Thirty years ago, “Star Trek” proved it wasn’t just a story about Kirk and Spock; it was a story universe rich with possibilities, including a whole new cast of characters.
Ranking the men and women of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” is a far more brutal task than initially anticipated because, as the series kept telling us the whole time, this wasn’t a crew. This was a family. That said, let’s be honest. Family might inspire love on an equal playing field, but when it comes to actually spending time with people, favorites do emerge.
This is strictly limited to those who served as actual crew members (sorry, Q and Lwaxana Troi) because one of the best things about “Trek’s” approach to a military structure is how it still allows the show to celebrate individual personalities. Because as much fun as space travel is, a “Trek” series lives or dies by its characters.
17. Dr. Katherine Pulaski
For the record, this is not actor Diana Muldaur’s fault. When Gates McFadden left “Next Generation” at the end of Season 1 (for a variety of complicated reasons), the ship needed a new doctor. But while the idea of bringing in a new female character over the age of 40 (Pulaski dated Riker’s dad once!) was conceptually a fresh approach for the genre — hell, for television in general — Dr. Pulaski never gelled with the rest of the crew, and McFadden’s return in Season 3 was a welcome relief.
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16. Lieutenant Reginald Barclay
On a ship full of humanity’s best, Barclay was decidedly flawed. In fact, he was set up as essentially a parody of nerd culture (which is pretty rude, considering that “Next Generation” featured a passionate, perhaps even “nerdy” fanbase). More importantly, he caused way more problems than he solved and was never much of a sympathetic character despite his lighter moments.
15. Tasha Yar
A character inspired by Vasquez (Jeanette Goldberg) from James Cameron’s “Aliens,” Yar was the ship’s muscle for much of the first season… until Denise Crosby decided to leave the show. She was essentially replaced by Worf in this regard, which could be seen as an improvement, except that there could always be more badass women in science fiction, especially on “Trek.”
14. Keiko O’Brien
A botanist we first meet as she’s about to marry Miles O’Brien (an in media res sort of move that we have a lot of respect for), Keiko was an interesting example of how the show was able to build a world beyond each week’s missions.
13. Miles O’Brien
Colm Meaney made semi-regular appearances for six seasons of “Next Generation” before becoming a regular on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.” While on that show, the character’s full potential was truly revealed. But while on “TNG” O’Brien had some charming moments, there’s a reason why one of the best webcomics ever made is based on the ennui that he must have experienced, humbly operating that transporter pad.
12. Ensign Ro Laren
This tough-as-nails Bajoran officer was our initial introduction to the Bajor-Cardassian conflict, which would be a fundamental foundation of “DS9.” Unfortunately, because Michelle Forbes was infamously skittish about signing up for ongoing series during the ’90s, Ro never got the character development enjoyed by other folk. That said, the episode “Rascals,” where she learned how to have fun as a child was… um. Fun.
11. Ensign Alyssa Ogawa
A very minor character, in theory, but the show’s erstwhile nurse made 16 appearances during the show’s run and had her own arc, with a romantic life that eventually led to her becoming a mother. Nurse Ogawa was always a pleasant presence and much appreciated.
10. Wesley Crusher
Wesley was, um, a polarizing figure for sci-fi fans at the time, given the fact that as a teen genius who was perhaps rightly labeled as a Marty Sue, he could be a bit grating. But Wesley was also a nice, decent kid, and “TNG” showcased him best by letting that side peek out. The episode where he makes out with Ashley Judd will always be a classic.
9. Deanna Troi
Playing an “empath” is an odd requirement for an actor, and Troi had to deal with a lot of odd storylines. But she occasionally got some meat to chew into, especially given the fact that her rank as a Starfleet officer meant that she was technically more integrated into the military aspects of the series than expected. And she wore some fun jumpsuits! Troi was great.