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Josh Reviews Star Trek: Lower Decks Season One!

Star Trek: Lower Decks is the second Star Trek animated show (the first was Star Trek: The Animated Series, which aired in 1973-74) and the first Trek comedy.  The series focuses on four low-ranked crew-people on a Federation Starship, the U.S.S. Ceritos, during the era of Star Trek: The Next Generation.  I enjoyed the first episode, and I’m pleased to report that I continued to enjoy the entire 10-episode first season!

There’s a lot that the show does very well.  First off, after suffering through two seasons of Discovery and one season of Picard on CBS All-Access, both of which made a complete mash of Star Trek continuity, it is an absolute delight to see this show which relishes in Trek continuity.  Just being back in the familiar 24th century TNG era (the subsequent Trek shows Deep Space Nine and Voyager were both also set during this time-frame) is a pleasure.  It makes me so happy to see the look of these TNG-era Federation starships (particularly in contrast to the very ugly starships seen in the J.J. Abrams “Kelvin-verse” movies, and Discovery and Picard), to see the look of TNG-era Federation corridors and computer interfaces and costumes, to hear the familiar sound-effect of the warp drive or the phasers or the turbolift or the computer… and on and on.  Even beyond that, I don’t think I exaggerated when I wrote, above, that this show relishes in Trek continuity.  Each episode has been jam-packed with all sorts of sight gags and background details and jokes in the fast-paced dialogue that reference a myriad of obscure details from across the Star Trek universe, eras, and shows and movies.  It’s fun, as a hard-core Trek fan, to try to spot all of these references, and it’s a pleasure to know that this show is clearly being made by people who know and love Star Trek.  Creator and show-runner Mike McMahan is obviously an enormous Star Trek fan!  This makes me very happy.

This initial ten-episode first season has done a wonderful job of fleshing out all four main characters: the nerdy, stick-to-the-rules Boimler; the audacious, resistant-to-authority Mariner; the joyful, tech-loving Tendi; and the equally tech-loving Rutherford, who is still struggling sometimes to adapt to his cyborg implant.  I loved Mariner and Boimler right from the first episode, though I didn’t feel I got a handle on Tendi and Rutherford in that premiere.  But over the course of this season, I really enjoyed how well-developed all four characters became.  By the end of the season, I loved all four of these characters!

The look of the show was terrific in that first episode and stayed consistently excellent throughout this first season.  I’ve seen some online fans ding the show because the animation style is somewhat reminiscent of other popular shows, like Rick and Morty, and I suppose that’s a reasonable objection.  But the animation style 1) works perfectly for the series and 2) is beautifully done week-to-week, so I find it very hard to complain!  Personally, I thought the detailed, rich backgrounds — stuffed with jokes — reminded me of Futurama in its prime.  That’s a compliment!  I love the look of the show, and I love the designs of the sets, costumes, props, etc.  Yes, the series beautifully recreates the TNG era, but there are all sorts of new designs and they all look great to me.  (Not to sound like a broken record, but this is a relief after how unhappy the look of the recent Trek movies and shows have made me.)  I love seeing the Lower Decks version of the First Contact-era Starfleet uniforms just as much as I love the new look of the uniforms worn by the show’s main characters and the other officers on the Ceritos.  (They’re the best new Trek uniform design in decades.)

My main objection to the series premiere was that while I could sustain my disbelief that the bumbling “lower decks” characters of the show could be Starfleet officers actually stationed on a starship, I didn’t like seeing that the Ceritos command crew were almost equally bumbling and flawed.  That continued to be my main objection to the show throughout this first season.  (Just a few examples: while I could accept that, say, Boimler, who dreams of command, would spend time trying to come up with his own personal “go-to-warp” catch-phrase, it was weird to me to see the ship’s actual captain, Captain Freeman, doing that.  Similarly, I didn’t like seeing her actively grabbing glory away from her officers.  I didn’t like seeing the first officer as an egocentric buffoon.  I didn’t like seeing the Security Chief as an exaggeratedly bombastic, fire phasers first and ask questions later type.  I could go on.)  Seeing the Ceritos command crew portrayed in this manner made it harder for me to buy Lower Decks as a “real” Star Trek show actually taking place in established continuity (as opposed to being an out-of-continuity spoof or parody).  I still feel this way after seeing all ten episodes, though I will say that all of the members of the Ceritos command crew eventually grew on me, and I did quite like all of their characters by the end of the season.  (Even though I still wish they were portrayed as being significantly more competent at their jobs.)

After the heavily-serialized Discovery and Picard, I enjoyed that each episode of Lower Decks stood on its own, even while certain plot and character story-lines wove throughout the season.

For me, my favorite episode of the season was episode seven, “Much Ado about Boimler”, because of the spot-on extended gag about Captain Freeman and the other members of the Ceritos command crew being sent on a covert operation (just like Picard, Worf, and Dr. Cruisher were in the TNG episode “Chain of Command”).  This has always been a pet peeve of mine on Trek shows!!  I’ve always found it ludicrous when bridge characters from these shows are sent off on super-dangerous covert missions — doesn’t Starfleet have whole teams of officers who have been training their whole lives for covert ops like that??  (It’s only done because obviously the shows need to continue to use their main characters.)  So it made me so happy to see this episode mercilessly mock that very idea — and there were so many spot-on “Chain of Command” references, such as the black “secret mission” uniforms worn by Freeman & co.  Other highlights of this season included, but are by no means limited to: hearing John de Lancie reprise his role as Q; Jack McBrayer (30 Rock) as Rutherford’s murderous holodeck simulation, “Badgey”; seeing an Exo-Comp from TNG’s “The Quality of Life” as a Ceritos crew-member; and seeing Mariner obsess over all the horrible things that usually happen to Star Trek characters when they start a new relationship with a character we’ve never seen before.  I could go on and on!

The season finale was terrific.  It was a great adventure for the Ceritos crew, but the whole shebang got blown into an entirely new level by the triumphant appearance in the final minutes of — SPOILERS AHEAD folks — so BEWARE — Captain William T. Riker and the U.S.S. Titan!!!  Oh wow that made me so happy and it was perfectly done.  I loved hearing Jonathan Frankes and Marina Sirtis as Riker and Troi!  It was awesome to see the first canonical depiction of the Titan with Riker and Troi on the bridge.  (They left the Enterprise when Riker assumed command of the Titan in the final moments of the last TNG movie, Nemesis.)  I loved getting to see this happy, somewhat crazy, but absolutely in-his-prime version of a Captain Riker.  I loved the jazz jokes.  I loved hearing the TNG theme (actually the Star Trek: The Motion Picture theme, written by Jerry Goldsmith, which was then used for the TNG main titles music) play triumphantly on the score.  I loved the look of the Titan — which, to my eye, looked extremely accurate to the design used on the covers of the terrific series of Titan novels.  My only teensy-tiny disappointment was seeing a Saurian (like “Linus” on Discovery) sitting in the Titan’s first officer seat next to Riker, rather than a character who could have been Christine Vale, Riker’s first officer in the Titan books.  Oh, well!

I also loved the great twist in the final minutes that Boimler took a promotion to the Titan!  I hope we get to spend a lot more time on the Titan at the start of Lower Decks season two!  That would be so fun.  I’m also interested to see if Rutherford’s cyborg implant is gone forever.  Since that implant was the defining aspect of his character in season one, I’m excited by the prospect to getting to know this character deeper, without that implant, in season two.

I’m very, very pleased by this first season of Star Trek: Lower Decks.  As I wrote in my review of the premiere, this isn’t really the type of Star Trek show I want them to be making.  (I think the premise of Lower Decks, if taken more seriously, could have been a fantastic serious Star Trek show!!)  But that being said, it’s hard to imagine this show being much better than it is.  Every single episode had a great sci-fi story, some interesting character beats, beautiful animation, and lots and lots of joyful nods to Star Trek continuity.  How could I ask for more??  I am very sad that this first season is over!!!  It’ll be a loooong wait for season two!

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