Star Trek: The Next Generation: Shades of Gray   Rewatch 
September 14, 2020 3:16 AM - Season 2, Episode 22 - Subscribe

Riker faces his deadliest possible foe: an alien infection that feeds off of his most carnal memories. [Season finale; CW: clip show]

There are some memories even Memory Alpha would like to erase:

• This episode was written to save time and money as a result of budget overruns earlier in the season. It was shot in only three days, while most take at least a week. Director Rob Bowman commented, "It was Paramount saying, 'We gave you more money for "Elementary, Dear Data" and the Borg show. Now do us a favor and give us a three-day show.' So that's what you do. It's an accepted part of the medium."

• Production assistant Eric A. Stillwell was given the task of searching through tapes to come up with scenes representing Riker's memories. As a joke, he wanted the installment to be called "Riker's Brain". Stillwell almost persuaded the other production staffers to call it that prior to the episode being named "Shades of Gray", which Stillwell also devised. He called it that "because I decided it was a really bizarre episode that wasn't black or white; it was just shades of gray."

• This episode is thought to be one of the worst ever made. Maurice Hurley, who co-wrote the episode, commented, "Piece of shit. It was supposed to be a bottle show. Terrible, just terrible, and a way to save some money. I was on the way out the door." In 2012, Peter Lauritson recalled the episode, saying "It was just… we learned from that. I think, probably the worst we ever did. It was like 'Never again.' 'Shades'… I don't even want to remember it." Likewise, David Livingston also commented "It's very cheesy and the fans didn't like it. We didn't like doing it, but Paramount said 'Hey, you gotta save us some money.'" Ronald D. Moore called it "embarrassing", listing it along with "Up The Long Ladder" as the worst episodes in the series.

• This episode marks the final appearance of Diana Muldaur in the series. The Pulaski character was ultimately deemed to have been a failed experiment. Rick Berman commented, "That never quite worked [....] The character of Doctor Pulaski just never really quite solidified." Not only did the TNG staffers turn down the offer of renewing Diana Muldaur's contract for TNG Season 3 but Muldaur herself wasn't really interested in reprising the role of Pulaski either, as she had found that the mythos of TNG was such a technology-based setting with little focus, compared to TOS, on character.

And some general season 2 points of note:

• During the second season, Michael Dorn, Lorine Mendell, James G. Becker, and Dexter Clay reprised their Trek roles for the series finale of the Paramount Pictures television series Webster, titled "Webtrek". In this episode, Webster, played by Emmanuel Lewis, was transported aboard the Enterprise-D through his video game joystick which was fixed by the Enterprise-D crew at the end of the episode.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier [FF previously —ed.] was filmed and released during the run of season 2. It was the first time a Star Trek feature film was shot simultaneously with a television series on adjoining sound stages. The same was true of every subsequent Star Trek film up to and including Star Trek Nemesis.

"I hope these are the right coordinates. Just kidding, doctor. I know how much you love the transporter."
"About as much as I love comical transporter chiefs."
- Chief O'Brien and Dr. Pulaski

"If you drop a hammer on your foot, it's hardly useful to get mad at the hammer."
- Riker, explaining to Picard his lack of anger on his current situation

"Deanna, facing death is the ultimate test of character. I don't want to die but if I have to do, I'd like to do it with a little pride."
- Riker

Poster's Log:
Say, ya know, this episode reminds me of that time on the blue when The World Famous speculated about the upcoming Picard show by saying…
"I, for one, am hoping the whole series is episode after episode of Shades of Grey, where Picard falls while farming in the first episode and the rest of the series is him on a six bay table strapped into a flashback device while we all watch a TNG clip show."

Or the time Halloween Jack vocally defended the early days of Discovery by flashing back to the fact that the first two seasons of TNG didn't have all that many strong episodes.

Or how about that time MetaFilter discussed Ars Technica's list of their least favorite TNG episodes and Sys Rq shared the 11 TNG episodes rated at or below 6/10 on IMDb, and seven of them were from the first two seasons.

…Friends, things really do improve dramatically in season 3.

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
And there's one "Greatest Gen" episode I don't think we'll ever forget! I sure won't…they stole my gag! ;)
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (21 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
They don't really do clip shows in modern TV series, do they? And if they do, it's to make fun of the trope, like the Community one where they flashed back to scenes that were entirely new to the audience.

I don't miss this trope.
posted by wabbittwax at 4:47 AM on September 14, 2020

This episode has one redeeming gag at the very end of the show that I'd like to state for the record.
PULASKI: Lie still. I have a few dozen tests to run first.
RIKER: Why? I feel fine.
PULASKI: There may be some residual memory loss. I just want to be sure you still know who you are.
RIKER: Of course I know who I am. I'm Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the USS Enterprise.
PICARD: I'm delighted that you're feeling better, Captain. The Admiral and I were worried about you.
DATA: Captain, I do not believe you have the authority to promote me to the rank of Admiral.
posted by Servo5678 at 5:40 AM on September 14, 2020 [7 favorites]

It’s blowing my mind that the series finale of a formerly popular six-season TV show like Webster was both a clip show AND a crossover episode.
posted by Ian A.T. at 6:03 AM on September 14, 2020 [3 favorites]

Or the time Halloween Jack vocally defended the early days of Discovery by flashing back to the fact that the first two seasons of TNG didn't have all that many strong episodes.

Why, I... no, it's a fair cop, and I'll not only stand by it, but even extend that defense to the first two seasons of this show. If this arguably marks the end of the end of the beginning of TNG, as it were (next ep has Beverly Crusher back and new uniforms, at least for the main cast), it might be worth doing a mini-recap, even if they didn't really have enough eps in the can to do a clip show. (About which: was anyone else waiting for the real virus-killing memory to be Riker fighting his dad? Just me? Oh, well.) I will give TNG credit for simply daring to exist when it was not only following TOS, but coming on the heels of STIV, which was at that point the most successful of the Trek movies. It took some daring not only to follow that act, but to do so by gutting and doing a from-the-studs-up reworking of the basic premise, and even with the already-much-discussed problems (particularly Roddenberry"s Box, and not just the stories that it blocked, but the ones that it let through), it made a significant amount of progress in extending and enriching the canon. (Certainly more so than STV.) And there was significant pushback from TOS fans on Usenet who didn't understand why they didn't just do a series with the TOS cast (whether any, or enough, of the TOS cast wanted to do a weekly show again wasn't brought up). They gutted it out and got through it, even if it meant doing a clip show. Huffy Puffy is correct--some eps in S3 are better than others, to put it mildly--but it still feels like it's getting more into a groove now.

And I'll even put in a good word for Pulaski, who was given the significant (and maybe character-killing) disadvantage of being tagged as a Data-hater early on, but had some pretty good character moments during this season. At least Beverly Crusher wasn't simply ignored--and even shows up in some of the clips here--and her absence is addressed next ep, but I'm not sure that Pulaski even ever gets mentioned in future episodes; she doesn't appear in the series finale "All Good Things..." since the "flashback" part of that episode happens well before her character shows up. Not giving departing characters good send-offs will unfortunately be a bit of a pattern for this franchise.

Other than that, all I can say is, dang, someone beat me to the Community fake clip show ep, although I can still point out that they did it twice.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:00 AM on September 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

It’s blowing my mind that the series finale of a formerly popular six-season TV show like Webster was both a clip show AND a crossover episode.

It's speculated that the last Webster was contractually obligated but they didn't have the full cast available. There was some free time on the TNG set though, so...
I’m convinced “Webtrek” only exists because the producers needed an additional episode to meet their contractual obligations, and so Emmanuel Lewis and a crew of maybe five people walked across the Paramount lot and knocked something out in the space of an afternoon. My theory is bolstered by how this episode brings the total number of Webster episodes to exactly 150, which can’t be a coincidence.
posted by Servo5678 at 7:03 AM on September 14, 2020 [3 favorites]

I hadn't seen this in many, many years. It's not that bad, really. I mean, it's pretty bland in the way that bad Trek can be. But Riker and Deanna have some good moments, or at least okay moments. Or maybe those were flashbacks, hmm. Anyway, I don't think it's nearly the worst episode, probably not in my bottom ten. It's a clip show so it's embarassing, a relic of shitty tv production practices. Nowadays they do proper bottle episodes and use them as ways to do deep character development and/or emmy bait.

For what it's worth, I remember Family Ties seemed to do like 6 or 8 clip shows a year (not checking the records on this memory), and I liked them. Very comforting.
posted by skewed at 7:29 AM on September 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

Whenever I watch this episode, I'm struck by two things:
1) there's more original material than I remember.
2) the 'evil plant sfx' are extremely silly.

Cards of the episode from the Star Trek CCG:
Not really any, but, what the heck, let's clear out the key cards from season 1 that we missed. Clip show, meet clip post.
Admiral McCoy was a promo card, Tasha Yar was not.

Is it the end of the universe? Step through the Alternate Universe Door, an auto-include for many years, so you could play cards with the 'AU' icon. Even better if you drew them with the also nearly ubiquitous The Traveler: Transcendence.

Unlikely as it seems, you can travel the galaxy (slowly) with the Edo gods.

Due to a technicality, Jean Luc Picard was only the 'matching commander' of the USS Stargazer for a good while.

Q's Tent let you include a side-board in your main deck, more or less. Nearly every deck would use this! Similarly, Klingon players benefitted from K'chiQ. Canny players might retrieve Q's offerings from a Betazoid Gift Box.

Spacedoor has gametext on two sides, 10 and 01 have two characters on one personnel card.

If Korris and Konmel are killed why score points passively when you can get more by yelling?

For some reason Paul Rice can call off the Echo Papa 607. Why make jokes when I can just say to read the text by the copyright notice on Paul's card? This holographic captain also commands a ship which only exists as CGI.

Armus will randomly kill your crew, a Sticky Situation , which also kinda sucks.
posted by StarkRoads at 8:10 AM on September 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

My wife and I are Re-watching TNG together. Well, neither of us have actually watched it end-to-end before, so, more like filling-in-the-gaps. I have an unfortunate tendency to fall asleep while watching TV — used to drive me crazy when my dad did this (and started snoring!) but I guess it’s an inherited behaviour pattern. My wife said that Sleeping-me probably had the better experience this time around.
posted by Alterscape at 8:14 AM on September 14, 2020

RIKER: My desires are... unconventional.
TROI: So show me.

This clinches it for me: I <3 bad trek. This was so good/awful. I love how in the first few minutes Riker even petulantly refuses to beam up, with this exhausted "we're not really going to go through with this, are we?" expression on his face all the while. It's not just a clip show, either: it's the *worst* clip show. Clips of Riker and Worf during their excellent brawl on the holodeck? Nah. How about that incredibly embarrassing and deeply unsexy hookup in "Up the Long Ladder"? Yes, the whole scene, please! Count me in as one of those who was surprised that Riker's dad didn't make an appearance. The last five minutes should have just been a fast-cut montage of his dad's sneering face and starships exploding followed by Pulaski resignedly sighing, "well, THAT scared it off."

(Looking forward to getting to the good stuff!)
posted by phooky at 8:15 AM on September 14, 2020 [5 favorites]

What is there to say about this episode that hasn't been already said? By us. In previous episode threads.
posted by ckape at 9:09 AM on September 14, 2020 [4 favorites]

Clip shows make no sense in this age of having every episode available instantly on streaming but they were such a staple of 80s TV that it would be weird if TNG didn't have one. Unfortunately, Shades of Grey is just a bad script on top of a bad idea.
posted by AndrewStephens at 10:15 AM on September 14, 2020

The key to having a successful clip show is to have it break the fourth wall and be hosted by a minor celebrity/B-lister like Mr. Troy McClure.
posted by Fukiyama at 10:38 AM on September 14, 2020 [3 favorites]

[Alexander runs into living room with a thick, dusty album]
ALEXANDER: Dad! Dad, what's this?
WORF: [blows dust off cover] Why, it's my album of 90's clip shows! I haven't seen this thing for years.
ALEXANDER: Dad, what's a clip show?
WORF: Well, son, I think it's simplest just to show you. [Opening album] See here, here's the very first Simpson's clip show, from 1993! [Clip from Simpsons clip show plays]
ALEXANDER: And what's that?
WORF: We called that one "Family Ties". Why, I remember... [Hazy transition to clips from Family Ties]
ALEXANDER: And look, there's a "Star Trek" one! Are you in this one?
WORF [slamming book shut]: NO.
posted by phooky at 10:56 AM on September 14, 2020 [9 favorites]

The only real defense of clip shows I've heard (other than being cheap to produce) is that for shows with long-running narratives they can recap storylines to catch up new and casual viewers. Of course, despite a few attempted arcs, TNG is mostly episodic, and there's not really any attempt to tie the clips together into a narrative. In fact on western television clip shows have declined just as continuing storylines have become more common. ( I think the person I heard this defense from watched a lot of anime, where I suppose clip shows may have been used to better effect)

The most absurd clip show I can think of is the Clerks:TAS one, which was the second episode of the show (and the last episode aired originally), which included clips from the first episode, earlier in the 2nd episode, and a few made up clips. But, it was made more absurd by executive meddling, which resulted in the intended first episode getting replaced with a different one, so almost all of the clips were things that the viewers couldn't have seen before.
posted by ckape at 10:57 AM on September 14, 2020

I caught the last half of this episode on one of the retro tv channels a couple days ago. I’d never seen it before so the first couple minutes were, wait what episode is this? And then when it switched to yet another clip, I assumed that they’d run out of time/money to write and film a proper episode because I remember reading original series was always playing catch up to the production schedule. Season finale though, that’s just embarrassing.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 11:48 AM on September 14, 2020

Dumb as hell, but ████ █ █████ █████████ woof. Like, wow. But hey, they can only get better from here. Riker is peak Riker, I agree with all the criticisms of this episode, it really doesn’t make any sense ███ █████ ██ ███ ██ what the fuck?

posted by rodlymight at 5:46 PM on September 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

What is there to say about this episode that hasn't been already said? By us. In previous episode threads.

A really ambitious comment here would include a dozen or fifteen links to pertinent comments mefites have made on the previous 46 episodes.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:25 PM on September 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

"Good news, Frakes, you're getting a feature episode."


"In fact, you already made most of it."

posted by StarkRoads at 10:24 PM on September 14, 2020 [5 favorites]

StarkRoads comment reminds me of David Gerrold's story back during TOS of telling Shatner that he was writing a script where Kirk lost his voice in the teaser and didn't get it back till the tag.
posted by wittgenstein at 7:06 PM on September 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

I found a nice thing to say about Shades of Gray! It's one of very few episodes where Troi's empathic powers are essential to resolving the crisis. Troi's awareness of Riker's emotional state gives Pulaski the information she needs to treat Riker.

And since the budget saved by making this turd gave us Q Who and Elementary My Dear Data, then on the balance I think the show came out ahead.
posted by Banknote of the year at 6:49 PM on February 26, 2023 [1 favorite]

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