Star Trek Lower Decks is going forward to the next frontier – animation. Now whilst this isn’t the first animated Star Trek series, it’s certainly a different take on one and as the ship itself is all about second contacts, it feels fitting that this is the second of its kind also.
Lower Decks focuses on the support crew (literally living in the lower decks of the ship) of the U.S.S. Cerritos in 2380. We follow Ensigns Mariner, Boimler, Rutherford and Tendi as they juggle duties, social activities and rule breaking, whilst also dealing with the sci-fi adventures happening around them.
The show may feel reminiscent of other sci-fi cartoons like Rick and Morty, but that’s no accident as the show has been developed by Emmy Award-winner Mike McMahan (who won for producing ‘Pickle Rick’). Whilst keeping its Star Trek tone but going in to some tongue and cheek silliness, it most reminded me of Seth McFarlane’s comedy-drama The Orville and the comparisons between the two are not difficult to make.
Mariner (Tawny Newsome) and Boimler (Jack Quaid) are the main focus of the show. During the first episode Boimler is tasked with keeping an eye on Mariner, looking out for any signs of dissent from rank. What he doesn’t know, is that Mariner is actually a lot closer to ship Captain Freeman than they’ve let on.
In its 10-episode first season run, we get to know the various inhabitants of the ship and it proves to be an enjoyable, but also forgettable watch. Whilst we learn more about the core teams’ personalities, there is little progress or development, each episode feeling encapsulated in its own world and having little stakes. This is in no way a problem and I enjoyed hanging out with the Lower Deck crew, but it doesn’t have the same hook that other shows of a similar vein have showed, nor do the separate episodes feel very different from each other.
I like to describe myself as ‘Trekkie-Adjacent’. I grew up in the 90s with an older brother who was obsessed with The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager. We had only one tv and so our Sunday night dinners often revolved around the BBC showings of Captain Janeway and her crew. For this reason, I have a limited knowledge of the Star Trek expanded universe, but enough to know the vibe and some of the big names and alien races. Lower Decks never fully commits to the Star Trek idea, and whilst there are nice name drops and easter eggs, if you change the costuming of the show, it could easily by any spaceship from any show. Likewise, it doesn’t go all in on the adult humour we’ve seen in shows like Rick & Morty, Family Guy and even The Orville. There are bleeped out swear words, occasional references to sex, but it all feels a little too safe and family friendly despite this. Clearly wanting to be removed enough to attract a new audience, but reverent to the beginnings enough to keep old fans, it never finds a firm footing as its own show.
Star Trek Lower Decks is definitely an enjoyable show with some fun moments, and I found myself laughing at various points, but it doesn’t feel like a show that’s going to ignite sparks for an audience, more a gentle evening hang before doing the dishes.
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