Written PostJosh Reviews the Series Premiere of Star Trek: Lower Decks

Josh Reviews the Series Premiere of Star Trek: Lower Decks

Star Trek: Lower Decks is the new animated series on CBS all access.  It focuses on four low-ranked crew-people on a Federation Starship, the U.S.S. Ceritos, during the era of Star Trek: The Next Generation.  The series is a comedy, in the vein of Rick and Morty.  (The series’ creator, Mike McMahan, was a writer for Rick and Morty for several years, and was show runner of that show during its fourth season.  He’s also the person behind the hilarious TNG Season 8 twitter thread.)  Is this type of show what I wish new Star Trek would be like?  No.  But that being said, I’m open to a humorous take on Trek, and I thoroughly enjoyed this first episode!

First off, it is a DELIGHT being back in the TNG era of Trek.  This was the era of Star Trek I watched and enjoyed for almost two decades, through the eighties and nineties.  This is the era of Star Trek: The Next Generation,  the four Next Gen movies, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager.  After suffering through the two other recent Trek shows, Discovery and Picard, both of which made a hash of established Star Trek continuity and seemed to demonstrate zero interest in making their shows visually — or in any other way — consistent with the previous decades’ worth of Star Trek history, it is an absolute pleasure to watch a show that seems so attentive to the details of the Star Trek universe.  There are a million visual details that are all PERFECT for this TNG era.  I love the look of the Ceritos’ primary hull.  I love the look of the corridors.  I love the look of the computer consoles.  I got an inordinate amount of delight from seeing the very-specific look (and sound!!) of the Holodeck doors.

In the places where the show chose to strike new ground with its designs, it did so in a manner that fit extremely well with established continuity.  It’s a new Trek show, so of course they wanted a new take on the uniforms, but unlike the ugly uniforms of Discovery or Picard, I love the Lower Decks uniforms!  I love how they took the diagonal opening flap from the Original Series movie-era uniforms and merged that with the general look and layout of the TNG uniforms!  So clever!  (In a similar vein: it’s a new Trek show, so of course they want a new take on the transporter effect: but here again, the new effect 1) looks good and 2) is completely plausible and feels correct for this era of Trek.)

The show is also JAMMED full with a million references to Trek continuity.  One could almost say it’s too much.  But after Discovery and Picard, it’s a breath of fresh air.  This show is clearly being made by people who know and love Star Trek, and that makes me very happy.  I love hearing characters mention Worf and Gary Mitchell.  I loved seeing a Benzite.  I loved that the ship’s Chief Medical Officer is a Caitian (like Lieutenant M’Ress from the original Star Trek: The Animated Series from the seventies).  There are also lots of fun more-hidden Easter eggs.  (I didn’t catch it on my first viewing, but I was thrilled to see a still online in which the Nomad probe appears to be stored in the Ceritos closet in which Ensign Boimler records his fake Captain’s Log at the start of the episode.)

The animation on the show is terrific.  I like the designs of all the characters.  They’re pleasing to look at and they’re simplified enough to animate very smoothly.  I love the more detailed approach taken to all the sets and backgrounds.  There are some very beautiful images in this first episode!

The characters seem great so far.  I already love all four of the main characters.  This twenty-two-minute first episode did a terrific job of hooking me into these characters and the world of this show.

Lower Decks is a comedy, and I thought this first episode was very funny.  For the most part, I was pleased with the line that the show walked, in that the humor comes from characters in this Star Trek environment, rather than being a mockery or parody of Star Trek.  Most of the jokes and references are aimed at people who are already Trek fans — as a huge Trek fan myself, I appreciated that.  (Though I do think the show could be enjoyed by someone who is new to Trek.)  Is it inconsistent with the established Star Trek universe that I know and love that there are a bunch of idiots and goofballs serving on a Starfleet vessel, even in the lower ranks?  Well… yes.  But I can go with the idea and enjoy the show.

If there’s one place where the show threatened to lose me, it was in its depictions of the Ceritos command crew.  I can sort of squint and mentally buy into the idea that these low-ranking young officers on a not-so-important starship might be more like you and I than the idealized humans seen in previous Trek shows.  But to buy into that premise, I need to believe that the crew people actually in charge of the Ceritos are actually competent officers.  So that’s why I didn’t love the occasional moments that showed the Ceritos command crew in a less-than ideal light.  We see the X.O. and another officer give each other a sort of bro-ish high-five after walking out of the transporter room; we see the Captain purposely ignore and take credit for an important discovery made by Boimler and Mariner; in the opening credits, we see the Ceritos running away from battles and smacking a nacelle into an object when flying.  I don’t like those moments, because for me they puncture my desire to believe that these stories are actually happening in the established Star Trek universe.  It’ll be interesting to see if this becomes more or less of a problem for me as the series continued.

(I’ll also comment, as I have mentioned on this site before, that the one design aspect of the show that I don’t like is the look of the U.S.S. Ceritos itself.  I adore the look of the primary hull.  But the bizarre and ugly huge metal struts connecting to the nacelles are ugly, and it makes zero sense that one would have to actually travel through the nacelles to get to the ship’s tiny secondary hull.  I cannot fathom that.  There have been so many beautiful and iconic starships in Trek history, from Matt Jefferies’ brilliant design for the original Enterprise, to the refit Enterprise of the movies (my favorite starship design EVER), to the beautiful, all-curves design of the Enterprise D, to the great looks of the Defiant from DS9 and Voyager, and many more.  So why can’t anyone working on Star Trek seem to design a decent looking starship anymore?  From the terrible J.J. Abrams version of the Enterprise, to the horrible Discovery version of the original Enterprise… UGH.)

I said at the beginning that this isn’t what I wish new Star Trek would be like.  I’d have LOVED to have seen a SERIOUS Star Trek show made from this same premise, animated or not.  The TNG episode, “Lower Decks”, from which this series draws its title and basic idea, was one of the very best Next Gen episodes.  I’d love to see a series that focused more on the low-ranking officers on a starship, as opposed to the leaders on the bridge.  That could be very cool.  This pilot episode was all about the Ceritos’ making SECOND contact with a new alien race (with whom another, presumably more important starship, had already made the more exciting First Contact).  On the show, it’s played as a joke: First Contact is IMPORTANT but Second Contact is just cleanup done by the losers.  But in the reality of the Star Trek universe, I think Second Contact would actually be super-important, and I think it’d be awesome to see a serious take on this type of follow-up work that we’ve never before seen depicted on a Star Trek show.  I think that would have been an amazing TV show.

But that’s not what Lower Decks is.  And that’s OK!  In this first episode, at least, I thought Lower Decks struck a terrific balance between being very funny and also fitting smoothly into the tapestry of Star Trek continuity.   I’m cautious, because I also liked the first episodes of Discovery and Picard, and both those shows wound up being very disappointing to me.  But I want to believe.  I’m excited to see where this series goes from here!

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Photo credits: Pictured: No’l Wells as Ensign Tendi; Eugene Cordero as Ensign Rutherford; Tawny Newsome as Ensign Mariner; Jack Quaid as Ensign Boimler of the CBS All Access series STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS. ©2019 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved.