**** (4 stars out of 5)
Voyager's holographic doctor 'Kenneth' programs a perfect fifties sitcom family. Chirpy wife Charlene, overachieving son Wesley, uh, I mean Jeffrey, and 'everything nice' daughter Belle (repurposed by the holodeck from Janeway's Beatrice Burleigh character, apparently).
When the Doctor invites work friends Kes and Torres home to the holodeck for supper, B'Elanna flips her Klingon lid. "This isn't a real family... this is a fantasy! You aren't going to learn anything from these... lollipops!"
The engineer introduces randomized elements of 'reality' into the family: harried hardworking Charlene needs a husband who pulls his weight, underachieving gang member Jeffrey cranks up the Klingon tunes and plots to cut someone with his pals Larg and K'Koth, while Belle wails for attention and plays the dangerous sport Parisees Squares. In days, Jeffrey abandons the family (and human morals in favour of Klingon values) while Belle receives a tragic, fatal brain injury in a fall. What fun!
Tom steers a shuttle into crazy danger while investigating a space tornado. The Doctor becomes enraged at this recklessness, prompting Mr. Paris to inquire after the Doctor's home life.
The EMH, clearly rattled by the family experience, has opted out of it. He's not willing to sit and watch his fantasy child die. Paris insists that shared pain lays the groundwork for genuine love and support. Paris may have low test scores in any objective measurement of familial bonds. But the pilot makes a good point that the crew's predicament has forced them to be better to each other.
"Real Life" is both amusing and anguished. A very worthy drama, well played. And a lesson well learned: the isolated and emotionally stunted may wish to keep in mind that real world interactions (painful and uncontrollable though they may be) undoubtedly have greater value than imaginary ones.
Say, I'm just wondering: does B'Elanna ruin everyone's recreational enjoyment, or only creeps who drug her and feel her up? Emotionally, the Doctor seems to operate at the level of a very small child. Does Torres also tell babies that their dolls have cancer? Well, how else are they gonna learn?