Shut up, Wesley: The annoying (and entertaining) kids of Star Trek

We kinda think of this as part of what could be called TVWriter™’s Truer Words Were Never Spoken Department:

Not really what this post's about but kinda close, no?
Not really what this post’s about but kinda close, no?

by Andrew Cunningham

Anyone who has spent any time with the various Star Trek TV series has had a discussion (or, more likely, an argument) about which of the series’ captains is the best (Kirk, obviously). More enthusiastic fans will even extend that to other character archetypes—who’s the best first officer? The best doctor? The best chief engineer? The best non-human-who-gradually-discovers-his-or-her-own humanity? These characters exist across just about every one of the franchise’s five TV shows, which makes it easy to compare and contrast.

Re-watching “Rascals” for our list of least-favorite The Next Generation episodes brought to mind another kind of Star Trek character: the kid. TNG and its successors were happy to sprinkle the occasional child in with the rest of the crew, but the writers rarely seemed to know what to do with children and adolescents on shows that were mostly about adults putting themselves in adult situations. After some exhaustive research, we have compiled a list of the most prominent recurringStar Trek kids to see what made them tick—we wouldn’t take all these characters with us on our next five-year mission, but we wouldn’t shoot them out the airlock either.

Wesley Crusher

The Next Generation

Oh, Wesley. Wesley, Wesley, Wesley. Wesley. I’m glad that Wil Wheaton has become a sort of nerd elder statesman in recent years, because no human being deserves to be remembered best for playing Wesley Crusher. He’s one of the most problematic characters in the Trek pantheon, though it was mostly the writers’ fault.

The TNG writers’ bible describes him as a standard-issue boy genius, a sort of Doogie-Howser-in-space. On screen, Wesley was an insufferable know-it-all who was difficult to identify with and constantly underfoot. One week he’s putting everyone in danger by hanging out with some weird interdimensional super-being, the next he’s putting everyone in danger by letting nanobots loose on the ship. One time he got the death penalty on some vacation planet. The best Trek episodes are generally either high-stakes adventure tales, touching stories about humanity that just happen to be set in space, or plots that use futuristic technology to comment on modern-day problems. Wesley-centric episodes very rarely draw from any of those wells.

On some level, the writers must have felt this. As TNG continued its run, it started to shed things that weren’t working, a list that included Counselor Troi’s accent, Riker’s clean-shaven face, and Wesley-heavy plots. Wesley spent most of the rest of his time on the show perched at the helm of theEnterprise, parroting sensor readings and trying not to violate the Prime Directive. Wheaton will freely admit that this left him bored and frustrated, and by the time he left the show in its fourth season he wasn’t exactly giving the show his all, even when his character had something to do.

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Yeah, this pic's even further offtopic. But adorable, yes?
Yeah, this pic’s even further offtopic. But adorable, yes?