REVIEW: Star Trek – Lower Decks Season 1 (2020)

For better or worse, it has been great to be a Star Trek fan these past few years, seeing that the usual drought of content ever since Star Trek Enterprise went off the air has been replaced with a torrent of shows across all ends of the spectrum. Currently, we have Star Trek Discovery, Star Trek Picard, and now Star Trek Lower Decks with promises of more coming soon. I know some fans are fickle (as Star Trek fans usually are) and seem to hate everything, but I am not there – I have genuinely enjoyed all of this new content. The entire concept of today’s topic, Star Trek Lower Decks, takes a cue from a beloved old Next Generation episode called Lower Decks, wherein a story was told from the perspective of the unsung heroes that do most of the less glamorous work on the ship, and generally get little credit for their accomplishments. That is the idea behind this new animated series just on a grander scale.

“Developed by Emmy Award winner Mike McMahan (“Rick and Morty,” “Solar Opposites”), season two of STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS is bigger, funnier and Star Trekkier than ever before. Fans can expect strange new (and familiar) aliens to challenge the crews of the U.S.S. Cerritos and the U.S.S. Titan. For Mariner, Tendi, Rutherford and Boimler, the animated adventure is just beginning.”

Initially, I was not sold on Lower Decks, at first it just feels like any other late night adult cartoon that Fox would air – full of jokes and not much else. This is the exact same problem I had with a similar show, The Orville, in that the first few episodes are too “funny” and not at all representative of what the later show is actually like. I can understand this for a network show trying to latch onto casual fan ratings and build it up as time goes on, but this is a pay-gated Paramount+ show, so I don’t see the need. Once we get to around episode three, the show starts to feel more like Star Trek thankfully, and I grew to genuinely enjoy it.

In the past, I would have dropped the show after a few episodes if it didn’t grab me immediately, but I have long-since learned that with American television (or honestly anywhere anymore) that no longer flies. Giving a show a few episodes to get it’s footing is usually par for the course anymore, and luckily it doesn’t take long with Lower Decks. Hell, Next Generation is abysmal until halfway through season two, so there is a Trek precedent!

Some of the best moments in this show come from the writers playfully messing around with Star Trek clichés – for example an entire episode where a holodeck program gains sentience and tries to kill anyone that had the misfortune of being there at that very time. Character archetypes are also fair game – such as a crotchety doctor that has no time for any sort of shenanigans, or a bare chested heartthrob character that is largely insufferable to anyone they are around (Think Zapp Brannigan from Futurama). Anything we joke around about in Trek is up for grabs here.

This isn’t exactly new territory, as films like Galaxy Quest and shows like The Orville have already done the lion’s share of good spirited parody long before this, so your question might be – “why is this something I should care about”. If you are like me, you are tired of the focus of the franchise being the original crew from the 1960’s TV show, messing up continuity by adding stuff in for no reason (cough*Discovery and Enterprise*cough) or rebooting it (cough*Abrams films*cough), it’s good to have another show (Picard as well) that takes place AFTER Voyager finally.

We see a bit of this as the show goes on, but I will be happiest when a few of the characters tone their personalities down a bit. For example, we see Beckett Mariner, the daughter of the ship’s Captain Freeman, generally acting like an irresponsible idiot for the first few episodes. Apparently, she was a prodigy, and was on the track to making captain VERY early on only to be demoted to grunt work on lower decks due to an incident. Whatever happened has caused a general distaste for following in her parent’s footsteps (a Captain and Admiral). The problem is, the writers have made it appear like she’s not “putting on a show” to get herself fired from Star Fleet, but an actual unlikeable, usually belligerent jerk for the first few episodes. I can see that they are going the way of a character like Michael Burnham, a character that takes a “fall from grace” due to an unwinnable scenario, blames themselves, and are built back up as the show progresses. I just wish it was done better here.

That said, most of the characters are generally pleasant, and their interactions can be quite funny. I particularly like Shaxs, the Bajoran security commander, but that type of character is always my favorite on any show due to the promise of “fish out of water” scenarios that will make me laugh (think Worf in the cowboy holodeck episode of TNG). If they can tighten things up a bit more, and tone down a few things, this could be just like The Orville and become one of my favorite Trek shows.

in closing, Star Trek Lower Decks is not perfect. The beginning is not very good, and some of the character intentions are baffling at first. Once you give it a bit of time, a solid show starts to emerge about halfway through. I will be excited to see where the story goes in subsequent seasons, as I assume it will be a tad more serious and more narratively fulfilling. With the pedigree of the show being created by one of the Emmy Award winning creators of Rick and Morty at the helm, we know that a show that appears to be nothing but crass humor can turn into something much larger than expected – let’s see if that happens again. This show hasn’t really hit that moment yet, but I’m sure it will be great when it happens.

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