Published Aug 3, 2020
15 Times Star Trek Proved That it's Here For the Lolz
Get ready to laugh with Lower Decks by rewatching these classic Trek episodes.
By Ryan Britt
With the debut of Star Trek: Lower Decks, the Final Frontier will do something it’s never really tried before: A weekly comedy series. But, despite Lower Decks going fulltime funny, humor is, arguably, at the core of why Star Trek has been popular since the very beginning. Even in episodes of The Original Series with decidedly unfunny premises (like “Mirror, Mirror”), the whole story often ended with a joke or an uproarious laugh session on the bridge of the Enterprise. Captain Kirk may have famously said “Risk is our business,” but the truth is, jokes are the business of Starfleet, too.
So, in honor of the comedy of Star Trek: Lower Decks, and as proof that Star Trek has always gone for laughs, here are 15 of the funniest Treks across the universe.
“Shore Leave” (Star Trek: The Original Series, season 1, episode 15)
In the opening scene of this episode, Dr. McCoy meets Alice and the Rabbit from Alice and Wonderland and it only gets wackier from there. The premise of “Shore Leave” is kind of like what would happen if the robots in Westworld were created from random thoughts you just happened to be thinking. That giant rabbit might be the thing we remember the most about this episode, but true fans know the most hilarious person in this episode is Kirk’s old academy nemesis, Finnegan.
“The Trouble With Tribbles” (Star Trek: The Original Series, season 2, episode 15)
Sometimes considered the most famous episode of Star Trek of all time, David Gerrold’s script for “The Trouble With Tribbles” is hilarious. But, it’s not funny just because adorable furballs overrun the Enterprise. Everyone in this episode is on their snappy one-liner game, meaning the funniest thing about it isn’t the Tribbles, but all the regular characters. In fact, Kirk probably gets the best joke in the entire classic run when he snaps at Barris saying, “I think of this project as very important. It is you I take lightly.” BURN!
“A Piece of the Action” (Star Trek: The Original Series, season 2, episode 17)
For many longtime Trek fans, this episode is probably the very first exposure many of us had to old-timey mobsters— the type prone to say things like “we’re gonna put the bag on you.” When the Enterprise encounters a planet populated and controlled exclusively by mobsters, things could have gotten dark real fast. Instead, “A Piece of the Action” is one of the most effortless blends of over-the-top comedy and high-concept science fiction, ever. Come for the hysterically funny mobster planet, stay for the moment when Spock becomes “Spocko.”
“The Practical Joker” (Star Trek: The Animated Series, season 2, episode 3)
Years before The Next Generation got the holodeck, Star Trek: The Animated Series had the holographic Rec Room. In some ways, you could argue that this episode is a precursor to all holodeck-run-amok stories form TNG, DS9, and Voyager. Without spoiling the episode, let’s just say the identity of “The Practical Joker” isn’t exactly a person. This episode also is a must before you watch Lower Decks if only because it contains the phrase: “Kirk is a Jerk.”
“Data’s Day” (Star Trek: The Next Generation, season 4, episode 11)
If you’ve never seen the episode “Data’s Day,” you’re going to be so deliriously happy when you finally do. The entire episode plays out nearly like a sitcom, complete with Data opening the episode by making a terrible faux pas by cheerfully telling Chief O’Brien that Keiko has canceled their wedding. Data also asks Dr. Crusher to teach him to dance, but again, if you’ve never seen it, I refuse to ruin how this scene plays out. Heartwarming, smart, and filled with some actual stakes, “Data’s Day” is a TNG classic for a reason.
“Q-Pid” (Star Trek: The Next Generation, season 4, episode 20)
If turning the entire crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise into characters from Robin Hood sounds like a Monty Python sketch, but in space, you’re not wrong. Because of the return of rogue archeologist Vash, the episode “Q-Pid,” is, in theory, a sequel to “Captain’s Holiday,” but that’s not why anyone loves it. We love it because it’s freaking great to see the crew of the Enterprise-D in tights, and brandishing swords. Again, no spoilers, but you may already know that Worf gets his greatest line in all of Trek: “Sir, I must protest; I am not a merry man!”
“Rascals” (Star Trek: The Next Generation, season 6, episode 7)
Picard, Ro, Guinan, and Keiko are transformed into 12-year-olds. Yes, adults getting stuck in the bodies of children (or vice versa) isn’t exactly a new sci-fi premise, but the brisk and heartfelt script by Allison Hock (with a story from Ward Botsford & Diana Dru Botsford and Michael Piller and an uncredited rewrite from Ronald D. Moore) is one episode that will make you smile pretty much from the first scene to the very last. Particularly good in this episode is the actor David Tristan Birkin, who plays the 12-year-old Captain Picard, and previously played Picard’s nephew René Picard in the season 4 episode “Family.” The episode was also the first episode of any Star Trek directed by Adam Nimoy, son of Leanord Nimoy. That’s right, the real-life son of Spock directed an episode about the Enterprise crew turning into kids
“Trials and Tribble-ations” (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine season 5, episode 6)
It’s a sequel to the most famous funny episode of Trek, ever. In 1996, on the 30th anniversary of Star Trek, the crew of the Defiant on DS9 traveled from the year 2373 all the way back to 2268. This episode is singular not only because it’s fantastically funny, but also because it’s the only episode of Trek that actually occurs inside of another episode. From jokes about why Klingons look so different in TOS to the fashion of the 23rd century of Kirk’s time, this episode is jammed with non-stop smart and big-hearted, jokes. If it’s been a while since you’ve since “The Trouble With Tribbles,” it might be more fun to watch this one first.
“One Little Ship” (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine season 6, episode 14)
With most funny things, the stakes have to be pretty small for the laughs to work. And, things don’t get much smaller than this super-underrated Deep Space Nine episode. Arguably starting with Fantastic Voyage (1966), there’s a long science fiction tradition in which people or ships get shrunken-down to teeny-itsy-bitsy sizes, but Trek’s best version of it is this DS9 gem in which a shrunken runabout containing Dax, O’Brien, and Bashir is the only hope for the crew of the Defiant. It’s Honey, I Shrunk the Kids meets Star Trek and it’s exactly the kind of premise that made Lower Decks possible.
“Take Me Out to the Holosuite” (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine season 7, episode 4)
The crew of Deep Space Nine challenges an all-Vulcan crew to a game of baseball on the holosuite. That’s right. Everything in this episode revolves around whether or not the crew (the Niners) will beat the Vulcans (The Logicians.) You don’t have to be a baseball fan to love this episode. And, perhaps more importantly, if you have somehow slept on Deep Space Nine, this episode will make you fall in love with the characters instantly. This episode has bonus points for creating the coolest bit of Trek fashion; the Niners baseball cap.
“Bride of Chaotica!” (Star Trek: Voyager season 5, episode 12)
If aliens took all our antiquated TV shows and movies to be factual accounts, things could get complicated. But, in the 24th century of Star Trek: Voyager, they don’t have outdated TV shows. Well, actually, in the form of Tom Paris’ “Captain Proton” holodeck program, they totally do. In this cheeky send-up of black-and-white serials from the early days of 20th-century science fiction, aliens mistakenly believe that a black-and-white pulpy sci-fi holodeck “show” is real life. And when self-aware black-and-white holograms come to life, things get outrageous. Not all zany holodeck stories are everyone’s favorite episodes. However, it seems impossible for any fan of science fiction not to love this one. As Tom Paris says in the opening minutes of the episode, it’s all about “the lost art of hyperbole.”
“Carbon Creek” (Star Trek: Enterprise season 2, episode 2)
Most people know that one easy way to create a funny set-up is to create some kind of fish-out-of-water story. In the Enterprise episode, “Carbon Creek,” the fish-out-of-water are a trio of crashlanded Vulcans, trying to blend in a small American town in 1957. Told as a family story by T’Pol in the relative present, this story is unique insofar as almost none of the characters are actually Trek regulars. (Although, T’Pol actress Jolene Blalock does play her own great grandmother, the Vulcan, T’Mir.) This episode also contains one of the best meta-fictional jokes about Star Trek in a Trek episode. At one point, the Vulcan named Mestral says he can’t go out at a particular time because “I Love Lucy is on.” In 1965, it was Lucille Balls’ Desilu Studios that produced the original Star Trek.
“The Escape Artist” (Star Trek: Short Treks, season 1, episode 4)
Written by Star Trek: Lower Decks creator Mike McMahan, “The Escape Artist,” is perhaps the best confluence of what a funny Trek episode can be. Rainn Wilson reprises his role as Harry Mudd from Star Trek: Discovery, but this time, he’s got to use his scheming con-artist skills to talk himself out of not one, not two, but three separate predicaments. How will Harry Mudd break himself out? What’s his secret? Telling would be a spoiler, but in this case, the spoiler is one of the greatest punchlines in all of Star Trek. “The Escape Artist” was also directed by Rainn Wilson and the collaboration between him and Mike McMahan is something we can only hope we’ll see again.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
No list of funny Star Trek would be complete without a mention of The Voyage Home. Although this Leonard Nimoy-directed Trek film supports a serious ecological message, it’s also, literally, one of the funniest movies ever made. From the moment Spock mind-melds with a humpback whale (while swimming in his underwear) to the rescue of Chekov from a San Francisco hospital to the epic moment where Kirk and Spock confront a punk blasting music on a city bus, The Voyage Home is the funniest Trek ever. In college, my roommate had never watched any Star Trek ever, until I convinced her to watch The Voyage Home. She later went on to write for sitcoms in Hollywood. True story!
“Lower Decks” (Star Trek: The Next Generation, season 7, episode 15)
The new animated series Lower Decks takes its title from the TNG episode of the same name. Similar to the basic set-up of the new show, “Lower Decks” was an episode of TNG that focused on junior officers aboard the Enterprise. Because the audience gets a full perspective flip on the TNG crew, there’s a lot of funny stuff in this episode, even if the whole story isn’t exactly a comedy. Still. If you’re going to binge a bunch of relevant Trek before you watch Lower Decks, you can’t really go wrong with the original, “Lower Decks.”
Ryan Britt's (he/him) essays and journalism have appeared in Tor.com, Inverse, Den of Geek!, SyFy Wire, and elsewhere. He is the author of the 2015 essay collection Luke Skywalker Can't Read. He lives in Portland, Maine, with his wife and daughter.
Star Trek: Short Treks streams exclusively in the United States on Paramount+ and in Canada on Bell Media's CTV Sci-Fi Channel and streams on Crave.
Star Trek: Lower Decks streams exclusively in the United States on Paramount+, on Amazon Prime Video in Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Japan, India and more, and in Canada, airs on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel and streams on Crave.