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Teaching an old dog some new tricks

The great Patrick Stewart gets himself a schooling.

What is the reason that Patrick Stewart didn’t like working with Jonathan Frakes on set during his time on Star Trek: The Next Generation?
It wasn’t just Frakes. Patrick Stewart had problems with everybody in the cast at one point or another.

When he first started working in TNG, Stewart felt like an outsider and didn’t really expect the show to last; so, he conducted himself in a strictly professional manner and didn’t really bond with any of the TNG cast, including Frakes. Stewart was rather appalled, actually, that the younger castmembers didn’t seem as focused and serious about the job as he was. It irritated him immensely that Jonathan Frakes and Brent Spiner and the others frequently broke character and joked and pranked on the set. To the theatre-trained Stewart, this behavior was unacceptable.

By the end of the first season, however, when he saw the growing fan base and realized that this show with its undisciplined cast was going to work and was going to last, Stewart relaxed and began to embrace the mischievous TNG group, even enjoying and taking part in the on-set hijinx that persisted all day and into night-time shoots.

Little did the others suspect that Stewart’s unleashed humor could be quite barbed and insulting, as when he loudly criticized the shallowness of the Deanna Troi character and called actress Marina Sirtis a “stupid cow” to her face…which was a mistake. Sirtis was already insecure (thinking they hired her only for her ample cleavage) and she, also, felt her role was one-dimensional, always parroting the insipid line “Captain, they’re hiding something.”

His mean wisecrack hit a nerve, and Sirtis angrily jumped up in Stewart’s face and read him the riot act in front of everyone on the set – an outburst that ironically brought the two (and the whole cast) closer. They all had their conflicts with Stewart, and he with them, and the airing of grievances was cathartic, I think, helping to fuse them into one of the great ensemble casts in television history.

Jonathan Frakes and Brent Spiner became among Stewart’s closest friends on TNG and in real life; they learned much from him regarding stage discipline, and he learned much from them about letting loose and having fun. In fact, by the time TNG ended in 1994, Frakes said that Stewart was the silliest one on the set.

The pic at the end of the post, of Riker and Picard enjoying an on-set laugh together, is totally priceless. Great show, great cast, great writing, great acting; for my money as a lifelong Star Trek fan, ST-TNG was and always will be far and away the best of the entire franchise, including the movies.

After a rocky, barely-mediocre first season, then a mostly-agonizing second season with the insufferable CMO Pulaski (played by Diana Muldaur, an alumnus of ST-TOS) inexplicably supplanting the winsome and eminently likable Dr Beverly Crusher, the show really found its footing with Season Three, and from there it was off and running. Episodes such as The Inner Light; The Defector; Yesterday’s Enterprise; Q Who?Relics, wherein James Doohan reprises his TOS role as Engineering Officer Montgomery Scott; the taut, exquisitely gripping Borg cliffhanger; Darmok; these and many more are solid-gold classics of the sci-fi-on-TV pantheon. The two-part finale of the series, All Good Things, can to this very day make me puddle up at the end, as many times as I’ve seen it. This, from S3’s Deja Q, remains one of my verymost favorite scenes of all, from ST-TNG or anything else:

“You weren’t like that before the beard”—now THAT’S good squishy right there. Then, when Data erupts into his Q-granted fit of uncontrollable laughter, Brent Spiner gives a crash-course in capital-A Acting that’s as fine as has ever been presented anywhere, in any timeline or universe. Note also gifted actor John de Lancie’s subtle, ever-so-slight eyebrow-lift just before his Q character departs the Enterprise D’s bridge forever—another display of acting prowess, all the more noteworthy for its understated nonchalance.

Yes, yes, Guinan was annoying as all hell, albeit far less so than that never-to-be-sufficiently-damned Mary Sue asswart, Wesley Crusher, Galactic Wonder Boy™. But still.

I can only say again: this Quora Digest email list I somehow ended up on is a real gem. I really don’t recall signing up for the thing myself, but I owe a debt of gratitude to whoever must have done it for me.

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