Star Trek is a franchise that has been around for 50 years and shows a great deal of variety. The franchise now entered the funniest frontier: adult animation.
Star Trek: Lower Decks follows the crew of the U.S.S. Cerritos, particularly four members of the lower decks. They are Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsome), the rule-breaking maverick and daughter of the captain; Brad Boimler (Jack Quaid), a by-the-books ensign who wants to become an officer; Sam Rutherford (Eugene Cordero), a skilled engineer; and D’Vana Tendi (Noël Wells), a new and enthusiastic member of the medical crew. They face wacky scenarios as well as serious space adventures over the course of ten episodes.
Viacom has all full in with its Star Trek franchise. Star Trek: Lower Decks is the third series to come out on CBS All Access and there are more TV shows to come. Star Trek: Lower Decks marks a departure for the franchise because the franchise has generally appealed to all ages and the tone has generally been serious. Star Trek: Lower Decks was a full-on comedy and aimed at adults. There was swearing, violence, and nudity.
Star Trek: Lower Decks was a risk because a vocal section of Trekkies have let their thoughts be known about how much dislike the direction that the franchise has gone in. Some have genuine concerns, others like the Youtube channels Midnight’s Edge and Nerdrotic just have a political ax to grind. Star Trek: Lower Decks was an even bigger change for the franchise.
Star Trek: Lower Decks was created by Mike McMahan, a writer on Rick and Morty, and co-created Solar Opposites. This was evident due to Star Trek: Lower Decks’ art-style matched those shows and the opening episode with a zombie outbreak – a plot device used by Rick and Morty and Solar Opposites. Mariner was like protagonists in other adult animated shows – she was an alcoholic, rebellious badass. Mariner also had parental issues like Archer and Bean from Archer and Disenchantment.
The series does suffer from a sluggish start. The first episode seemed like the people were trying to shock the audience with the zombie carnage, Boimler getting attacked by a giant spider, and Tendi having to pump someone’s heart with her own hands. It was the fourth episode when the show hit its stride. That episode’s plot saw Mariner gets promoted to lieutenant because her mother wanted to bore her into requesting a transfer. However, Mariner showed that when she applied herself, she could be a capable officer and she could work well with her mother.
My favorite episode of the season was the ninth. In that episode the main characters turn the Holodeck into a movie set and Mariner got to act out her violent fantasies. It was an entertaining episode that played homage and spoofed the movies like Star Trek: The Motion Picture and the J.J. Abrams reboot. It was also a character-driven episode because Mariner was acting out her rage against her mother but was forced to come to a realization.
The episodes beyond episode four felt much more like Star Trek. They had plots like the crew finding an abandoned ship that had terraforming technology, the Cerritos helping with the demolition of a moon, and the popular stable of Star Trek: a trial episode. These were concepts that could have worked in more serious episodes. The Pakleds were a major threat in the season finale because they created a powerful spaceship made from scavenging parts from other spaceships.
Out of the main characters I liked Rutherford and Tendi the most. They were decent people who loved their jobs. Mariner was the most interesting character – she started off as a stereotypical rebel but grew due to her parental issues and as she states in the sixth episode that she may bend and break the rules, but she would never do anything that would put the Cerritos in danger. Boimler was a bit whinny and lacked the enduring qualities of characters like Morty and Elfo. Yet it was still fun to see him in his element in the third episode and when he did do a traitorous action in one episode there was a good reason for it.
The senior officers were fun characters. Captain Freeman (Dawnn Lewis) improved as a character as the series progressed – she showed herself to be a decent captain and whilst she had an aggressive demeanor she showed could come up with reasonable diplomatic, solutions. Jerry O’Connell’s Jack Ransom was an old-fashioned action hero who jumped into situations and T’Ana was great as a cranky doctor and cat-person. Shaxs, the security officer, was arguably a one-note character but it was entertaining to see him want to use force and go headfirst into battle.
Star Trek: Lower Decks was also a love letter to all things Star Trek. There were references to many past stories and events, like a return to Beta III, visual references to Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country, and many others. I am only a casual viewer of Star Trek so there were plenty I probably missed. It was enjoyable to see all the crew members who suffered from scientific mishaps. The ending of the episode “Terminal Provocations” was incredibly similar to what happened to Zapp Branigan in the Futurama episode “Brannigan, Begin Again” and a reminder of Futurama is always good.
The adult animation field is an extremely crowded field right now, and Star Trek: Lower Decks doesn’t match the levels of Bojack Horseman or Rick and Morty. Yet it was a breezy watch with a solid mix of action, comedy, and sci-fi concepts.