There’s an old saying that Star Trek shows really find their footing in their third season. It’s certainly true of Deep Space Nine, which took its first step towards the Dominion War at that time, and for Enterprise, which ran the Xindii arc for a whole season. The first of the new era of shows to reach the third season, Discovery, used the opportunity to completely reinvent itself, largely for the better. Now Lower Decks has crossed that threshold too, making it the longest running Star Trek animation to date. But for a show that really excelled in its second season, Lower Decks‘ third outing is a rather mixed bag.
Lower Decks has always had to things running against it. The first of these is an uneven tone. At various points, season three is a true piece of science fiction, a comedy set in the Star Trek universe, and a parody of Star Trek. Clearly, the first of these three is what I want any given SF show to be. Most of the episodes have a science fictional concept in them somewhere, the strongest being ‘A Mathematically perfect Redemption,’ which sees a lone artificial life-form trying to rebuild their existence on a low-technology world. Incidentally, this episode also barely features the show’s protagonists, and features the funniest line of the series.
On the note of comedy, it’s clear that this is a sow written, acted, and produced in the US. The jokes basically don’t let up, and every line of dialogue is screamed at a million words a minute. Maybe it’s a British thing, but I like my comedy a little less hyperactive. In all honesty, the American-ness of the humour means I don’t spend a lot of time laughing. Maybe a chuckle or two. Then again, maybe I’m just getting cranky in my old age. Somewhat frustratingly, the show is at its funniest when it’s making the sort of joke that only works because viewers have seen other Star Trek shows. Buying time by endlessly circling a space station is hilarious, but as a parody, not a part of the same continuity that the characters inhabit.
Which brings up the second issue, which is that old bugbear of nostalgia. This is a show that doesn’t stand on the shoulders of giants, it’s a getting a piggyback from them. There’s a cameo from a Trek luminary in almost every episode, and while it’s nice to see old characters return (which could only be done thanks to animation), it’s yet another sign of a franchise unable or else unwilling to be its own thing. Even when it has no bearing on the story, everything has to be a reference to something that has gone before. And I get it. This show is a love letter to Star Trek, and the love for the world and characters and ideals is clear. But I don’t really want to be reading someone else’s love letters. It feels intrusive. I’d much rather watch a programme made for me, or for a random idealised viewer.
At the end of the day, Lower Decks is what it is. It’s often funny, occasionally hilarious, and a tantalising glimpse of what draws me back to Star trek every time.