Star Trek: The Next Generation
"Cost of Living"
Air date: 4/20/1992
Written by Peter Allan Fields
Directed by Winrich Kolbe
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
Here's a great idea: Let's get two of arguably the most annoying recurring characters in the annals of TNG and pair them together for long stretches of time! And put them together in one of the corniest, worst-conceived holodeck programs ever depicted! While undermining any attempt to take seriously the fact that Worf is a single parent trying to raise a brat of a son! And tie it all together with a wedding premise that makes no sense whatsoever! And to throw a bone to the sci-fi fans who don't want to watch only lame characterization, let's have Yet Another Season Five Enterprise Jeopardy Premise!
"Cost of Living" is pretty much an obnoxious mess of an hour that fails as comedy, fails as drama, fails as technobabble disaster, and fails at making me want to see another story about Alexander (played by the generally grating child actor Brian Bonsall) ever again. The arrival of perennial motormouth Lwaxana Troi should've been a warning indicator. (The thing is, Lwaxana is not inherently awful as played by Majel Barrett; it's the writing that time and again seems to saddle her with these bad sitcom plots and obnoxious behavior.)
Let's start with the impending wedding: Why is Lwaxana agreeing to marry a guy (and vice versa), sight unseen, who clearly is not a match at all for her free-spirit personality? This is doomed to failure from the very first frame, and all I could do was wonder why either of these people were wasting their time. Then we have the pairing of Alexander and Lwaxana, the latter who takes on a sort of crazy-aunt role and undermines everything Deanna and Worf are trying to accomplish in teaching Alexander rules (which wasn't exactly a plot that was going swimmingly as it was). It's yet another example of how poorly this show depicts children as a part of the ship's daily reality. Meanwhile, the holodeck scenes are mostly unwatchable, and I couldn't help but wonder why Lwaxana seemed to think a striptease-like dancer qualified as appropriate "entertainment" for a child of Alexander's age.
There are plenty of weakly portrayed scenes here that make a mockery of Worf's attempts to raise a child, perhaps none more so than Alexander's need to have a "laughing hour" during dinner hour. Ugh.
The riveting sci-fi plot here is that the Enterprise has come down with a nasty case of space termites that are eating through the ship. This subplot is largely ignored until the last act or so, in which it becomes yet another race against the clock to find the technobabble solution while the computer ticks down the minutes and seconds until the contrived calamity will supposedly destroy the ship. Yawn.
Regrettably, I think there might be a subtext to Lwaxana's story here, who has dialogue about old age and loneliness that could be read as sadly poignant given the death of Barrett's real-life husband and Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry, only a few months prior to the episode being made. But given the end result, I hate to think that "Cost of Living" was in any way intended as a memory to the man.