For anybody out there unfamiliar with this particular branch of the Star Trek family tree, Lower Decks is an animated 30-minute sitcom set in the time period between Voyager and Picard, stemming from the brain of Mike McMahan, a writer and producer on Rick and Morty. The show follows the crew of the USS Cerritos, and focuses on the ancillary members of the ship’s complement, the ones who happen to end up with all the necessary but unglamorous jobs to do.
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Maybe the best equivalent would be to think in terms of Red Dwarf – our leads there were technicians aboard that vessel, making sure all the chicken soup machine nozzles remained unclogged. Yes, our heroes here are the ones who get all the thankless, sometimes menial, but ultimately essential tasks which keep the Cerritos going, albeit rather less boldly than some other ships in Starfleet. After all, not everything can be an Enterprise, with or without a bloody A, B, C, D or E.
Step forward, our main characters: Bradward ‘Brad’ Boimler, Beckett Mariner, Sam Rutherford, and D’Vana Tendi. Lower Decks follows their escapades and misadventures, giving us a look at what goes on behind the scenes on an average – in pretty much every way – ship of the line. The series may not be to every Star Trek fan’s particular taste, as the humour is not only quite salty at times, but also highly irreverent, with no part of the Star Trek franchise’s 56-year (and counting) mission left unexplored – or undefiled – all in the search for yuks.
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A lot of the laughs derive from taking affectionate digs and potshots at different bits of Trek’s history, and with some of the fans of major sci-fi entities famously known for taking themselves a bit too seriously, you can perhaps see why the series has landed with them in pretty much the same way as the saucer section of the Enterprise-D on Veridian III. Which is just the kind of continuity reference you really have to get in order to fully appreciate some of the jokes. Lower Decks is, however, chiefly a very funny programme that just happens to be taking place in the Star Trek universe .
IDW’s Lower Decks comic manages to keep the same tone, and ensures there really is no need to be a diehard Trekkie, Trekker or Trekspert to enjoy this, as all the references to past Trek episodes are helpfully pointed out at the back of the issue by Badgey, the inadvertently psychotic hologram mascot who was created by Boimler. It really is little things like that which make all the difference, as well as using the space at the bottom of pages for little asides.
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With writer Ryan North capturing the essence of the parent show so perfectly, artist Chris Fenoglio does a bang-up job of making it look completely authentic. Unlike with live action series, where character likenesses and art styles can be quite variable in comic spin-offs, it would be fairly difficult – but not impossible – to fudge that when adapting a cartoon, so thankfully Fenoglio makes it seem like every panel has been ripped straight from the screen and put into print.
With the story focusing around the hoary old chestnut of a Holodeck malfunction, and tearing that cliche a new one in the process, IDW’s Lower Decks series is off to a promising start, and looks to be an awful lot of fun.
Star Trek: Lower Decks #1 is out now from IDW Publishing.