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Written By:

Iain Robertson
lower decks

When Lower Decks was first announced back in 2018, many Star Trek fans – as they are wont to do – complained. How dare CBS make a series ridiculing their beloved franchise? Don’t they realise Trek’s a serious show? It was more ammunition for the crowd that assume franchise head honcho Alex Kurtzman to be the antichrist.

Following its debut last year, some were unmoved. For many others though, it came as a pleasant surprise. Yes, there’s plenty of dumb jokes, gross-out humour, and many areas of Trek lore are (lovingly) poked fun at, but there’s far more to it than that. In fact, out of all of Trek’s modern incarnations, it’s perhaps the one that best embodies the spirit of the franchise. While Discovery may deliver on spectacle, and Picard the nostalgia, Lower Decks aims for – and more often succeeds – in good old-fashioned Trek storytelling and fun, relatable characters. It helps that the entire creative team, from creator and showrunner Mike McMahan down, are genuine fans of the franchise who know, love, and more importantly understand Star Trek: something that occasionally feels missing on other shows (*cough* Discovery).

For the uninitiated, the show takes place onboards the USS Cerritos, one of Starfleet’s least important ships, a year following the events of Star Trek: Nemesis (making it handy for the likes of Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis to show up in guest spots). While the likes of the Enterprise get all the big, important assignments, the Cerritos gets the tedious jobs other ships don’t want. Add to that the focus is not on the (very enjoyable) bridge crew as we’re used to, but to – as the show’s title implies – a bunch of lower decks crew. Four ensigns, who get the least glamorous jobs on one of Starfleet’s least glamorous postings. It’s loosely based on a Next Generation episode of the same name, which took the focus away from Picard and co. and onto the ship’s support staff.

This time around, the main focus is on Beckett Mainer (Tawny Newsome) and Brad Boimler (Jack Quaid). Mariner is a seasoned ensign, supremely competent, but her rebellious nature and complete lack of respect for senior officers both keep her back (which suits her fine) and sees her frequently transferred to new postings – something that has led her to keep people at arm’s length. She’s also the daughter of the captain (Dawnn Lewis) – a fact that both of them keep to themselves.

Boimler on the other hand is less experienced, a stickler for the rules, and so desperate to impress senior officers that he, well, frequently makes an utter twat of himself. It’s a classic odd-couple pairing, with Newsome and Quaid both imbuing the characters with warmth and humour. Either could easily have been annoying in less capable hands, especially the often-over-the-top Mariner, but the performances keep them likeable (plus Boimler has the most effeminate scream ever to grace the franchise, which we’re looking forward to hearing Quaid put to use in next year’s Scream).

Rounding out the quartet are D’Vana Tendi (Noël Wells) and Sam Rutherford (Eugene Cordero), a pair of science/engineering nerds whose sweet dynamic recalls that of The Next Generation’s Data and Geordi friendship (although with slightly more feelings of unrequited love). Tendi, a new arrival on the Cerritos is a super-enthusiastic Orion, whose idea of recreation is genetically engineering a dog so it does things no dog is supposed to do. Rutherford meanwhile is a recent recipient of a cybernetic enhancement, which has a tendency to play up at inconvenient/comedic moments. He’s the kind of guy who’ll quit his dream job and try out other’s on board if it means he can spend more time with Tendi. It’s a sweet pairing, with the two – who obviously have feelings for each other – constantly expressing their love for the ship rather than confessing how they feel about each other.

The show constantly finds ways to pit the foursome into comedic twists on classic Trek scenarios, such as outbreaks of shipboard diseases, holodeck malfunctions, and transporter accidents. While it would be easy to treat these as a joke, Lower Decks does them with an obvious love for the franchise that never once lets it slip into parody. Add to this more Easter eggs than you can shake a phase compensator at – ranging from the obvious (Wrath Of Khan gets referenced pretty much every episode) to the obscure (hello Spock helmet!) – and it adds up to a loving homage to all things Trek. Season highlights include Crisis Point, which pays homage to the Trek movies, Veritas in which the four are forced to testify – Undiscovered Country style – about a series of mysterious events, and Rutherford’s holographic assistant Badgey (played by 30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer), who – unusually for a holodeck character – goes haywire and mildly homicidal.

The Blu-ray comes packed with fun interviews with cast and crew (in a weird sign of the times it was produced in, many of the interviews are fairly low res, suggesting they were recorded over Zoom), animatics, featurettes looking at everything from the casting to the music. They’re fun, if nothing special.

Lower Decks won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it’s done what many would have considered impossible. It’s a Star Trek comedy that’s both a loving sendup of the concept and a great Trek series in itself. With the already released season two being even better, this is one Trek show that could run and run.

STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS – SEASON 1 is out now on Blu-ray


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