Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Shades of Gray: An Aberration

TNG is a pretty amazing show. Granted, it took a couple seasons to really find its own voice and figure out its characters but, on the whole, it was steadily quite good. If you were watching the show when it first aired, you would've been chugging along in 1987 for season one. You'd have thought, "Woah! This new Trek is totally tubular'!" (My 80's slang may be a bit off there) You would've waited all summer for Season 2 and when it got here, with Guinan and the Borg and episodes like "Measure of a Man" and "Elementary Dear Data," you would've loved it even more. And then May of 1988 would've rolled around and you would eagerly await the Season 2 finale, "Shades of Gray." And, when it aired, you'd have said, "Oh harsh, man. That episode was totally bogus. Gag me with a spoon." (I'll stop now I promise.)

"Shades of Gray" is a clip show. They've only got two seasons under their belt and they show clips of Riker's memories. I feel like that's as much as needs to be said about the content of the episode.

The point is: "Shades of Gray" is a seemingly random, terrible episode. The fact that it's the season finale only makes everything worse. It's as if the fine people over at Paramount didn't even want viewers to come back for Season 3. It's not just me that thinks this. "Shades of Gray" is widely considered the worst episode of the Trek franchise and, every time I get a friend into TNG, they inevitably come to me a couple months or weeks in and say, "Hey, what's up with the Season 2 finale?"

Well, here's the answer: it's not entirely clear.

According to Wikipedia, "Shades of Gray" is the product of the 1988 Writer's Strike. Yes, the very same strike that gave writers expanded creative rights and gave viewers epic late night bits like Letterman's "Hal Gurney's Late Night Time Wasters" gave Trek fans a totally lame season finale by virtue of the fact that there were no writers to pen the episode.

According to Memory Alpha, however, which quotes the director and writers who were actually stuck with this one, "Shades of Gray" was a bargain the creatives had to strike with Paramount thanks to the overrun budget for episodes like, "Elementary Dear Data" and "Q Who?" So basically, Paramount said, "You spent too much money. For your last episode, don't spend any money." Star Trek already had a small budget so that decision pretty much relegated them to a clip show. 

Apparently the original idea for this episode had Geordi and Data running around in an alien forest while the trees and creatures tried to attack them. I can see how Paramount would've balked at the figures for an episode like that but I can't see how anyone could possibly think a clip-show featuring a mere two seasons of Riker's memories would be anything anyone would want to watch. It should have been (and was originally supposed to be) a bottle episode. 

Just thinking about what could've gone in place of "Shades of Gray" really makes me sad that we missed out on what might have been a potentially great episode of Star Trek. Bottle episodes are often some of the most original, inventive episodes and I imagine TNG would've come up with something great. Just look at what TOS did with an even smaller budget and even less network support. They had THREE bottle episodes: "Tholian Web," "Balance of Terror," and, "Journey to Babel" all of which were far out, man. 


  1. Except they could have just cycled through the Minuet scenes over and over and over again, spliced with Riker hooked up to his head gear and grimacing, and it would have been so terrible, it verged on brilliance.

    1. They did have an entire segment called (in my notes) "Riker: Lady's Man For All Seasons."

  2. Yes to all. But I'm going to take issue with the "widely held" part of the worst episode if only because of VOY's "Threshold." Ugh.

    1. Yes. "Threshold" is something even the characters try to forget--seeing as how they never speak of it again. I can't wait to get around to that one.

  3. "Threshold" is pretty damned awful, but so is DS9's "If Wishes Were Horses". Unwatchable. Blah
    Up until Paris turns into a lizard, "Threshold" is bearable. "Shades of Grey" I seem to have blocked. I don't remember it, and that's never a good sign. lol

  4. This was so awful, and so early on. This could have been the death knell- thankfully, it was just rock bottom, and everything after was a vast improvement! The writer's strike makes sense- I almost feel better about it after considering that bit of info. How lame, though, for the season finale. When you look at every other season-ending episode...this one is just beyond ridiculous.


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