For most of us who grew up in the ’80s or ’90s, our very first version of Star Trek wasn’t the William Shatner variety, but instead, the cozy series that starred Patrick Stewart. From 1987 to 1994, Star Trek: The Next Generation not only redefined the Star Trek franchise but also pushed the boundaries of just how far into the mainstream a geeky sci-fi series could go. There have been several renaissances of Trek since the classic show left the air in 1969; from the ’80s movies to the J.J Abrams era, to the current explosion of new streaming shows, including Discovery, Picard, and Strange New Worlds. But, The Next Generation was the Star Trek comeback that literally millions of people still adore more than any other.
Hitting 20 million viewers on average during its heyday in the early ’90s, The Next Generation wasn’t just a big hit, it was also, in many ways, a family show. Less violent than its ’60s predecessor, the ruminative and thoughtful nature of TNG sometimes gave Star Trek the slightly unfair reputation of being an adventure series about a bunch of goody-goodies. But, as vintage action TV series go, TNG does hold up when it comes to family viewing. The show will stream on Paramount+ until likely, the end of time, but as of April 2, 2022, Star Trek: The Next Generation will leave Netflix forever.
If you want to revisit the show with your kids — and your kids are 6-years-old or older — here are five episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation to watch as a family. These aren’t the biggest, most famous episodes, or even, the best ones. But, we think young kids will love them.
The first couple of seasons of TNG are generally regarded as rocky. This is mostly true. However, this particular episode is a stand-out, if you’re looking for one that may connect with a young child. In it, our resident friendly android Data (Brent Spiner) befriends an alien child via outer space emails. In doing so, Data breaks a bunch of Starfleet rules but ends up saving the day anyway. A heartwarming story, in that corny, honest, style, that Star Trek sometimes nails.
Wil Wheaton’s young Wesley Crusher was a slightly divisive character while the series was actually running. Older fans tended to complain that the teenage wiz-kid saved the Enterprise in way too many episodes. But, for those of us who actually grew up watching the show, Wesley was an audience surrogate in every meaningful way. These days, it’s easy to see that Wesley was one of the best characters on the series, and presented a positive, and oddly realistic, role model for kids who were coming of age. “Final Mission” is the episode in which Wesley leaves the show as a regular character. It’s a touching adventure that he shares with Captain Picard, and a cool survivalist story to boot. Patrick Stewart and Wil Wheaton are great in this one.
Episodes with Data are often great for kids because his character is essentially a robot version of Pinocchio. (Riker even calls him “Pinocchio” in the first episode ever.) The episode “Data’s Day” is wonderful because there’s almost zero danger present. It’s mostly an episode about Data trying to do stuff throughout a regular day. Yes, he manages to help uncover a Romulan spy on the Enterprise, but kids will mostly love the scene where he tries to learn how to tap dance with Dr. Crusher.
When the Enterprise hits a kind of hidden iceberg in space, everybody has to figure out what to do during what is basically a power outage. The highlight of this episode involves the normally stuffy Captain Picard getting trapped in an elevator with three children. He may be good at leading the Enterprise into strange, new worlds, but Picard is, at first, sort of terrible with kids. However, when the kids and Picard rally to climb to safety, it gets pretty awesome.
Picard, Guinan, Keiko, and Ensign Ro are all turned into children. Yes, this is the entire premise of the episode. Four adult regulars on the series (including the Captain!) get zapped with a transporter malfunction that makes them grown-ups trapped in the bodies of children. It’s Freaky Friday Star Trek-style and utterly adorable. Plus, the moment where the kid-Picard has to team up with actual children who live on the Enterprise is priceless.
You can watch all of The Next Generation on Netflix until April 2. It’s also streaming on Paramount+.