Jonathan Frakes: Riker ‘Stiff’ and ‘Not Fun’ in Early Seasons Of Star Trek TNG

In July, just in time for the 25th anniversary, the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation will be re-released, remastered in HD on Blu-ray. And now the first officer of the Enterprise D is reflecting on his time in the 24th century and it "was not real fun" at the beginning. More details below


Frakes: Star Trek: TNG was not fun at the beginning

Speaking to the LA Times, Jonathan Frakes says that he didn’t know what he was getting into when he began his stint as William Riker on Star Trek: The Next Generation 25 years ago, noting:

“I didn’t understand the stakes, I didn’t really understand what we were getting into. I didn’t know at that point the cultural phenomenon that ‘Star Trek’ was. But, believe me, I learned pretty quick.”

The actor (and now director) went into more detail about how things weren’t working for him early on with Star Trek

“I looked very, very stiff in those early seasons because I was so intent on living up to the vision that Gene had, and it was not real fun,” said Frakes, who got a reprieve, finally, when he mentioned his love of jazz and his musical hobby to one of the show’s writers. “All of a sudden, Riker was playing the trombone, and they let a little bit of the playfulness in. And it all changed for the better.”

But in the end, after 178 episodes and four feature films, Jonathan is happy with how things turned out, saying:

“It was amazing to be part of it. Riker evolved and changed over the years and that was a real gift for me.”

Frakes happy with his arc as Riker on Star Trek: TNG


Star Trek: TNG Blu-ray coming in July

The first Blu-ray season for Star Trek: The Next Generation comes out July 24th. The six-disc set includes HD remasters (in 1080p and 7.1 DTS audio) of all 26 episodes, plus brand new special features. You can pre-order the set at discounted prices. Walmart is selling it for $78.86 and Amazon has matched the Wal-mart price of $78.86.

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season One

The set is also available for pre-order at Amazon sites around the world.

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It works in the context of the show, as well. Riker comes on as this young officer with a mission to prove how good he is, then his “real” self opens up as he becomes friends with his shipmates.

I always find it amusing watching Riker walk out of a room. He always hung his head to the left, and when the door opened, looked from right to left. I wonder if this was his character or how Frakes exits any room in real life.

No 1 was always my fav…even in early years…in Best of Both Worlds he should have won a Emmy

Riker, and by way of their connection, Troi, have among the most successful personal journeys in Star Trek. They grow from people who were in love but incompatible into different and better people who are compatible and finally can commit to each other without reservations. They had in common widowed parents who were not role models either son nor daughter wanted to emulate, and in trying to establish their own identities they ran from their parents so fast they almost ran past each other. It took a long time for Riker and Troi to mellow and not worry whether they’d arrived where they should be.

Well said Al….

I felt all of them in the first year seemed to force their characters on the viewers. As in all new series the first year is nothing like the last. TNG is no exception. Riker was my favorite by the last year.

I always liked Riker. In some ways he was like Kirk. More so in the later year’s then the first. Frakes should have gotten an Emmy Nod in Best of Both World’s.

I think Riker’s sense of humour, which is actually a big part of the character, popped up bits and pieces in the early season. calling Data “Pinochio” & finishing “pop goes the weasel” may not be hilarious but it is a bit quirky. Also him just eating the live Gagh was a fairly bold move.

I miss Will Riker

My least favorite was Trio in the first season, always seemed on the brink of crying.

I agree with Frakes, but I think his self-criticism kind of extends to the show in general for those first two years. Seasons 1 and 2 were obviously struggling (the backstage story and productions issues seeped into the visible product a lot). It struggled to find it’s voice. And with the exception of Brent Spiner’s Data, it seemed that none of the lead actors really ‘found their voices’ with their characters yet. Even Patrick Stewart’s Picard came off very inconsistently in those early years.

But from season 3 on, it was like another show (season 3 was one of the most startling improvements from a previous season I’d ever seen on TV). The cinematography/lighting was better, the uniforms were a bit more forgiving and the overall vibe of the show and the acting was more ‘comfortable’. The actors (and the show) finally found it’s footing. Luckily, the ST brand name was there to keep this show alive (or on life support) when many other such ‘struggling’ shows would’ve simply failed and been canceled.

Sadly, I’m not as into TNG as I used to be (more a TOS, DS9 kind of ST fan), but I appreciate what it overcame, and it will always be one of the ‘warm and fuzzy’ memories of the 1990s for me; it was one of the ‘appointment TV’ shows I used to watch (sometimes my friends and I would make a night of it, too; a tradition we later cemented with the new Battlestar Galactica). I used to really look forward to seeing those back in the day…

Good times. ;-)

He was nothing but stiff the whole way through.

What about when he walks into a turbo lift and spins on his heal right in the doorway, like a proper bell-end.

Had a few moments to speak with him at the Cherry Hill convention in May during a lull in the signings on the last day.. He was looking pretty svelte and I asked him how he was controlling his weight— and his reply with a hearty smile was ‘beer and fish.’
Sounds good to me.

Great photo of Frakes. A current one?

Yea, he had little character in the beginning. But then he became this ‘larger than life’ action figure. Why he’s not doing Star Trek seems to be quite the anomaly, given his contribution, and importance to the show in, and of itself.

I seem to recall that most of the main actors have said in interviews that the first couple of seasons were not fun. Once these guys relaxed and the actors/writers quit treating them like carticatures of TOS their personalities and character began to develop.

Put him in charge of TV Trek and let’s see what he can do. Perhaps Burton would be a good partner executive produce/director.

The problem wasn’t Riker, the problem was Frakes. I’m sorry, but he’s not a very good actor. For sure he’s a nice guy and an accomplished Director, but an actor? Not so much.
But then he was in bad company. Only Stewart and the robot had any real ability.

#1 – you’re exactly right.
– Al, you’re right too.
– #9, So do I.

I personally think all of the the actors’ growth through the years bled into the show beautifully.

I’d honestly love to see them all put age aside and do a next gen together now.

Once Frakes’ personality could come through in Riker, I really grew to like the character. I liked the fact that he was a little afraid to command his own ship, but he was never afraid when the center seat was his, and everything was on the line.

I had no problem with his acting. Sure, he didn’t have the presence of Patrick Stewart, but who else in Star Trek did? Leonard Nimoy is the only one to equal Stewart’s gravitas, if you ask me.

Frakes was great as Riker, and he also directed one of the best Star Trek movies ever made. That’s enough to put him on my “like” list.

Well there is a glowing endorsement from Frakes on spending $80 for season one on Blu-Ray. :-))


I couldn’t disagree with you more. Jonathan Frakes was one of the most talented actors the TNG cast had in their ranks. Yes, his stiff playing of the character in the first two seasons made his job a lot harder, but when the writers made his character mellow, we really saw Frakes’ own personality come out and we saw his playful, humorous and (when needed) commanding side. He was indeed a lot like Kirk (especially with the ladies).

And you say that Patrick Stewart and “the robot” (you really pissed me off with that) had any real ability? Yes, they both have tremendous ability, but the rest of the TNG cast are an incredibly talented group of actors who work so well together and I love the fact tha they all have remained the best of friends for all these 25 years. You gotta admire that.

“and they let a little bit of the playfulness in”

And let his uniform out, a little.

Kidding. We eat when we’re happy — Riker was happy

“Kidding. We eat when we’re happy — Riker was happy”

HAHAHAHAHA, love that!!!

Riker was absolutely my favourite character on the show, mainly because he had time to grow and develop. My birthday is on the 23rd, I think for £50.99 its fairly reasonable for me to go and pick up a copy

I gotta agree with Frakes self assessment. I thougth Riker was an uptight sphincter in the first couple of seasons. I enjoyed watching his character mellow throughout the run of the series.

In fact, I think that Riker in first season of TNG was a LOT like Scott Bakula’s Archer for 5 seasons of Enterprise.

But what do I know, i’m just an unfrozen caveman lawyer….

Remember Pegasus? Riker was so full of “listen to his captain,” and the “duty and honour” speech that was going around in his head, Admiral Pressman, Riker’s CO from the Pegasus, noted that Riker finally mellowed out.

With the new ship and crew, Riker probably did the same thing that he was building up the chemistry we all love to this date.

I originally thought that Riker would be a Kirk like character but that did not really happen in the end.

He did have a good relationship with Picard though and that helped make the series what it was.

I do wonder if Picard was Pike version 2. The name is similar and i think Stewart was caste similar to how Roddenberry originally wanted his captain.

I liked the first season John Re-Kirk, er, uh Riker.

I cringed every time he whipped out that damn trombone…

They should have sent him off to his own command, and rotated a few XO’s throughout the series, which would have been more believable.

Got to agree with his analysis. That first season, EVERYONE was a little stiff. Fortunately, there was a lot of character development in the later seasons.

hands down my favorite TNG characters are Riker and Worf. I know picard and data were the ‘stars’ but i like these two the most, and worf on DS9 was even better. and the journey of his realtionship with the love of his life, Troi probably resonates for a lot of people who have had that love and lost it and got it back. pretty neat stuff. now their appearance in these are the voyages? that episode sucks! lol

some of the best lines were between Riker and Worf. In First Contact he says ‘tough little ship’ and worf quips ‘little??’ that was fun. then he looks at worf and says ‘you do remember how to fire phasers, don’t you?’ and worf gives him ‘the look’. priceless. Or, in insurrection (i know its a stinker, but..0 where he looks at worf’s zit and says ‘you klingons never do anything small, do you?’ THAT is classic. and, the cut scene from Nemesis where he tells the new first officer to call Picard ‘Jean-Luc’ in front of worf and geordi is awesome.

# 26 – “Riker was an uptight sphincter in the first couple of seasons” LOL LOL LOL that is a great way to put it! Awesome.

I feel that Frakes’ TNG acting style developed into a more comfortable natural feel. I often wondered if he was just being himself, minus that annoying rapid gum chewing that I’ve seen at conventions. Love ya Jonathan but please spit out the gum. ;-)

Frakes is a very good actor and great director, too. Like Bakula, Frakes worked with the script he was given and early on that meant being a stuffed shirt. The idea of regular poker games was a great way to let the crew loosen up, to humanize them.

Frakes apparently cares deeply about Trek, which comes out in his honest discussions of the show and movies at the conventions. That’s why I believe he’s the right person to run Trek on TV.

Frakes can’t act? BoBW and Frame of Mind. That is all.

Wow, $80 for just one season. CBS you have done it again. Just once it would be nice to see a single season of any star trek TV show to be released for under $50.

Best episode from season 1: 11001001

My namesake was indeed wooden in Season 1, except when he pulled out the trombone. That was the glimmer…
Happy to say, he acquitted himself nicely later on.

I have to say TNG I don’t think would have been the same without the hole cast that stuck after season 1 staying put and being who they are too the show. Tasha was nice but I don;t think Worf Would have been Fleshed out as well if she had stayed!

Frakes is awesome. So is Riker.

Wish I could meet him. I’ve never met any of the TNG cast. I’ve met all the TOS cast with the exeption of Nimoy and D. Kelly.

I’ve been thinking about my Jonathan Frakes’ comments. And I’m trying to think of the “fun” times his character had. I definitely enjoyed the jazz. That added a touch of class to Star Trek. But the times that I first laughed with Riker were the Barclay shows. “Hollow Pursuits” and “The Nth Degree.” He has that little line in the The Nth Degree where he wants to know from Troi if Barclay’s come on worked. Very charming.

Riker was not my favorite character but he was okay. I couldn’t get over something he would do often: when Picard would order him to do something he didn’t agree with, he would glare at the back of the captain’s head before yelling at someone. Other than that I didn’t really mind him. He did the dirty work while the captain manned the ship. I felt he was definitely more natural later on when he grew his beard.

Worf, Data, Q and Picard were my favorite characters, in that order. FYI Picard is my second fave captain after Kirk. Janeway was good too but sometimes she lacked common sense (as Seven of Nine points out repeatedly).

Agree with JF… He came across as somewhat stiff in at the outset, but that sort of worked in portraying the character as ambitious but not dropping his guard in new surroundings.

Over time they loosened Riker up a bit and he grew out of trying to be ‘Re-Kirk’, and into my personal fave of all the TNG players. Met Frakes in real life and he’s a cool cat as well..

Frakes is on my list of ‘must meet’ people. He always comes across as such a class act and an interesting guy.

# 7, I’ll do you one better – they should have had the guts to let Riker be the Captain for a whole season before bringing back Picard in a season 4 finale stunt. Or at least more examples of his occasionally-mentioned top gun shuttle pilot skills (get him off the bridge and into the action!) Anyway, I’ve got nothing but love for Riker (and Frakes). He’s one of the key actors/characters I focus on after all these years. For starters, how we were ever supposed to take Worf seriously as a massive Klingon warrior when Riker the laid back human is actually physically bigger. Also that head of hair, man.