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Star Trek The Animated Series: The Practical Joker

Mikey Heinrich and Billie Doux discuss the Animated Series episode, "The Practical Joker."

Mikey: The USS Enterprise, after passing through a mysterious gas cloud, develops a sentient personality.

In related news, it turns out that the USS Enterprise is kind of a dick.

I honestly can't imagine how this one ever came to be. The "computer gains sentience and threatens the crew" bit was old hat well before this time, but the fact that someone seriously pitched "The computer comes to life and suddenly desperately wants to become a prop comic" and the only response that they got was "Hmm... needs Romulans..."

I... I just can't even.

This entire episode is just so profoundly, gleefully stupid that I can't help but love it. Admittedly, that love comes with a lot of eye rolling. The blackened eyes for Spock gag alone... for the love of crap.

And a special mention must obviously be given for the 'Kirk is a Jerk' shirt.

All of that being said, the episode does do a nice job of gradually escalating the seriousness of the practical jokes, from dribble glasses to blackened eyes to pies in the face and so on until we get to freezing McCoy, Uhura, and Sulu in the "not yet named the holodeck" Rec Room while gassing the rest of the crew with nitrous.

I do find it odd that the Enterprise has a giant inflatable balloon copy of itself just laying around, for what that's worth. When it inflated in space (because balloons totally inflate like that in a vacuum) I literally guffawed. I have never until this present day properly guffawed. That was easily up there with the ridiculous giant urn, hippie space necklace, and Vulcan bondage wear for children.

And just to cap off the episode, they deliberately infect the chasing Romulan ships with the same "Turn your computer into a sociopathic dickbag" virus, and then decide to sit back and laugh at them for a while instead of, you know, preventing them from being horrifically killed in the name of whatever Romulans consider light comedy.

Oh, "The Practical Joker." You great big dumb bundle of nonsense. I kind of adore you.

What did you think?

Billie: Way too silly. Yes, the "computer gone crazy" story has been done too many times before, but I really enjoyed it. I didn't once check the time or start folding my laundry.

The escalating practical jokes were actually funny. Spock with the blackened eyes was great; it reminded me of the same joke on M*A*S*H. I particularly liked Kirk and Spock in an embrace trying not to slip on the ice in the corridor because their body language was just so strange and slashable. The inflatable Enterprise was the perfect climax – especially when the Romulans fired on it and it deflated. There should have been a loud pop. (Was there? Did I miss it?)

My only real complaint is that the second trip through the cloud shouldn't have gotten rid of the problem; it was so illogical. But hey, it's only a twenty-three minute episode. This one stayed completely focused on one particular plot and honestly, I think it did it well. The ending felt a bit like "The Trouble with Tribbles," when they gave the Practical Joker to the Romulans. That worked.

For me, the best part of this one was the "Rec Room," a.k.a. the holodeck. Memory Alpha says that this is indeed the first appearance of the holodeck in Star Trek history. Gene Roddenberry had planned to introduce a holodeck in the third season of the original series, but didn't. I wish he had.

I checked IMDb to see if it was a top-rated episode. Sadly, it's near the bottom. I don't get it. When I look back on this Animated Series reviewing adventure, "The Practical Joker" is going to be a highlight for me.

Mikey: Oh my god, I did the exact same thing, checking the rankings. I disagreed with almost the entire list. To be fair, "Yesteryear" is undeniably the best, so they were right on that one.

You are not wrong about the homoerotic grabbiness with Kirk and Spock on the ice.

Billie: Honestly, I'm not one who sees slash in every scene, but really. Look at this.

Mikey: You can actually hear the theme to A Summer Place while you look at it.

Billie: Lol, Mikey. That's a good one.

I was thinking that it never would have worked with actual actors, but it's perfect for animation. What kid who likes Star Trek wouldn't enjoy that inflatable Enterprise?

Mikey: That hadn't occurred to me but you're 100% right. Ten-year-old me would have thought that was the best ever. Hell, 50-year-old me loved the big inflatable Enterprise.

Wait... does this mean that the show just finally figured out how to take advantage of the animated format with only three episodes left in the series?

Billie: Sadly, I think you're right. So – three out of four inflatable Enterprises from me.

Mikey: I'm going to go with eight out of ten homoerotic ice dances. I would cheerfully rewatch this one again anytime. Which is not something I'd be able to say about several of the previous episodes.


  1. In high school I devoured all the Star Trek novels, and there was one that also featured an inflatable Enterprise! Guess that makes it canon :)

    Considering that was 30+ years ago, and I remember nothing else from those novels, the inflatable Enterprise has proven to be very memorable.

  2. I read this review after Mikey mentioned these comment reviews. I didn’t think I’d seen this series before, but wow, when I watched the episode and heard those voices, it brought back memories of trying this out when I was a teen. At the time, I thought it was lame compared to the OS. Now, I found this episode lame and hilarious. The simple plot and rather tame practical jokes brought to mind a kinder, less dark era of both television and cartoons. I was snickering most of the way through. I probably won’t go back and watch the previous episodes, but this one was a lot of fun.

    By the way, I do like this comment/review style. I like the other, single author style too. :)


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