Star Trek Lower Decks: Season 1 (TV REVIEW)
Creator/Showrunner: Mike McMahan
Cast: Tawny Newsome, Jack Quaid, Noel Wells, Eugene Cordero
It’s quite rare nowadays to see a massively beloved Sci-Fi franchise work on something that could be considered a self-parody of themselves. Whether it could be a result of fan fatigue or lack of interest, it isn’t until now that a franchise like Star Trek is throwing itself into that unique ring for the first time. Being their first animated series in nearly 50 years, and their first one geared at adults, Rick and Morty writer Mike McMahan takes the helm of this new space venture that is a fun, albeit slightly flawed romp that feels as much as a parody as it is a uplifting return to the stars.
Set in 2380, Star Trek: Lower Decks is a half-hour animated comedy set in the Trek Universe. It follows four ensigns named Brad Boimler, Beckett Mariner, D’Vana Tendi, and Sam Rutherford. They all serve as part of the U.S.S Cerritos, a Californian Class starship that is widely unloved and unpopular in Starfleet. The show harkens back to The Next Generation, by being a mostly episodic venture that focuses on the mishaps that these four get into on the lower decks of this mostly pointless starship.
In more recent years following the 90s, Star Trek has become way more serialised in its nature and storytelling to fairly mixed results, with some stories not having the weight to carry what has mostly been beloved as an episodic franchise. With this knowledge in mind, one of Lower Decks’ automatic highest quality is how much the show acts as a labour of love to classic Star Trek mainly in the vein of The Next Generation. While the show does have serialised elements that absolutely have their payoff in the final episode, the show thankfully stays episodic with each episode acting as a new adventure for these ensigns. Through the subject of the show being about the lower ranking officers instead of the typically high ranking officers on the bridge like other Trek shows, Lower Decks has the automatic front to be the background behind a ton of parody surrounding the franchise. And for the most part, when it comes to being a parody, Lower Decks does a surprisingly good job. Whether it would be poking fun at how pretentious the higher ranking officers are with their captain’s logs, paying homage to classic Trek and also blatantly calling out some of its sillier elements, or just exploring much of its world in a lighter fashion, the show acts as the ultimate love letter and blatant satirisation to Star Trek. It’s thankfully its parody edge that keeps the show from ever feeling stale, because when it’s trying to be a typical adult cartoon like most others, Lower Decks isn’t bad, just very flawed in its execution.
Most of this comes partially from its cast but also from a lot of the show’s parallels to mainly Rick and Morty. Like most Star Trek shows, a lot of the fun and charm of them comes from the crew and their bonds and interactions with one another, and with the likes of Tawny Newsome and Jack Quaid’s Mariner and Boimler, the show’s flaws start to seep through the cracks. Their friendship is believable, but it also feels a bit apparent that their characters do become a bit stereotypical. It’s literally to the point where they become the caricatures of Rick and Morty with the smart but dangerous genius, and the loveable but anxious dork. Noel Wells and Eugene Cordeno’s Tendi and Rutherford favour much better as friends, with some romantic tensions being laid on super thick, but that’s mostly because they feel a bit more multifaceted as people than Adult Cartoon caricatures. Mix it with some odd bits of raunchy humour and some overexaggerated cartoon violence, and it begins to become clear what this show’s main goal is. It’s built to be a Trek alternative for those who enjoy the franchise but also want something more surreal and comical like Rick and Morty which the show’s own creator worked on to an intense degree. It’s never insufferable though because the parody is so strongly well done, and when the season reaches its conclusion, some of the characters get greater payoffs with unique arcs and some self reflections upon themselves. It comes back in epic fashion with a finale that’s cinematic but also full of fun call-backs and surprise cameos that will please any fans. It comes together in a way that shifts tone in such a way where Season 2 likely isn’t gonna be the same quirky sitcom on a tacky starship to the same extent.
Star Trek: Lower Decks is flawed in a lot of areas, mainly when it decides to fall under the same trappings of other adult animated comedies, but as a return to episodic Star Trek of old, it can be a ton of fun to watch. It’s a quirky self-parody that feels first and foremost like a labour of love to the 50+ year legacy of this Sci-Fi franchise, clearly built from the adoration that Mike McMahan has for it. While definitely not the best that Star Trek has to offer, it harkens back to an optimistic depiction of the future that is ironically a bit lacking from recent shows like Discovery and Picard. Whether you are an old fan, or a lover of recent animated comedies, there might be something in Lower Decks to enjoy. Just don’t expect a tour de force in either of those areas.
FINAL RATING:- 6/10 (OKAY)