Star Trek: Lower Decks is still looking for its comedic voice.
It wants to have the general feel of Star Trek. And it wants to be self-aware and edgy. But it also wants to do its own thing. Somewhere in the attempt to spin all of those plates, the second episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks, ‘Envoys,’ gets lost.
The cold open is a good example of the balancing act done right. Mariner (Tawny Newsome) and Tendi (Noel Wells) encounter a wandering, sentient energy ball floating through the ship.
Mariner threatens to stuff it in a canister, and Tendi argues that it’s a lifeform with thoughts and feelings. The energy ball promises to grant a wish. So it conjures a custom tricorder to the point it becomes the size of a marble and inhabits Captain Freeman (Dawnn Lewis).
It’s typically Star Trek, suitably self-aware without overdoing it, and genuinely funny.
And that’s where this week’s Star Trek: Lower Decks – for the most part – loses it.
Ensign Boilmer (Jack Quaid) gets an assignment, shuttling a Klingon ambassador. Somehow, Mariner manages to tag along. And it turns out she and the ambassador are old buddies. They get drunk together, and the ambassador ends up stealing the shuttle and ditch Mariner and Boilmer on a remote Klingon outpost.
Meanwhile back on the Cerritos, Tendi corners Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) into watching a pulsar with her. But he wants to focus on his job in engineering. Luckily, Tendi has what she thinks is a perfect solution. Rutherford could just switch departments so he’ll have more time to hang out.
Unfortunately, the department Rutherford starts with is command. So Commander Ransom (Jerry O’Connell) puts him through disaster simulations. And Rutherford has trouble making the decision to go left or right around a tiny asteroid. He tries security next. But Lt. Shaxs discovers his cybernetic implants are great for killing Borg.
As with the premiere of Star Trek: Lower Decks, it’s a pretty sitcom plot. Unlike the premiere, it doesn’t have the “first time out ” shakedown to hide the weaknesses.
It’s predictable, with slacker Mariner saving the day by actually applying herself. And Boilmer – dedicated to becoming the best Starfleet officer ever – messing up at every opportunity.
Part of me wants to excuse the writing for ‘Envoys’ as an opportunity to keep fleshing out the characters.
But when Star Trek: Lower Decks is selling itself as wacky adult comedy? It’s time to make with the jokes.
It leaves me worried that every week will see Mariner exposing herself more as a capable but uninspired officer. Star Trek: Discovery already paid a price with its own Mary Sue know-it-all in Michael Burnham. A too-cool-for-school know-it-all? That’s going to be a tough one to maintain. At least not without making the character unbearable.
Where this week’s Star Trek: Lower Decks scored with me was the expansion of the background characters. Ransom as a Riker-like first officer potential for laughs. And Shaxs’s need to kill anything and everything is the perfect Worf parody.
As mentioned earlier, it’s all about balance. Star Trek: Lower Decks wants to have it all. But two episodes in, things are already lost in the shuffle.
Newsome was much more restrained this week. And that’s surprising, considering part of Mariner’s story was getting drunk with a Klingon.
Jack Quaid has had plenty of experienced playing the fresh-faced new kid, especially following the first season of The Boys. His Boimler is still vulnerable, as we saw in his book smarts and reliance on protocol get him progressively deeper into trouble. Boimler needs to be the anchor of Star Trek: Lower Decks. And Quaid’s voice acting in ‘Envoys’ helped lend a lot of credibility to the character.
As for Rutherford, Cordero is playing him a little too on-the-nose. And then there’s Tendi. As mentioned in the premiere, she’s the new girl to the ship. So part of me wonders why she isn’t the main character. Wells does what she can to inject some aloofness and an awkward spirit to Tendi, but it doesn’t cohere into much.
‘Envoys’ wasn’t exactly a red alert disaster for Star Trek: Lower Decks. But it doesn’t inspire much confidence in the series.
The sitcom A/B plot that worked so well in the premiere seems muddled in week two. And while Quaid and Newsome have good chemistry together, every episode can’t have Boimler and Mariner stuck together to learn things about each other and themselves.
It’s very Star Trek. But it isn’t very original. And it isn’t necessarily funny.
If Star Trek: Lower Decks can’t figure out how to make it all work, then it shouldn’t try to have it all.
New episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks stream every Thursday on CBS All Access.
All images courtesy of startrek.com.
'Star Trek: Lower Decks' - Envoys
- Mariner is way more restrained than I expected
- The command crew of the Cerritos is a comedic gold mine waiting to be found
- The cold open balanced everything 'Lower Decks' wants to be
- Only the cold open balanced everything 'Lower Decks' wants to be
- Seriously, why isn't Tendi the POV character?