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Unintentionally hilarious things in Star Trek

For over 50 years, Star Trek has been one of the world's most beloved science fiction franchises, and a big part of that is because of the balance that it strikes between pulpy, action-packed adventure, insightful allegorical storytelling, and straight-up comedy. That approach has made it a versatile show for exploring different aspects of its philosophy in a way that never really gets old. For every "Taste of Armageddon," where the idea of cold calculations about the casualties of war are shown for the horror they are, there's a "Trouble With Tribbles," where an annoyed Captain Kirk gets buried in a pile of hungry, horny furballs.

Sometimes, however, something doesn't land right, and that balance gets thrown off. It's rare for Star Trek to miss the mark, but when it does, the things that are supposed to be gravely serious wind up being absolutely hilarious. From cheesy effects to bizarre costume choices, here are the unintentionally hilarious moments from Star Trek.

The Enterprise D

At best, "What Are Little Girls Made Of" is a pretty weird episode of Star Trek. The plot concerns a scientist who has been stranded on an icy planet, passing the time by making what are essentially android RealDolls in a large scale LARP of The Sims. It's cleverly done, though, and Kirk's plan for literally using straight up racial slurs to tip off Spock to the fact that he's been replaced by an android duplicate is a pretty clever, if very odd, solution to a problem.

Another odd solution to a problem Kirk faces in the episode? When he finds himself menaced by a hulking android named Ruk — played by Ted Cassidy, who also played Lurch on the original Addams Family — Kirk defends himself by grabbing a rock that bears a striking resemblance to... well, look for yourself. That's a pretty, uh, distinctive shape there. Unfortunately for Kirk, even after he yanks it off of the ceiling of the cave, his escape attempt comes up short after he gets a little too cocky and meets some stiff resistance from a testy opponent in a hard fought battle. It looks like it was a fun scene to film, though; the actors look like they're having a ball. Maybe even two.

Surely somebody over at the props department was having a little fun, but nobody in 1966 had any idea that we'd be able to pause this short scene in glorious high definition and pass it around to each other to make sure we were actually seeing what we thought we were seeing. Either way, the drama and danger of the scene gives no indication that we're seeing something out of the ordinary, which only makes it funnier to go back and watch again.

What's new, pussycat?

It's hard to tell, but we're pretty sure "Catspaw" is supposed to be scary, or at least exciting in an adventurous sort of way. The second-season episode of Trek's original series aired near Halloween back in 1967, and it uses plenty of classic supernatural elements to put the Enterprise crew in danger from ghostly witches, cursed castles, diabolical shapeshifters, and other various haints. In theory, that could be a spine-tingling chiller with a sci-fi style that could make for a fun scare. In practice, virtually everything about the episode is downright hilarious.

As an adventure story, "Catspaw" is not remembered fondly by most Trekkers. But as a comedy, it's one of the show's most fun episodes to watch, and it rarely gets funnier than the climactic battle that pits Kirk against a... cat. A cat that is also occasionally a woman who tries to have sex with him, because, you know, Star Trek. To be fair, it's a large cat, although we should note that a "large cat" — which is to say a housecat blown up to the size of a minivan through the miracle of forced perspective — is not to be confused with a "big cat" — i.e., a lion or tiger or something else that would actually be threatening.

The image of Kirk being menaced by a li'l kitty cat that's stomping through a miniature castle and shoving a cardboard door over onto a space wizard while Spock seriously informs us that "the cat is the most ruthless, most terrifying of animals" is absolutely delightful. "Catspaw" might not be "good" in the traditional sense, and there's no way everyone involved didn't know they were doing the cheesiest thing they possibly could've done. But it is one of Star Trek's most hilarious episodes, and it makes the intentionally humorous "The Trouble with Tribbles" look like Crime & Punishment by comparison.

Programmed... for pleasure

It would've been very easy for a revived Star Trek show to do nothing but pander to the die-hard, detail-obsessed fans of the original series when it came back to airwaves in 1987, but to its credit, The Next Generation did very few callbacks to the original series. Bones makes a cameo pretty early on, and there's the one where Scotty comes back via transporter shenanigans, but it's not like they're flying around space checking in on what happened that one gangster planet or catching up with the six-foot rabbit from "Shore Leave." For the most part, it's all new adventures for the all-new crew (though, today, the Star Trek: The Next Generation crew isn't all that new).

Except, that is, for "The Naked Now." It's a direct sequel to the original series episode "The Naked Time," with the same plot revolving around a strange infection that makes the crew act like they're tore up from the floor up (hecked up from the deck up?) on Romulan ale. Like the original episode, there are plenty of intentional gags — Wesley Crusher hijacking the ship to demand dessert before his meals rather than after, for instance, and Data being interrupted halfway through repeating a dirty limerick — but it's not supposed to be a full-on comedy. For all its silliness, the danger to the crew is meant to be very real, and the scene where Tasha Yar gets drunk, talks about her past, and seduces Data was probably supposed to be sexy, or at least compelling in terms of drama.

The key word there is "supposed to be." In reality, the whiplash from Yar talking about her horrifying tortured past to Data casually offering up that he is "fully functional" and "programmed in multiple techniques, a broad variety of pleasuring," and then getting it on with a horny chief security officer is one of the funniest things the show ever did. It only gets funnier in retrospect when you realize that "The Naked Now" was the second episode of the series. That means that after the pilot introduced the characters to the audience, someone decided that the very first thing we needed to know about the crew of this new Enterprise was that the robot could get wasted and bang. Seriously, the show wants to make sure we see Data get laid before it wants to show us aliens. In retrospect, it's kind of amazing that Star Trek The Next Generation actually survived for another 175 episodes.

Laika or not

"The Enemy Within," the episode that introduced the well-worn Star Trek trope of a transporter accident splitting someone in two, is one of the best episodes of the show's original series — though, the cast of Star Trek has plenty of favorite episodes and moments of their own. But "The Enemy Within" is the ultimate "evil twins" episode, and for all its familiar, easily parodied clichés, the way William Shatner plays the two halves of Kirk's personality after he's split into his indecisive doormat "good" side and his raging aggro "bad" half is actually a great show of his range. The scene where Evil Kirk assaults Yeoman Rand remains one of the show's most harrowing moments, even all these decades later.

But writing the episode obviously brought an interesting challenge, in that the characters also have to realize what's going on, and just having someone show up and say, "Oh, is this a Jekyll and Hyde evil twin situation?" is a little on the nose, even for Star Trek. To that end, the crew discovers that the transporter has become an evil twin machine when they try it on a strange alien creature and find that the beast is split up into alternate personalities as well.

The hilarious part? That "strange space creature" is literally just somebody's dog. Just a cute lil' pupper that they've tied a fake horn to, and honestly, if that good boy was getting a little mean to the crew of the Enterprise, it's probably because they dressed him up like Max from How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Even more hilarious? They couldn't find two different chihuahuas who looked enough alike to pull off the whole "evil twin" thing — you know, the entire point of the episode — so the scene where they show the "mean" version of the "Canis Alfa" is shown with it alone in a box with nothing else in the shot. It's the goofiest thing in the world in an otherwise deadly serious episode, but that might be a good thing. Evil Kirk is so genuinely scary that it's kind of nice to have this hilarious reminder that what you're watching is just a wacky TV show from the '60s.

Dress Code

With their bright colors, bold insignias, and completely different take on what a military uniform might look like in the 22nd century, the uniforms in the original Star Trek series are some of the most iconic costume designs in television history. Well, the men's costumes are, at least. The women's Starfleet uniforms are iconic too, just for a very different reason.

While the dudes get the cool boots and color-coded shirts that may or may not determine their odds of surviving an away team mission, the women get something that serves as a constant reminder that we're watching a show from 1966: a minidress and a set of knee-high go-go boots. Don't get us wrong, it's a good look. Even in a world where the characters are teleported onto alien planets where the entire society is based on gangsters in the roaring '190s, asking us to believe that a militarized chemise that boldly went about a quarter inch past one's Federation-issued underpants would be a good uniform is more than a little laughable. Then again, considering that outside of Enterprise, nobody on Star Trek ever seems to have any pockets for their tricorders and PADDs, maybe the 23rd century is just more fashion-focused than we thought.

The most hilarious part? The miniskirt uniforms actually survived, however briefly, to the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The only big difference was that since the show presented a future with complete gender equality, we saw plenty of men wearing the "skant" uniform, too. That's actually kind of nice in its own way, but it mostly just proved that these things were hilariously impractical no matter who wound up wearing them.

Grandmarotica

"Sub Rosa" is arguably the single worst episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and might be in the running for one of the worst Star Trek franchise episodes of all time. It is, however, the kind of terrible that's fascinating to watch, if only because it's so incredibly weird. If you don't remember it, that's the episode that's structured like a weird Gothic Romance set on the misty moors of Planet Space Scotland, where Beverly Crusher is seduced by an energy vampire pickup artist ghost that's been hooking up with her matrilineal ancestors for 600 years. Even putting aside the incredibly gross nature of a story where Bev is molested in her sleep by an unseen and extremely handsy ghost, the genre mashup just doesn't work very well — especially when compared with other episodes that manage to pull off similar genre-blends.

It does, however, have what might be the single most awkward line of dialogue that has ever been spoken on Star Trek, which is quite an accomplishment. After a "dream" about being felt up by a mysterious presence that "knew exactly how I liked to be touched," Beverly dishes about the experience over cocktails with Counselor Troi. What follows is a conversation that is both incredibly detailed and bizarrely clinical, including such "these are definitely things people would say to each other" moments as Bev saying, "The sensations were very real... and extremely arousing" and Troi replying, "Frankly, I'm envious." The money line, though, comes when the good doctor reveals her theory on why her dreams were so sexy: "I did fall asleep reading a particularly erotic chapter in my grandmother's journal."

Folks. We definitely have different acceptable social norms now than we did 200 years ago, but it would be very shocking indeed if the 23rd century saw us all just being extremely chill about talking about getting hornt up over Gam-gam's sex diary by the year 2369. Being able to deliver that line without breaking into laughter right there in Ten Forward should've earned Gates McFadden an Emmy, and being able to hear someone say that without completely losing her mind should've gotten Marina Sirtis an EGOT.

Now where should I draw that line...

Patrick Stewart is a phenomenal actor, and in the years that he embodied the character of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, he brought his talents to bear on some incredibly intense scenes. Just look at "Chain of Command," where Picard is held prisoner and tortured by the Cardassian Gul Madred. Between Stewart and guest star David Warner, those scenes are thrilling and emotionally affecting on a level few shows have achieved before or since. Even though the climax basically amounts to a man wearing a dirty towel yelling "THERE! ARE! FOUR! LIGHTS!" nearly incomprehensibly at a guy with a plastic spoon glued to his head, there's nothing funny about the raw intensity of that moment.

Other times, however... well, nobody bats a thousand, and P-Stew is no exception. Just pop on First Contact if you want proof. In a plot that builds on Picard's long history with the Borg, he's given the choice to stop his enemies from wrecking the timeline, but at the cost of destroying the Enterprise. Faced with the idea of losing his ship to the same enemies who once stripped him of his humanity, Picard loses his control and shatters a display on the wall in a rarely seen explosion of rage. And... it's hilarious. He does that thing of yelling "noooooo!" that no human being actually does, no matter how distraught, because even if we're completely losing it, we know it's a cliché, and the whole thing is so over-the-top that it almost always gets the biggest laugh of the movie. Not that it has a whole lot of competition on that front.

The good news is that after that slow-motion glass break — which sadly does not lead to "Stone Cold" Steve Austin appearing on the Enterprise — Stewart wrenches you back into the good stuff by sheer scenery-chewing force of will. By the time he snarls his famous dialogue, "the line must be drawn heyah!" that intensity has ramped right back up to awesome.

Between the Rock and a hard space

It's usually pretty easy to tell whether something is funny on purpose or not. Sometimes, however, the exact motives of the people behind the scenes remain a mystery. Take, for example, the dubiously "classic" sixth-season episode of Star Trek: Voyager, "Tsunkatse."

Like, they had to know that doing an episode where Seven of Nine got into a wrestling match against Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson would be hilarious, right? Of course they did — that's why they have him come out in a fight broadcast to the millions (and millions) of sentient life forms watching at home, raise The People's Eyebrow, and then defeat Seven by using his patented Rock Bottom finishing maneuver. Considering that the whole thing was likely a corporate mandate designed to promote WWF SmackDown, airing on the same network, it stands to reason that the cast and crew of Voyager probably decided to have a little fun with it and knew exactly how delightfully goofy this thing was going to be.

But maybe not. Maybe they just got the most electrifying lemon in sports entertainment dropped onto their set and decided to make some incredibly re-watchable lemonade. That doesn't mean that they presented it as anything less than a very serious story, or that doing "Bloodsport with the Rock but it's Star Trek" is one of the most hilarious things that has ever happened in the franchise. But c'mon, they had to know, right? Just look at that goofy forehead ridge they gave him. Think maybe that's an extra alien sensory organ that allows him to smell what the Rock is cookin'?

Mass a Trek

If you haven't finished off the 2020 Picard series, which is stuffed full of Easter Eggs, and you want to be surprised by how it ends, here's your Spoiler Warning: don't read any further than the end of this sentence. If you have already seen the end of it, well, you know already know that the only way to really avoid spoiling the end of Picard is to go back in time to 2007 and make sure that you don't play Mass Effect, which itself had one of the most controversial endings ever.

It's not terribly surprising that there would be a little influence bleeding back into the TV shows from that trilogy of video games. They were, after all, pretty clearly influenced by Star Trek in the first place — it's not a coincidence that Marina "Troi" Sirtis, Michael "Worf" Dorn, and Dwight "Barclay" Schultz all show up as voice actors in those games — along with other major sci-fi franchises. In fact, more than anything else, the galaxy that BioWare built in those games feels like "what if Star Trek was also Star Wars?" Along the same lines, Picard wound up feeling like "what if Star Trek was also Mass Effect?" in some pretty interesting ways, from the design of La Sirena right down to the way Freecloud was portrayed.

The actual plot driving the last few episodes, though, boldly went way beyond influence and into something that could charitably be likened to changing a couple of sentences so that the teacher doesn't realize you copied your homework. The hyper-advanced synthetic life-forms that live outside of the galaxy, waiting until they are summoned to unleash apocalyptic destruction on organics? Jean-Luc, buddy, that's just the Reapers. Even the design of mechanical tentacles that we see trying to emerge from a portal in space has a distinctly Mass Effect-esque design that could only feel more like the games if it had a giant Terminator skull that announced it was assuming direct control. The climax of Picard was almost certainly meant to be dramatic and thrilling, but anyone who put a hundred hours into Mass Effect over the past decade had to bust out laughing when they saw what was going on in the finale. Let's just hope they don't try to base season 2 on Andromeda.