There have been many great shows in recent years, such as Breaking Bad and Succession, leading many pundits to declare that we have been living in the Golden Age of Television. While we’ve certainly been spoiled for television options in recent years, we can’t help but feel like the single best moment of television happened decades ago.
On June 18, 1990, fans got to see the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Best of Both Worlds, Part 1.” Not only was it TV’s perfect moment, but as our video below explains, it’s the perfect way to bring your friends and family into the Star Trek fandom.
Part of what makes this Star Trek: The Next Generation episode so great is that it featured the ultimate fight against the cybernetic race known as The Borg. They would later be the Big Bads behind everything from TNG’s best movie to the final season of Star Trek: Picard, but these aliens were never quite as scary as they were in “The Best of Both Worlds.”
That’s because the villains manage to kidnap and assimilate Captain Picard into a Borg, leading the newly minted Captain Riker to make an impossible decision: the Enterprise must destroy the Borg Cube with Picard on it to save the Federation.
Fans at the time had to endure a long summer in which they nervously wondered if the show was going to kill off Captain Picard.
These days, it’s possible to simply binge all of Star Trek: The Next Generation and skip to the follow-up episode in which the Enterprise manages to defeat the Borg another way after their first plan fizzles out, and after he is rescued, Captain Picard is restored to active duty. All’s well that end’s well, right?
But to understand why this remains the best TV moment of all time, you need to understand how different the television landscape was back in 1990.
First of all, with no way to just binge-watch all of Star Trek: The Next Generation, fans at the time had to endure a long summer in which they nervously wondered if the show was going to kill off Captain Picard. This episode seems to support that conclusion by having Commander Riker temporarily promoted to Captain and firebrand Borg expert Commander Shelby temporarily promoted to First Officer.
Throw in Riker’s anxious admission to Counselor Troi that he feels his career has stalled out because he keeps turning down promotions and it truly seemed we were about to get a new status quo with Picard dead and Riker in charge.
Star Trek would never be as good as it was on that fateful day in 1990, and television itself would never reach this peak quality ever again.
Another vital part of what made this television moment so captivating was that Star Trek: The Next Generation audiences mostly didn’t have access to the internet, and information about actors’ contracts was far harder to obtain.
These days, there is no real surprise about whether someone is coming back to a show because we’ll know whether or not they renewed their contract months in advance. However, most fans in 1990 had no way of knowing about Patrick Stewart’s contract status, and the fact that the show had already permanently killed one character (Tasha Yar) and temporarily replaced another (Dr. Crusher), it seemed like nobody was safe.
Adding to all of this was the fact that Star Trek: The Next Generation was insanely popular: its Nielsen ratings peaked at 11.50 million, and it still had a respectable 9.78 million for the final season, and the series finale ended up being the number two show the week that it aired. Even discounting Nielsen ratings, the simple truth is that the show picked up a minimum of half a million new fans per year from 1988 all the way to its final year in 1992.
These aliens were never quite as scary as they were in “The Best of Both Worlds.”
This turned Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Best of Both Worlds, Part 1” into a perfect storm for audiences because the show had millions of fans around the world who had no way of knowing whether Captain Picard would die, whether Commander Riker would get the big chair, and whether we’d be putting up with Commander Shelby’s smugness for the next few years. This combo of world-class storytelling, a growing fan base, and audience uncertainty about the future made this a watershed moment for the Paramount franchise.
Star Trek would never be as good as it was on that fateful day in 1990, and television itself would never reach this peak quality ever again. The best of Trek and the best of television itself? Maybe that’s the real reason the episode is called “The Best of Both Worlds”