The Good: Acting, Plot, Effects
The Bad: Attempts at humor, Shaky characterization
The Basics: While better than most television, "The Big Goodbye" is an inconsistent episode of Star Trek The Next Generation that sacrifices some characterization for style.
It's a bit ironic that I should call the only Star Trek episode of any of the series' to win a Peabody award "overrated." And yet, I shall. The Star Trek The Next Generation episode "The Big Goodbye" deserved the Peabody less than the episode which preceded it, "Too Short A Season." Does that mean "The Big Goodbye" isn't worth your viewing? Not at all.
"The Big Goodbye" has Captain Picard relaxing from some tense diplomatic preparations that require him to perfectly present a greeting in an alien language to a very picky species by using the holodeck. Picard plays a holodeck adventure set in the 1940s on Earth. It has him playing the role of Dixon Hill, a detective. Impressed by the quality and realism of the holodeck, Picard invites Crusher, Data and the ship's historian, Whalen, to join him in the mystery. Unfortunately, an alien probe of the ship causes the holodeck to malfunction - the first time the holodeck malfunctions, so this episode is original - and the officers inside are trapped in a potentially lethal situation.
The strength of the episode is in its originality. The first time things go wrong on the state of the art ship, is a milestone and when they go seriously wrong. Whalen is shot by a thug and his struggle to survive becomes the crux of the episode.
The problem is that the episode tries too hard, too early. Captain Picard is played as a clown; his enthusiasm over the holodeck is fine, but the writers took it too far, trying to make his stodgy character funny so soon makes him come off as goofy and the episode significantly less funny than pathetic. Similarly, the rest of the humor of the episode seems to come too close to being ridiculous, as opposed to genuinely funny. The best example of this is Data. While I appreciate the humor of Brent Spiner, the actor who plays Data, his facial expressions and his performance in this episode are just plain silly.
The character that saves the episode is Dr. Crusher. She is not as altered as Data and Picard for the purposes of this episode. So, while she is able to unwind in a way her character has not previously illustrated, it does not go so far as to be pointless or a hyperbole of uncharacteristic behavior. Her ability to shift gears when Whalen is shot is very realistic.
While Picard adapts to the change in circumstance, it does not flow as well, to the point that the climactic scene wherein Picard confronts the holographic villains with the truth about what they are, he becomes far more philosophical than worrying about the practical matter of his dying crewman.
That's not to say the episode is all bad. The episode has a lot going for it. The first is the acting. Even though his character is severely affected for the episode, Patrick Stewart plays him well. It's not his fault that Picard comes off as silly, it's the writing. Gates McFadden gives a fine performance as Crusher as well. The powerhouse of the episode is Lawrence Tierney who plays the holographic villain Cyrus Redblock. He plays Redblock well with real villainy and makes the flat character come to life with his stage presence.
"The Big Goodbye" is essentially a "Holodeck Malfunction" episode wherein the new technology that can create any setting and any people experiences an error that the crew must thwart to survive. It's a nice standard, but the humor of this episode distracts from the real menace that the plot attempts to create.
[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete First Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the debut season by clicking here!
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© 2010, 2008, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.