Star Trek Lower Decks

At Douglas Station, the USS Cerritos NCC-75567 prepares to depart for the capital planet of the Galar system following a successful first contact with the inhabitants the year before; on the bridge are Captain Carol Freeman, her first officer Jack Ransom, Bajoran security chief Lieutenant Shaxs and Caitian Doctor T’Ana, while down in the lower decks ensigns Brad Boimler, Beckett Mariner and Sam Rutherford are helping to orient D’Vana Tendi to her new assignment.

Taking place in 2380, a year after Star Trek Nemesis and in the decade which will end in the enormous changes in the balance of power across the Alpha Quadrant following the Romulan supernova, Second Contact is the opening episode of Star Trek Lower Decks, directed by Barry J Kelly from a script by Solar Opposites’ Mike McMahan who also created the show, a supposedly routine mission to set up communication facilities sidetracked by viral space zombies.

The first animated Star Trek show in the early seventies having been a direct continuation of the original series’ five year mission, Lower Decks understandably takes its cues from The Next Generation, in the design of the California class Cerritos, the musical cues and sound effects, the modified uniforms and the references to established characters and events of that period, even to the typeface of the titles.

Where it differs is that rather than focusing on the senior officers it is a view from the bottom up; where previous shows had featured junior officers or younger characters in supporting roles, Ensigns Chekov and Kim, Wesley Crusher and Jake Sisko, here they are the leads, voiced by Jack Quaid, Tawny Newsome, Eugene Cordero and Noël Wells, and a quarrelsome mixed bunch they are.

Undeniably Lower Decks looks and sounds terrific, a new visualisation of the established universe which allows exploration without constraint of budget frustrated when it becomes apparent that rather than intelligent and capable graduates of Starfleet Academy the lower decks are populated by screeching, eye-rolling attention-seeking children; where before the encouragement was for people to be their best, this offers the stars as reward simply to those who demand them.

Recently rebranded “the Star Trek Universe,” Lower Decks is the ninth television series to fly under that banner, though Enterprise did not carry it until it’s mid-run reboot which realigned the vision of Gene Roddenberry of peaceful examination of the self and the universe more with that of President George W Bush, then in the White House and engaged in multiple overseas military actions.

Lower Decks is the first time a new Star Trek has premiered while two other existing shows are ongoing, Picard having debuted only this year and now in preparation for its second season and Discovery, having undergone a soft reboot for its second season following major ongoing internal rearrangement of the production staff in its first now setting up a hard reboot for the third season due to commence the week after Lower Decks completes its ten episode first season.

When Enterprise was cancelled after four seasons the official studio position was that “franchise fatigue” was responsible, Star Trek having been running continuously for eighteen years in one form or another since late 1987 when the crew of the NCC-1701-D had their Encounter At Farpoint; no heed was taken of the actual diminishing quality of the show itself, nor that in those two decades the audience had grown and matured and the television market substantially changed.

Crucially, across more than six hundred episodes through twenty five televised seasons the style established by The Next Generation had changed little, nor had the episodic format evolved in the four decades since The Man Trap was broadcast in 1966, facts which had been brought into harsh focus when Battlestar Galactica had aired in 2003, a radical reinvention of the television science fiction format which was masterminded by Ronald D Moore, implementing much of what he had wished to present in Deep Space Nine but been refused.

That is not to say there have not been radical and bizarre creative decisions in the past which made it to the screen, few of which have been successful: Spock’s Brain, Move Along Home, Trevis and Flotter, Paris and Janeway’s lizard babies, space wrestling, William Shatner’s belief that he is mightier than God, as well as those which did not, among them the proposed Lwaxana Troi sitcom with perhaps only Vic Fontaine shining despite the contrived concept of his creation, largely due to the performance of James Darren.

This brings the question: who are the intended audience for Lower Decks? Parodies of Star Trek are not new, among them Star Wreck, Galaxy Quest and The Orville, nor is what the show offers, the characters, dialogue and situations most directly lifted from the adventures of Rick and Morty with which it also shares an animation style, taking an existing format and uncomfortably trying to present it as Star Trek; ostensibly termed “adult animation,” Lower Decks remains profoundly childish, what once would have been termed “juvenile” in all the most negative connotations of that word.

For many, Deep Space Nine is already the most mature iteration of the show, dealing with religion, politics, war crimes, guilt, atonement, terrorism, marriage, family, grief, loyalty, compromise and more, while so far all Lower Decks has offered is insubordination, crew members in their (animated) underwear, malfunctioning cerebral implants, jokes over the difficulty in pronouncing names and copious slime; there has perhaps only been one episode, but the aim is not high.

Yet it has been amply demonstrated that intelligent science fiction and fantasy can soar in an animated form, Roughnecks, Star Wars Rebels, Love, Death & Robots, the dramatic and artistic excellence of Pixar and Studio Ghibli, Into the Spider-Verse expanding the Marvel universe without compromise, even the original animations of Star Trek given ambitious stories by those involved in the show who understood its themes or established writers such as Larry Niven, yet Lower Decks’ apparent desire is to sit at the bar rather than raise it.

Where Star Trek celebrates all that can be great in the realms of personal achievement, scientific endeavour and political cooperation, Lower Decks mocks the very thing it sprang from; it is what ‘Allo, ‘Allo was to Secret Army, a lowest common denominator residue, an ignorant child shouting over the patient teacher. With even the majestic opening titles presenting blunders, failures and retreat as victory, if every generation has its own Star Trek, that of the Trump era is as is as shallow and disappointing as might have been expected.




Show Buttons
Hide Buttons