Star Trek: The Next Generation Re-Watch: “The Outrageous Okona”

“The Outrageous Okona”
Teleplay by Burton Armus
Story by Les Menchen, Lance Dickson, David Landsberg
Directed by Robert Becker

Season 2, Episode 4
Original air date: December 12, 1988
Star date: 42402.7

Mission summary

As the Enterprise makes its way through a twin planetary system, it stumbles across a class 9 freighter called the Erstwhile. Onboard, a single plucky human is trying to whack the side of his guidance system to get it working again. He makes a few flat jokes and Picard, ever the humanitarian, decides to help out this disheveled, saucy “rogue”–let’s call him Sman Smolo–and asks Geordi to work on replacing the guidance system for him.

Smolo, who goes by “Okona,” beams aboard and immediately tries some lines on the lady at the transporter post:

OKONA: And thank you for beaming me here and enabling me to see a truly beautiful woman. You have the majestic carriage and loveliness that could surely be traced back to the noblest of families.
ROBINSON: Well, I’m sure that you’ve said that to many ladies before, and it was no more true then than it is now.
OKONA: But it’s how I say it that’s really important. The warmth, the attraction that I have for you. The attraction that we share.

Riker and Geordi look at one another meaningfully because it’s always funny to watch your coworkers get harassed by arrogant douches, especially when they use words like “carriage” that are probably best left to auto repair guides and not used on women. (Suspension of disbelief destroyed in 3…) Robinson is successfully seduced (…2…) and gives Okona her room number (…1! HAHA YEAH RIGHT). That lovable scamp is going to turn this place upside down, just you wait!

The second stop on the Charming Rogue Express is Wesley Crusher, who falls so hard for Okona’s winsome personality he’s off assembling a locker collage before the end of the first act. He talks to Riker about how dreamy the new guy is, but Riker is unimpressed. Probably beard jealousy. In Engineering to oversee repairs, Okona jokes a bit with Data before realizing the android has a sense of humor about as sophisticated as the nearest Roomba’s, so he breaks off for his booty call with the transporter lady. This sends Data on a depression spiral (I feel ya) because it’s so unsatisfying always playing the straight man (or that…).  To fix this, Data goes to Ten Forward and asks Guinan, who for some reason has time for this crap and encourages him to speak with some holographic comedians and see what he can learn about humor (and About Us All). Unfortunately–and I mean that in the truest sense of the word–the holodeck just has 40 channels of Joe Piscopo, and Data emerges an even worse comedian than he was before.

But duty calls, and the android returns to the bridge as a ship approaches the Enterprise. It’s from the planet Altec, and the leader, Debin, demands that Picard turn over Okona (NOOO! Not our lovable rogue!) to face his crimes: impregnating Debin’s daughter Yanar. (Since it takes two to tango, why isn’t she in chains for this “crime”?) To complicate matters, another ship appears, this time from the planet Straleb. Captain Kushell also accuses Okona of a crime (say it ain’t so!): stealing the Jewel of Thesia, which is precious and sparkly and stuff. If Picard gives Okona to either dude, the other will feel slighted and declare war, because interplanetary leaders are petty middle-schoolers. What’s a third party to do? Just let him go on his own path, it seems.

Well it turns out that contrary to his behavior these last (oh so long) twenty minutes, Okona is tiring of his rakish existence and agrees to turn himself over to both of them, aboard the Enterprise. A meeting is called, fingers are pointed, smirks are flung far and wide. Our rascal proves to be as clean as Robin Hood, as it was Kushell’s son Bezan who knocked up Debin’s daughter and stole the jewel, which he intended to use in his wedding ceremony. (Of course he was gonna marry her. He just, uh, wasn’t going to mention it until her dad was there about to beat the space pulp out of him.) Innocent Okona, on the other hand, was just the good-hearted go-between for their star-crossed love. All is forgiven, the dads fight over the wedding, and Okona goes on his puckish way to make trouble for future uptight crews of badly written series.

But wait, there’s more! Data decides to give the holodeck another try, and performs some jokes before a holographic audience. This is so excruciating even Guinan can’t watch. She tries to make him feel better with the knowledge that laughter isn’t the only thing that makes us human:

DATA: No, but there is nothing more uniquely human.

Well said. But don’t go! There’s more! Data makes his way to the bridge and inadvertently makes a joke that’s not even worth repeating here. Now wasn’t that nice? Thank you, Smolo, for bringing such liveliness to our dead fish crew!


This episode has absolutely nothing to recommend it. It’s not interesting or even entertaining. It’s not original. It’s certainly not funny. The holodeck sequences are some of the most excruciating in all of Star Trek, and that includes the space lizards AND the brains.

I spent most of the episode feeling badly for Billy Campbell, who was never a great or even particularly good actor but whose superhero was less cliche than Okona1. I hesitate to even refer to Okona as a character, because I feel that gives too much credit to this shallow husk of a personality so inelegantly stuffed with Extruded Television ProductTM. He’s essentially the pink slime of television: grotesque, over-processed filler. He’s the manic pixie dream girl who shakes up the lives of the people in this small town, and gets them to Appreciate What They Have and Understand Each Other Better. Oh, and don’t you love how in the end that way-too-neat-resolution proves he’s not a bad guy after all? It makes me feel ill.

And yet–and yet, my friends–I would have rather watched 52 minutes of Okona sexually harassing various crewmembers than sit through the Joe Piscopo scenes one more time. NEVER AGAIN. Let’s just put aside the fact that these scenes fail to share the same laws of physics as things that are funny. Okay. Now putting that aside (bear with me…), why doesn’t this work? I am no expert on humor (as anyone who has groaned at my puns can attest), but I’ve come up with these two things that I think explain it: 1) Humor can’t be taught, but it can be learned; 2) Humor isn’t about telling jokes.

To wit: there is nothing worse than a joke explained, right?2 Humor isn’t absorbed through instruction, it’s absorbed through immersion. One of the big indicators of someone’s proficiency in a new language is the ability to make others laugh–to be familiar enough with the language to exploit ambiguities in words and be comfortable enough speaking it that one can safely poke fun at awkwardness or mistakes. Making people laugh is a function, then, of comfort and proficiency–and an eye for weakness, irony, and wordplay.  These are things Data should have no problem with. He has access to the entire recorded sociological catalog of humanity, and should be able to download in a matter of moments every comic play, movie, song, etc. in the history of our species. As a supercomputer, he should be able to process this information and discover patterns–moments that are frequently exploited for humor, and appropriate funny responses to those moments.3 He’s read Shakespeare, for god’s sake! I’m sure he’s read Austen! He should at the very least be able to recognize a joke, which he’s unable to do here. Now would he be able to make truly original jokes? I don’t know, but there aren’t that many kinds of jokes in the world, so I feel I could be persuaded he could.

Now even if that weren’t the case, and Data for some reason has a bad sector that renders him utterly unable to connect the dots and identify joke patterns, that doesn’t explain why his subject of study is stand-up comedy or why Guinan suggests or encourages this. Stand-up (or really any kind of formal joke-telling) is an extremely artificial construction. Think about your day, your month, your year, and ask yourself about the last time someone told you a joke. On the other hand, if you think of the last thing that made you laugh, I have to hope for all your sakes that it was sometime this past week. We don’t usually laugh at people telling jokes, and people have vastly different reactions to stand-up anyway. (I for one am completely unmoved by Jerry Lewis’ style and never thought Joe Piscopo was funny either, so maybe this episode was specifically crafted to make me scowl.) But people make witticisms or exploit irony or play on words all the time. Humor is so much more complex than a setup/punchline formula.

If Data doesn’t get any of that… well the ability to joke with one another builds camaraderie. To have the crew of the Enterprise always rib Data and have Data never be in on the joke would in any other context be schoolyard bullying, not charming collegiality.

Nuke this one from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.

1 So what’s with how people pronounce his name? It sounds like a Schwarzenegger version of “Connor,” as in “I AM LOOKING FOR JOHN CONNA.”
2 To “wit” being a pun!  See? I just killed it with this footnote.
3 If any of you have ever played The Secret of Monkey Island, you’re probably familiar with the truly genius pun mini-game†, which is a perfect example of this phenomenon. It takes a bit to figure out what’s going on, but once you recognize the pattern–voila, instant humor!
And there’s a science fiction connection, because the puns were written by none other than Orson Scott Card.

Torie’s Rating: Warp Core Meltdown (on a scale of 1-6)

Thread Alert: Seriously:

That is some bullshit right there.

Best Line: None. I don’t feel any of the jokes are worth repeating here.

Trivia/Other Notes: Much of Joe Piscopo’s act was improvised. Ugh.

Jerry Lewis was approached to play the comic, but he had scheduling conflicts. (Or possibly “scheduling conflicts.”)

Billy Campbell was the number two choice to play number one William T. Riker. He’s perhaps best known among geeks as 1991’s The Rocketeer.

Previous episode: Season 2, Episode 3 – “Elementary, Dear Data.”

Next episode: Season 2, Episode 5 – “Loud as a Whisper.”

About Torie Atkinson

Torie Atkinson watches too many movies and plays too many games but never, ever reads enough books.