Starring: Tawny Newsome, Jack Quaid, Noel Wells, Eugene Cordero, Dawnn Lewis, Jerry O’Connell, Gillian Vigman, Fred Tatasciore
Genre: Social SF, Space Opera
Broadcaster: Amazon Prime (UK)
First Aired: 22/01/21 (UK)
It’s hard to know what to make of Lower Decks before you go in. The mind behind the infamous Rick and Morty hardly seems like a strong match for the kinder and more serious Star Trek, and Mike McMahan has absolutely produced a show that nobody could have expected. While Star Trek has dabbled in comedy before (including one of the very best episodes) this is the first time a whole series has taken that lighter tone. It’s also the first animated series since, well, The Animated Series, so you could be forgiven for having low expectation in that regard. Happily, the budget is a lot higher this time around, as is immediately clear from the crisp lines and vivid animation. More important than that, however, is one simple fact: Lower Decks is incredibly fun.
With Picard and Discovery taking on darker themes, Lower Decks is a breath of fresh air. It takes all the best elements of classic Star Trek – likeable characters, deep space exploration and the odd moral message – and turns it into a light and breezy half-hour show that manages to pack in a whole lot of humour. Lower Decks is in no way a subtle show. Jokes are hammered in at every opportunity, characters sound like they’ve had a little too much sugar, and the visuals are eye-poppingly rendered in full colour. But this is a show that wears its heart on its sleeve, and even as the crew are running around screaming incomprehensibly, it’s hard to take offence to it. This is Star Trek made by, and for, the fans.
That deep-rooted love of Star Trek is also the one mark I would put against it. As I say, this is not a subtle show, and the references come thick and fast, perhaps even more so than the jokes. Sometimes it’s a small thing like a familiar alien in the background, but often it’s the characters referencing events of other Star Trek series. It makes sense that they would know about these events of course, since they lived through them, but Lower Decks does little to establish its own corner of the Galaxy, perfectly happy to ride on the shoulders of other shows. For me, this isn’t too much of a problem. I’m well versed in Trek lore, and I love trivia, so this show could basically be made for me, but I do wonder if the average viewer will be as enthused by Enterprise in-jokes as I am.
As with any comedy, what elevates Lower Decks above a mere collection of funny one-liners is its stellar characters. Twin leads Mariner (Newsome) and Boimler (Quaid) are the perfect odd couple dynamic, the latter being a stickler for the rules, the former a wildcard. Sometimes you can’t help but wonder why they’re hanging out with each other, but the actors absolutely sell their friendship. Newsome in particular deserves credit for taking a character who could easily become annoying and making her endearing. I wouldn’t want to serve on a ship with her, but Mariner is a great character to laugh along with. Two characters I would happily serve alongside are co-leads Rutherford and Tendi. Eugene Cordero and Noel Wells lend their respective voices to create two of the most likeable characters this side of Naomi Wildman. Rutherford’s love of his job and Tendi’s love of absolutely everything she encounters bring a much-wanted air of optimism to Star Trek, and if rumours that they’ll be getting even more screen-time in season two are true, then the show will be even stronger for it.
Despite my initial misgivings, I have to say that this is the most ‘Trek’ Star Trek for a long while, even if it’s not quite as involved as other recent offerings. It’s bright, it’s colourful, often funny and occasionally downright hilarious. In short, it’s a near perfect blend of science fiction and comedy.