearly the whole awkward inhibition thing wasn’t a constant.
If you suggested that I’m really only doing this whole thing for the Riker sex jokes, I would have a hard time arguing.
I’m maybe wasting material for a future comic in talking about this, but it’s not difficult to watch some Riker-centric scenes in TNG and come to the conclusion that his face is just a straight-up sex thermometer. Like, any time Riker is smiling, he’s ready to go. Whomever or whatever. That smile is upstairs and downstairs. Which makes those crestfallen moments when the smile wilts a little bit funnier.
You might object on the grounds that Riker smiles sometimes in scenes with no obvious erotic overtones. I’m saying that’s a failure of imagination. The man’s got some serious depths, psychosexually speaking.
Poor Wesley, being a kid on a starship; poor Wil Wheaton being stuck playing that kid to an unkind audience. (Though Wil seems to have come through the dark tunnel of being Wesley Crusher and then some at this late date.)
The problem with Wesley Crusher, if I’m gonna argue it, was mostly that the show wasn’t built to showcase a kid’s wonder. And as The One Kid On The Enterprise (in terms of major recurring cast members) he didn’t really have a peer group to build stories with either; there was no one we, as viewers, really cared about who wasn’t mostly too busy to hang out with Wes and too old to have a non-condescending, non-twee, non-Very-Special-Episode emotional arc with him.
So Wes was stuck trying to be a grownup on the sidelines even though he wasn’t (and so we got to watch him be bummed that adults we liked were annoyed by him being inconvenient or underfoot, nominal pat on the head at the end of some episodes notwithstanding), or having Wes-centric episodes where he gets up to who knows what random nonsense this time with some one-off guest star kids who we have zero investment in. It’s a bad setup, for a kid whose backstory was already sort of glum and dicey.
And I can’t blame people for not liking the character, because he didn’t get used well; but it’s kind of a shame when you think of Wes’s potential with slightly different plotting and setup as the kid living the greatest goddam adventure a kid could have. How great would that be? But maybe that’s just not Star Trek.
Anyway, I’m taking a shot at Wes having his miiiiiind blooooown here but I think what I’m saying is that it’s an affectionate shot. If Wes didn’t get a chance to have his mind blown by the actual insane future scifi world he was living in, he ought to at least get a chance to get a little bit OMG HAVE YOU EVER REALLY LOOKED AT YOUR HANDS? about the concept of old-school roleplaying.
A fact about me: I have DMed exactly one pen-and-paper RPG session in my life, and I was I think a junior in high school at the time, and I was not very good at it at all, but I had drawn up a bunch of random encounter tables for it, and also there was this spooky mansion and in the basement of the mansion was some weird complicated glowing magical trap thing that reacted to character alignment in a way that I thought was super clever but the players mostly thought was kind of confusing and annoying, and I stayed up till four a.m. running it for a bunch of gamer/theater friends and two of them ended up sort of making out under a blanket instead of paying any attention, which was kind of rough because I totally had a crush on one of them.
I haven’t really comported myself that much better as a player over the years, either. One time, I stabbed a horse in the neck with an arrow? To try and slow down some dwarves? Basically it was like pushing over a bunch of Hell’s Angels bikes outside a bar, except in the Forbidden Realms. So that was a thing.
Basically what I’m saying is I have a lot of respect for anyone who can manage to run a game. I’m not sure Geordi knows what he’s getting himself into.
It’s like, “ooooooh, look at me, I’m Worf son of Mogh, oooooooh, I think this campaign sounds deriiiivatiiiive, oooooooh…”
I would have made that last Geordi panel redder, but it turns out there isn’t any redder red than that. None more red. But, yes, I need to expand my collection of Angry Geordi screencaps, because the way things are going we might be seeing a lot of him.
Very spiritual people, the Dopterians.
I feel like the pro forma thing to do here is apologize for the obvious Reading Rainbow joke but (a) at least it’s out of the way (twice-over if you check the alt text on the comics) so we can all stop thinking about it and (b) seriously, Reading Rainbow is awesome.
I grew up on it as a kid, and something about the way LeVar delivered the whole thing was just great; I was a weirdly cynical kid about children’s media for whatever reason, and had trouble trusting overly earnest or twee stuff (I found Mr. Rogers, of all people, unsettling, though I think that was mostly the puppets and the weird falsetto voices he did for them because Trolley was fantastic and oh man the crayon factory filmstrip and I think I got lost a bit here) but for whatever reason when LeVar would start talking about books and how they were great that stuff just clicked for me. I hear I was an early reader, and Reading Rainbow didn’t hurt on that front.
And man, that title sequence. Earworm. I apologize, but not really.
But! Yes. Beyond the whole nostalgia kick, the neat thing is that RR’s a straight-up 21st century product now: you can get it on your dang iPad. With @levarburton and everything. Crazy future kids ebook reader. Some Roddenberry shit right there.
There’s a thing from the pilot episode of The Next Generation which, depending on how much of your time you’ve spent watching this show and how much of your brain you’ve dedicated to storing info gleaned thereby, you may or may not have ever known and if you did know may have forgotten, but it’s an important thing and so we’ll just pretend nobody remembers at all and go over it together:
Riker and Troi could originally converse telepathically. They just straight up have a conversation in the turbolift. This is because Troi is an empathic half-Betazoid and also because of…reasons? Also she and Will had totally boned in the past so there’s this soap operatic tension between the yearning of the two imzadi and the requirements of duty for them not to recommence with the whole Cardassian Mambo thing while serving together as senior officers of the Enterprise. Or something. Very soap opera.
But so yes: telepathic conversation between Riker and Troi. The show got rid of that after the pilot — after that scene, pretty much, if I remember right — and made Troi merely able to sense feelings and that was structurally speaking a good idea because how annoying would voiceover conversations be to incorporate into every single goddam episode. (And it meant they could play it for more effective laughs later on when Troi’s mom, a full-on Betazoid who could get her telepathy on even outside the confines of the Practically Non-Canon Pilot Quadrant, would visit the ship. And mentally molest Picard. WHO PROBABLY SECRETLY LOVED IT.)
But man think what it would have been like for Troi if that had stuck around. In the pilot, sure, they were lovers reunited for the first time in a while under complicated circumstances, there’s that romantic flush of meeting one another again and you remember all the good bits. But within three days, maybe a week tops, it’d all come back to her why she’d been avoiding him in the first place: non-stop, 24/7 psychic chat-ups and intrusive come-ons and the mental equivalent of “hey, look at my penis” pranks. Riker is basically Dennis Duffy from 30 Rock. You broke up with that guy for a reason, Deanna. Don’t be a sucker.