When the creators of Star Trek: Discovery determined to focus their story on a black girl and introduce the sequence’ first overtly homosexual characters, and Star Trek: Picard delved into modern politics with commentary on isolationism and the therapy of refugees, a small however vocal phase of the fanbase complained that the franchise had gotten too political. That declare runs counter to the character and historical past of Star Trek, which has always been rooted in the progressive humanism of creator Gene Roddenberry. But viewers who needed to see the Star Trek setting used to ship area adventures, with no stakes, introspection, or bigger cultural relevance, might have lastly gotten their want: the tepid animated comedy Star Trek: Lower Decks has arrived.
Kicking off its 10-episode first season on CBS All Access on August 6, the sequence follows the misadventures of a gaggle of 4 ensigns serving aboard the usS. Cerritos, a Starfleet vessel that’s so much just like the Enterprise, however much less prestigious. A greater model of Lower Decks might have adopted the instance of Discovery, which shifted away from the sequence’ conventional give attention to the ship’s captain to primarily observe a disgraced first officer. Creator Mike McMahan might have used Lower Decks to inform significant, humorous tales about questioning authority by establishing a harsh divide between Starfleet’s ranks. But reasonably than offering any commentary on the variety of redshirts casually sacrificed over the many years so the individuals in cost can look cool, and even analyzing the methods that put sure individuals on a ship’s bridge within the first place, Lower Decks shortly fades right into a sequence of lazy sitcom tropes.
Lower Decks facilities on 4 pretty broad archetypes. D’Vana Tendi (Noël Wells of Saturday Night Live and Master of None) is an excessively enthusiastic medical-bay employee who simply joined the crew. Sam Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) is a workaholic engineer who shortly falls right into a romantic plot with Tendi based mostly on them each being oblivious nerds. Brad Boimler (The Boys star Jack Quaid) is a stickler for the foundations who desires of in the future changing into captain. His foil is Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsome of Space Force), a slacker with little respect for authority, who’s nonetheless superior at all the pieces she does.
All 4 leads, and far of the supporting forged, are always spewing rapid-fire dialogue. The writers appear to have taken the “more quips means more chance some of them will land” strategy to comedy. The present is completely crammed with references to current sequence characters, and the plots hardly ever have extra energy behind them than the small consolation of realizing why a Ferengi may need to make a journey to Risa.
The present lands some good gags based mostly round Star Trek’s inherent absurdity, like a sequence the place strutting first officer Jack Ransom (Jerry O’Connell of Sliders) rips off his shirt to show his well-oiled muscle groups as he engages in trial-by-combat with a hulking brute. Or the episode the place Rutherford refuses to let a zombie-like outbreak on the ship disrupt a primary date. But just like the voice actors, the plot hardly ever has time to breathe. Crises have a tendency to return out of nowhere simply to push the motion alongside, like a notoriously boring captain all of the sudden deciding to take a threat to indicate off, with disastrous outcomes.
Even when the writers do decide to a bit, they’re typically simply digging up boring, regressive sitcom chestnuts. In the episode “Envoys,” Tendi is dissatisfied that Rutherford doesn’t have any time to hang around and watch an attractive celestial occasion along with her due to his busy work schedule, so he decides he has to surrender on engineering and pursue a distinct profession. Tendi doesn’t object, and after Rutherford spends the entire episode deciding that there’s no place he’d reasonably be than inside a Jefferies tube, Tendi winds up watching the occasion on her pill as a substitute of from a window, sitting in a slim crawl area whereas Rutherford ignores her. This is supposed to be a cheerful ending.
McMahan co-created Solar Opposites, a safer, blander model of Rick & Morty, and Lower Decks makes use of the identical animation type of each earlier exhibits. It is spectacular to see the Star Trek eventualities that may play out when the sequence is freed of the necessity for a special-effects or CGI funds, like a terraforming course of run amok, inflicting oceans and forests to sprout throughout the ship. There are even glimpses of the gonzo weirdness that may make Rick & Morty so enjoyable, like when a crew member following Star Trek’s lengthy custom of characters turning into larger beings finds the method isn’t what he’d hoped for. But McMahan appears to be striving to maintain Lower Decks as inoffensive as attainable, leaving it feeling completely superfluous.
Every time the writers appear on the cusp of creating a professional level about flaws within the Star Trek method, they again away till the message simply boils all the way down to “Being a free thinker is good, but the people who want you to follow the rules are also good.” Mariner’s efforts to distribute farming tools to some aliens in order that they don’t need to undergo United Federation of Planets paperwork might present some commentary into the problem of constructing a real post-scarcity society, however that concept is brushed apart in favor of an prolonged gag involving a large spider-cow chewing on Boimler. An episode the place ship captain Carol Freeman (Dawnn Lewis) begins utilizing an app to trace the effectivity of all of the ensigns feels prefer it might simply develop into a commentary on comparable procedures used at Amazon, besides that she’s a decidedly benevolent chief who holds herself to the identical commonplace.
In the primary 4 episodes, Lower Decks feels directionless. The writers flirt with satire, however solely ship the lightest digs at Star Trek canon. The present has the broad character archetypes and alternative for Futurama’s inventive mission-based hijinks, however lacks any of its biting commentary on capitalism or politics. Lower Decks often dips into Rick & Morty grotesquerie, however then retreats again into its secure, snug humor. The writers can also’t even summon the sharp wit or absurdism that made the sitcom construction work in the perfect episodes of The Simpsons or Family Guy.
The result’s a present that has Star Trek’s taste with none of its meatier elements. It’s a skinny, innocuous broth which may fulfill some followers. But it feels totally devoid of any dietary, philosophical, and even actual comedic worth.
The first episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks premieres on CBS All Access on Aug. 6. New episodes drop weekly on Thursdays.