If you haven’t yet, definitely go check out STAR TREK LOWER DECKS on CBS All Access. I highly recommend it.
That’s it, I guess. That’s the entire review. Click on something else if you want to read a longer story.
Except, this isn’t a review of Lower Decks. It’s an analysis of the structure and design of the show. If you’re expecting me to trash another installment of Kurtzman Trek, this isn’t the article for you. In fact, I tend to lean towards STLDS to not be true Kurtzman Trek. If it is, even though he has an executive producer credit on the show, then the formula certainly doesn’t reflect that.
In case you don’t know, STAR TREK LOWER DECKS follows the exploits of junior officers onboard one of Starfleet’s least important starships. The USS Cerritos is a starship that is assigned to the most mundane missions Command has in its backlog: trash pick-up, second contact and other support missions where a second hand is required for a main ship to complete a task. Down below, we follow Ensign Beckett Mariner and Ensign Brad Boimler as they boldly go where everyone else has already gone, logged, and created T-shirts about the experience. The events in this show are official STAR TREK canon, but I highly question whether or not true canon would follow these exploits as we are seeing them play out.
Take STAR TREK ONLINE, for example. I have a theory that suggests that the events in STO are indeed official canon. However, the way they “really” go down is vastly different. As all players share in the experience of singular and linear episodes, it’s my belief that the events of STO are truly experienced by one ship and one crew’s point of view. For example, the USS Random Ship is actually the one ship and crew encountering the dilemmas and situations within the game. Thus, STLDS may be a comedic take on actual events that play out in-universe.
STLDS takes place within its own pocket of reality. This is evidenced by a lot of knowledge lowly junior officers have about the world around them. For example, Genesis was classified during the events of STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK. Only high-ranking officers would know about it. Why does Mariner reference them at the end of the first episode of LDS? The circumstances surrounding Gary Mitchell is another situation that would not be common knowledge to random junior officers in Starfleet.
Likewise, the engine vibrations of the warp core from Voyager would not be known by the same officers in question. Voyager was lost for seven and a half years in the Delta Quadrant, and unless they served on the ship, they really wouldn’t know what sound the vibrations produced.
None of that matters since the engine vibration imitation scene was funny as hell! Boimler’s quip to Fletcher that he was imitating the engine sounds of the “Enterprise-D at warp four” was repeated several times on my computer because I thought it completely entertaining.
That’s precisely what STLDS is: entertaining. The escapism we’ve been craving from STAR TREK has returned, in spades. That is precisely what Mike MacMahon was going for when he created the show in the first place: humor and escapism.
STLDS is, at its core, a commentary on STAR TREK as a franchise. It doesn’t tackle sensitive issues in ways that legacy TREK did. Instead, it takes on the tropes of legacy STAR TREK, from its history to the fandom. Nothing seems to be off limits and the production staff does a very good job with it.
STLDS is a homage to legacy Trek. It doesn’t throw out references as “member berries,” as a few of the Fandom Menace like to say. On the contrary, these are paying tribute to the legacy (I’ve been throwing that word around a lot, and there’s a good reason for it) that has endured for over a half century. It’s not the annoying player at the RPG table who uses out-of-character knowledge to his advantage, in-game. STLDS is the GM who says, “Remember when Kirk fought the Gorn on that far-off planet? Remember the dude in the rubber suit? That’s what this enemy looks like.”
It’s a far cry from someone, in-game, saying to the GM, “The spores these enemies are giving off? I’m gonna collect them and create a spore drive for our ship!” … the player-character in question is a “brick” or “warrior” character with zero scientific background on his character sheet. He has no business suddenly morphing into Paul Stametz. (GMs usually kill that player-character when they do stupid things like that, in-game).
LDS launched as a stab at the Fandom Menace. You can see how I came to that conclusion in my review a few stories before this one. Needless to say, it still kind-of is. LDS is not the gore fest of STD nor the murder fest that is STAR Toilet Paper. The violence in LDS is needless and grotesque; the producers of LDS heard us complain about this in the latest Kurtzman Trek and made fun of the complaints on a genius level. Who would ever think they would see an interactive Starfleet delta on the holodeck rip heads off of holographic Bajorans while two of our main characters tried to get away from it? It’s the personification of one of many complaints TFM expressed and the LDS team ran with it.
The belittlement of Boimler seems to be a capital complaint against the show. Many in the Fandom Menace have taken this to be a continuation of the destruction of the male gender, as a whole, by Alex Kurtzman (I expressed this in a story earlier as well). However, this is just not the case. Boimler is the butt of many jokes but it’s certainly not an attack on the male gender. An attack on alpha males took place in the first episode of STD Season 2 where Lt. Connelly was taken out, mid-“mansplain.” The deconstruction of characters like Spock and Jean-Luc Picard are attacks.
Boimler is a clown-character in a comedy show. Nothing more, nothing less. Nothing that happens to him is offensive because the show isn’t serious enough to be taken as offensive. It never was and never will be.
That is the sum of its parts. STAR TREK LOWER DECKS is the first STAR TREK series in this new era that has heart. It pays tribute to what came before it in its own way. It is, in and of itself, a commentary on the entirety of the franchise. Sure, it does tackle social situations but it attacks itself in its handling of those situations. It says, “Fandom Menace, we hear you and we laugh at you… some times. Please take a joke!” At the same time, it also says, “We know our STAR TREK and we know how to have fun with it.” The product they’re selling is a solid one and it’s a shame it’s not producing the numbers it should. In the end, STAR TREK LOWER DECKS is a love letter, a “valentine to Trek fans,” if you will (to quote Rick Berman though he was talking about the abysmal finale of STAR TREK ENTERPRISE, which was even superior to STAR Toilet Paper). It should be appreciated for what it is. It knows its own identity: it doesn’t try to be anything else and in that, it succeeds.