Hot take: It’s more ‘perfect’ than ‘fine’
CBS (holders of the Star Trek TV rights) made a mistake with their new animated series, Star Trek: Lower Decks. It wasn’t in the writing or the casting or the plot or anything like that. It was the fact that, for a few hours, it was available worldwide on YouTube, which is how I, an Australian without a CBS All Access account, was able to watch (and download) it.
If you live in the US (or if your computer just thinks you do for some reason), you can still watch it here.
As for the show itself? Even the many (and there are many, google will back me up on that) detractors of the show can’t deny that it’s the most Star-Trek-feeling content that CBS has produced in well over a decade.
Star Trek: Lower Decks feels like Star Trek
According to many non-Star Trek fans (such as my eldest child, who can no longer complain that I don’t mention her in my articles), one of the main things that drives them away from Star Trek franchise is that the classic shows and movies are ‘stuffy’.
That’s a fair call.
Star Trek isn’t (by which I mean ‘traditionally wasn’t’) about flashy special effects or over-the-top action. Sure, those things existed in Star Trek (The Battle of Wolf 359 comes to mind) but that’s not what the show was about. Contrast and compare to, say, the Star Wars film series. Granted, Star Wars is more Sci-Fantasy than Sci-Fi – but that’s kind of my point.
Until the JJ-Verse (the recent Star Trek films) and Star Trek: Discovery came along, Star Trek was considered ‘the thinking fans Sci-Fi’. This meant that there wasn’t a lot there to attract people who are more into action and adventure than pensive retrospection.
But that doesn’t really explain the canonical missteps taken by recent entries into the Star Trek franchise.
Let’s take Star Trek: Discovery, for example. I understand that updated/remake shows will change things but the way Klingons were handled in that show wasn’t ideal, and I don’t just mean their visual aspects. While I do appreciate the effort the producers went to when it came to making sure that the Klingon language was spoken properly, it just completely killed the pacing any time someone spoke Klingon because they. Did. It. So. Incredibly. Slowly.
And then there’s the fact that the Discovery Klingons were coded to be simple villains. I have chosen to assume that was intentional because the alternative (that the producers thought they were treating the Klingons even-handedly) is terrifying.
There are many more examples of this, none of which would matter if the show didn’t pretend to take place in Star Trek canon. This is why the JJ-Verse gets a free pass from most hardcore Star Trek fans: It’s not pretending it deserves to be treated as canon.
Contrast and compare to Star Trek: Lower Decks (ST:LD).
Based on the first episodes outro, the Klingons in ST:LD look like the Klingons that appeared in every Star Trek series prior to Discovery – except Star Trek: The Original Series, but that’s fully explained in Star Trek: Enterprise). The uniforms look like actual Starfleet uniforms. There’s no magical space drives or site-to-site transport. There is nothing to break the immersion and everything follows the brand.
Apart from how the crew acts – which is one of the great things about the show.
Star Trek: Lower Decks – I’M STARTRECKLE RICK!
ST:LD was created by Mike McMahan, who – and I cannot stress enough that I’m not joking and this isn’t ‘a bit’ – won an Emmy for his production work on the (in)famous Rick & Morty episode ‘Pickle Rick’.
While watching ST:LD with my eldest, she commented that it felt like Star Trek crossed with Rick & Morty. That’s the best description I’ve heard of ST:LD yet. Let’s take a quick look at the plot for the first ST:LD episode, ‘Second Contact’ to see why.
The stars of the show are all Ensigns, meaning they’re the lowest rank allowed on active duty on a starship.
There’s Ensign Boimler, who’s one of those ‘rules exist to be followed’ types and his best friend, Ensign Mariner, who’s one of those ‘rules exist to be broken’ types. The other two regulars are Ensign Tendi, an Orion (a matriarchal green space-pirate alien species) who plays against type by being a pro-Starfleet fangirl, and Ensign Rutherford (a cyborg with malfunctioning implants).
They all serve aboard the California-class U.S.S. Cerritos, which is a Second Contact Support ship. This means that their job is to – well, let’s see what Ensign Boimler has to say about it in the first scene: ‘Our specialty is Second Contact. It’s still pretty important, we get all the paperwork signed, make sure we’re spelling the name of the planet right, get to know all the good places to eat-‘
He would continue on, of course – but he’s interrupted by a drunk Mariner and proceeds to become annoyed by her when she teases him about pretending to make a Captain’s Log.
Not long after this, the Captain of the Cerritos, Captain Freeman, asks Boimler to report on any illegal activities carried out by Mariner, to which Boimler reluctantly agrees.
Eventually, an Away Team (including Boimler and Mariner) is sent to process the Second Contact with a newly discovered humanoid species named Galardonians. Boimler catches Mariner illegally trading Starfleet equipment with some Galardonian farmers, but is surprised to find out that it’s simple farming equipment.
While on the planet, one of the Command officers from the U.S.S. Cerritos is bitten by a space mosquito. After he returns to the ship, he turns into a rage zombie, vomiting black mucus everywhere and infecting others in a gross-out moment that would be right at home on – wait for this, you won’t see it coming – an episode of Rick & Morty.
Meanwhile, Boimler is being suckled by a giant spider-like space-cow (which isn’t as creepy as it sounds, but is waaay more gross).
Boimler and Mariners return to the ship, even though Boimler is still covered in spider-cow saliva. It turns out that the saliva contains the cure to the black-vomit rage zombie infestation, so the Chief Medical Officer synthesises the cure and pumps it through the air vents, curing the entire crew.
Boimler becomes somewhat frustrated at hearing the captain award accolades to the command staff (completely ignoring Boimler’s part in finding the cure), so he chooses not to report Mariner’s illegal activities.
The pacing for the episode remains consistent throughout, and gives you just long enough to understand what’s happening without any navel-gazing.
Star Trek: Lower Decks – These Are The Voyages
I’m going to be completely honest here: I’m not a fan of the two main characters so far. Their actors? YES. They had a recent appearance on the vastly-underrated improv podcast Comedy Bang Bang and they are definitely funny people. But the characters are just – well, I hope they grow on me.
And I think they just might, because I’m in love with this show already.
From the canon-friendly nature of the backgrounds, to the references, to the fact that it takes place during the same time as the most popular series in all of Star Trek (Star Trek: The Next Generation), this show seems designed to actually make new fans while keeping the old fans happy.
I mentioned before that I watched this show with my eldest daughter, who is not a Star Trek fan. She’s never been into Star Trek because it’s never interested her. However, she said she’d happily watch more Star Trek: Lower Decks.
Sounds good to me!
Yes, I know the Klingon language is actually called tlhIngan Hol so don’t @ me. Feel free to comment below though!