Star Trek Lower Decks
I have always thought that a Star Trek show about the “enlisted” crew and not the officers would be an interesting tale to tell. I believed I was going to get it with “The Lower Decks” but I was disappointed to learn it was going to be animated and more of a satirical look at the entire franchise.
Spoiler Level: Light to Moderate...Spoilers for Star Trek Discovery.
The show centers on four very very junior officers aboard the USS Cerritos. Brad Boimler (Jack Quaid) who has captain chair aspirations, Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsome) who is a bit hyperactive but also jaded toward Star Fleet. Ensign Tendi (Noël Wells) the newest recruit assigned as an assistant to the med bay. Ensign Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) an engineer who has recently been cybernetically enhanced.
The opening exposition of the Cerritos’ mission was cleverly done as a faux captain’s log entered by Boimler, who is interrupted by a Mariner. The Cerritos handles “Second Contact”, basically doing all the paperwork and administrative things after First Contact is made on a planet. We get a sense in this first scene of who Boimler and Mariner are. Boimler is a “play it by the rule book” type of guy. Mariner is a trouble maker who has been demoted a couple times and transferred from ship to ship a couple times (we also find out later on that she is the Captain’s Daughter).
The episode itself focuses on a virus brought onto the ship that turns the crew into flesh eating zombies. Only through Mariner’s dereliction of duty (although for a good cause) does Boimler accidentally get covered in slime that happens to be the cure. Neither character gets any credit for helping to save the crew. Boimler learns that the rule book isn’t always the best way to help the people that need it, and that Star Fleet is better with Mariner in it. That’s his call, personally, I’d like her toned down several notches or else blown out an air lock. Meanwhile, Ensign Rutherford has a date with the “perfect” girl, and although the date goes well even after being interrupted by the space zombie apocalypse, he realizes that she isn’t right for him. Ensign Tendi helps save lives while coping with the chaos in sick bay, even manually pumping a heart in her hands (which she thinks is super cool…but it’s just gross). By the end Rutherford and Tendi find that they have a connection.
While the show was mildly entertaining with a lot of pokes and jabs at The Next Generation and the entire franchise, I found the pacing a bit manic, especially the character of Mariner. I am sure this will appeal to a lot of viewers, but for me (possibly due to my advanced age) it was a bit too much. The show never made me laugh out loud, more of a chuckle here and there. The humor was just crass.
The original series and the Next Generation series of shows (TNG, DS9 and Voyager) all showed us a world much evolved. Even while fighting each other and trying to survive, there was always hope. Lately the franchise has moved away from the shining example of what humanity can become to a grittier model of what we currently are. The Lower Decks seems to be a mocking look at the utopia that Gene Roddenberry tried to create while turning a mirror on to our current world. The first episode points out that bureaucracy often hinders or delays the help that is urgently needed now and that those in command often over look the people doing the actual work. It will be interesting to see if the show continues with this or if it devolves into crass sophomoric humor.
We have seen how an animated Star Trek series can be done well. Star Trek has been and should continue being a serious show. That’s not to say humor can’t be a part of individual series’ episodes as it always has been. But we already have a Star Trek satire and it’s called The Orville which has spent 2 seasons doing Trek better than what’s been happening on the actual shows. Star Trek Discovery I felt had a bumpy first season, particularly involving the Klingons and the level of science on a show taking place prior to Star Trek The Original Series. I was happy these issues were addressed in the second season…ie: we know the Klingons have 24 “Houses” but as was explained the different Houses varied in how the Klingons looked. It was a slightly feeble explanation but it was easy enough to swallow. And at the end of Season 2 we see everything involving Discovery was redacted and those who knew about the ship took an oath of silence. I had always thought the new series should take place after Star Trek Voyager and that’s what we are getting in Season 3. But an “Emo-Spock” really wasn’t necessary.
The new era of Star Trek under Alex Kurtzman is failing. Backers like Netflix have stopped funding these series. Rumors that are highly credible suggest the long promised Section 31 series is dead and that, unless they can find someone to pay for it, a second season of Star Trek: Picard may not happen…we can only hope that rumor is true after the first season, which had a promising debut, quickly turned into a chaotic mess and left Jean-Luc in a position that should just end where they left it. The Star Trek Universe under Alex Kurtzman and Michael Chabon is a disaster and no show illustrates that better than Star Trek Lower Decks. Kurtzman and even JJ Abrams seem totally uninterested in continuing Roddenberry’s legacy as seen in 5 television series and 10 feature films and instead are set on dismantling it.
What Star Trek needs more than anything is a new set of showrunners....people who have a love and respect for what Star Trek stands for...which Kurtzman clearly doesn't. What it really doesn't need is a show aimed at the followers of Rick And Morty. That's not a jab at Rick And Morty or anyone who watches it...I've heard it's a good show. But it doesn't belong in Star Trek. All these Trek shows that are supposedly in development like Section 31 and Strange New Worlds (with a rumored bi-sexual Kirk!), more Picard and Discovery and our current Star Trek Lower Decks...focus one one show at a time and make that show good, a show that feels like it belongs in the Star Trek Universe. Until then, Hailing Frequencies remain open.
A special thanks to Rob Price who helped me write a large section of this article.
Star Trek Lower Decks: Low…Very, Very Low
Writing - 3/103/10
Storyline - 1/101/10
Acting - 2/102/10
Music - 10/1010/10
Production - 4/104/10
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