I had heard of Star Trek: Lower Decks – of course I had, I am a massive fan of the franchise. However the release schedule of Amazon Prime’s release for the show took me by surprise. As a fan of the franchise for the last 26 years I had to check it out and see what it held in store for long-running fans.
This review contains spoilers
Star Trek: The Next Generation would appear to be one of the key benefactors of inspiration for the show. The final season of The Next Generation had an episode called Lower Decks to which we were able to see ship operations from a completely different perspective. The title of this show is a clear nod to an amazing episode, but it is also clear to see that the uniform style, LCARS screens, ships and even the musical theme are all not too dissimilar from this period of the franchise.
Set phasers to stun
The ties to the Star Trek universe come thick and fast, with easter eggs and references to the previous shows throughout each episode. In the very first episode Beckett Mariner talks about her Bat’leth and how a Klingon with an eye-patch gave it to her – a clear nod to General Martok from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. There are more obscure references, like Gary Mitchell who appears in the third episode of Star Trek – Where No Man Has Gone Before in 1966 and the series Star Trek: Of Gods and Men which is a non cannon mini-series that features many of the actors from the original show.
More true fanbase knowledge comes in the form of other references like the shuttle, in episode two and onwards, being called Yosemite – which can be either a reference to Star Trek V: The Final Frontier where Kirk, McCoy and Spock take their shore leave in Yosemite, or another The Next Generation reference of an episode called The Realm of Fear where the U.S.S. Yosemite is found abandoned and the crew are subsequently discovered hiding in the transporter matter streams.
“First Contact is a delicate, high-stakes operation of diplomacy. One must be ready for anything when humanity is interacting with an alien race for the first time. But we don’t do that. Our specialty is second contact.”Brad Boimler, Star Trek: Lower Decks, episode 1 “Second Contact”, season 1
All this builds a solid platform for the new animated series to build upon. But then comes the style, and the humour which does not seem compatible in its current form.
“Insufficient facts always invite danger.” – Spock
Mike McMahan, the shows creator, is well known for Rick and Morty. The humour, art-style and storylines in Rick and Morty are absolute perfection, but it appears as though Star Trek: Lower Decks is an attempt at using format painter on an already-popular fanbase to create something “new”. The issue is that it is highly illogical, and you cannot change the laws of physics.
The basis of the show is on an episode that some have considered to be one of the best in the entire franchise. Whilst the episode Lower Decks did indeed show the lives of four young crew members, each with their own goals in their careers, it is an entire light year apart from what McMahan has created.
Lower Decks was an episode that showed the struggles of the crewmen in the lesser ranks. What they dreamed and aspired to be and how ultimately their lives were as much in risk as the bridge crew’s lives. The ending of this episode sets a heart-breaking realisation of mortality and the continuation of life when someone close is lost in the fold. Star Trek: Lower Decks seems to miss this point, and merely uses the name in an attempt to bring fans into the cooking pot. Just because the show is prefixed with the words that Gene Roddenberry made famous, does not mean it is worthy of such.
Functioning within abnormal parameters
Veterans of the franchise may not feel the same as me, but I think that even from a cadet’s perspective, the show is a little thin. There is not enough substance to the show to make it stand on its own accord. Whilst the art style is simplistic enough to be pleasing on the eyes, with some classic rooms, ships and props brought to life in animation the content of the storyline is lacking.
The story arch seems to be a vessel in which crew anarchy attempts to be portrayed as funny, with very un-Trekkie dialogue such as an ensign speaking the the second in command, “You […] talk a good game but when it comes to actually doing the job […] you don’t have it. I’m calling bullshit on your whole thing here.” Aside from the 2000’s-style sass, the characters are cliche and unchallenging to futuristic perspective. They become obvious and predictable in nature, with personality designs that have been repeated far too often. The humour is awkward and forced too. Trying to make jokes out of a series with more than 700 episodes not based on humour is a difficult job. It leads to unfortunate drawing on current-day stereotypes instead of working jokes off the franchise itself. The occasional ‘joke with a reference’ tactic seems to fail too.
Then there is the question of what the target audience may be. Whilst it is a cartoon the age rating is a 15, and with good reason. Mariner is given a task to clean out a holodeck of something implied to be semen, and there are plenty of expletives used throughout. It’s aimed at an older audience, so one could easily argue that it is aimed at the existing fans of the previous shows.
While Rick and Morty has its origins set in Back to the Future it does not carry the name. Thus the concept is merely used as a basis and the show, upon recreating its own universe, only pays homage. Lower Decks however is carrying the name like a lit torch, and is trying to balance on an edge of what is Trek and how far the shows producers can push warp speed outside of this.
It’s Star Trek Jim, but not as we known it
The characters are bland, brash, insulting to the senior crew and the humour is juvenile, vulgar and unnecessarily expletive. These are all things that are not in the true mindset of Star Trek. Star Trek is in a future where money, self-gain and bad-attitudes are overridden for an officers dedication to Starfleet and thus exploration. Yes it may seem too “ideal” but it is a premise that has drawn in thousands of fans – so why change these core aspects? Strip out the uniforms and the ships, remove all the references that appear to be in an attempt to remind people that this is supposed to be Star Trek and all you are left with is an unhumorous Rick and Morty rip-off in the guise of nothing more than an unsophisticated Star Trek parody.
Score – 3.5/10
Using multiple references to remind the viewer that this is in fact Star Trek does not make a show Star Trek.