Star Trek: Lower Decks - some non-spoiler thoughts
Season 1 - 4 out of 5
When I first read that CBS were creating a new animated Star Trek series I was not sure if it was a good idea. I had memories of the first Star Trek Animated series from 1973 series which featured the original crew of the Starship Enterprise and featured the original cast and crew. It was hit or miss in my book so I approached Star Trek: Lower Decks with some trepidation.
Originally released in August last year on the CBS All Access streaming service in the US, Lower Decks got a global release in late January for the rest of the world, almost six months later, on Prime Video. I admit I jumped right in and binge-watched all ten episodes over two days. Hey, don't judge me - they are only 20 minutes long!
The series is set aboard the USS Cerritos and is set (and takes its aesthetic) from late Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) seasons of the early 1990s. So the look and feel of the ship and crew are familiar. Their uniforms are an unused concept from the Star Trek: First Contact film. They borrow quite a lot from TNG-era Trek including the premise of Lower Decks. Fans of TNG might recall am episode from its seventh season called "Lower Decks". The story featured what life was like on the Enterprise, away from the heroics of the bridge crew. It showed how starships ran, the junior officers and ensigns who were the back bone of starship operations.
For Lower Decks we meet four crew members who live and work on the eponymous lower decks. We get to see what life is like cleaning out the holodecks, or emptying the rubbish, cleaning up after the senior officers have had one of their many conferences. We see their hopes, fears and ambitions as they boldly go to places someone has already been.
I liked it - for several reasons.
Firstly, and maybe this is nostalgia, but I missed the "glory days" of Star Trek when we had Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and subsequently Voyager on our TVs. For me it was "peak Trek" and Lower Decks brings my right back there. The ship makes sense. The episodes contain story arcs that get resolved but leave others open to be explored later. The technology is recognisable. Most importantly, there are no lens-flares! Secondly, it is packed with Star Trek references: stories, characters and items from a rich 54 year history. Casual fans may not get all of them. Indeed as a life-long fan, some of them passed me by. A bit like the Airplane films, I may need to go back and watch a second time to catch everything. There is a lot going on.
Thirdly, the writing is good, very good. Within the space of ten short episodes we get to know the four Lower Decks primary characters intimately together with the four main bridge officers. We understand their characters, what drives them, their fears, their hopes and frustrations - that is to say they are fully-rounded characters. We care what happens to them. I can't say the same after three seasons and over thirty episodes of Star Trek: Discovery.
As a former engineer, another thing I love is that it sets the rules and then follows them. Most Star Trek on television has done this simple thing - it has obeyed the laws of physics. Lower Decks knows it too. In one episode a crew member suggests solving a problem by using the transporters. However another crew member correctly points out that that's not how transporters work, they only do that in the movies. This is a dig at the Star Trek film franchise and in particular the JJ Abrams era where they make up technology to solve a plot point and then forget about it in the next film. Come to think of it, JJ did that in the Star Wars franchise too - hmmm.
So Lower Decks is good science fiction. It follows its own rules. As I write, Season 2 is in production and I for one can't wait.