CBS’ handling of the Star Trek franchise has been questionable in recent years. Between robot bodies for former captains, the ratings-chasing appearance of a young Spock, and “This is the Power of Math, People!”, Star Trek has become an almost unrecognizable shell of its former self.
In an attempt to reach a wider audience, CBS produced Star Trek: Lower Decks, an animated comedy series following the exploits of a small band of crew members who work the menial, less-than-glamorous jobs aboard a Starfleet starship.
However, it seems CBS has missed the mark yet again, as Lower Decks belongs in an airlock rather than anywhere near a Starfleet flagship.
The series premiere episode opens up on a Captain’s log, being read by Ensign Brad Boimler (Jack Quaid) as he describes the current second contact mission being undertaken by the crew of the USS Cerritos.
In the first joke of the series, audiences are treated to a ‘record scratch’ moment where Beckett Mariner stumbles upon Boimler delivering his log in a supply closet, revealing that Mariner is not part of the ship’s bridge crew, but instead a member of the titular lower decks.
An embarrassed Boimler is then dragged out of the close by Mariner, who reveals that she is drunk off of Romulan Whiskey while on scrap duty. Mariner then proceeds to show off a Klingon Bat’leth from her scrap pile, drunkenly swinging it around eventually slicing a deep wound into Boimler’s thigh.
Roll title credits.
The audience is then introduced to D’vana Tendi (Noel Wells), an alien ensign arriving for her first day of duty on the USS Cerritos. Boimler and Mariner proceed to give Tendi a tour of the Cerritos, ending with a demonstration of the ship’s Holodecks. As Boimler is summoned to the bridge by Captain Carol Freeman (Dawnn Lewis), Mariner shows off her “All Nude Olympic Training Facility” program to Tendi.
Are we laughing yet?
In his meeting with Captain Freeman, Boimler is asked to observe Mariner and report back any insubordination to Freeman.
Meanwhile, First Officer Jack Ransom (Jerry O’Connell) returns from the planet’s surface with a mosquito bite, but instead of having it inspected in the medbay, proceeds to go to the ship’s bar instead.
At the same bar Ensign Rutherford, the recent recipient of a cyborg implant that echoes the design of TNG’s Chief Engineer George La Forge, is seen on a date with another ensign aboard the ship.
These short scenes provide the setting for the episode’s main points of conflict. Beaming down to the surface, Boimler grows increasingly suspicious and hostile towards Mariner while undertaking his assignment, Ransom’s untreated mosquito bite eventually mutates into a zombie virus, and Rutherford’s date continues to go shockingly-well against the backdrop of the Cerrito’s infectious problem.
Things take a further turn for the worse when Boimler is attacked by a giant spider on the planet’s surface, only for the pair to discover that the spider is actually considered a friendly farm animal by the planet’s inhabitants.
What follows next is an extended scene of the two stripping nude in an attempt to distract the spider, engaging it in hand-to-hand combat, and a nearly-nude Boimler eventually being sucked upon in a playful manner by the giant spider, while the distressed Ensign ‘hilariously’ cries for help.
The pair eventually make their way back to the Cerritos, beaming back up to the ship only to find themselves in the middle of a zombie plague.
The lower decks team, working alongside the bridge crew, discover that the slime left on Boimler by the pet spider can counteract the infection.
The slime is then converted into a gas and spread throughout the Cerritos’ air support systems, saving the day and reverting the crew back to normal.
While it is obvious that Star Trek: Lower Decks is an attempt to reach wider audiences with a ‘new’ take on the Star Trek franchise, the series’ premiere episode misses the mark in almost every aspect of its production.
Simply put, this episode was boring.
The most eye-rolling aspect thus far is the humor, which is not the reaction a comedy production hopes to produce. The jokes all feel like a Mad TV or SNL parody of Star Trek, stretched out across 30-minutes and with far less charm, as the jokes are all written in the vein of “but what if Star Trek was realistic but with regular people.”
Most viewers have probably heard variations on these jokes, such as Mariner’s use of a ‘sexy’ program in the holodeck, and while these discussions are fun for a few minutes while you’re drunkenly conversing with friends, seeing them used as the backbone of a series seems like a lazy attempt to appeal to audiences who care little for Star Trek.
Sadly, the episode’s separate attempts at non-Star Trek related humor also fall flat, with instances such as Ensign Rutherford ignoring his date’s obvious advances in favor of analyzing battle data or Tendi being introduced to her actively aggressive, zombified superior officer and attempting to make a proper introduction feeling more apt for a children’s cartoon or in a Facebook meme than an adult Star Trek series.
It would earnestly come as no surprise if the series added an 80s-style laugh track to future episodes to signal to audiences that “Yes, this was a joke. Please laugh.”
Design-wise, Star Trek: Lower Decks does nothing to distinguish itself from any number of television series currently airing, particularly Rick and Morty. Though the designs are simplistic and static, the character actions themselves are conversely overexaggerated and overanimated.
In the opening scene where Mariner is drunkenly messing with Boimler, Mariner appears more like a child who is attempting to reenact the hyper stylistic expressions and gestures seen in anime in real life, which makes her feel less human and more like an overcomplicated attempt to visually emphasize a character’s personality.
The one artistic highlight is the straight black coloring of the alien zombie disease, as it makes the infection appear truly alien, though this may have been incidental due simply to the series’ simplistic art style.
The most apparent issue, and the one most noticeable by Star Trek fans, is that the Star Trek franchise is not the right vehicle for this kind of show. Starfleet, and by extension the crews of each series’ respective flagships, has been consistently portrayed as a regimented and respectful organization who take their interstellar duties quite seriously.
This characterization makes it hard to believe that someone like Mariner, who regularly talks back to her Captain, drinks on the job, and wantonly injures a fellow crewmember, would remain outside of a jail cell, much less continue to be assigned to a variety of different ships.
Ultimately, the most egregious aspect of Lower Decks is the fact that it is was clearly not made for fans of Star Trek. Between the low-hanging attempts at humor and the clear dismissal of elements unique to the franchise, it’s clear that Lower Decks was produced with the primary intent of courting the untapped market of casual viewers. The result is a show that’s confused by it’s own identity, not knowing whether it wants to be a full on toilet-humor comedy or an earnest entry into the Star Trek canon, that leaves viewers confused, bored, and most likely looking for something else to watch.
Buckle up, Trek fans. Only 9 more episodes to go.
- Ensign Tendi is cute.
- The ‘solid black’ visuals used for the alien virus.
- Just about everything else.