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Star Trek: Lower Decks: A refreshing take on a well-established franchise
By Alex Korolov
I don’t consider myself a hard-core Trekkie by any means, but I sure have watched a lot of Star Trek. “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” or TNG, had its seven-season run when I was just a kid and I watched almost every episode as I was growing up, often with family. My love for that series runs deep as a result.
I enjoyed watching TNG movies as they came out, each time feeling like I was reuniting with good friends that I hadn’t seen for too long. Along comes “Star Trek: Lower Decks,” a series that takes place just one year after “Star Trek: Nemesis,” the final Star Trek movie involving The Next Generation cast.
I can imagine show creator Mike McHanan has a similar affinity for TNG, even naming Lower Decks after his favorite Star Trek episode (or so Wikipedia tells me), which takes place in the final season of TNG.
So many details, such as the title sequence, the hallways on the starship, the way the holodeck looks, the uniforms, many off-the-cuff references, and guest appearances by former TNG officers William Riker and Deanna Troi in the season finale show off McHanan’s affinity for TNG. It gives me the warm fuzzies seeing all of it.
McHanan was a writer and producer on one of my favorite shows, “Rick and Morty,” which is also a cartoon just like “Star Trek: Lower Decks.” Having grown up watching Saturday morning cartoons, I also have a soft spot for animation. I wouldn’t call Lower Decks too Rick and Mortyesque, but I can definitely see some of its stylings in the grosser and at times violent humor, which appeals to me, but won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.
Lower Decks takes place aboard the U.S.S. Cerritos in the year 2380 and focuses primarily on the activities of four lower-ranked officers aboard this less than important Starfleet vessel. As Ensign Brad Boimler (played by The Boys’ Jack Quaid) points out in the first episode, “our specialty is second contact, still pretty important, we get all the paperwork signed, make sure we’re spelling the name of the planet right, get to know all the good places to eat …”
Boimler is a stickler for the rules, and despite his good intentions and love of protocol, is often bumbling about. He’s caught saying the above statement while hiding in a closet and recording an imaginary captain’s log.
A drunken Ensign Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsome), who’s secretly the daughter of the ship’s captain, Carol Freeman (Dawnn Lewis), catches him doing this. A short but hilarious scene ensues which ends with her accidentally chopping him in the leg with a Klingon bat’leth, a weapon even a casual viewer of Star Trek might recognize.
Mariner could be an outstanding Starfleet officer as she’s very good in a tough situation, but most of the time is totally irreverent and doesn’t care at all about her position in the ranks. In fact, she seems totally at home with the lower-ranked crew members and apparently has been demoted in the past for her insubordinate behavior.
Ensign D’Vana Tendi (Noël Wells), is an Orion (a green extraterrestrial race going all the way back to the initial pilot for “Star Trek: The Original Series”) who shows up on the Cerritos in the first episode and you can see she’s just bubbling over with optimistic enthusiasm. Her other crewmates don’t necessarily share her excitement, but I found it adorable.
The fourth main lower-decker we meet as Tendi gets a tour around the ship is the recently cybernetically enhanced Ensign Sam Rutherford, who’s like a young Geordi La Forge from TNG but less experienced and definitely very enthusiastic about anything engineering-related. He’s about to go on a first date with another officer and his implant won’t let him feel nervous, but Mariner tweaks it for him using a penlight type of gizmo with hilarious results.
The dynamic between the four ensigns got my attention in a good way. They all have passion for their work, though Mariner doesn’t show it right off the bat. She’s always ragging on Boimler and showing him up, but the two carry each other along throughout the season.
Tendi and Rutherford have a full-blown science nerd enthusiasm for their work, and it’s refreshing to see this. I feel like the two other Star Trek shows in recent production (which I’ve also seen) are almost too focused on being super cool and ultra-dramatic, and seeing the lower-deckers be passionate about their jobs without being self-conscious or trying to make it look “cool” to appeal to viewers is something I like seeing.
For people who’ve watched a lot of TNG or some other Star Trek series, I definitely think the nostalgia factor will bring you much enjoyment, and for viewers who watch cartoons like “Rick and Morty” and “Solar Opposites,” some of the more adult humor and comedic stylings will be appealing as well.
I think even if you haven’t watched Star Trek before, these captivating 30-minute episodes are sure to relieve some of your pandemic stress.