The Star Trek franchise has been through some changes over the last decade. We’ve had three films set in an alternate timeline from JJ Abrams, Star Trek: Discovery doing new and interesting things with both the past and future of the franchise, and Star Trek: Picard bringing back one of the franchise’s most popular figures – and through it all fans have been divided over the quality of it and what’s ‘real’ Star Trek.
The most interesting of these new shows, however, is probably Star Trek: Lower Decks, which not only marks the first time since 1974 that the franchise has gone animated, but is also the first Star Trek series that will ignore the command crew, instead focusing on low level crew members. There are no big decisions being made by these characters, no battle strategy or diplomatic meetings, instead it’s a bunch of everyday people doing repair work and cleaning out the holodecks.
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Now, if that kind of description makes you wonder if this kind of show could really work then you’re not alone; I was really unsure of Star Trek: Lower Decks before it aired, especially when it was revealed that the show would also be a comedy. Yes, the franchise has done some great comedic episodes in the past, just look at ‘The Magnificent Ferengi’ from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but those have been the odd episode in a larger, serious whole. However, Star Trek: Lower Decks always uses its love of the franchise and its tropes to inform its comedy, never poking fun at Star Trek, and really wins you over quickly.
The series follows Brad Boimler (Jack Quaid), a human ensign aboard the Cerritos, a ship specialising in second contact missions. A stickler for the rules and doing whatever it takes to win over the captain, he’s distraught when he’s made to work with Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsome), a slacker, and rule breaker who is constantly getting in trouble with command. Alongside them are D’Vana Tendi (Noel Wells), an Orion medical trainee who’s always excited to get involved in anything and loves being in Starfleet, and Sam Rutherford (Eugene Cordero), a cybernetically augmented human who works in engineering and is still trying to learn life on board a starship. The four of them could make one competent officer if they were mashed together, and their good points are some of the best ideals in the franchise, but they’re all dragged down by their flaws and get stuck working on the lower decks.
Over the course of the season we get to see these characters, and the command crew who feature as secondary characters, get into some familiar scrapes as the show draws upon the more recognisable tropes of the franchise. Whether it’s away teams getting locked up by alien races and forced to fight for their freedom, or strange lifeforms getting onto the ship and causing havoc, these are stories that fans have seen before, but they never feel stale as they’re given a more ridiculous edge that’s more akin to shows like Rick and Morty or Archer than Star Trek. But it’s the sheer amount of love that the creators clearly have that prevents it from going into pure parody. Whether it’s background details and throwaway lines, or races and characters from other series, there are so many references to the live action series that it still feels like Star Trek, even if it is pushing things to the edge of parody.
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The downside to how many references and in-jokes that the show has is that if you’re not completely familiar with the franchise you might not get every joke, and could occasionally be asking what someone’s talking about, but even then I still think that you’re going to like it. You don’t need to know that there was a dog that was like The Thing in one episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation to start laughing when Tendi’s genetically enhanced dog starts crawling on the ceiling with its head on backwards; it’s still funny. I can only come at this as someone who’s seen every episode of Star Trek, so gets all of the references, laughing at throwaway lines or cheering at the Chief O’Brien reference, but I honestly think people who’ve never experienced Star Trek before will still enjoy it, though perhaps not as much.
With ten episodes, the first season was a lot of fun, but felt a bit too short, and come the final episode I found myself disappointed that it had come to a close so soon. Fortunately a second season has already been confirmed, so hopefully we won’t have to wait too long to see what bizarre adventures the crew of the Cerritos get into next.
Star Trek: Lower Decks is out now on Amazon Prime Video.