Star Trek is in the middle of a renaissance, and there are currently three (soon to be four) ongoing TV series on the air. Among them is Lower Decks, an animated series that’s focussed more on comedy than Star Trek’s usual pomp and philosophy.
It’s also one of the best, possibly even the best, Star Trek shows ever developed. For the simple reason that it is unlike any other Trek show that came before it.
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When Paramount first announced that it was commissioning an animated Star Trek series, I was dubious. The last time that happened, we ended up with Star Trek: The Animated Series. The animated series ran for two seasons, aired on Saturday mornings, and was… (at least in my opinion) not great.
I was worried Lower Decks might be more of the same, especially given some of the very valid criticisms people had of both of the other Paramount Trek series': Star Trek: Discovery, and then later Picard. Like both series’ fondness for lame plot twists late in the season, and taking a little too much lens-flare-induced inspiration from the JJ Abrams movies.
But Lower Decks had some great people working behind the scenes, most of all showrunner Mike McMahan. If you're not familiar, McMahan is a writer and producer for Rick & Morty, and creator of the satirical ‘TNG Season 8’ Twitter account:
Riker infiltrates a saboteur cult in the Neutral Zone. Worf demands an honorable death when the crew learns his middle name is Ashley.March 3, 2013
The very first trailer for Lower Decks also didn’t fill me with much confidence, but it didn’t take long for the show to win me over once episodes started hitting CBS All Access (now Paramount Plus).
A new hero appears from the background
In fact I know exactly when Lower Decks proved itself to be different to every other generic adult-focussed animated streaming series. Right at the end of the third episode, when it revealed who the most important Starfleet officer was.
No, not Picard, Kirk or any of the other obvious candidates. It was Miles O’Brien, background character from The Next Generation who got elevated to bridge crew in Deep Space Nine. Not a minor character by any means, but certainly not the kind of person who’d dominate the history books.
And I'm not going to lie, the fact Mariner's response to Q showing up out of the blue was to start berating him really tickled me. It's one of my favorite Q moments, right behind that time he got sucker-punched by Sisko.
Humor: The Final Frontier
It was that point I realized something crucial about Lower Decks - its whole premise is poking fun at the Star Trek franchise. Paramount did what should have been impossible, and made a show that was essentially a parody of itself. And 100% canon to boot.
It’s Galaxy Quest without any risk of copyright infringement, and spread over the course of a TV series rather than a 102 minutes.
Over the past season and a half, Lower Decks has proven that self-deprecating humor is what it’s best at. Because let’s face it, despite the fact it takes itself so seriously, Star Trek can be pretty darn ridiculous at times.
Do I need to mention that time Voyager turned Paris and Janeway into weird-ass lizards? Because Lower Decks did, and at the same time canonized the series’ ‘VOY’ acronym that’s used to easily differentiate it from other Trek shows on the Star Trek wiki, Memory Alpha.
Lower Decks is not for everyone
Not everyone is going to agree with me and my reverence for Lower Decks. For one, asking nerds to discuss a topic they’re passionate about is always going to get heated. And it did just that when this feature was discovered by other members of the Tom’s Guide team.
They had a number of issues with Lower Decks as a concept, with one of my colleagues declaring that “the only thing that prevents Lower Decks from being the worst Star Trek series is the fact that Picard exists.”
Among the issues my colleagues had with Lower Decks was the fact the show’s episodes generally don’t have any message at their core — a staple of Star Trek since the very beginning.
Likewise another Tom’s Guide staffer said the fact that Lower Decks fails to offer anything new and meaningful to the canon, instead existing to name-check other things from past series, is the key barrier stopping them from enjoying the show.
Which, ironically, is one of the key reasons why I love the show so much in the first place. I hope I’m not alone in that opinion, especially since Paramount was confident enough to renew Lower Decks for a third season months before season 2 even aired. I just hope it’s not the last.
Fun for new and old fans alike
Even as a standalone series, Lower Decks is a pretty welcoming space comedy. You don’t have to have watched a whole bunch of Trek to enjoy it, but it does help. Especially given the series’ habit of calling back to characters and moments from the rest of Trek.
If you like Star Trek, you should definitely be watching Lower Decks. It is an absolute treasure of a series, and it’s so rare for any major franchise to be so willing to poke fun at itself.
After all, if The Simpsons and Family Guy can keep going for multiple decades, there’s no reason why Lower Decks can’t last several seasons. Just as long as the show doesn’t fall into the trap of staying past its welcome, when the jokes stop being funny.