Starring: Tawny Newsome, Jack Quaid, Noel Wells, Eugene Cordero, Dawnn Lewis, Jerry O’Connell, Gillian Vigman, Fred Tatasciore
Genre: Space Opera, Comedy
Broadcaster: Amazon Prime (UK)
First Aired: 12/08/21 (UK)
By their second season, most TV shows have found their footing. The actors are more comfortable in their roles, the scripting is tighter, and everyone is on the same page. This is certainly true of Lower Decks. What started as a hyperactive fusion of oddball comedy and deep cut references has, in the space of a single year, matured into a show that stands eye to eye with the series it so often emulates.
True to Star Trek form, Lower Decks‘ second season is a string of mostly unconnected episodes, which range from the great to the not-so-great. We get strange powers, ferengi pirates, a planet in danger, and so much more. Picking up from the end of the last season, there’s a recurring threat in the form of the Pakleds. Freeman’s visit to Pakled Planet, where authority is dependent on the size of one’s hat, is emblematic of this story arc. As a comedy, it’s hilarious. Watching a Pakled spy bumble his way around the ship and eventually spacing himself is a surefire laugh. But sometimes that comedy undercuts the worldbuilding. It’s difficult to take the Pakleds even remotely seriously when they are so utterly moronic.
Lower Decks works best when it affectionately parodies other shows. An ambo-jitsu training session that turns shocking violent is one of the funniest scenes in the show, and a far cry from the palm-punching of prior incarnations. But in that same episode we see how the comedy doesn’t quite gel with the drama. If I never see a perverted mugato again, it will be too soon. Some of the humour is a little cruder than I’d like, but Lower Decks generally does a stellar job of keeping the wholesome core of Star Trek alive. And sometimes it manages to push things just far enough, as in a recreation of ‘The Naked Time’ that has naturally been taken out of context all across the internet.
Comedy aside, we also get some great dramatic storytelling. In ‘wej Duj’ we follow not only the Cerritos, but also a Vulcan science vessel and a Klingon warship, all from the perspective of their respective lower decks crew. It’s a great episode that advances personal arcs and the larger story while seamlessly introducing new characters. It also has the best credits of the show so far. While I don’t think anything quite reaches the high point of last season’s ‘Crisis Point,’ this season is far stronger over all, dropping a lot of what didn’t work, and instead showcasing what does.
And what does work is the crew. All trek stands or falls on the strength of its crew, and Lower Decks has the best of the new era of shows. Mariner may be a terrible person and downright annoying at times, but she’s also comedy gold. Boimler really comes into his own, and the resolution to his tenure on the Titan is as satisfying as it is funny. But the real stars of this season are Tendi and Rutherford. No longer playing second-fiddle to their co-stars, the Orion and the cyborg now stand as equals. Tendi in particular continues to be my favourite Trek character of the past decade and a half, whether it’s her overexcited approach to life in general, or the tantalising hints of her backstory that we get. Upper decks crew Freeman, Ransom, T’Ana, and even Billups get more to do this season than stand around giving orders and being combative, while guest appearances from Jonathan Frakes, Richard Kind, and the great Jeffrey Combs bring so much fun to the show.
The humour might not always work for me, and some jokes go a little too far, but Lower Decks is very much a show on the rise, and proves that Star Trek still knows how to have fun.