Star Trek: Lower Decks

Given my love of both Star Trek and animation, I knew I would get around to watching the first season of Star Trek: Lower Decks eventually. I admit, I didn’t quite rush to the show for two reasons. First off, back when Star Trek: The Next Generation did a couple of episodes from the point of view of junior officers, I felt they’d botched certain elements of it. Also, the animation style put me off. Still, I’m glad I took a chance and saw what the series had to offer. I was pleased to find yet another incarnation of the Star Trek universe to enjoy.

Set aboard the U.S.S. Cerritos, Lower Decks focuses on four ensigns: Becket Mariner, an irreverent character who has climbed up to higher rank, only to be demoted again; Brad Boimler, a by-the-book character who sees himself as a future captain; Davana T’endi, an Orion medical technician; and Eugene Cordero, an engineer adjusting to a cybernetic implant. The ship itself is on a mission of providing engineering support to worlds just entering the Federation. The series features many references to classic Star Trek episodes and, perhaps not surprisingly, has many wonderful tributes to the original animated series. On the whole, the source of the humor comes from poking fun at places fans themselves have poked fun at the different series. More than once, the series reminded me of Seth MacFarlane’s The Orville.

Back in Star Trek: The Next Generation, there were two episodes told from the perspective of junior officers. The first was called “Tapestry” where the powerful alien Q shows Picard what would have happened if he hadn’t gotten into a fight which resulted in him needing an artificial heart. We learn Picard never took the chances he needed to be promoted and remained a junior officer. The next episode was “Lower Decks” about four junior officers up for promotion. Both episodes were good overall, but my problem was that the senior officers seemed too aloof and frankly snobbish around the junior officers. The dynamic felt more like Hollywood producers around interns from the back office than members of a team working together to explore the galaxy. Over my time in astronomy, I’ve had the opportunity to work with numerous well-known scientists in leadership positions, including Nobel Prize winners, and while some have been challenging to work with, most have been team players who recognized that everyone in the room was there because they had something to contribute no matter their level of seniority or what accolades they’d received. When I turn on a Star Trek episode, I want to see a team I’d want to be on as much or more than the one I’m on in real life. The Lower Decks animated series succeeded at this, possibly helped by the comedy premise. All of the characters are flawed, which puts them on much more equal footing as people, even when some of those people have more experience. What’s more, I felt as though the characters were having fun, which made me want to join them for the fun of exploration.

In graduate school, I was a fan of Matt Groenig’s comic strip, Life in Hell. I watched Groenig go on to develop The Simpsons and Futurama. I then watched other creators use a similar style in shows like Family Guy and Rick and Morty. In effect, Groenig’s style became the “adult animated comedy” style and we see it again in Lower Decks. I don’t dislike the style, but I found myself wondering if it would work for Star Trek. As it turns out, the style was adjusted to give it just a little more realism. While I was frustrated to see another American animation show forced to look a certain way because of its intended audience, I did find the actual look appealing and I soon warmed to the characters, in part because of solid voice acting and good scripts.

On a personal level, I loved the California-class ships named after the state’s cities. Growing up in California, I recognized all the ship names they’ve mentioned so far. I would love to see my old stomping grounds of San Bernardino or Barstow get a starship in a later season. The former seems like it would provide an opportunity to pay tribute to original series writer Jerome Bixby, who lived there. It might be fun to see it appear in an episode about the mirror universe that he created. Of course, Bixby’s stories were an early influence on my own writing, which you can learn more about by visiting http://www.davidleesummers.com

2 comments on “Star Trek: Lower Decks

  1. I didn’t remember at all that *Star Trek: The Next Generation* episode was named “Lower Decks.” I’m guessing the name of the new animated series came from that, but I don’t actually know that.

    Did you ever see Patrick Stewart of *ST:TNG* talk about first seeing *Red Dwarf?* He claims at first he was going to call his lawyer to sue them for ripping off his show, but then found it was a comedy and really liked it. (How much of his story is literally true and how much is Stewart having fun telling a story I don’t know, but I like his talk either way.) I wonder how he and others feel about *Lower Decks*.

    I’ve been in San Bernardino several times. As it happens, a friend of mine used to have a used bookstore there, and had been neighbors with Jerome Bixby. (Unfortunately, that city now has one of the highest violent crime rates in America.) Bixby’s story “It’s a Good Life,” in both the original and the *Twilight Zone* interpretation, remains one of the most haunting things I’ve ever read or seen.

    • I have heard the “Lower Decks” series is named for the Next Generation episode, but I’m not 100% sure the source was an official one.

      I never saw Patrick Stewart talking about “Red Dwarf” but I could imagine him loving it. In other interviews, I’ve heard him discuss comedy series he’s enjoyed. As for the TNG actors — Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis and John DeLancie all voiced their TNG characters during appearances in the Lower Decks animated series. I’m guessing, at the very least, they’re happy they’re getting some new paychecks for some voice acting!

      San Bernardino had its share of problems even when I grew up there and I’m sad that it’s fallen on even harder times. As it turns out, I met Jerome Bixby and his middle son, Emerson, while standing in line to see Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. Emerson and I had a mutual friend, so we all watched the movie together The elder Bixby came by to talk to his son for a few minutes before the movie started. “It’s a Good Life” is definitely one of my all time favorite horror stories. If you want to explore more of Bixby’s short stories, I recommend the collection “Mirror, Mirror” which Emerson compiled. It’s available on Amazon as both an ebook and paperback: https://www.amazon.com/Mirror-Classic-Fantastic-Voyage-Writer/dp/1503302431/

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