The idea of an animated Star Trek series set around the worker bees on a Starfleet ship is such a fun idea, it’s a pity it has been realised as Star Trek: Lower Decks.
In truth a “Lower Decks” plot was part of a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, not that many beyond the fanbase would remember. This time the action is aboard the mostly-unimportant USS Cerritos, led by Captain Carol Freeman (voiced by Dawnn Lewis).
But our heroes are actually the support staff: ensigns Brad Boimler (Jack Quaid) and Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsome), two rapid-fire speaking sitcom characters, prone to derisive wisecracks and loud shrieks. Proudly laying claim to being the “cool, scrappy underdogs” of their ship, they are also knockabout animated leads in a galaxy not far removed from Futurama. I get the feeling Paramount, or CBS, called and they want their universe back….
In the first episode a virus (yeah, sorry about that) infects most of the crew while in the second episode Boimler & Mariner must escort a Klingon general to a Federation Embassy. Unlike the perilous, grand-scale plots of live action episodes, it’s all incidental to the hijinks here. It’s animation after all, if someone’s head is zapped off in one scene, it can surely be restored by the next? Thanks, Road Runner.
Even in animation it’s good to see Lower Decks maintain Star Trek‘s trademark diversity: the captain is a black woman and the chief medical officer is, umm, a talking cat. The voice cast also includes Jerry O’Connell, Noël Wells, Fred Tatasciore, Eugene Cordero and Jack McBrayer in a recurring role. It all adds up to a dysfunctional family in space, which is not particularly a final frontier.
The biggest disappointment is in the writing, which lacks the bite of other adult sitcoms Family Guy, The Simpsons, Futurama. The laughs from writer Mike McMahan (Rick & Morty) are found rather sparingly in a genre where the players can afford to take more pot-shots. This tends to leave the show with one foot in the adult-comedy camp and another in children’s animation. Star Trek for kids may be a valid concept but not when there is the odd adult joke too.
While Picard also didn’t grab my interest, I’ll stick with Star Trek: Discovery for the time being and leave Lower Decks for those who can’t get enough of a daring franchise.
Star Trek: Lower Decks begins Friday on Amazon Prime.