I guess we now have to think of a new name for Star Trek - The Animated Series as there is a new animated Trek in town, and they've borrowed their title from somewhere.
I approached Lower Decks with a certain amount of trepidation, not because it was an animated show, because TAS is an underrated gem in my starlog, but because it was being marketed as a comedy for young adults. I wondered whether they could make that work in the Trek universe. How could they do this and still capture the core concepts and values of Star Trek.
I feel the same about the talk of a Tarantino directed R-rated Trek. I'm no prude when it comes to swearing, but I just wonder what the point is and furthermore do the people advocating for a sweary, violent Trek really understand the enduring appeal of Star Trek at all.
The good news is Lower Decks almost pulls off the trick of creating a slightly naughty Trek, think Family Guy in space, whilst being a Trek show at its warp core. I use the word almost as a clarifier because at times there is a clear struggle to find the right tonal balance. It is never an out and out gross comedy but neither is it much of a Trek show in its broader moments of puerile humour.
Despite this occasional conflict of tone I really enjoyed the show. I think that's because the episodes are short and well written and the characters are charming, with Jack Quaid and Tawny Newsome the standout performers. But the main draw for me is the shows close relationship to TNG. It is set just after Star Trek Nemesis, the title credits evoke the same font and musical flourishes, and there is plenty of fan service (occasionally of the sledgehammer variety), and fun cameos.
It does a surprisingly good job at honouring existing continuity and one of the strongest parts is the show's premise. It is the job of the USS Cerritos to deal with second contact. The famous ships like Enterprise and Titan get all the glory of first contact. Lower Decks has fun with the idea that there is a lot of fall out after first contact and it is the second contact crews that have to sort out all the mess and chaos. The unglamorous jobs.
It also makes fun of first contact because it turns out the federation has a habit of rocking up, making contact with new species, and leaving a trail of issues behind them. They leave the planet's inhabitants to deal with the ramifications by themselves, until the crew of the Cerritos arrive for second contact duties. It is a satirical swipe at the oft commended politics of the 24th Century. Viewed as inclusive and democratic, here it's presented as pretty reckless and a lot closer to Spock’s cowboy diplomacy than anyone would care to admit.
Overall this is a strong start and exceeded my expectations. It is fun and packs the occasional poignant punch. I'm feeling optimistic that interesting things await in the future for this promising new addition to Trek on TV.
I award it a strong 3.5 tricorders out of 5.