Julien Neaves – Editor
In this post-Star Trek: Discovery era the more than five decades-old science fiction franchise has begun exploring both strange new worlds and strange new genres. Take for example the recent news that Captain Kathryn Janeway herself Kate Mulgrew has become attached to the upcoming Nickelodeon series Star Trek: Prodigy, which I presume will be relatively kid-friendly fare. And on the flip side of that adult comedy animated series Star Trek: Lower Decks aired its Season 1 finale episode on October 8. Lower Decks (not to be confused with the Next Generation episode) tells the story of four lower deck crew members on a not very famous starship the USS Cerritos, named after a not very famous city in California.
Now Trek has done comedy before but it is usually campy, situational or cerebral. And it has gone animated before with the TOS-era The Animated Series. But an adult comedy animated Trek show? Can that even work? Well, dear reader, how about we find out together? With a Dyson Sphere-sized SPOILER ALERT let’s carve up Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1 in four slices. Engage!
Slice 1 – That Kooky Crew
It is important for any Trek series to have a likeable, engaging, and relatively well fleshed out crew (hear that Discovery?). And I did like hanging out with the Cerritos crew, both lower decks and the bridge officers. The rebellious Ensign Beckett Mariner’s (Tawny Newsome) boundless energy and lust for life is infectious, and is balanced well by her neurotic and promotion-obsessed best friend Ensign Bradward “Brad” Boimler (Jack Quaid). I also like the endless optimism and naivete of the Orion D’Vana Tendi (Noël Wells). My least favourite of the four is Ensign Samanthan “Sam” Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) who I found mostly flat and only entertaining for the budding romance with Tendi and when his cyborg implant malfunctions. Otherwise I find him just kind of there.
There is not a heavy focus on the bridge crew but we do see enough of them to get a handle on the characters. Captain Carol Freeman (Dawnn Lewis) is a bastion of strength and wisdom and I thoroughly enjoyed her rocky relationship with Mariner, her daughter, and complaining about the D-list missions the Federation sends her ships on. First officer Jack Ransom (Jerry O’Connell) is a bit of Kirk/Riker caricature but he never comes off all that funny, and Bajoran tactical officer Shaxs (Fred Tatasciore) with his constant roid rage was a bit of a one trick pony. My favourite bridge officer has to be the foul mouthed, ill-tempered Caitian Dr T’Ana who never failed to put a smile on my face. I do hope with get a T’Ana-centric episode come next season because this bad kitty deserves it. And I will say overall the voice acting is very well done, so kudos to the cast.
Slice 2 – The Ferengi in the Gorilla Suit
Lower Decks is a comedy, so the obvious question would be – is it funny? To be honest most of the show’s humour didn’t really land for me. Now you can tell the writers try very hard to make the show amusing and that’s because most of the jokes are kind of obvious and in your face. But most of them kind of bounce off like a low level phaser blast against a Borg shield. Now part of the humour (or attempt there at) is the many, many (and I mean MANY) Trek Easter eggs. These guys clearly did their research in that department. And while the cornucopia of references do make the Trekkie neurons in my brain light up, which is a most pleasant feeling, I found myself more smiling and smirking rather than guffawing.
But the show can bring on the laughs when it plays up the character’s quirks, goes full meta or leans into its adult rating. I enjoyed the subplot in Much Ado About Boimler when Tendi makes a dog with absolutely no idea how a dog works, or in Cupid’s Errant Arrow when Mariner goes through the laundry list of shape shifting Trek aliens. Or the cameos by a TOS-era gaseous space intelligence, the mischievous Q or a flash forward showing Chief Miles O’Brien is revered as the most important man in Starfleet history. Put some respect on the Chief! I actually found myself laughing the most when the show descended into gratuitous and over the top violence, such as when the crew member horrifically ascends in Moist Vessel, and the holographic crew slaughter in the penultimate episode Crisis Point. More blood and gore please.
Slice 3 – These Are The Voyages…
So Lower Decks may not be a laugh riot in the vein of Rick and Morty but it does a good job in scratching that Trekkie itch. It is set in the year 2380 and post-Nemesis which is a time most fans are interested in. The opening credits and episode titles use a TNG-esque font so it definitely gives you that Next Generation nostalgia feeling. And all the recognisable species and references (again) do make the show feel like a lived-in galaxy. The animation is also very well done, especially the impressively designed Cerritos, the other Federation and alien ships, the various space phenomena and an encyclopedia worth of alien species. And I must say I appreciate all the love shown to Star Trek: The Animated Series with the inclusion of T’Ana, who is a callback to fellow Caitian officer M’Ress, and the appearance of an Edosian in the aforementioned Much Ado About Boimler, which is a callback to Edosian officer Arex. They even showed a still from TAS in one episode. That’s cool.
And what about the voyages themselves? They range from okay to pretty dang great. The pilot Second Contact kicked things off with a bang with the crew getting infected with an alien virus and all hell breaking loose. Envoys was also essential in showing Mariner’s vast knowledge of alien culture and Boimler’s complete ignorance. Never trust a Ferengi son! I found Temporal Edict and Veritas to be among the weaker episodes, while one of the strongest has to be Terminal Provocations. Literal killer app Badgey and his passion for homicide cracked me up from start to finish, and this was definitely Lower Decks at its best.
Slice 4 – No Small Finale
And speaking of Lower Decks at its best, BY THE PROPHETS WHAT A FINALE! I was neither mentally nor emotionally prepared for that episode. Now first off, was I the only one who thought the crew knew Mariner was the captain’s daughter and just never talked about it? Just me? Okay. So the awkward revelation of Mariner’s secret and the crew’s reaction starts the episode off similar to what we have seen before. But then when newly overpowered Pakleds start carving up Federation starships you know the tribble has hit the fan. This was not just another throwaway adventure but there was actual danger and stakes. Where was this show all the time? And you guys brought back Badgey! I love Badgey!
Early in the episode the Captain name drops the starship Titan. I thought it was just going to be a name drop. I never expected to actually SEE THE TITAN with Riker and Troi. Did you hear that explosion? That was my Trekkie mind exploding! Add to that the brutal melee battle with the Pakleds, Shaxs’ shocking heroic sacrifice, and Boimler’s shocking transfer to the Titan and you had one helluva of a nerdgasmic episode. And if the intention was to have fans begging for another season then mission accomplished. Well played Lower Decks. Well played.
Julien’s Season 1 Score: 6.5 out of 10
So what did you think of Season 1 of Lower Decks? For more animated Trek you can check out my Top 12 Star Trek: The Animated Series Episodes by clicking here. Or if you want some live action you can check out my review of Star Trek: Picard Season 1 by clicking here.
* Huge shout out to this week’s FUNNY CAPTION FRIDAY winner and Carla Bridglal. Your caption was simple, effective and relatable. Are you good at coming up with funny captions? Well to be part of our next Funny Caption Friday you can like and follow our Redmangoreview Facebook page by clicking here.
Julien “Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”.
I can also be found posting on Instagram as redmanwriter and talking about TV and movie stuff on Facebook at Movieville.