TL;DR – Super charming and a fun new direction for the franchise.
Star Trek: Lower Decks Review –
When it was announced that the next new Star Trek series would be an animated show that would take a more comedic look at a life aboard a Starfleet vessel, many people treated the news with some hesitation. However, when we got to see the first episode Second Contact, you felt the tone they were going for and how it was able to walk this line between making fun of Star Trek and showing its deep love for the franchise. Well, the full season has finally been released outside of North America, so it is time to dive in and see if the whole run stands up as well.
So to set the scene, we open in on the USS Cerritos in 2380 (which for those playing at home is two years after the return of the USS Voyager and twenty years before the start of Picard). The Cerritos is a California Class Starfleet Vessel that specialises in second contact, which is the follow-up mission after first contact, not as much glory but still significant. Ensign D’Vana Tendi (Noël Wells) has just come on board from Outpost 79, and this is her first placement on a starship. Her orientation guide is Brad Boimler (Jack Quaid) a very straight-laced command track-captain seat hopeful Ensign. Orientation is soon side-tracked as Ensign Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsome) decides to take D’Vana on a more personalised tour. But as we soon learn Captain Carol Freeman (Dawnn Lewis) has her phasers set on Mariner and is looking for any excuse to boot her off the ship and preferable out of Starfleet. Now from here, we will be looking at the season as a whole, so there will be [SPOILERS] ahead.
One of the things that Star Trek has played around within both The Next Generation (where we get the name for this season) and in Voyager is that starships are big and more than just the bridge crews. However, these tended to be one-off episodes used for flavour, so it was interesting to see a show that went all-in on this premise. This means that while the ship’s command staff are still integral parts of the show, our leads are four ensigns that are so low on the ladder they don’t get their own quarters and bunk in the hallway. Each of our four leads also captures a different essence of Star Trek officer that we have seen in the past. Beckett Mariner has the full confidence-protocol be damned energy of Kirk. Brad Boimler has a love for knowledge and being his very best. D’Vana Tendi has the sheer optimism of a glowing star, and Sam Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) is a technical nerd and lover of all things diagnostic.
If there were one thing alone that I would champion this season, it would be the attention to detail in every frame of the show. All the sounds feel just right, the visual design, and the Easter Eggs, so many Easter Eggs. You see this in the design of the backpacks they wear, the Romulan Ale they drink, and the Klingon bat’leths they wield. Like there are some deep-dive references in this show, for every reference to quote ‘Khan’s thick, thick chest’ we also get Spock’s Helmet. It is also not afraid to throw references from things outside of the Star Trek franchise as well. I did appreciate, for example, the nod to Upgrade when Rutherford is fighting the Borg. It is that love for Star Trek that you feel throughout the show, and that means that the moments where the show is taking the piss, it is taking the piss with love, not malice.
An excellent example of this comes in the penultimate episode Crisis Point. In this episode, Mariner and her mother, Captain Freeman’s relationship, reached the breaking point, and Mariner is sent to therapy. But instead of finding closure talking to Dr Migleemo (Paul F. Tompkins) and his food references. She finds it on the holodeck when she co-opts Boimler’s program of the ship to eat out some revenge by creating a movie on the holodeck featuring the USS Cerritos and their crew. This gave the writers the ability to parody some many aspects of the Star Trek universe. There are the flying credits in the typeface of The Next Generation. The excessive slow pans of the USS Cerritos as if it was the USS Enterprise in The Motion Picture. It even pokes fun at the overuse of lens flairs of the Kelvin Timeline. But this is all done in good fun, while also allowing Mariner to come to terms with the fact that she is also part of the problem regarding her relationship with her mother providing some real character growth.
The show uses the parody setting to paint with broad strokes before bringing nuance as we saw throughout the season. An excellent example of this is Shaxs (Fred Tatasciore) the Bajoran chief tactical officer. When we first meet him, he is this gruff one-dimensional parody of security officers in Star Trek, wanting to shoot first and maybe ask questions later. However, we get to see a more nuanced character as the show progresses like how he has so much pride for Rutherford when he follows his passion by going back to Engineering. This creates an interesting and complex character whose loss in the season finale you feel in your heart.
In the end, do we recommend Star Trek Lower Decks? Absolutely. I honestly had a blast with this season from start to finish, from the charms of that first episode to the explosive ending of the season finale and everything in-between. I am really interested in seeing where they go next because I can guarantee that nothing else will be fascinating.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Star Trek: Lower Decks
Directed by – Barry J. Kelly, Kim Arndt & Bob Suarez
Written by – Mike McMahan, Chris Kula, Dave Ihlenfeld, David Wright, Ann Kim, Ben Joseph, John Cochran, M. Willis, Garrick Bernard & Ben Rodgers
Created by – Mike McMahan
Based Upon – Star Trek created by Gene Roddenberry
Production/Distribution Companies – Secret Hideout, Titmouse, CBS Studios & Amazon Prime.
Starring – Tawny Newsome, Jack Quaid, Noël Wells, Eugene Cordero, Dawnn Lewis, Jerry O’Connell, Fred Tatasciore & Gillian Vigman with Jessica McKenna, Ben Rodgers, Paul Scheer, Sam Richardson, Marcus Henderson, Tim Robinson, Jack McBrayer, Lauren Lapkus, Phil LaMarr, Tom Kenny, Kevin Michael Richardson, Haley Joel Osment, Gillian Jacobs, Matt Walsh, Kari Wahlgren, Nolan North, Jennifer Hale, Kurtwood Smith, Paul F. Tompkins, Gary Cole, Kenneth Mitchell, J.G. Hertzler, John de Lancie, Jonathan Frakes & Marina Sirtis
Episodes Covered – Second Contact, Envoys, Temporal Edict, Moist Vessel, Cupid’s Errant Arrow, Terminal Provocations, Much Ado About Boimler, Veritas, Crisis Point & No Small Parts