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Josh Reviews Star Trek: Lower Decks Season Two

The animated Star Trek comedy series Lower Decks focuses on the lower-ranked crew members aboard the small, not very well thought-of Starfleet vessel the U.S.S. Cerritos.  I enjoyed the first season of Lower Decks, but I absolutely LOVED this second season!  All the pieces fit into place here in the second series, resulting in a show that brought me tremendous joy.  This is by FAR the best of the current Star Trek series, and season two of Lower Decks was my favorite season of any Star Trek show since the fourth (and, really, only great) season of Enterprise back in 2005.  (That was almost two decades ago!)  I can’t stand most of what passes for Star Trek these days, but for someone who loves TNG and DS9 — and who has a deep nerdy knowledge of those series, as well as the Original Series — Lower Decks feels at times like it’s been made just for me.

I’ve really grown to love all four main characters over the course of these two short (10 episode) seasons.  That’s not a lot of time, but these characters have gotten way more development then, say, anyone on Star Trek: Discovery.  The standout for me in season one was Tawny Newsome as Beckett Mariner, the self-described “Kirk-style free spirit who kicks butt”, but who has trouble following the rules and operating within Starfleet protocols.  Beckett continues to be a hoot in season two.  It’s been fun to watch her struggle with finding some sort of way to understand and work with her mom (who just happens to be the Captain of the Cerritos).  It’s been satisfying to watch the bumbling “everyman” Brad Boimler (Jack Quaid) actually grow a bit into a better, more confident officer here in season two.  I loved the scenes early in the season with him on Will Riker’s U.S.S. Titan — where Boimler actually sort of did an OK job!  I loved getting to see him give a rousing captain’s speech in “The Spy Humongous” and then to save the day at the end (albeit in a perfect Boimler fashion, by taking repeated pratfalls)… and then he actually shows some true bravery in the season finale, down in Cetacean Ops.  I didn’t feel as connected to Tendi and Rutherford in season one, but that quickly changed here in season two.  I loved how the show has explored and developed those two characters, and now I love them just as much — if not more!! — than Mariner and Boimler.  Noël Wells is fantastic as Tendi, giving her a wide-eyed optimism and infectious goodness, combined with a deep nerdiness, that is incredibly endearing.  I loved getting to learn more about her Orion heritage in episode three, “We’ll Always Have Tom Paris”.  Eugene Cordero (The Good Place), meanwhile, is so, so funny as Rutherford.  I love how this season allowed Ruthorford to be a hero, and also began to explore some of his past.  (We got quite a tease in the finale to a secret hidden within his implant!)  I love Tendi and Rutherford’s sweet relationship.  (It was so sad, in the finale, when Rutherford scrolled through, and then deleted, a season’s worth of memories of Tendi!)

My main complaint in season one was in the depiction of the Cerritos bridge crew.  I thought the show would have been improved had the bridge crew been depicted as more effective.  I had a hard time buying that these bumblers were the command crew of a Federation starship, even a small one.  But here in season two, I found myself enjoying the time spent with the bridge crew a lot more.  It helped significantly that, this season, the Cerritos was depicted as being far more capable and effective a ship.  I loved seeing them bail out the larger, more prestigious U.S.S. Archimedes in the finale!  And I enjoyed the way the show gave time and attention to each member of the bridge crew.  I really like them all now!  Captain Freeman (Dawnn Lewis) isn’t as polished or confident as Kirk or Picard or Janeway, but this season we could see that she was smart and persistent and brave.  Jack Ransom (Jerry O’Connell) is still a self-absorbed egotist, but we see that he’s loyal and friendly (and I loved the story about his Hawaiian club!!).  Season two really gave Doctor T’Ana (Gillian Vigman) so many funny moments, while also showing her as an unflappable, very capable doctor.  I loved that the show refused to tell us how Shax (Fred Tatasciore) was resurrected (I laughed hard at all of Boimler and Mariner’s guesses as to how he’d been returned to life, referencing many previous character resurrections from across Trek history), and I loved how much fun the show had in showing us this tough warrior’s softer side.  Season two even gave us an episode spotlighting Chief Engineer Billups (Paul Scheer) and his bizarre family from a fantasy-obsessed culture in “Where Pleasant Fountains Lie”.  I was thrilled when the show introduced a new Tamarian character (of the same race seen in the classic TNG episode “Darmok”), played by Carl Tart.  What a wonderful callback to a classic TNG alien race!  The show mined so much comedy from this new character.

What makes me love Lower Decks the most is how the show is so clearly drenched in a love for Star Trek.  Whereas the other modern day Trek shows scoff at and stomp all over established Trek continuity, Lower Decks embraces it.  The series is a comedy, but it has been carefully crafted to look and feel EXACTLY like a 24th century show that fits perfectly into the established world of TNG, DS9, and Voyager.  All of the tiny details are correct, from the look of the ships and technology to the uniforms to the sound effects.  This makes me so happy.  And each episode is stuffed full of a dizzying array of hilarious and impressively obscure Star Trek references — some of which even go over my head, and I am a HUGE Trek fan!!  Time after time, episode after episode, I’m impressed and overjoyed by the way the show is able to mine the most obscure aspects of the Star Trek universe and turn them into either hilarious jokes or wonderfully compelling story points, or often both.

More thoughts:

* I was thrilled to see Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis back on the show in the early part of the season as Riker and Troi.  I’m glad the show didn’t undo Boimler’s posting to the Titan too quickly.  I hope we get to see more of Troi and Riker in future seasons!!

* I loved that Robert Duncan McNeill returned as Tom Paris in “We’ll Always Have Tom Paris” (what a great episode title).  (I really laughed when Mariner asked if he was still a salamander, a reference to possibly the worst episode in all of Trek — at least until we got to modern Trek — in Voyagers’s infamous “Threshold”.)

* And speaking of famous Trek actors being involved in this series, I was overjoyed that Jeffrey Combs (who played so many great Trek characters, including Brunt and Weyoun on DS9 and Shran on Enterprise) played the evil computer AGIMUS (such a classic Star Trek notion) in “Where Pleasant Fountains Lie”.

* I loved seeing a whole episode built around the classic Original Series monster the Mugato in “Mugato, Gumato” (an episode that had a lot of fun referencing the inconsistent ways in which the name of that monster has been pronounced and spelled).

* A highlight of the season for me was Richard Kind’s magnificent and hilarious performance as the fast-multiplying Dooplers in “An Embarrassment of Dooplers.”  I didn’t think Mr. Kind could ever be more perfect in an animated role than his work as Bing Bong in Inside Out… until now!!  It was with this episode that I truly realized that Lower Decks had launched itself into a whole new level.

* I wouldn’t have thought the show could top “An Embarrassment of Dooplers”, but they did in Lower Decks’ own “Lower Decks” episode “wej Duj.”  That was a genius episode, spotlighting the Lower Decks crews on a Vulcan and Klingon ship.  (And also, in the episode’s hilarious final scene, the Lower Decks of a Borg cube.)  I loved all of the new characters we met, and I hope we see more of them in future seasons!

* I loved Boimler’s excitement about the skirt-like TNG uniform variants (“skants”) that were occasionally seen in the background in early seasons of TNG.

* I loved how many references this season incorporated to the original Star Trek: The Animated Series!  My favorite joke was probably the corpse of a giant dead Vulcan hanging in the collector’s warehouse in episode two (a great reference to “The Infinite Vulcan” episode of the Star Trek: The Animated Series).  But I also loved seeing the evil Starfleet training instructor in “I, Excretus”, who was an alien like the one seen in the Animated Series episode “Bem”.  It also made me very happy to see the multiple background appearances of a Kzinti character (the alien race created by author Larry Niven, that was incorporated into the episode of the original Animated Series that he wrote, “The Slaver Weapon”) on the Cerritos!!

* What was my favorite deep-cut Star Trek reference this season?  Was it when Ransom got Gary Mitchell like powers in the season premiere?  Was it Mariner kicking Boimler and Ruthorford’s asses in anbo-jyutsu (the weird sport seen in the 2nd season TNG episode “The Icarus Factor”) in “Mugato, Gumato”?  Was it seeing the outrageous Okona as a DJ in “An Embarrassment of Dooplers”?  Was it the gang crank-calling Armus (from the first season TNG episode “Skin of Evil”) in “The Spy Humongous”?  Was it Boimler’s “Go climb a rock t-shirt” (just like Kirk wore briefly at the start of Star Trek V) in “wej Duj”?  Or was it the even better t-shirt joke later in that episode, in which we see Captain Freeman wearing a “RITOS” shirt (just like the “DISCO” shirts we’ve seen in Star Trek: Discovery)?  Was it finally getting to see Cetacean Ops (a long-running Star Trek joke, the phrase “Cetacean Ops” was apparently heard in the background on “Yesterday’s Enterprise” and it has appeared in some technical manuals) in the finale?  I can’t choose!!!  (But I did really love those Cetacean officers!!!)

* For a show steeped in obscure Star Trek references, the different training simulations seen in “I, Excretus” might have boasted the most references-per-second the show ever did.  My favorite was Mariner’s visit to the Mirror Universe.  (I want to see more of that!)  But I also loved seeing Mariner in a TOS “Spectre of the Gun” scenario and a “Naked Time” freak-out, Tendi in a TNG “Ethics” scenario (in which a Klingon with a broken back asks her to kill him), Rutherford in a Star Trek II Spock’s death scenario, the whole gang in a “stealing the Cerritos” Star Trek III scenario, and of course Boimler’s repeated attempts to improve his score escaping from a ” Q Who?” situation, trapped on a Borg cube.  (I loved seeing him rescue those Borg babies!!)  And don’t think I didn’t pause the show to catch all the other jokes and episode references written on the screen showing all of the other testing scenarios…!

* The season finale was fantastic.  It’s tough to top the appearance of Riker, Troi and the Titan in the season one finale.  Seeing Lycia Naff reprise her role as Sonya Gomez (who memorably appeared in two second season TNG episodes, “Q Who” and “Samaritan Snare”, and then was sadly never seen again), now the captain of a powerful Excelsior-type Starfleet vessel, was a great start!!  That made me so happy!!  It was awesome to see the Cerritos crew really step up to save the day here.  I loved seeing Captain Freeman and her team get a big win… and I loved the cliffhanger ending which brought the simmering Pakleds storyline back to be front and center.  I loved that the show continued to play with this Pakleds storyline, that was begun in season one, throughout this season.  I loved the “to be continued” ending of the finale (and their use of the exact TNG “to be continued” text) and I can’t wait to see where this all goes in season three!!

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