BEWARE: The following contains minor spoilers for Star Trek: Lower Decks
The premiere of Star Trek: Lower Decks on CBS All-Access brings us the second fully-animated series in the Star Trek family, and the third new Trek show to premiere on the streaming channel, after Discovery and Picard. As a comedic departure from typical Trek shows, Lower Decks shares as much of its DNA with Galaxy Quest and The Orville as it does the Next Generation or Discovery. So does this bold new direction for Trek pay off so far? We think so. Here are a few things we loved about the premiere episode, “Second Contact:”
It’s Not “Too Cool” for Trek
One of the biggest fears of the concept of a comedic series set in the Star Trek universe is that it would roll its eyes at the institution of the show. It’s clear, however, that the writers of Lower Decks love Star Trek; the series’ humor feels like a natural progression of the types of jokes Trekkies have cracked for decades. It takes the Galaxy Quest-meets-Parks and Recreation route of realizing you don’t need to sacrifice sincerity for the sake of comedy.
The Characters Are Not “Too Cool” For Trek
The nature of a workplace comedy often leads to characters who hate where they are, hate their place in the world, and hate the company they work for. But for fans who have dreamed about serving on starships for their entire lives, seeing a group of crew members who hate being there would have been a huge bummer. The refreshing thing about the Ensigns of the USS Cerritos is that they are all in-universe Star Trek nerds in their own way. Even Ensign Mariner (Tawny Newsome), the rebellious (secret) daughter of the captain, doesn’t rebel because she finds Starfleet lame. By the end of the first episode, we learn she’s actually a gigantic Starfleet nerd. Her behavior is her attempt to emulate the heroes of the Federation that she (and we) have been obsessing over for years.
Mariner’s Holodeck is Horny on Main
Okay, for sure Mariner springing her naked gymnast holodeck program on Tendi (Noël Wells) without warning was low-key a 24th Century dick pic. But given how many times we’ve seen Janeway or Data dive into a stuffy old holonovel, it’s refreshing to see a character get freaky with it. We’d all do it at least once. Not counting that time Geordi LaForge went full creep, obviously.
It’s Great To Just Enjoy The Federation Again
There are a lot of great things to say about Discovery and Picard, but both series rely heavily on the “dark sides” of the Federation for their stories. This is all well and good for weaving sophisticated narratives within the Trek universe, but gosh it’s refreshing to just see a show where the Federation serves as the more shining beacon of potential peace and prosperity in the Alpha Quadrant again. Despite the zombie rage-virus, this is the most we’ve wanted to serve on a Federation Starship since pre-Dominion War Deep Space Nine.
World-building Through Shipbuilding!
Part of taking the universe seriously even through a comedic lens, showrunner Mike McMahan and company crafted a class of Starship, the California-class, for the show. Different ships within this class have specific functional duties within the Federation that extend the color-coding system of crew uniforms. This type of detail really helps make the show feel like a truly lived-in and functioning part of the Trek universe and not just a tacked-on, jokey extension.
It Feels Good To Feel Familiar
After prequel and sequel shows, it’s really fun to see a series that drops into the continuity of the Trek timeline right after we left it following Nemesis all the way back in 2002. The series taking place in 2380 means we’re passed the Dominion War, and have a good five years of potential stories that feel like the TNG/DS9/Voyager era of Trek before the Romulan Supernova and the Synth attack on Mars. It also leaves the door open for potential guest appearances from characters of that era. And via the magic of voice acting and animation, they won’t inexplicably look 20 years older than the last time we saw them.
With all these things going for it, and pretty exciting-looking trailer of things to come at the end, Lower Decks feels poised to be a series that recaptures some of the more wild adventuring fun of the Original Series Trek, with the optimism and idealism that so encapsulated the Next Generation era that many modern fans grew up in. We’ve already seen with Star Wars how animated shows can vastly expand on the mythology of a universe while also providing an entry point for younger fans. Here’s hoping that Lower Decks finds success on its similar mission.
Featured Image: CBS