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Star Trek: Lower Decks •••

Movie Greg Scott
Star Trek: Lower Decks

Star Trek: Lower Decks

Star Trek: Lower Decks

 

scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, I hope you don’t think we’re lowering ourselves by agreeing to review Star Trek: Lower Decks.

 

I didn’t think we could get any lower… but here we are. Let’s recap.

Greg, ST: Lower Decks brands itself as an adult animated TV series. It’s kind of hard to believe that this show is the 9th Star Trek series, launched in 2020, representing yet another extension of Alex Kurtzman’s ever-expanding Star Trek television universe. It’s the franchise’s first animated series in almost 50 years and it’s the first series ever to focus entirely on the rank-and-file members of the support crew of a starship.

Indeed, it harkens back to an episode from Star Trek: The Next Generation called “Lower Decks” that explored the lives of the non-bridge crew. It also has some spliced-in DNA from some fan fiction called “Red Shirts.” As such, it borrows a lot from the Next Generation look and feel.

ST:LD is among the strangest and most unlikely of all the Star Trek reboot series. What makes it “unlikely” is that it is animated and only 25 minutes per episode. The original animated version of Star Trek, which we’ve already reviewed, could hardly be called a success. Granted, that series ran in the early 1970s, but there is no doubt that sci-fi viewers have always preferred live-action shows over cartoons – that is, unless the intended audience is children.

So is ST:LD aimed toward children? The answer could be yes, especially in light of the fact that many developmental psychologists now believe that childhood extends to the age of 30. Thanks to JJ Abrams’ successful reboot of Trek in 2009 and beyond, more and more young people in their 20s and 30s have been drawn into the Trek universe. ST:LD may be perfect for today’s young audience that is thirsty for bite-sized sugary nuggets of Trek.

Heck, the series may even be perfect for a geezer like me. There is a lot to like about ST:LD. First, it is the first true Star Trek comedy. Let’s face it – if you can adjust your expectations and just allow all your preconceived notions about what Trek should be to chill, ST:LD is just plain old silly, irreverent FUN. In fact, as I watch ST:LD, I marvel at the fabulous balance that the writers achieve in appealing to young viewers – in terms of the vocab of the characters – and appealing to old viewers – such as paying homage to all the “old” Star Trek series.

So as an elderly fan of Trek since the 1960s, I’m thrilled and happily tickled by all the callbacks to events in episodes from the faraway decades of the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. And there are many of these callbacks. If you pay attention, there are a lot of playful pokes at silly Trek tropes.

I wish I shared your enthusiasm for ST:LD – or for anything actually. I just hate this show. I don’t know who it’s aimed at. It’s not for adults because the topics and humor are sophomoric. It doesn’t appeal to very young children because it deals with topics over their heads. Which leaves us with teens – and I don’t know that they really are watching Star Trek. So, I’m at a loss to understand the demographic this show appeals to.

It’s one saving grace is that it is funnier, smarter, and more well-written than The Orville – Seth McFarland’s wet dream of captaining a federation starship. I won’t dive into a review of that terrible show, but I would much prefer any episode of ST:LD over any other episode of The Orville.

In comparison, Star Trek: The Animated Series was an extension of ST:TOS. Dorothy (DC) Fontana actually called ST:TAS the final year of the Enterprise’s five year journey. ST:TAS was very much written for adults, but strangely positioned on Saturday mornings. As such, it actually treated children as small adults.  

ST:LD on the other hand is a dumbed-down Star Trek. It makes fun of all the tropes – even calling out iconic figures like Kirk, Spock, Riker (who makes an appearance), and Picard. These “callbacks” to the Original and Next Gen series are fine for those of us who grew up with them – but for the uninitiated, it seems out of place. I really cannot fathom why anyone would want to watch ST:LD.

Wow, Greg, you are the consummate curmudgeon. But having said that, I totally understand your point of view. When I first started watching ST:LD, I found it almost totally unwatchable. But then I started listening closely and appreciating the hilarity of the characters and the absurd situations they encounter.

Take, for example, season 2’s episode, “We’ll Always Have Tom Paris”. The episode brilliantly pokes fun at a couple of Star Trek archetypal situations, such as the idea that you never really know everything about someone until they’ve either died, or you’ve gone on an undercover mission with them. Also, the character of Shaxs mysteriously comes back from the dead and the young lower deck characters spew out a dozen reasons in Trek lore how and why past iconic characters have returned from the dead (e.g., the transporter, mirror universe, the Nexus, etc).

I will concede, Greg, that ST:LD is never going to go down in history as one of the best Trek series. It’s good fun but it’s quite limited and on a good day only attains the status of “light amusing fluff”. I give the series 3 Reels out of 5, and the heroes 3 Hero points out of 5.

Fair enough, Scott. ST:LD certainly covers a certain patch of Trekdom where no one has gone before. And I appreciate some of the humor. The fact that the Cerritos (their ship – which sounds too much like Doritos for me), is on a “second contact” mission is a funny nod to the elitism of the Enterprise missions. The dynamic between Ensign Becket Mariner and her mother – who happens to be the captain – is handled better than the Wesley / Dr. Crusher relationship. And Becket’s flirtation and rivalry with the brown-nosing Ensign Brad Boimier makes for some very fun “Odd Couple” moments. So despite my spite for the show, I understand the appeal.

I find the missions of Lower Decks to be quite disposable. I won’t have much need to rewatch them. My biggest disappointment is that Cerritos and her crew will now become Star Trek canon. I’m not quite sure how this will play out in the other Star Trek universes, but I’m sure that I’m not going to recognize it when I see it.

For decent humor at the expense of classic Star Trek lore (no Data pun intended), I award ST:LD 3 out of 5 Reels. And for a quirky look at Star Trek through the lens of someone who doesn’t take Star Trek so seriously, I give these new characters 3 out of 5 Heroes.

BTW: I think the new Star Trek: Prodigy is a better animated treatment of Star Trek. Let’s review that next.

Movie Greg Scott
Star Trek: Lower Decks