Star Trek: Lower Decks is an animated series that follows the adventures of the low-ranking officers on the USS Cerritos.
The Cerritos might look like the Enterprise but this ship is the furthest from. It is among the least important ships within the entire Federation. Animation aside, one of the things that makes this series a breath of fresh air is in its focus on the lower decks. While the captain and other senior staff do appear in the series, they are not the main focus. The other thing that sets this series apart from other Star Trek offerings is that it is an outright comedy series. With a ten-episode run, the first season makes for a very quick binge, too, as we spend each week discovering strange new worlds. It’s in this vein that the series sticks to the formula that works.
In setting the series in 2780, it allows for many references to The Next Generation era. This couldn’t be more true than seeing the Pakleds as villains in the season finale. Once referred to as a joke in TNG, they’re a force to be reckoned with in Lower Decks, much like fascism coming back into the picture in recent years.
After Discovery and Picard, Star Trek: Lower Decks became the third new series in the CBS All Access/Paramount+ era. I only apologize that I’m late to the party. Tawny Newsome, Jack Quaid, Noël Wells, and Eugene Cordero are so much fun in this new series as Beckett Mariner, Brad Boimler, D’Vana Tendi, and Sam Rutherford, respectively. Even if the pandemic forced recording to take place virtually, you can feel the chemistry coming through the screen. Speaking of, one of the things that I love about this series is how many improvisers are in the cast. This doesn’t just extend to the series regulars but the guest cast as well. You have Paul Scheer, Sam Richardson, Tim Robinson, Jessica McKenna, Lauren Lapkus, Jack McBrayer, and more.
Series creator Mike McMahan took what works best in Star Trek: The Next Generation and puts it in animation form. Of course, it comes with a change in focus to the lower-deckers. I love this approach and it absolutely works. Their situations are no different than what you’d see in the films or previous series. Most importantly, it never feels like he’s making fun of Star Trek. “Crisis Points” might be their episode of a Star Trek movie but it’s also one of their biggest episodes in terms of character growth. The audience was let in on Beckett being Captain Freeman’s (Dawnn Lewis) daughter early on but they keep this secret from the crew. It’s an episode with immediate ramifications the following week. Furthermore, I look forward to seeing how their mother-daughter relationship moves forward in the seasons to come.
There are no shortages of easter eggs throughout the first season. In fact, the season finale features a reference to the TOS era and says so–not just the return of Beta III and Landru. But instead of it meaning The Original Series, it stands for “Those Old Scientists.” The same episode sees the crew returning to a planet once visited by Kirk and company. This doesn’t even begin to take into account the appearance of some special guest stars. Spoiler alert: I won’t get into it even though the season was released a few years ago. Despite the comedic approach to this series, it still helps to have basic knowledge of the franchise.
Even in terms of the music, composer Chris Westlake fits easter eggs into the score. Westlake might come from the John Williams world but he certainly knows what makes a Star Trek series work. We hear a number of homages throughout the season, be it TOS or TNG. Even in the aforementioned “Crisis Points” episode, Westlake is delivering a score that plays like an homage to James Horner’s score for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The theme song feels classic Trek in general than a comedy series theme song. Put it this way: even though I have the skip option for the opening credits, I let it play out in its entirety.
It may be a comedy series but the approach that Star Trek: Lower Decks takes is one that never betrays what we know and love about the franchise.
CREATOR/SHOWRUNNER: Mike McMahan
EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS: Alex Kurtzman, Heather Kadin, Rod Roddenberry, Trevor Roth, Katie Krentz, Mike McMahan
CO-EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: Aaron Baiers
CAST: Tawny Newsome, Jack Quaid, Noël Wells, Eugene Cordero, Dawnn Lewis, Jerry O’Connell, Fred Tatasciore, Gillian Vigman
Paramount+ launched season 1 of Star Trek: Lower Decks on August 6, 2020. Grade: 4/5
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