STAR TREK REWIND: “The Practical Joker”

“Come on Spock, where’s that Vulcan sense of humor?”

Chuck Menville was a name virtually synonymous with ’80s children’s entertainment. Menville wrote for Land of the Lost, The Real Ghostbusters (not to be confused with the ’70s live-action series starring Larry Storch), as well as The Smurfs, and Tiny Toon Adventures. His material was characterized by goofy humor, hence his connection to Star Trek: The Animated Series and “The Practical Joker.”

After a brief firefight with Romulans, the Enterprise passes through an energy field and, almost immediately, the crew falls victim to a number of pranks. Champagne shoots all over the bridge crew as they try to toast their victory. Spock’s eyes are blacked out when he uses his scanners. Scotty is attacked by a food replicator shooting food all over him. After each incident, laughter is heard over the intercom. Spock deduces that the ship’s computer (voiced by Majel Barrett, who seems to be having fun with this episode) is playing the practical jokes.

Kirks orders a diagnostic test to be performed on the computer. Certain pieces of technology are introduced in this episode that will carry over into subsequent series. Rather than choke down those unappetizing multi-colored chunks of protein from the original series, Scotty orders a grilled cheese on rye, establishing that the replicators can synthesize real food. McCoy, Uhura, and Sulu take a little time off and enter a recreation room that is capable of simulating different environments like the holodecks from later shows. The computer traps them in the recreation room, simulates an arctic wasteland, and shuts off the ship’s gravity. McCoy, Uhura, and Sulu are freezing in the recreation room. I’ve never understood holodeck technology.

The computer pumps nitrous oxide into the ventilation system and everybody starts laughing, except for Spock, who develops a splitting headache. Spock figures out that the energy cloud deposited an unwanted guest into the ship’s computer. “The Practical Joker” is an ideal episode for Star Trek: The Animated Series because rather than yielding to the series format (as so many other episodes had), it tells the story on its own terms.

Twice a week, Star Trek Rewind explores the Star Trek universe. From Archer to Janeway, Kirk to Picard, and Georgiou to Sisko — boldly read what no one has read before!

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