Question: How do you tell a story set in the universe of Star Trek if the subject is one of the least important ships in Starfleet?
Answer: Make it a comedy
Second Question: How can we make this comedy different and appealing to all walks of life?
Second Answer: Make it a cartoon.
Thus begins a season of yet another entry on CBS All Access into the Star Trek franchise, only this time we are given something that doesn’t resemble anything like what we have seen in previous Star Trek entries.
As the streaming series begins we are introduced to Ensigns Mariner and Boimler. They serve in the “lower decks” of the USS Cerritos (an idea that was taken from the 7th season of TNG in the episode “Lower Decks”). It is implied that this is where the new officers of starships are stationed before they rise in rank. These two don’t necessarily get along very well. Boimler loves serving in Starfleet and even dreams of ascending to command rank, while Mariner is a rebel and marches to the beat of her own drummer. She also believes that she knows better than most. Among the missions they have together are a “second contact” situation (which isn’t anywhere near as prestigious as “first contact”) that ends up going horribly wrong. Later, Boimler is assigned to escort a Klingon Warrior but when everything goes wrong Mariner shows that she has “the right stuff” to get the assignment completed. And let’s not forget the time when the crew of the Cerritos accidentally insulted a race of aliens by presenting them a gift that was made for their enemies. At every turn, disaster waits so that our crew of lower deck officers can save the day and provide us with laughter at the same time. There is only one small problem. Star Trek: Lower Decks is not funny.
Having Star Trek receive animation treatment is not new. From 1973 to 1975 we had the further adventures of the USS Enterprise with Kirk, Spock, and most of the Enterprise crew we were familiar with, and even though the animation studio producing the series used plenty of templates to animate scenes and characters, the stories were for the most part decent science fiction stories that also served as morality messages. Even Star Trek: Short Treksproduced an animated episode following the first season of Discovery that was rather respectable with its quality. Sadly, none of these fine points can be applied to Lower Decks. This is a series that misfires on so many levels, not the least of which is its terrible application of humor. If I want to see a funny space series with a message I can tune into The Orville for that. Instead, any possible message that these first three episodes might have had was drowned out by the poor attempt at humor and the sound of my groans while having to watch this.
From a voice-acting standpoint, I can only call the dialogue of this series “noise.” Characters are speaking at such an accelerated rate I can only guess that their lines are being edited together so closely that they are practically speaking on top of each other. The result is that unless you’re taking some amphetamines there is no way you’ll be able to keep up with everything these characters are saying. I had the closed-captioning turned on and I still couldn’t catch everything that was being said. What this did for me was not only to find what they had to say un-funny but it also alienated me from the characters. Granted, they weren’t very likable from the start, but this just pushed me away even further. There is also the style of the animation. It has been compared to Rick and Morty, which is quite accurate in terms of its appearance and story quality. Sadly, I don’t know many Star Trek fans who also enjoy Rick and Morty so choosing this type of animation and writing will likely fail in growing an audience. Lastly, in a surprising move from Executive Producer Alex Kurtzman, it was announced that this series is taking place in the “prime” universe, meaning that it will fit in with established Trek canon. How this was accomplished was by simply name-dropping people and events that have no bearing on the plot. It’s as if that by simply making some generalized reference to a previously established Star Trek incident that it would give this series the credibility it feels it deserves. Perhaps I might give that a hesitant pass if it wasn’t for a dreadful joke that appeared at the end of the third episode where we are given a scene that is far in the future and a teacher is in a classroom setting and makes mention of Ensign Boiler. We see a statue of him as he holds a bird on his arm and that bird was called “The Great Bird Of The Galaxy,” which was a nickname given to Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. When the series makes fun of a name that was given out of love to the franchise creator it says to me, and possibly to other Star Trek fans out there, that we don’t care about you or what it is that appeals to Trek fans.
After watching the first three episodes all I can say is that this show should not be called Lower Decks. Perhaps it should be called “Lower Humor” or “Lower Quality,” because after having watched the first three episodes the only thing left to say is that this show is not good at all.