This evening's two-hour premiere is certainly the most eagerly awaited fall television show among science-fiction fans and industry observers of syndicated television. If Star Trek: The Next Generation manages to attract the sizable cult following that grew up around the first Star Trek (1966-69), this could be one of the biggest hits of all non-major-network series.
Tonight's opening benefits greatly from the involvement of Star Trek's original producer, Gene Roddenberry. He has retained all the jargon Trekkies have come to love - yes, the new folks do mutter "beam me up" and chatter on about "warp speed" - while adding up-to-the-minute special effects and managing the difficult task of hiring new protagonists who are just as sympathetic as the old stars. In other words, this is a rare example of a sequel that actually works.
Set roughly 80 years after the action in the most recent spinoff movie, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, this Next Generation showcases new faces. Foremost among them is the commander of the zippy "Galaxy Class" USS Enterprise, Capt. Jean-Luc Picard, played by the British actor Patrick Stewart.
Picard is unlike his predecessor in the Star Trek Hall of Fame, William Shatner's Capt. James T. Kirk. Where Kirk was a comic-book icon who sometimes experienced self-doubt, Picard is a troubled loner who is unsure of his talent to lead. And where Shatner relied upon his matinee-idol looks and an acting range that consisted of raising and lowering his eyebrows, Stewart can actually emote. With his gleaming bald pate and nose like a small banana, he's a brooding, thoughtful presence creeping around the Enterprise in the time- honored Star Trek long pajamas.
Picard is surrounded by a colorful group of supporting players. The Mr. Spock of The Next Generation is Lt. Cmdr. Data (Brent Spiner), an android endowed with superior intelligence and no human emotions. He lacks Spock's Vulcan-bred pointed ears, but has another distinguishing trait: ghostly white skin, as if the inventor had forgotten to put some blood into this robot.
The other important co-star is Cmdr. William Riker (Jonathan Frakes), who will serve as Picard's ambitious right-hand man. This is a witty bit of casting, for Frakes looks a lot like a young version of William Shatner.
Rounding out the new cast are Security Chief Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby), a tense-jawed young woman whose presence on board serves to remind young Trekkies that there's more to life than video games, and Geordi LaForge (LeVar Burton), a blind pilot who gets his vision from a high-tech visor. Poor Burton has to stumble around the Enterprise wearing what looks like the grille from a small Buick strapped across his eyes.
Tonight's two-hour episode is highlighted by a flamboyantly campy performance from John de Lancie as Q, an alien life form who says things like, ''Ooh, you're such a dullard!" There's lots of ponderous sermonizing about the nature of humanity in the script, but Star Trek has always been heavy- handed in the message department. The good news is that Star Trek: The Next Generation does its famous precursor proud.
Science fiction of another sort entirely can be witnessed in the premiere of thirtysomething, which boldly goes where no one has gone before: into the dank homes of yuppies.
Like its oh-so-obvious predecessor, The Big Chill, thirtysomething follows the tribulations of an interlocking set of friends, all in their 30s, who came of age in the 1960s. Sorry, the tumultuous '60s. They've come through the '70s - the Me Decade, that's right, class - with the chastened notion that it's all right to want money and power. Now they find themselves in the present decade with money, power and something they hadn't bargained on (Twilight Zone theme music, please) . . . children.
If you're in your 30s and trying to think of a reason not to have kids, you're gonna love thirtysomething. Never has parenthood looked less appealing. Our main heroes, Hope (Mel Harris) and Mike (Ken Olin), have a lovely 7-month- old daughter who does absolutely appalling things like cry and wet her pants. This puts a major crimp in the life of these parents, who want to concentrate on plans for a backpacking trip (all that expensive equipment to buy!).
The biggest crisis faced by Hope and Mike is hiring a baby sitter - it's difficult to sympathize with these whiners. As for their friends, a sorrier bunch of upscale creeps would be hard to find.
The talented stage actress Polly Draper is trapped in the role of Ellyn, a character as pretentious as the "y" in her name. Hope's best friend, Ellyn spends most of the episode trying to make Hope feel bad about being stuck with this infant she-devil - I mean, Hope brings the baby to Ellyn's favorite posh restaurant, and the kid has the nerve to cry! But by the end of the hour, Ellyn is sobbing about how much she wishes she was married and with child.
And I won't even mention Mike's cousin Melissa, played by the perpetually crabby Melanie Mayron. In the awful world of thirtysomething, all women are losers.
Thirtysomething would be infuriating were it not so depressing. The house in which Hope and Michael do their diapering and soul-searching is dark and uninviting - the curtains always seem to be drawn, and everyone speaks in hushed tones. It's as if they're in mourning for their long-gone childless state.
A couple of seasons ago, Home Town, a more earnest attempt to rip off The Big Chill, proved a ratings failure. But Home Town had a sense of history - it attempted to understand the '60s from an '80s perspective. Thirtysomething has no sense of history at all - you can't imagine any of these self-absorbed chatterboxes reading a newspaper, let alone a book.