Warner Bros. has Batman and Superman. MGM has James Bond. Fox has “Star Wars” and “Alien.” So what? Paramount has “Star Trek,” a franchise that has spawned 9 feature films (and counting), 5 television shows (and counting), and a pop sub-culture with world-wide penetration. No other telefilm series has such a continuous and evolving presence in the eyes of the world, and no other science-fiction programming avoids cheesiness and awful production values quite as successfully as “Star Trek.”

Paramount Pictures has released the first nine “Star Trek” movies on DVD (in reverse order), but they were all relatively bare-bones. The studio seems intent on working its way through the movie series again with special edition re-releases (starting with “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”), and it’s gotten around to releasing the TV shows on DVD, too. “Star Trek” The Original Series is available on 40 DVDs (2 episodes each), and “Star Trek: The Next Generation” is arriving on DVD a season per box set during 2002. (Rumor has it that “Deep Space Nine” will be released throughout 2003.)

“Star Trek: The Next Generation” Season 2 follows Season 1 onto DVD, and the box set’s quality matches that of the first box set for the most part. Six discs have been included in an attractive silver box set. As with Season 1, Season 2 does not offer a big story arc. Rather, there are several character arcs that help viewers familiarize themselves with different facets of the main characters.

With the death of Natasha Yar in Season 1, Worf is now the chief security officer of the Enterprise, and he wears a yellow (security/science) uniform instead of a red (command) one. Geordi LaForge finds himself the lord of Engineering as he has been designated as the ship’s Chief Engineer, and he, too, switches from a red uniform to a yellow one. Riker sports a beard, one that he will keep until the movie “Star Trek: Insurrection.” Wesley Crusher gets to wear clothes that look much snazzier than his rainbow-striped monkey suit from Season 1. Whoopi Goldberg, fresh off of her Oscar win for her role in “Ghost,” appears in a couple of episodes as Guinan, the ship’s bartender. Finally, Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) is no longer the chief medical officer onboard the Enterprise–rather, one Dr. Kate Pulaski (Diana Muldaur) functions as the ship’s doctor until Dr. Crusher’s return in Season 3.

Disc 1: “The Child,” “Where Silence Has Lease,” “Elementary, Dear Data,” “The Outrageous Okona.”

Disc 2: “Loud as a Whisper,” “The Schizoid Man,” “Unnatural Selection,” “A Matter of Honor.”

Disc 3: “The Measure of a Man,” “The Dauphin,” “Contagion,” “The Royale.”

Disc 4: “Time Squared,” “The Icarus Factor,” “Pen Pals,” “Q Who?”

Disc 5: “Samaritan Snare,” “Up the Long Ladder,” “Manhunt,” “The Emissary.”

Disc 6: “Peak Performance,” “Shades of Gray.”

(Due to a Writer’s Guild strike, the start of Season 2 was delayed, and only 22 instead of the usual 26 episodes were shot. Therefore, the Season 2 box set has only 6 discs and not 7 like the other boxes.)

A couple of episodes stand out from the rest. Obviously, Picard and Riker get to occupy center-stage more than the other characters do, but Data and Worf receive special attention in Season 2. Data plays Sherlock Holmes in “Elementary, Dear Data,” and the ship’s computer creates a Moriarty in the Holodeck who is consciously self-aware. In “The Measure of a Man,” Data becomes the focus of a legal inquiry that seeks to determine whether he is an independent, sentient being or the property of Starfleet. In most of the episodes, there are humorous moments courtesy of Worf explaining Klingon ways to another member of the crew, including one scene where he utters a scary scream to show Wesley Crusher how Klingons attract members of the opposite sex. In “The Emissary,” Worf encounters an old flame. As they try to prevent a potentially violent conflict, Worf and his half-Klingon/half-human ex find some sense of closure, something that they neglected to do six years prior to the current meeting.

Of great importance to “Star Trek” lore is the introduction of the Borg, first seen in “Q Who?” The season finale of Season 1 showed various space stations destroyed by some unseen force. In this season, Q shows the crew of the Enterprise just how unprepared humans are in terms of facing the unknown.

“TNG” Season 2 appears on DVD in its original broadcast ratio of 1.33:1 (full-frame on 4:3 monitors). For the most part, the video image looks clear and stable. Colors are natural and realistic. However, there are some moments with digital specking, and some special effects shots look slightly soft and faded. Moreover, believe it or not, there are more episodes with instances of heavy grain in Season 2 than Season 1. Weird…

For the DVD releases of “TNG,” Paramount created new Dolby Digital 5.1 (English) sound mixes from the original stereo stems. I was very surprised by the high-quality of the new audio tracks. The true separation of audio effects to the five speakers immerses the viewer in the onscreen action. The bass can be quite powerful, especially when the Enterprise jumps to warp speed and booms off the screen. However, the audio quality on these discs is not as good as the quality of the Season 1 discs. The mixes aren’t as clear, sometimes sounding a bit muddled here and there or sounding less lively than they should.

Each episode’s original DD 2.0 stereo (English) track can be selected, and the bonus materials also come with DD 2.0 stereo audio. English subtitles and closed captions support the audio.

There are five newly-created featurettes to accompany Season 2. Older and more recent interviews comprise the majority of the footage in these featurettes. These extras appear on Disc 6, and they are: “Mission Overview: Year Two,” “Selected Crew Analysis: Year Two,” “Departmental Briefing–Year Two: Production,” “Departmental Briefing–Year Two: Memorable Missions,” and “Inside Starfleet Archives.” These items each run between 12 to 18 minutes. (The featurettes contain interview footage of Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the “Star Trek” franchise. Mr. Roddenberry is no longer with us, so his appearances in these mini-documentaries are poignant, touching, and most welcome.)

Obviously, “Mission Overview: Year Two” discusses the changes made to the cast as well as what the filmmakers felt that they could do with the show. “Selected Crew Analysis: Year Two” takes a closer look at how the characters are developing. The two “Departmental Briefing–Year Two” featurettes look at key episodes, one from a production (behind-the-scenes) standpoint, another from a more thematic standpoint. Finally, “Inside Starfleet Archives” is hosted by the head “Star Trek” archivist at Paramount Pictures. She has to catalogue all the props, pictures, blueprints, etc. created for anything related to “Star Trek.”

A glossy insert fold-out provides a brief note concerning Season 2’s truncated length, a mini-blueprint of the Enterprise, Airdates and Stardates for each episode, and a mini-mural of the cast members.

Entertainment Value:
I don’t think that Diana Muldaur (Dr. Pulaski) was a good choice to replace Gates McFadden (Dr. Crusher) as the Enterprise’s chief medical officer. Indeed, Ms. McFadden would return to the cast and has subsequently endeared herself as an integral member of the “Star Trek” universe. Another problem I had with Season 2 is the fact that every episode feels so self-contained in terms of an overall storyline. As much as I enjoyed glimpses of Klingon culture and other alien societies, I wanted to feel that everything would lead up to something grand. However, from one show to the next, Season 2 seems to content itself with focusing on the characters rather than on a truly great adventure. Still, the cast of “TNG” is one of the finest acting ensembles ever gathered, so I guess I don’t have much cause for complaint, do I? 🙂