|This poster was the first TNG memorabilia I owned.|
Like, well, pretty much everyone, right off the bat, I quickly became enamored with two characters, in particular. I'm speaking of Lt. Commander Data and Captain Jean-Luc Picard, of course.
It didn't help that Picard and Data became so very popular so very quickly. They seemed so easily to represent a new spin on the same sort of command dynamic we enjoyed between Kirk and Spock. To borrow from the parlance of the show, Riker seemed rather quickly to become "Commander Dunsel." So often, Riker feel into a role of facilitating, rather than driving action. Far too often, Riker's duties seemed to simply be to check in on the other characters working to save the ship. He'd have a few lines to reiterate the danger the ship faced, then send Gordi and Data back to work on the warp core.
Frankly, during the first run of this series, I never thought much about Riker, or Frakes. The performances weren't bad, but the character did, especially as time went on, seem to become a sacrifice to giving Picard more to do. The original idea, where Riker would lead planet-side away teams, and Picard would deal with ship-board threats, slowly eroded, and Riker became more and more of a third wheel.
Riker, and, I think, by extension, Frakes, look like they're having the time of their lives in even the most dire situations. The sly grin, the twinkle in the eye, and a general sense of, "OK, hell, if I'm about to die, I'm going to do it with a good attitude."
Frakes, and Riker, were let down by the writing staff at almost every turn. Except when they needed him, as in "Best of Both Worlds, Part 1," where everyone suddenly realized that, if Stewart really didn't sign another contract, it was gonna be the Captain Riker show. Suddenly Frakes had solid, dramatic material. He had it, and he knocked it out of the friggin' park. In fact, almost every time they did turn to him to carry a show, he just nails it.
"Not yet, Commander."
"I'll inform the Captain." (Riker exits)
You can almost see Frakes marching off the set right to watching the director, because, as we all know, Frakes also proved himself to be THE Director for The Next Generation. Solid episodes, one fantastic film (Star Trek: First Contact), and one bad one, that was truly just hobbled by a terrible, terrible script (Star Trek: Insurrection).
Jonathan Frakes, good actor, great presence, and I think the one member of the TNG cast that should've gotten a better shake. I still long to see what a TNG that lived up to the "dual leads" concept would've been like. I'm all but certain that Frakes could've blossomed in that situation.