Jonathan Frakes had one “huge ongoing issue” with Star Trek TNG

Jonathan Frakes is a Star Trek legend for his role as Commander Riker in The Next Generation, but he thought his series has a major flaw.

Jonathan Frakes as Riker in Star Trek TNG

Star Trek icon Jonathan Frakes is one of the franchise’s most consequential actors. Alongside the likes of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, he’s shaped the creative direction of the TV and movie series as a frequently returning director and is responsible for some of TNG’s greatest moments.

Naturally then, Frakes has a lot of opinions about Star Trek. It has, after all, defined his career and the careers of the entire Star Trek TNG cast. One of those opinions is that his Star Trek series was severely hampered by a “huge ongoing issue” that made it hard to live up to the adventures of Kirk, Spock, and Bones: there was never any tension or conflict between the main characters.

Reflecting on the lack of dramatic conflict between the Star Trek characters during a conversation with TrekMovie, he said, “That was a huge ongoing issue. That was Gene [Roddenberry]’s direction. One of the things that makes drama is conflict and he was adamant about not having conflict inside the family.”

He continued, “And I’m wondering if we didn’t miss opportunities as a result. That was an ongoing struggle with all of us as actors, and I think for the writers as well. It is hard to have everyone get along all the time and make it interesting.”

Frakes’ thoughts (and regrets) make for fascinating reading. Fans of the TNG-era will immediately think of moments where there was a conflict between the core cast of characters. There was Picard and Worf’s friction in ‘The Drumhead’ (an episode Frakes himself directed) and Riker and Shelby’s friction in ‘The Best of Both Worlds’, as well as the ongoing tension between Pulaski and Data, Riker and Worf in later seasons, Ro Laren and the rest of the crew, and other specific moments like Wesley Crusher’s fundamental disagreement with Picard in ‘Journey’s End’.

Seeing these conflicts change the dynamics between characters was always fascinating. However, for the most part, each new episode would reset the dynamics back to baseline. This was key to TNG’s episodic formula (which is one of its main strengths and also an occasional limitation) and was also vitally important to Roddenberry who wanted to portray a professional, optimistic, uptopic view of Starfleet.

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Ultimately, too, Frakes got his wish for there to be more conflict between characters in the recent Picard season 3. A central plot point, as the TNG characters reunited, focussed on disagreements between Riker and Picard on how best to save the USS Titan-A from the threat posed by Vadic. In the episode ‘Seventeen Seconds’ this reached its crescendo as Riker tells Picard “remove yourself from the bridge. You’ve just killed us all.” It’s the kind of moment fans never got to see in TNG, and allowed Frakes to bring more variety and depth to Riker, demonstrating why he was so keen to have this chance in TNG.

So, here’s the question then: would you retroactively add more character conflict and drama to TNG, if you had the chance? In our view, TNG is one of the best TV series of all time (if not the best), and tampering with its format would be risky. After all, the series was at its greatest when it acted as a platform to tell a new sci-fi story each week with a single cast of characters, and that turned out to be magic.

For more Star Trek fun, check out our guide to the whole Star Trek timeline, and see our thoughts on the best way to watch the Star Trek movies in order. Or, see what we know about the potentially upcoming Star Trek Legacy.