Star Trek: Lower Decks

3 out of 5

Created by: Mike McMahon

Covers season 1

Star Trek: Lower Decks’ opening credit sequence starts with a low-key, pseudo-majestic musical twinkle (from composer Chris Weston) set to our featured spacecraft – which looks Enterprise-ish but isn’t – drifting in some glittering space detritus around a pretty planet… when the ship’s power blinks out, it gets sucked into the planet’s gravity, and then swoops back around as the music kicks in with its spin on Trek themes. The rest of the credits follow suit – a seemingly “normal” shot, and then the camera pans or something happens to indicate that this is a B-tier spaceship. It’s a delayed chuckle; the joke happens after-the-fact. The majority of Lower Decks’ humor follows this theme, but it’s also sort of wended into the entire setup: while the title suggests – given its naming after a Next Generation episode – we’d be focusing on the non name-brand characters of the Enterprise itself, with trailers and the animation style (which is kind of Futurama-y with relatively more realistic character models) making it clear it’s a comedy, we are in fact on an entirely different ship – the Cerritos – and dealing with their lower deckians. The changeup is logical enough, as this prevents the show from having to worry about affecting / offending any “canon” info regarding the Enterprise and its crew, but it also rather immediately just turns the show into a regular sitcom instead of a parody.

Which is fine – a sitcom set in the Star Trek universe is still fair game. However, creator Mike McMahon and his writers then decided to make all of the Cerritos sort of lower decky – they’re all jokes. The captain (Dawnn Lewis) is boastful and grumbles over always being assigned to “second contact” missions; the first officer (Jerry O’Connell) is obsessed with working out and being perfect; the security officer (Fred Tatasciore) always shouts; the doctor (Gillian Vigman) is a cat; and this stacks on top of the comedic archetypes of our main characters: Jack Quaid as the nerdy, over-zealous one; Tawny Newsome as the troublemaker; Noël Wells and Eugene Cordero as female / male spins on the bubblehead… all well-acted, but again, having a whole cast of goofballs pushes us further from something that plays off of the genre and more into stereotypical comedy stuff.

And then we’ll take this a step further and have ongoing plotlines of relationship flirtations, and attempts at promotion, and familial disputes, and etcetera. Unlike The Orville, though, which ended up finding a tone that prioritized storytelling, and used its comedy more as a background element, Lower Decks tries to just keep both things rolling at the same speed / time, all with that delayed chuckle sensibility. It’s entirely pleasant, but also mostly predictable and unsurprising. It is, in other words – or words that I’ve been repeating – just kind of another prime time comedy.

It’s probably no surprise, then, that the show is at its funniest when it ditches ongoing plotlines and low-key jokes and just focuses on being goofy… I don’t know if that’s sustainable for a whole season, but it’d be a way to stand out a bit more. Then again, I suppose there ain’t nothing too wrong with Star Trek comfort food, so I’m sure I’ll be there for the second season…