Star Trek: The Next Generation, syndicated
A.V. Club; Hulu; IMDb; official website; Retro Junk; Space; TV.com; TV Tropes; Wikipedia
For more links see Star Trek links.
This was the first (live-action) spin-off series of Star Trek, and I would say my second favorite Star Trek series so far (after DS9). It begins in 2364, nearly 100 years after the original series. The special effects and other production values were certainly all a lot better than the old series, naturally. The stories were often more complex, perhaps more subtle, and of course reflect the times in which they were written, as did those of the original series. But despite the changes in the world, and in the amount of money and technical resources available 20 after the original series was made, the fundamental concepts of the Star Trek universe remained... fundamentally unchanged. It would still strive to show mankind's future in a positive light. And of course the opening narration remained unchanged (except for changing "no man" to "no one," a most welcome change, which was actually made, I believe, in the first Star Trek movie; or one of them, anyway- I need to watch them all again). But the theme music after the narration was quite different from that of the original series. Rather a grander orchestral piece, a reworked version of the theme music from Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
I also felt that the characters were generally more fully realized, developed, explored. After all, the series lasted 7 years, rather than the original series' 3 years (the next two series in the franchise would also last 7 years). So, there was more time to get to know them all. The captain of the new Enterprise was Jean-Luc Picard, who was more diplomatic than the action-oriented Kirk. The first officer was William "Number One" Riker (who took up Kirk's mantle as a ladies' man, though he was but a pale imitation of the master). The chief medical officer was Dr. Beverly Crusher. The chief science officer was Data, an android who longed to become human. The ship's counselor (this is, after all, a more touch-feely era) was the empathic half human/half Betazoid Deanna Troi. The original chief security officer (because not all problems could be solved with diplomacy or a visit to the shrink) was Tasha Yar, though she was killed around the end of the first season. The tactical officer, Worf (a Klingon raised by humans), became security chief after that. The chief engineer was Geordi La Forge (who was blind, but whose VISOR allowed him to see pretty much every way imaginable except normally). Well, actually, in the first season, the chief engineer was a little-remembered fellow named Argyle, who only appeared in a couple of episodes.
Another major character was Wesley Crusher, Beverly's teenaged son. (Beverly's husband, Jack, had died some time prior to the start of the series, and was an old friend of Picard's; there would in the course of the series sometimes be the hint of a possibility of romance between Picard and Dr. Crusher, but it was too complicated.) Wes himself was beyond genius, though many fans found him annoying. Personally, he was one of my favorite characters, probably because I was around his age at the time of the series. Anyway, He eventually went to Starfleet Academy, but later dropped out when he realized it wasn't what he wanted to do with his life, and instead found a... stranger calling.
Other characters included Dr. Katherine Pulaski, who replaced Crusher as chief medical officer just for the second season; Ro Laren, a Bajoran who had been kicked out of Starfleet, later readmitted, and later left to join the Maquis; transporter chief CPO Miles O'Brien; botanist/schoolteacher Keiko Ishikawa, who eventually married O'Brien and had a couple kids with him (daughter Molly was born in this series); Alexander Rozhenko, Worf's son (a quarter human, he spent some time on Enterprise, but was later sent to live with Worf's adoptive parents on Earth; his mother, who we saw in a couple of episodes, was a half Klingon/half human named K'Ehleyr; Lwaxana Troi, Deanna's meddlesome mother (and full Betazoid telepath, played by Majel Barrett, wife of series creator Gene Roddenberry, she also played Nurse Chapel in the original series), who visited occasionally; Reginald Barclay, a clever if somewhat troubled engineer; and of course we mustn't forget Guinan, the wise and somewhat mysterious El-Aurian bartender (played by Whoopi Goldberg). Oh, and Data's evil twin, Lore, occasionally showed up to make trouble. No doubt I'm forgetting any number of important recurring characters, but that should do for now.
Anyway, in addition to continuing the story of the Federation, the new starship Enterprise (NCC-1701-D, the fifth ship in the Enterprise lineage that began with the original series' starship) continued the tradition of dealing with realistic issues in fantastic settings. This series also introduced many new aliens and ideas, friends and enemies... the Q Continuum (one Q in particular), the Borg Collective (greatest threat to the Federation ever), the Ferengi... the Klingon-Federation Alliance... new technology such as holodecks... and on and on and on... Everything ultimately tied together very well, all the history and politics, conflicts internal and external, etc....
Of course, TNG also began the new era of Star Trek, paving the way for subsequent series. It also spawned several movies, which I will eventually write up reviews of here. I'd like to say more, but for the moment that's all I've got.... Oh yeah, I also meant to mention my fanfic character, Jax DeSabel. He spent his early teens on the Enterprise, where he was a friend and rival of Wes Crusher's. Though later he'd spend some time as an engineer on Deep Space Nine, after graduating from Starfleet Academy....