Star Trek: Lower Decks had me hooked from its title sequence.
There were the standard Star Trek glory shots. Our hero ship, the U.S.S. Cerritos, flies majestically along the rim of a black hole. Before it gets sucked in. Backwards.
The Cerritos flies into a battle between the Borg and the Romulans. They take one shot and immediately turn around.
One of the knocks against Star Trek over the years has been that it’s stuffy and takes itself too seriously. Star Trek: Lower Decks doesn’t have that problem. And it works beautifully.
Trek shows typically follow the best of the best. The Cerritos is one of those ships that I’ve known for years must exist in the Trek universe. A ship that handles the boring, run-of-the-mill stuff. The U.S.S. Cerritos handles second contact operations. It’s the ship that follows up on the boring details after the heroes make history.
And lower still, the show focuses on four ensigns who do the benign jobs.
Right off the bat, we’re introduced to Ensign Brad Boimler (Jack Quaid), a stuffed shirt with his heart set on moving up the chain of command. Ensign Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsome) is his precise opposite. She has no regard for moving up the ranks (“Been there, done that”).
The first episode, ‘Second Contact,’ sees Starfleet newbie Ensign D’Vana Tendi’s first day on the Cerritos. Boimler can’t wait to impress her with his knowledge of protocols, and Mariner can’t wait to show her every way to break them.
‘Second Contact’ follows a pretty standard A-story/B-story Star Trek format. First Officer Jack Ransom (Jerry O’Connell) carries a parasitic virus back to the ship. And makes for an interesting first date for Ensign Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) who’s dealing with having just become a cyborg.
And Tendi, a medical officer, has to deal with a rough first day in sickbay.
On the planet, Boimler spies on Mariner on the orders of Captain Carol Freeman (Dawnn Lewis). Freeman wants to run a tight ship, and Mariner’s on her hit-list.
The first episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks plays like a 90s sitcom. Wacky misunderstandings, awkward conflict, and the value of friendship. It’s equal parts cheesy and edgy. The show’s earliest trailers gave the impression that it would be a Rick And Morty knockoff, which is understandable. Creator Mike McMahan was a producer for Rick And Morty. But Star Trek: Lower Decks is more than that.
Its comedy isn’t edgy for the sake of edgy. They don’t use the Star Trek universe as an excuse to do toilet humor. And it isn’t so self-aware that it tries to deconstruct the franchise. It’s simply a Star Trek show with humor.
The vocal performances are mostly top notch. Quaid (fresh off last year’s first season of The Boys) brings a wonderful mix of awkwardness and determination to Boimler. His vulnerability works the same way that C-3PO works in the Star Wars saga. We all know what we imagine we’d do in a deep space life-or-death situation. Boimler is the representation of what we’d really do.
You’d think that Tendi (Noel Wells), the fresh-faced new kid, would be the annoying character. But she actually comes across as pretty relatable. Far from the fish-out-of-water, she also does what most of us would do on a Starfleet ship. She gets by well enough.
Tawny Newsome’s performance as Mariner is going to take some getting used to. The character is delightfully abrasive, but Newsome is really skirting the edge between devil-may-care rebel and space spaz. So far she handles it well, but I could see her becoming nails-on-chalkboard eventually.
The show’s background characters – namely the command crew of the Cerritos – are also used well in this setting. It’s nice to see a Star Trek crew that doesn’t uniformly worship the captain and first officer. O’Connell’s Commander Ransom is a preening jerk, and he plays him with glorious arrogance. And Shaxs (Fred Tatasciore), the ship’s Bajoran security chief, is the perfect Worf parody. Shaxs’s solution to everything is to blow it up. Lower Decks plays it for laughs but doesn’t go too far.
Restraint is the name of the game for Star Trek: Lower Decks. The writing is sharp and funny. But the show knows when it’s about to go too far and when to scale it back.
I wish that there was more high-concept sci-fi stuff, though. At least high-concept for a goofy Star Trek sitcom. But ‘Second Contact’ did what a first episode should do. It introduces the characters and makes us want to see more of them. And Star Trek: Lower Decks accomplishes its mission.
Trek fans may decry a show that doesn’t carry the heft of its predecessors. We Star Trek fans do like our pomposity. But Star Trek: Lower Decks uses its format to reinforce the things the franchise is all about. Exploring new worlds and learning things about ourselves.
It’s a solid first episode, and it opens new opportunities for Star Trek as a whole. Star Trek: Discovery showed that this franchise can work without focusing on the captain. Picard showed that it can work with Starfleet in the background.
This show gives us the best of both. Relatable characters in insane situations. It looks and feels like Star Trek, and it also feels like something entirely new.
And it works brilliantly. So far.
New episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks stream each Thursday on CBS All Access.
All images courtesy of startrek.com.
'Star Trek: Lower Decks' - Second Contact
- It's both familiar and new.
- Relatable characters in 'Star Trek.' Whoda thunk it?
- Solid supporting characters
- Quaid and Newsome have great chemistry
- Newsome is dancing dangerously close to grating
- Could've used a denser first plot.