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Star Trek: Lower Decks

Entry updated 22 January 2024. Tagged: TV.

US animated tv series (2020-current). 219 Productions, CBS Eye Animation Productions, Important Science, Roddenberry Entertainment, Secret Hideout, Titmouse. Created by Mike McMahan, based on Star Trek created by Gene Roddenberry. Directed by Kim Arndt, Barry J Kelly, Bob Suarez and Jason Zurek. Writers include Mike McMahan. Voice cast includes Eugene Cordero, Dawnn Lewis, Tawny Newsome, Jerry O'Connell, Jack Quaid, Gabrielle Ruiz, Gillian Vigman and Noël Wells. 40 25-minute episodes. Colour.

This series is set in 2340 on the USS Cerritos, an unglamorous Starfleet Spaceship that tends to be sent on Second Contact missions, rather than First. The series focuses on four "lower decks" ensigns: primarily the smart, experienced and extremely competent Beckett Mariner (Newsome) – whose laziness and a lack of respect have got her demoted to ensign ("Permission to speak freely?" "You always speak freely! No one can stop you from speaking freely!") – and Brad Boimler (Quaid), Beckett's mirror image: he is an ambitious novice, an uptight lover of the rules. The other two are wide-eyed D'Vana Tendi (Wells), an Orion Alien who works in the Medibay, and Cyborged Sam Rutherford (Cordero), an engineer: both are Technology nerds. Other prominent characters are the Cerritos's Captain, Carol Freeman (Lewis), who resents both her ship's lowly status and the fact that her disruptive daughter, Beckett, has been assigned to the ship (Beckett is not happy either); and the first officer, Jack Ransom (O'Connell), heroic, noble and pig-headed.

Their adventures involve diplomacy (see Politics), Generation Starships, moon demolition, Transcendence, apparent trials, arena fights (see Games and Sports), Terraforming, Technology running amok – and, naturally, transporter and holodeck malfunctions (see Matter Transmission; Virtual Reality). Some exist mainly to generate jokes, often fondly guying the franchise's over-familiar tropes (see Clichés), but others stand as enjoyable tales in themselves. The integration of story and humour improves as the first season progresses. There are some Horror elements, though the swearing by crotchety Doctor T'Ana (Vigman) is bleeped out.

The first season was good, if not exceptional – reasonably funny, reasonably exciting – though its reception was initially largely lukewarm: the temperament of certain corners of Star Trek fandom and high expectations due to McMahan's pedigree in Rick & Morty (2013-current) doubtless account for some of this. Its main flaws were a tendency to rely on familiar sitcom defaults and a compulsion to incessantly reference Star Trek history However, the later episodes were a step up from most of the earlier ones, and this improvement was largely sustained in the second season, which ended on the cliffhanger of Freeman being arrested by Starfleet (likely having been framed). Also significant is the discovery that Rutherford's cyborg implant was not voluntary, he having been brainwashed (see Memory Edit) into thinking it was. One episode looks at the lives of the lower decks of Klingon, Vulcan and, briefly, of Pakled and Borg ships: the Vulcan has its own version of Mariner, T'Lyn (Ruiz), whose impulsiveness leads to her being transferred to Starfleet: "Captain ... I do not believe this punishment is warranted." "And that is exactly the type of outburst that led to my decision." The third season was weaker though still enjoyable, with – due to a perhaps too contrived misunderstanding – Mariner briefly leaving Starfleet, whilst the reason behind Rutherford's implant is also discovered.

Lower Decks was inspired by the popular Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Lower Decks" (1994), which also focused on four junior officers; John Scalzi's Redshirts (2012) worked in a not dissimilar setting. This is the franchise's second animated series, the first being Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973-1974). Season 4, with T'Lyn now a member of the Cerritos crew, was stronger than the third, with plotlines involving Starships disappearing (initially thought destroyed) and a Starfleet Vice Admiral plotting to have Starfleet crews replaced with AI (programmed by Rutherford prior to his memory edit). [SP]


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