Written by Burton Armus, Les Menchen, Lance Dickson, David Landsberg, Leonard Mlodinow, and Scott Rubenstein
Directed by Robert Becker
This is one DVD that could have Star-Studded Celebrity Cast splashed all across the front of it. To be fair, Whoopi Goldberg was already a recurring cast-member as Guinan. However, the then-well-known Joe Piscopo guest stars here as a character simply called The Comic. Also in the cast were then-unknowns Teri Hatcher (with long hair – I didn’t recognize her at first, but knew the voice the moment she spoke) as the Transporter Operator and Billy Campbell (of Once and Again) in the title character.
The arrival on board the Enterprise of the rogue Captain Okona has an effect on the crew in a variety of ways. Okona is very handsome and charming, and begins systematically seducing various females of the crew (starting with the above-mentioned Teri Hatcher) while he is waiting for Geordi LaForge (LeVar Burton) to complete repairs on his ship. Okona is intrigued by Data (Brent Spiner) and Data’s own curiosity about the concept of humor and laughter is piqued by this man’s arrival.
To complicate matters more, two rivals appear both demanding that Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) release Okona to them. One believes Okona to be responsible for getting his daughter pregnant. The other accuses him of stealing a jewel which is his nation’s prize legacy.
Part of the problem here is that there are way too many stories going on at the same time. What ends up happening is that none of them get fleshed out the way they should be. While Data’s exploration of humor could have been great standing on its own, it loses out. The Comic could have been a great character – had he only been written less like a throwback to the comedy of the 1950’s and 1960’s and more like a composite of many different comedians across time. Whoopi Goldberg, Brent Spiner and Joe Piscopo should have had a decently written episode on this subject pretty much to themselves. There is a fairly good moment near the end when a stab is made at “canned laughter” and just how phony it is, but other than that this story falls flat.
The character of Okona is too much of a caricature to be taken seriously. I don’t know of any women who would fall for his lines in the 21st Century, never mind the 24th. While Campbell is very easy on the eyes and handles the part well, it suffers in the writing department once again. This is the problem with many of the early Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes: great talent and the writers seem not to know what to do with it.
The funniest moment of the episode is watching Captain Picard’s and Commander Riker’s (Jonathan Frakes) reactions when the two rival ships lock lasers on the Enterprise. Even this situation is not the least bit suspenseful. The story is fairly easy to figure out and there are no real surprises to how it is resolved.
It is also a problem that other than Data, the story does not particularly concern any other regular cast members. All of the guest stars are brought in to essentially carry the episode, but why should we care about them? They will be gone next week, never to be heard from again. Why should I care why the two families are rivals or if they go to war? Why should I care whom Picard hands Okona over to? Now, had Riker been returning from a shore leave and been the one accused of impregnating the daughter and stealing the jewel, it might have made a more interesting story.
It is a shame that all of the talent of this episode – both within the regular Star Trek: The Next Generation cast and outside of it goes to waste. I have to wonder if the actors signed on before they saw a script.
Previous episode (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – Elementary, Dear Data
Next episode (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Schizoid Man
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