I’ve been looking forward to Star Trek: Lower Decks for a while now. Maybe more than a while. They’ve been talking about a Star Trek series featuring the support crew for a long time. I think that initially morphed into the Next Generation episode that was also called “Lower Decks.” That was a fine, but not a spectacular episode of TNG. The notion surfaced again, sort of, with Star Trek Discovery, the only Trek series where the captain was not the central character. Lots of people seem to like Discovery, but I don’t really care for it.
It was the showrunner who got my attention. Mike McMahan had a Twitter feed, and that Twitter feed spawned a book. It’s called Warped, and it’s about a mythical eighth season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. This season, kept secret, was purposely so bad that it would force Paramount to cancel the series. Warped is pretty good, but not so good that I actually finished it. There are still some good bits like Westley splicing tribble DNA into Data’s cat, Spot, and the final fate of the Vulcan Punk band “Logic Lice!”
McMahan was also a writer on Rick and Morty
which isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but it is consistently well written and interesting. It’s also deeper than most people probably think it is. If you want to see a classic trek concept (“The Enemy Within”) spun in an interesting way check out “Rest and Ricklaxation.” McMahan didn’t share a writing credit on that but he was head writer for a while and he did write “Total Rickall“, “The Rickshank Rickdemption,” and “Edge of Tomorty: Rick Die Rickpeat,” all of which are both excellent and hilarious.
That’s a long preamble if I’m here to talk about Lower Decks. How was the first episode? I really enjoyed it. More importantly, I laughed. A lot. It’s recognizably Trek. It turns out that what that idea to make a show about, as McMahon puts it, “the people who put the yellow cartridge in the food replicator so a banana can come out the other end,” work is animation, comedy, and some good writing. The pilot, “Second Contact” is a lot of fun. Mariner and Boimler immediately fall into some familiar patterns and Tendi reminds me of Bashir when he first arrived at Deep Space Nine; full of awe and enthusiasm.
I liked how a much bigger story involving the senior staff developed behind the more mundane adventures of the ensigns and how these all dovetailed into a satisfying denouement. There are enough references to classic trek to give an old fan like me a warm feeling about the show. That includes the theme music by the way. It’s evocative of Alexander Courage’s original theme but just when you think you know where it’s headed it veers off in a different direction. Paradoxically the theme seems simultaneously very much the same and very different from the original series theme.
“Second Contact” isn’t perfect. Like most pilots, it’s an origin story and like most origin stories the plot takes a bit of a back seat to character introductions. At this stage, most of the characters feel like archetypes, but the broad outlines are solid and I’m looking forward to watching the show fill in those outlines. It’s refreshing to see a lighter take on Star Trek again. Modern trek has taken itself very seriously up til now, but comedy is also part of the franchise’s DNA. I’m looking forward to seeing the spiritual descendants of “Q Who” or “A Piece of the Action” and Lower Decks may be the show to give us those.