Star Trek: Lower Decks has made quite an impression on us here at Giant Freakin Robot. We loved the premiere and have written more than a few pieces about what it’s been doing right and how it has been rehabilitating the franchise. With the first season now out there in its entirety, we can safely say that this show isn’t just the best Star Trek series in recent memory. It is the only Star Trek property you need to watch since the franchise rebooted back in 2009.
Over the course of Star Trek: Lower Decks‘ first season, we have gotten to know the crew of the USS Cerritos extremely well, and the series has done a superb job in turning these characters into a crew that stands alongside the best in the entire Star Trek canon. Though their outright goofiness and wide-eyed optimism might seem abrasive to a generation raised on the last decade of dour Star Trek, their quirks and camaraderie have blossomed into feeling like the kind of familial warmth we used to expect from our Star Trek lead characters.
And the first season of Star Trek: Lower Decks has proven why the episodic format works best for these kinds of stories. The show has overarching plotlines but they are never motivated by some forced plot device. Instead, the serialized aspects grow out of the characters and their own wants and conflicts. The episodic structure allows for more science-fiction tales to be told and it gives the characters a way to evolve without ever feeling like their evolution is being shoved in our face. There is subtly to the character arcs of everyone in Star Trek: Lower Decks, and subtly used to be what a lot of Star Trek was infamous for.
But, that does not mean that Star Trek: Lower Decks rests on its Easter eggs and fan-service laurels. If you prefer the adrenaline-fueled action of the franchise, the series has delivered that throughout its first season. It culminated in the finale, “No Small Parts”, with some starship showdowns that were more thrilling than anything we’ve seen in those other shows. The series understands that action is a facet of the Star Trek franchise, but it is not the primary thing the franchise should be concerned with. The most important factor is its characters, and the season one finale proved that by killing off a smaller supporting character in a truly triumphant moment. It wasn’t mean-spirited or cruel or aiming to tear the audience apart with fabricated emotionality. It did what it wanted with brevity and good reason, and it resounded because the show had done its due diligence to earn that moment.
Now let’s also be upfront about Star Trek: Lower Decks‘ desire to be the most fan-service piece of Star Trek since Star Trek: The Experience. The number of references in each episode is through the roof. However, these aren’t casually tossed out in a, “Remember this?!?” manner. Series creator Mike McMahan and his writers’ room continually showcase a deep and loving knowledge of the property. That is something that has been missing ever since the franchise was rebooted a decade ago. And they use this love and knowledge to reinforce the universe fans have come to love just as passionately. They aren’t doing this to score brownie points – even though they know they are scoring brownie points – but rather to reaffirm that all this stuff matters and shouldn’t be tossed aside.
And if the finale of Star Trek: Lower Decks is any indication, the series is just getting started with how it wants to play with the vast canon of Star Trek. The final moments of the first season promise a return to some fan-favorite characters in their prime, and it is genuinely thrilling to guess what McMahan and his crew have in store for the future. Star Trek has been at the mercy of a particular direction over the last decade. If that is something you’ve enjoyed – and some of it hasn’t been too bad! – then that’s great. But, it’s time to get back to the roots of what made Star Trek so beloved in the first place. In that regard, Star Trek: Lower Decks is the true successor to the Star Trek name.