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WARNING: The following post contains spoilers for this week's TNG episode, "Rascals". Those not wishing to be exposed to the little rapscallions should probably hold off for now.

On the one hand, those kids could actually *act*. On the other...whose idea was this?

In other words, as a first approximation we're talking decent characters, and no plot whatsoever worth speaking of. More details (many more) after a synopsis:

Picard, Ro, Guinan, and Keiko are hurrying back from shore leave in a shuttlecraft to the Enterprise, which must answer a far-off distress signal. However, the shuttle is enveloped by a strange energy field, and while the four survive an emergency transport back to the Enterprise, they suddenly have the physical appearance and abilities of twelve-year-olds, although they are normal mentally.

While a very relaxed and playful Guinan attempts to convince Ro that their plight is not an unmitigated disaster, Picard attempts to resume command of the Enterprise as though nothing had happened. He quickly finds, however, that the reactions of those around him greatly reduce his ability to command, and on Beverly's suggestion hands command to Riker for the nonce. At the same time, Keiko has perhaps the most difficult time of all, having to help her husband and daughter deal with her changed circumstances.

Shortly after Picard considers his future options in the event that a cure is impossible, Beverly and Geordi deduce what has occurred. The field was a "molecular reversion field", which made the shuttle begin to deteriorate, and began to do the same to the crew, masking certain key genetic sequences from the transporter. Theoretically, then, sending them back through the transporter with the adult-level sequences included should cure them. However, that line of thought is temporarily put on hold when the Enterprise reaches orbit around Ligo 7, source of the distress signal.

They find no evidence of planetary distress, however; only interference. They prepare to investigate, when suddenly two Klingon birds of prey decloak and begin firing. They catch the Enterprise flatfooted, and the Enterprise is subdued without firing more than one shot. The boarders, independent Ferengi privateers in search of slave labor for mining down below, assume control of the ship in short order, although not before Riker orders computer command functions disabled.  

Picard and the other children, meanwhile, are left on board in a classroom, thought to be harmless.  They quickly work to lend what assistance they can, with Guinan and Ro moving down a service corridor to Engineering, Alexander luring a Ferengi out of the medical lab long enough to grab a couple of hyposprays, and Picard and Keiko using Alexander's remote-controlled car to sucker a Ferengi out of the transporter room, leaving them time to program the transporter and get some phasers.

With everything in place, all they need is to gain access to the command functions; and to do that, they need Riker to understand what's happening. Picard throws a tantrum at a nearby Ferengi, demanding to see Riker, his "father". The meeting goes well; although both speak in code, Riker appears to understand what they need. However, matters are complicated when DaiMon Lurin threatens Riker with the deaths of all the children unless he reactivated the computer and instructs Morta, another Ferengi, in its use.

Riker relents, but makes up explanations as he goes, confusing Morta. At the same time, he secretly gives Picard access to the command functions. The children move fast, slapping Ferengi right and left with communicators. The Ferengi, once "tagged", are beamed onto a transporter platform surrounded by a force field, and with their weapons deactivated. In short order, all but the two on the bridge are dealt with; and those two prove no difficulty for Picard and Riker to subdue themselves. With the crisis resolved, the children return to normal.

There we are; easy enough, right? Now, as usual, on with the show.

As in "Man of the People", I have to say that this was better than I'd been expecting from the preview, and I can give you three big reasons: David Tristan Birkin, Isis Jones, and Megan Parlen.  These three played the young Picard, Guinan, and Ro respectively, and all three were effective enough in their roles to make the show far more amusing and bearable than the plot would otherwise have allowed.

Birkin, almost surprisingly, might have been the weakest of those three, though I suspect that's because he's being compared to Stewart in my mind rather than to Whoopi Goldberg or Michelle Forbes. However, I was impressed with his work back when he played Rene Picard in "Family", and the two intervening years have been kind. I found bits of his performance difficult to take seriously as Picard, but that was the *point*; even Picard himself acknowledges that he simply isn't particularly believable as a twelve-year-old captain. Birkin did, however, have no difficulty voicing points I could easily hear coming from an adult Picard, and that's the key issue.  

Probably the biggest example of that would have to be during the Picard/Troi exchange in his quarters. Several of the lines he gave struck me as particularly Picardlike, including his opening riposte ("I'll have to speak to my tailor, but otherwise I'm well, thank you") and his initial reaction to what he could do at the Academy in a return trip: "and be Wesley Crusher's roommmate." I felt a real tinge of "no, definitely not an option" there, and I *like* Wes; I can only imagine how the Wes-loathing contingent felt about that.  :-)

Both Jones and Parlen were very believable as their adult counterparts as well, especially Megan Parlen as a young Ro. It probably helps that Ro's sardonic edge is something familiar to most 12-year-olds, but even so she did a marvelous job. I quite honestly felt that these *were* the characters stuck in smaller bodies, rather than kids playing dress-up at home, which is what I'd been dreading. Sure, there were difficulties here and there; for one, I think the bed-bouncing scene ran too long by at least a minute. But for the most part, these two played off each other very well, and proved that TNG can definitely get good young actors when it really tries.  (How Brian Bonsall fits into this picture is, unfortunately, something I've yet to fathom.)

Then, unfortunately, we get into the plot setting up all this and running through it; and here I'm far less impressed. I don't ask for too much from a plot most of the time, as long as the characterization is sound. But when I'm crying my disbelief to the screen every couple of minutes, that's gone too far. Let's take a chronological list:

--Point the first: there is no way anyone could *ever* convince me that a short leave party would just happen to have Picard, Ro, Keiko, and Guinan on it, with no one else. So far as we knew before this, Guinan never leaves the ship; and Keiko has a husband and very young child. I thought to myself before the show started that they'd need to justify the particular set of transformations they chose; and I don't buy their justification one bit.

--As a more general point, I find it hard to swallow that an energy field appears out of nowhere *just* when the shuttle is in it, yet has no connection to the reason the shuttle's in a hurry. A few coincidences here and there are okay, but this one's tough to take.

--Little Cliche (aka "Molly") O'Brien is *not* that old, period. "Disaster" was just over a season ago, thus she should be at the tender age of one. I had the same complaint about Alexander, but at least with him there was the vague possibility of claiming Klingons age differently. Molly is _fully human_.

--"Let's make the crew look like idiots, part one": since we already know transporter traces were available for these guys (except maybe Guinan), and since we already know genetic damage can be fixed by the magic of teleportation, I think Bev should have realized the solution about thirty seconds after the problem was pointed out; and I know I did.  

--An energy field which turns shuttle hulls into styrofoam (virtually) happens to affect humans *and* plants in such a way as to de-age them? This deterioration starts by taking away only those genetic sequences which control physical maturity, in several species at once (plants, humans, Bajorans, and Guinan's race)? I don't think so.

--"Let's make the crew look like idiots, part two": Let's see, the Enterprise breaks orbit and prepares to return fire. Next thing we know, they *still* haven't fired and have been on the receiving end of several more shots. Sheer tactical wizardry, clearly. (I also find it highly unlikely that two old Klingon ships, even souped-up, could take on a fully powered and fully armed Fed flagship.)

--"Let's make the crew look like idiots, part three": I can believe Worf being blindsided by Admiral Quinn four and a half seasons ago. I can believe Worf losing many of the battles he's lost in the past. I can believe Worf being helpless against a Borg invading the bridge. But Worf getting off the
first shot on a *Ferengi*, of all species, and _still_ getting beaten? Not unless one makes a deliberate effort to call Worf incompetent; and that's a charge I don't enjoy.

That's it for things I outright couldn't believe, but unfortunately that's only half the problem. Much of the "children's revenge" I could swallow as perhaps realistic (though only because the villains were the Ferengi; only the Pakleds would make easier targets :-) ), but I kept asking myself *why* any of this was being shown. Who, precisely, was this show designed to appeal to?

That includes Picard's method of getting to Riker. Yes, it made sense. Yes, Picard himself found it distasteful. That doesn't alter in the least the fact that *I* felt absolutely no reason to watch it, and indeed was ready to switch away if it had gone on too longer. Having the goal of making the viewers wince is, in general, a very *bad* idea unless it's for a short time and for a very good reason. This seemed neither.

What it comes down to is that, at the end, I felt like quoting the now-cliched refrain from countless old afternoon cartoons: "I'd have done it, too, if it weren't for those meddling kids." That may be fine for "Scooby-Doo", but I'd like to think that TNG strives for a somewhat higher standard.

As one might imagine, a plot like this lent itself to lots of MST3K-style taunting (as, strangely enough, have most of the plots this season). Highest on the agenda, since we *did* watch it early in the week before Election Day, were lots of Perot/Ferengi jokes. "Daimon Ross!" was heard quite often. :-) Points also were made about certain legal issues surrounding Keiko and Miles, but I think I'll just leave them unspoken; I'm sure you can figure them out.

However, the show itself had a few other snappy (or otherwise clever) bits of dialogue. Although most of them came from Ro, there's one set of lines which I'm sure was definite, and which had us reacting quite strongly. Consider: Picard's trying to get help from the kids' computer, and not getting anywhere.  He asks for a schematic, and...

"I'm sorry, but I can't do that."

Now *that* would be frightening enough, given the cinematic precedent. But then, it's followed by:

"Would you like to play a game?"

I think HAL and Joshua need to get together and sue for breach of copyright. ;-) At any rate, I was amused.

One last bit, this one on direction. Adam Nimoy doesn't seem to have his father's talent, but he did a good enough job. With only one or two small exceptions, the show seemed paced pretty well; and there were several opportunities where he played with camera angles to good effect. (Two examples would have to be the Riker/Picard scene in the turbolift and Guinan's/Ro's trip down the ladder to engineering.) Not bad; not bad at all.I just wish he'd had better material to work with.

At any rate, the show had definite moments, and was certainly better than I expected. But the biggest question running through my mind was "Why do this?", and I've yet to come across an answer.

So, the numbers:

Plot: 1. I don't think so.
Plot Handling: 8. Fairly snappy and well paced, though.
Characterization: 6. Above average for the three big stars, and the rest weren't too bad, although the Ferengi were unpleasant.

TOTAL: 5. I'm giving a lot more of those than I used to; it doesn't bode well.

NEXT WEEK:

The Wild West comes to the final frontier.  

Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
BITNET:  tlynch@citjulie
INTERNET:  tly...@juliet.caltech.edu
UUCP:  ...!ucbvax!tlynch%juliet.caltech....@hamlet.caltech.edu
"I believe you're in my chair."
-- Copyright 1992, Timothy W. Lynch.  All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...

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