The 10 Essential ‘Star Trek: TNG’ Episodes to Prepare You for ‘Picard’

The new 'Star Trek' spin-off series requires a little pre-existing knowledge, but don’t worry; we got you covered.

The only person you’re truly competing against is yourself. Wise words from a starship captain that CBS All-Access should consider. Looking at the big show they put on at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, as well as the news that continues to unfold out of Star Trek Las Vegas this weekend, the streaming platform is stretching the final frontier further than it ever has before. There is a danger of over-extension and of one spinoff overshadowing the others, but for the franchise to grow beyond its well-established audience, the creatives need to acquire new audiences. And that means experimentation could lead to a little alienation.

We’ve already seen some hesitancy after the first season of Star Trek: Discovery, and while the second season seemed to calm a lot of nerves, images of a Rick and Morty-style animated series and a Discovery third season set over a thousand years in the future widen the eyes. Where we can all come together is in the return of Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) as well as a few other supporting players (Data, Seven of Nine, Hugh) that we never thought we would see walking and talking on screen again.

Star Trek: Picard sends shivers of anticipation from the diehard fanbase, but maybe even more exciting is how the trailer sparked the curiosity of those who’ve never beamed aboard the Enterprise before. After all, from 2000-2017, Patrick Stewart fostered an entirely different generation of fans within the X-Men series, and they’re just as eager to have Professor X in their living room as they are Jean-Luc.

This article is primarily designed for those of you out there excited but anxious regarding the Star Trek franchise. There were seven seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation and four feature films. That’s a lot of content, and you do not need to watch it all to appreciate the bold new direction Picard is taking on CBS All-Access. I’m offering up just 10 episodes (a few two-parters) that will give you an idea of the character — not necessarily each little piece of his origin, but what makes the man the man.

I recognize that a lot of my fellow Trekkies are reading this article as well. You guys have your own ideas as to what’s an essential Picard experience and what is not. Please feel free to share your thoughts with me, @MouthDork on Twitter. I’m always hungry to discuss Trek and admit that I cut a few of my favorite episodes from this list.

10. The Measure of a Man

Season 2, Episode 9 written by Melinda M. Snodgrass and directed by Robert Scheerer. While the USS Enterprise-D is docked in Starbase partaking in routine maintenance, Commander Bruce Maddox (Brian Brophy) boards with a unique request: to dismantle android officer Lt. Commander Data (Brent Spiner) so that he can study his one-of-a-kind positronic brain. When Data kindly refuses, Starfleet orders him to obey, forcing Picard to challenge the mandate. A trial is conducted with first officer William Riker (Jonathan Frakes) arguing for the prosecution against his captain. “The Measure of the Man” is everything Star Trek should be: a biting bit of social commentary disguised as a sci-fi adventure-of-the-week. What is sentience? The question will only become more and more relevant the further we continue as a species.

9. Chain of Command Parts 1 and 2

Season 6, Episodes 10 and 11 written by Ronald D. Moore and Frank Abatemarco, and directed by Les Landau and Robert Sheerer. My first cheat, but you can’t have one without the other. Picard is removed from command of the Enterprise so that he may lead a covert mission to destroy a Cardassian biological warfare facility on Celtris III. He recruits Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) and Lt. Worf (Michael Dorn) along for the ride, but they cannot reveal the details of their infiltration to the rest of the crew. Meanwhile, Commander Riker struggles to serve under the tyrannical Captain Edward Jellico (Ronny Cox). On top of that, we get a fiendishly brilliant performance from David Warner as the central Cardassian antagonist. These Nazi stand-ins go a long way in replacing the Klingons as the gnarliest and most hateful threat to the Federation. Possibly two of the tensest episodes of The Next Generation, “Chain of Command” features a Picard willing to sacrifice everything to bring the universe closer to peace.

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Brad Gullickson: Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)