Is it hysterically funny? Yes.
Is it one of the top episodes of Star Trek? Yes.
Is it one of the top three as consistently voted in many fan polls? No.
See, the thing with “The Trouble With Tribbles” is I think it wins all those fan polls based on its reputation. It’s sort of like Ellen Bursten getting the Emmy nod this year for her 15 seconds of screen time. It’s more about name recognition than it is about the actual relative merits.
That’s not to say “The Trouble With Tribbles” is a bad episode. Heaven knows it’s no “The Cloud Minders” or “Way to Eden”. As I said to start with, it’s a fun, enjoyable romp through the Trek universe. It takes all the standard Trek cliches and turns them on their ear a bit, poking fun at Star Trek. “Tribbles” doesn’t take itself too seriously, a sin commited by some of the lesser third-season episodes when Trek seemed to become a bit too convinced of its own self-importance.
But I will say this–in terms of how I think “funny” Trek episodes should work, I think the second-season’s “I, Mudd” does a better job. Why?
My biggest issue with “Tribbles” is that in order to go for the jokes, the characters suffer. In many ways, they become one-dimesional stereotypes of thier usual selves. Chekov is proud of everything Russian, Scotty is extremely territorial in his defense of the ship, Kirk has no use for Federation officials who rub him the wrong way. But yet in all the epiosdes that lead up to this and the ones that come after it, while Kirk may not always agree with the various ambassadors, commodores and other higher ranking officials who cross his path, he’s never out and out insubordinate and disrespectful as he is. Yes, the lines “On the contrary, sir, I consider this project to be very important… it is you I take lightly.” are amusing and funny, especially the way Shatner plays them (the man can act and shows a comic side here that will later emerge in such projects as Free Enterprise and, well, just about everything he’s done since). But, it still rubs me the wrong way for all the characters to act like a bit of themselves, but not fully themselves.
That aside, I still find “Tribbles” a fun episode. Certainly it’s well-regarded enough that when DS9 wanted to go back and pay homage to the original series, it picked this episode to re-visit. (Literally since we get the DS9 actors inserted into scenes from this episode using the same technology as Forrest Gump).
You can tell everyone invovled in this one is having a good time. It’s one of the only times we see much interaction between Scotty and Chekov and it’s fairly well done. The scene of Scotty being insulted the Klingons and the bar fight is good. And the way all these various comedy plotlines come together in the overall serious picture of the development of Sherman’s Planet works. That the tribbles are vital to the resolution of the plotline is well done. In fact, watching this story, it’s hard to believe that writer David Gerrold was writing one of his first ever professional sold scripts.
Gerrold went on to detail the writing of the script and pitching and selling it to Trek in his book “The Making of the Trouble With Tribbles” in the mid-70’s. It’s a fascinating read and almost a how-to book on getting your foot in the door as a freelance writer.
So, as I said before, I like this episode but don’t love it as much as others do. It’s a solid, fun, entertaining episode. But there are some niggling things that, quite honestly, keep me from putting it higher on this list.