Aug 25 2011 1:00pm

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “The Outrageous Okona”

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “The Outrageous Okona”“The Outrageous Okona”
Written by Les Menchen, Lance Dickson, David Landsberg, and Burton Armus
Directed by Robert Becker
Season 2, Episode 4
Production episode 40272-130
Original air date: December 12, 1988
Stardate: 42402.7

Apologies for the delay in this one. Worry not, we’ll be back on track with “Loud as a Whisper” on Monday. Onward....

Captain’s Log: The Enterprise comes across the interplanetary cargo ship Erstwhile, which has a failing guidance system. The captain is a smartass named Okona, who beams aboard with his crappy engine part while the Enterprise takes him in tow.

He pretty much charms the entire crew, including seducing the transporter chief and discussing humor with Data. While La Forge fixes the guidance system, Data discusses his inability to get humor with Guinan, eventually seeking out a 20th-century comic on the holodeck.

Data’s rather sad attempts to be funny are mercifully interrupted by a call to the bridge. A ship from one of the planets in the system, Atlec, approaches and locks lasers on the Enterprise. The crew is amused, since firing lasers on a Starfleet ship would be about as effective as spitballs. Captain Debin nonetheless requests that Picard heave to and prepare to be boarded. With a straight face, and everything.

Debin claims that they are towing the ship of a “known criminal.” Okona has committed crimes on Atlec and Debin requests that he be turned over. Then another ship from the other occupied planet in the system, Straleb, arrives; its captain, Kushell, also demands Okona.

Picard has Worf drag Okona to the bridge. It’s an open question who is more intimidating, Worf with his growl, or Picard with his very quiet rebuke. The Straleb legation accuses Okona of stealing the Jewel of Thesia, while Debin accuses him on knocking up his daughter Yanar. The two ships argue back and forth, with Picard getting frustrated at the posturing. Okona tells Picard that he didn’t steal the jewel and that the other matter is between him and Yanar. However, he decides to surrender himself; Picard invites the two legations on board, where Okona says he’ll marry Yanar. Kushell’s son Benzan objects strenuously.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “The Outrageous Okona”

The Romeo & Juliet-lite plot comes to the fore in short order: Okona isn’t the father of Yanar’s son, Benzan is. Okona’s been secretly smuggling the two of them to see each other, and Okona does have the jewel, but he didn’t steal it — Benzan gave it to Okona to bring to Yanar as a pledge of marriage. Unfortunately, he didn’t get the chance to deliver it because his guidance system crapped out.

There’s posturing and bitching and moaning and any number of other bits of clichéd nonsense before they finally settle down. Yanar and Benzan declare their love for each other publicly for the first time, their fathers’ belligerence turns to somewhat more affectionate banter now that there’s a mutual grandchild, and Picard leaves the room as fast as he possibly can. Okona then heads off, new guidance system in hand, while Benzan and Yanar plan their wedding.

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi mostly uses her empathic abilities to verify that people are exactly what they seem to be. This makes her seem more ineffective than she actually is — the real issue is that everyone in this episode is so gosh-darned transparent that the empath is actually redundant.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “The Outrageous Okona”

If I Only Had a Brain...: Data attempts to learn more about humor by studying at the feet of an aggressively mediocre 1980s standup comic, leading one to think that the computer has a better sense of humor than Data by providing that unfunny hack to teach Data about what’s amusing.

On the other hand, we do get to hear Data reference Burns and Allen (“It still works!”) and say “Take my Worf — please,” so it’s not a total loss....

There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf gets to be intimidating with Okona on more than one occasion, and also bitches about the Atlec and Straleb ships, calling them glob flies.

The Boy!?: After talking with Riker about Okona, Wes proudly says that he’s already made his choice as to how to spend his life. This is ironic given Wes’s ultimate fate in the seventh season’s “Journey’s End.”

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “The Outrageous Okona”

Welcome Aboard: Three guest stars of note in this one, two before they were famous, one on the downslide away from it. Billy Campbell (credited as “William O. Campbell,” the middle initial necessary to distinguish him from the guy who played Trelane and Koloth) as Okona, soon to be the star of the criminally underrated The Rocketeer and later to star in The 4400; and this episode’s Robert Knepper moment, Teri Hatcher, of later Lois & Clark and Desperate Housewives fame, as the transporter chief Okona seduces. The standup comic is played by Joe Piscopo, who was never heard from again after this....

I Believe I Said That: “Lasers can’t even penetrate our navigations shields, don’t they know that?”

“Regulations do call for yellow alert.”

“Mmm — very old regulation. Well, make it so, Number One. And reduce speed. Drop main shields, as well.”

“May I ask why, sir?”

“In case we decide to surrender to them, Number One.”

Picard and Riker discussing the “threat” of the Atlec ship.

Trivial Matters: Look closely at the bit where the comic says his Jerry Lewis impersonation was a hit in Teaneck, and Data responds, “A word ending in K!” Piscopo has his hand near his mouth and he’s very obviously trying desperately not to laugh. One suspects that was an ad-lib of Brent Spiner’s (calling back to an earlier comment the comic made about how some people think words ending in K are funny) that broke Piscopo up, and this was the take where he didn’t actually burst out laughing.

Piscopo himself apparently ad-libbed a lot of his bits, which explains quite a bit. His Jerry Lewis impersonation is fitting, since the producers originally approached Lewis to play the role, but he had a scheduling conflict.

Data tells Guinan that there is nothing more “uniquely human” than laughter and humor, something your humble rewatcher would make significant use of in his 2007 TNG novel Q & A.

Okona would return in several issues of DC Comics’s TNG comic written by Michael Jan Friedman in 1991.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “The Outrageous Okona”

Make it so. “A monk, a clone, and a Ferengi walk into a bar...” The textbook definition of “filler,” this episode is actually quite a lot of fun, if disposable and cliché-ridden. And hey, the filler is the best part of a Twinkie, and this episode is very much a yummy piece of snack food that’s enjoyable to chow down on but has no actual nutritional value, and isn’t something you’d want to eat every day.

Enough of the tortured food metaphor. Mostly what makes this episode work is the charm and talent of two actors, Brent Spiner and Billy Campbell. Data’s attempts to be funny succeed entirely on the back of Spiner’s superb comic timing, as he’s at his most hilarious when the character he’s playing is not being funny. It certainly doesn’t owe anything to a labored turn by Joe Piscopo, who was already well into his fifteenth minute.

As for Campbell, his overall charm is infectious and his easy banter with Data, Wes, and La Forge is completely convincing, though his seduction of at least two female crewmembers is a bit less so. Also, while Campbell brings the witty banter effortlessly, his attempt to be tough and macho fails miserably. When he tries to go toe-to-toe with Worf, it’s just laughable, as it’s very obvious that Worf would eat him for breakfast and only suffer from mild indigestion.

Mention must also be made of Sir Patrick Stewart, whose disdain, annoyance, and frustration with the two disputing families is hilariously played. And points also to the script for not moralizing against Okona’s freewheeling lifestyle, with Picard even outwardly stating that Okona is free to socialize with the crew.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “The Outrageous Okona”

Warp factor rating: 5

Keith R.A. DeCandido has a bunch of new items coming out soon: the novel Guilt in Innocence, part of The Scattered Earth shared-universe science fiction project, the graphic novel Farscape Volume 5: Red Sky at Morning, continuing the post-Peacekeeper Wars story of Farscape (written in collaboration with series creator Rockne S. O’Bannon), and short stories in the anthologies Liar Liar (featuring stories about fibs and falsehoods by members of The Liars Club) and Tales from the House Band (featuring stories about music, edited by Deborah Grabien). Go to Keith’s web site, which is also a gateway to his blog, Facebook, and Twitter, not to mention his twice-monthly podcast Dead Kitchen Radio.

Nick Eden
1. NickPheas
TNG still at the point that they were doing things because Original Trek had. We need someone to do Harry Mudd stories!
Christopher L. Bennett
2. Christopher L. Bennett
I guess there is a similar "lovable rogue" aspect to Okona and Harry Mudd, but Okona seems more like an attempt to bring Han Solo into the Trek universe. And it's an awkward fit with the sedate, stolid TNG. Come to think of it, it's a shame the DS9 writers never had a go at Okona. They might've redeemed him as a comic figure, much as they did the Ferengi. (On the other hand, they did totally drop the ball with Martus in "Rivals," but that was more a casting problem.)

The main thing I remember about this episode is that Teri Hatcher was in it. She was realllly hot with the long wavy hair she had back then. (And she might not have been as famous yet as she later became, but she was well-known to MacGyver fans as recurring character Penny Parker.)

And this is the episode with the "You're a droid and I'm a 'noid" joke, isn't it? Sorry, Guinan, the joke is not even slightly funny.
Christopher L. Bennett
3. Tesh
I seem to remember reading somewhere that Campbell was in the late running for the Riker character. His easy genial rapport with the crew as demonstrated in this episode make me think he could have been a good Riker... though Frakes did wind up playing the "muscle" role better than Campbell demonstrated with Okona. Still, in an alternate universe with Campbell as Riker would be an interesting place to visit.
Keith DeCandido
4. krad
Yeah, the alternate timeline where Stephen Macht was Picard, Billy Campbell was Riker, and Eric Menyuk was Data might be an interesting place to visit..........

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
Christopher L. Bennett
5. Pendard
This episode seems very typical of the second season to me. The first season had a lot of potential in its episodes and didn't live up to it. The second season didn't have very much potential and did live up to it. With only a couple of exceptions, these episodes were kind of a waste of time. The best thing that can be said of it is that it was a good year for Data.

@Christopher (#2): Maybe the "you're a 'droid and I'm a 'noid" joke is considered funny on Guinan's planet. (Gee, you don't suppose they tried to tell it to the Borg, do you?)
Christopher L. Bennett
6. John R. Ellis
Okona may have seemed less charming (and the refusal to moralize against him less point-worthy) if it had turned out he really had sired a kid on a young woman then went deadbeat, eh?
Christopher L. Bennett
7. Lsana
I've never thought the modern Star Treks do humor very well. There are lots of laughs to be had in the crews snarky one-liners, but it has always seemed to me that when they set out to be funny, it just ends up being painful. Like here. Guinan's "You're a droid and I'm annoyed" has to be the worst of the jokes, but truth be told, nothing in Data's plotline was particularly funny. Between that and the stuff in Generations, it's no wonder that he never figured out humor.
Christopher L. Bennett
8. Christopher L. Bennett
"Yeah, the alternate timeline where Stephen Macht was Picard, Billy Campbell was Riker, and Eric Menyuk was Data might be an interesting place to visit.........."

And where Denise Crosby was Troi, Marina Sirtis was security chief "Macha" Hernandez, and Tim Russ was Geordi. And where Beverly's kid was a daughter named Leslie.

"Maybe the "you're a 'droid and I'm a 'noid" joke is considered funny on Guinan's planet."

Except it only works in English.
Jenny Thrash
9. Sihaya
Lsana@#7 - Oh yeah, that bit where Data disentigrates the plank out from under Worf? Hilarious. But then everybody tells him it's just not funny and gets completely alarmed. Totally perplexing.
Christopher L. Bennett
10. Capper
I always thought Data's "my timing is digital" line was funny. That is the only joke I remember from the episode.
Scott Wade
11. Lyinar
I always thought Data's attempts at humour were quite unfunny.

Too bad Okona never got a better episode. The character was decent and Billy Campbell's a good actor (as shown by his role in The Rocketeer), but the story he was in wasn't that great, and the B-Plot was pretty horrific.

@Pendard: Maybe they did tell the Borg that joke, and they actually thought it was hilarious enough to make them worth assimilating?
Christopher L. Bennett
12. Christopher L. Bennett
"I always thought Data's attempts at humour were quite unfunny."

That was pretty much the intended idea -- that his conscious attempts at humor were dreadful but he could say very funny things without realizing it.
Christopher L. Bennett
13. Jaquandor
Campbell's finest work, for me, came in the even-more-underrated-than-"The Rocketeer" ABC drama "Once and Again".
Christopher L. Bennett
14. critter42
In the I Believe I Said That section you say it's Picard and Data having the dialogue, but it's actually Picard and Riker - or are we still playing in that alternate universe from the previous comments? :)

Ugh, Joe Piscopo, the 80s Carrot Top (unfunny steroid junkie who thinks he's a comic.

However, I do think Stewart can pull off being put-upon by the universe better than anyone else. This is an OK episode, but is still better than a lot of S1
Keith DeCandido
15. krad
critter42: Eeep! Thanks -- it's fixed.

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
Christopher L. Bennett
16. DougG
I don't know why, but I always think of the season three episode, "The Hunted" when I try to remeber this one. The two episodes give me the same sort of vibe, but this one seems like the rough draft. Roga Danar seems like a (much better) retooling of Okona.
j p
17. sps49
Albert at the Agony Booth tears this episode a new one. And it's hilarious!
Christopher L. Bennett
18. Tehanu
It's true that Joe Piscopo's career was on its last legs -- deservedly so -- but he had been funny on Sat. Nite Live. If he'd done his take on Sinatra instead of Jerry Lewis on this episode, it might not have fit the plot, but it would have been hilarious.
Justin Devlin
19. EnsignJayburd
I think Benzan double-dipped his chip if you know what I mean. Kieran Mulroney also played Timmy on Seinfeld...
Christopher L. Bennett
20. LM
And Teri Hatcher played Sidra in that exact same episode (they're real, and they're spectacular!)...
Christopher L. Bennett
21. crzydroid
I was a little curious as to what Picard meant by "navigational shields". Did he mean the EM field generated by the main deflector dish ("navigational deflector")? Or did he just mean some sort of low-level cruising speed EM field? Point is taken that whatever it is is capable of dispersing a "simple" laser beam, but still. I may have to whip out the tech manual.

I also got offended by Picard saying the Atlec captain had an "arcane" moral standard. If he was referring to the "insulting my honor" bit, then I can give him that. But does Picard think a man shouldn't be held responsible for his actions? Seems rather un-Picard like. In this episode, you get the sense that Picard thinks Okona can "socialize" with his crew without consequences. I think I will write a paper on 24th-century Starfleets' smug arrogance about having evolved sensibilities.

I thought it was funny that Terri Hatcher's quarters end in 69. Don't pay too much attention to the signage though...Worf takes Okona out of another woman's quarters on deck 7, and then enter a turbolift on deck 11.
Christopher L. Bennett
22. Black Doug
SF Debris has a slightly angrier take on the episode (, but it's nice to see a second opinion.

"Blame the pattern of my life!"

"I blame the pattern of your best."
Matt Stoumbaugh
23. LazerWulf
Ironic that TNG would have a "Beam me up, Scotty" moment. Data's reference of Burns and Allen at the end is erroneous, as Gracie Allen never once said "Goodnight Gracie" in response to George Burns' "Say "Goodnight", Gracie."

Watching this episode tonight, I knew Okona looked familiar, but I totally missed Teri Hatcher's appearance. And my dad had to tell me who Joe Piscopo was.

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