Star Trek: Lower Decks (STLD) proudly embraces the trappings of Starfleet, however the show is boldly going where adult animation has gone before.
Set aboard the USS Cerritos, STLD follows the exploits of four ensigns assigned to a variety of menial duties in the ship’s lower decks. STLD may have a warp core but it is fueled by a steady supply of science fiction and comedy tropes. This interstellar workplace comedy is the creation of self-proclaimed Trekkie Mike McMahan, a veteran animation writer and producer. McMahan has contributed to Rick & Morty, South Park and co-created Hulu’s Solar Opposites.
The opening scene of STLD’s first episode “Second Contact” offers a nice sampler of what viewers should expect.
While on shore leave Ensign Brad Boimler (Jack Quaid) is introduced to the pointy end of a Klingon Bat’leth, courtesy of a drunken Ensign Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsome). Mariner is a confident chaos bringer which makes her the perfect foil for the uptight Boimler. Like most competent workplace comedies “Second Contact” uses a new crew member, Ensign D’Vana Tendi (Noël Wells), in order to familiarize the audience with the Cerritos. Rounding out the quartet is Ensign Sam Rutherford (Eugene Cordero), who is struggling to adjust to a new cybernetic implant.
One of the strengths and weaknesses of STLD is the number of story lines packed into a 25-minute episode. Episodes tend to have ‘A’ and ‘B’ plots; the writers are very adept at shifting from one plot to another so there is always forward momentum.
Boimler and Mariner primarily drive the ‘A’ plots which tend to involve adventures off the Cerritos. Initial episodes feature the pair heading to worlds where Boimler’s by-the-book attitude nearly gets him killed, but is continuously saved by Mariner’s bravado. The third episode “Temporal Edict” inverts the dynamic. During a planetary mission Mariner is out swaggered by First Officer Jack Ransom (Jerry O’Connell), while Boimler imparts some wisdom on the Cerritos’ captain.
Tendi and Rutherford are relegated to ‘B’ plots which usually highlight their slightly annoying personality quirks. Rutherford spends the bulk of episode 2 “Envoys” searching for a new discipline in order to have more free time to spend with Tendi. In episode 4 “Moist Vessel”, Tendi is trying to gain another crew member’s respect after an accident. In addition to slightly limiting personality traits, Rutherford and Tendi also have to compete with the Cerritos’ senior officers for screen time. STLD often replies on the senior officers to initiate plots, particularly when it comes to Boimler and Mariner.
If Star Trek: Lower Decks is only evaluated on whether or not it adheres to the mold of previous shows, this series would be called before a Starfleet Tribunal. STLD’s through line is that every ship (or show) cannot be held to the same standard as the Enterprise. The Star Trek franchise’s mission has always been to entertain fans by exploring strange new worlds and civilizations. Episodes 1-4 of STLD are brash, occasionally crude and semi-absurdist while displaying a reverence for the franchise. Star Trek: Lower Decks adequately fulfills its Prime Directive of entertaining fans through the lens of adult animation.