Star Trek: The Next Generation’s 7 year run between 1987 and 1994 is in many ways the high water mark of Star Trek’s popularity both with viewers and critics. Despite the fact that it aired in first-run syndication, the series won 19 Emmys and was nominated for Outstanding Drama Series (The only syndicated series to ever to receive an Outstanding Drama Emmy nomination). TNG graced many TV Guide covers, and its final episode, which received one of the show’s two Hugo Award nominations, was a major cultural event.
TNG’s 176 episodes feature many high points, and a quick Google search will net you any number of lists of the top episodes, where names like “The Inner Light,” “The Best of Both Worlds,” “Darmok,” and “All Good Things…” will appear repeatedly. They are, quite deservedly, seen as classics.
Today, though, I would like to speak on behalf of an episode that is not as well-regarded, Season Two’s “The Outrageous Okona.” You will not find it on any of the usual “Best of” lists, and there are some aspects of it (Joe Piscapo? Really?) that are a bit dodgy. But dammit it’s a lot of fun!
“The Outrageous Okona” was written by Burton Armus, who was also a producer on the series, based on a story by Les Menchen, Lance Dickson, and David Landsberg. To be brutally honest, none of these are the big names that would later be associated with the best scripts of TNG, such as Michael Piller, Ronald D. Moore, or Brannon Braga. As for the plot, the Enterprise encounters a small ship piloted by Captain Okona. Okona, played by William Campbell (who would go on to star in The Rocketeer, a criminally-underrated movie), is a rogueish Han Solo-type, who, once aboard the Enterprise, begins charming the crew. And in the case of a transporter operator played by a pre-Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman Teri Hatcher, bedding her as well. All of this is well and good until the leaders of two rival planets show up looking for him. Meanwhile, Data decides that he needs to understand humor, and spends time on the holodeck with a holographic comic (The aforementioned Joe Piscapo; although, it was supposed to be Jerry Lewis, who ended up having a scheduling conflict) trying to learn to be funny.
The episode is light and definitely played for laughs. The A Plot with Okona is actually far better than anything that happens with Data and the comic, though. Is it the best episode ever? Absolutely not, but it is a fun diversion. It also contains one of my favorite scenes in all of TNG when Worf informs the captain that an incoming vessels is locking into them with lasers, which is pretty much the equivalent of taking on a tank with spitballs. The resulting exchange is wonderful.
- Alan Decker
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