Star Trek: Lower Decks has more than a few Star Trek fans feeling uneasy. The animated series will be the franchise’s first foray into outright comedy. And the few looks we’ve gotten at the series have pushed the over-the-top silliness of the show very hard. This has led to some Star Trek devotees writing off the show before it has even aired. And if you’re someone who hasn’t been clicking with the new era of Star Trek, Lower Decks could seem like another nail in the coffin.
But, there are more than a few reasons to be optimistic about Star Trek: Lower Decks and what it could bring to this current generation of Star Trek.
Lower Decks Could Bring Back Episodic Stories
So much of Star Trek over the last decade has been committed to serialized storytelling that makes every narrative feel like “The Biggest Event Ever.” It led to burnout in the stakes department; if every story is presented as the most important thing ever, then nothing starts to actually feel substantial. You need stories that are allowed to be smaller, more intimate, and more consequential to our characters than some overarching plot. Star Trek: Lower Decks, which takes its name and inspiration from The Next Generation episode “Lower Decks”, has this mindset baked into its very concept.
This could also mean that Star Trek: Lower Decks will have a stronger focus on self-contained episodes instead of feeling like an entire feature film that’s stretched out over a season of television. Star Trek began as an episodic endeavor and even later series that employed narrative continuity still functioned primarily as episodic television. Star Trek is a concept that seems best suited to take advantage of this format. If this animated series can pull that off, it’d be a welcome return to the franchise.
The Series Creator Is Both Talented and a True Star Trek Fan
The biggest complaint that has come up after first looks at Star Trek: Lower Decks is that it is clearly trying to capture the same audience as Rick and Morty. From the art design of the show to its particular brand of humor, many Trekkies have seen this as an obvious ploy to grab fans of that enormously successful sci-fi comedy series.
And they aren’t totally wrong. Star Trek: Lower Decks is being helmed by Mike McMahan, one of the head writers for Rick and Morty and co-creator of Solar Opposites with Justin Roiland. Here’s the thing: both of those shows are very good. McMahan has a penchant for telling genuine sci-fi stories that are also injected with absurdist humor. It’s admittedly weird to see that be so forward-facing in a Star Trek series, but he’s been involved with two shows that do it right.
And McMahan is a dyed-in-the-wool Star Trek fan, unlike executive producer Alex Kurtzman who has been shepherding the franchise on CBS All Access. McMahan has talked about his love of Star Trek: The Next Generation and how it has inspired his take on Star Trek: Lower Decks. That’s evident from the show’s place in the timeline – it takes place a year after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis – and McMahan’s cribbing of the “Lower Decks” episode concept and title. McMahan says that “Lower Decks” is his favorite episode of any Star Trek series, and that implies that he’s seen a fair amount of Star Trek. If the franchise can be handled by someone with a deep fan appreciation of the property, that could end up being rewarding for Star Trek diehards.
Star Trek Doesn’t Need to Be Serious
The new direction of Star Trek that started in 2009 with J.J. Abrams’s feature film reboot has taken itself pretty seriously. Definitely too seriously in some instances. There have certainly been lighthearted and humorous spots here and there, but the overall tone of this new chapter in Star Trek has been rather po-faced at times. Star Trek: Lower Decks is aiming to take a big swing in the opposite direction, and you know what? Okay!
Star Trek: The Original Series set a great foundation for the franchise; it took its world seriously but wasn’t afraid to quite often go wacky and bizarre. As Star Trek became more sacred to its fanbase, that willingness to be silly got shaved off over the years. It seems that Star Trek: Lower Decks is making up for lost time by amplifying potential goofiness to an extreme. That hits hard after decades of Star Trek being Serious Business, but maybe we need it to hit hard.
Star Trek: Lower Decks is a reminder that the world of Star Trek is supposed to be fun. That concept of fun has been tamped down in recent iterations in favor of making sci-fi/action stories that feel bombastic and extreme. We’ve had our fair share of that. It’s time for something completely different. If this animated comedy show is a step towards bringing Star Trek back to that kind of total balance, it should be welcomed with open arms.
Look, I’m cautious about Star Trek: Lower Decks as well. This new era of Trek has really turned me off the franchise, but it’s great to see that they are trying radically different things. Star Trek: Lower Decks is boldly going where no Star Trek series has gone before, and that’s both anxiety-inducing and exciting. Star Trek needs to swing for some fences, and this show is undoubtedly a big swing. If just for that reason, it deserves some attention. If it does work, I’ll be the first one to admit it, and Star Trek will have won me back again. Here’s hoping.