So you want to embark on a journey through Star Trek: The Next Generation before Picard hits streaming screens. You’ve come to the right place.
I’m going to get right to the point. Directly below is my Star Trek: The Next Generation syllabus with an emphasis on Jean-Luc Picard. It’s curated selection of episodes that will give the viewer a decent, basic sense of the show and its captain. It’s 29 episodes, so seven seasons have been condensed into less than one and half.
For a more thorough understanding, read further below.
Episode 1 and 2: Encounter at Farpoint
Episode 13: Datalore
Episode 23: Skin of Evil
Episode 16: Q Who
Episode 4: Who Watches the Watchers
Episode 15: Yesterday’s Enterprise
Episode 17: Sins of the Father
Episode 26: The Best of Both Worlds
Episode 1: The Best of Both Worlds part 2
Episode 2: Family
Episode 3: Brothers
Episode 26: Redemption
Episode 1: Redemption part 2
Episode 2: Darmok
Episode 5: Disaster
Episode 7: Unification part 1
Episode 8: Unification part 2
Episode 15: The Outcast
Episode 18: Cause and Effect
Episode 23: I Borg
Episode 25: The Inner Light
Episode 10: Chain of Command part 1
Episode 11: Chain of Command part 2
Episode 14: Face of the Enemy
Episode 15: Tapestry
Episode 18: Starship Mine
Episode 9: Force of Nature
Episode 16: Thine Own Self
Episode 25: All Good Things ...
OK, the movies. You should watch them, mainly because they will have some character information which will likely come into play in the Picard series. View these four movies as if they are very long episodes. Just think of them as if you are watching a two-parter between seasons. But don’t set your expectations at blockbuster status; these were made for fans.
Star Trek Generations (1994), Star Trek: First Contact (1996), Star Trek: Insurrection (1998),
and Star Trek: Nemesis (2002).
Star Trek: The Next Generation syllabus
The thing to understand about Star Trek: The Next Generation — and most fans admit this — is that the first couple seasons are not strong. There are some decent, well-done episodes, but they are far and few between. These early episodes feel like they were filmed in the 1960s along with the original series (women are still wearing go-go boots and mini skirts in some episodes).
There is value in watching these early episodes. You can see the actors develop and ease into their roles. They lay down important information about the overall story and its characters. But know that the cheesiness does not last and the show evolves greatly in quality.
My syllabus skips much of these early episodes, but includes a few notable ones, even if they are a bit difficult. I am also omitting many great episodes in my mission to emphasize Captain Picard. For example, a couple of my favorite TNG episodes are “Time’s Arrow” parts 1 and 2. While wonderfully entertaining, they don’t necessarily add any foundational knowledge. The same goes for “Conspiracy,” which is a favorite of many fans. On the other hand, I’m including some episodes that are perhaps not as strong as others. But they do offer important information and background for the show.
And in case you have missed it -- this syllabus has an emphasis on Captain Picard (since this is being published in the months ahead of the new Picard series on CBS All Access). A much more well-rounded list would include episodes that feature all the characters, or the many great philosophical messages that Star Trek likes to sneak into its stories.
Once you go through this syllabus, go back and give the full series a try. While, again, the early episodes can be difficult to watch, I would argue TNG is the best series in the Star Trek cannon.