Wednesday, May 26, 2021
Lower Decks, Season 1
STLD is was created by a nerd named Mike McMahan, and boy! would it be fun to be him. In the Trek timeline, it's set approximately just after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis (the Next Generation film in which Will Riker and Deanna Troi got married). The main characters are junior ensigns on board the starship Cerritos – as unglorious as a Starfleet career can be. They do the scut work that keeps their ship going, like scraping crud off of filters, fixing food replicators when they go on the fritz, and installing space-age gizmos on second-contact planets. Their ship is no Enterprise, either. Old, out-of-style, showing a lot of wear and tear, and crewed by misfits from the top of the command chain down, it specializes in "second contact" – not first, mind you – with new life and new civilizations. What they mostly learn is that the neat solutions to the first-contact stories of the elite Trek crews often lead to new and perhaps worse problems later.
The show is a menagerie (heh) of alien races from most of the Trek series so far – including ones only previously seen on the animated series, or briefly glimpsed in the background of the other shows. It revisits a planet last seen in The Original Series, and even brings the acronym "TOS" into canon (albeit standing for different words). It brings back a one-off race of TNG villains and makes them a bigger threat than the first time. It hints at not all Ferengi living up to the hand-rubbing, furtive stereotype. It takes advantage of being drawn by animators to explore environments that would be too far-out or expensive to depict in a live-action episode. It does Trek, legit Trek, but with the character-design sensibilities of a prime-time animated sit-com like The Family Guy, The Simpsons or Rick and Morty, and the laughs to go with it.
So, there are 10 episodes. And all though I'm soooo over listing every single episode (as I did in my first umpteen Star Trek revies), I'll say in fairness that an episode-by-episode breakdown of Picard and Discovery is pointless because they've been so heavily serialized that you don't even notice where one episode ends and another begins. However, I think with only 10 episodes, and very episodic ones at that, I can reasonably distinguish that Second Contact is the one where most of the crew turns into zombies; Envoys involves a disastrous errand to ferry a Klingon negotiator to an embassy on what a writer described in the DVD extras as the Epcot Center of alien planets; Temporal Edict is the one where Capt. Freeman cracks down on the crew's time management ethic of "buffer time" (the old Montgomery Scott chestnut about saying a task will take much longer than it really will, so you'll seem a miracle worker when you get it done faster), and this almost destroys the ship; Moist Vessel involves a ship full of terraforming fluid and a crewman whose ascension to a being of pure energy Tendi inadvertently screws up; Cupid's Errant Arrow is the one where Mariner is suspicious of Boimler's all-too-beautiful girlfriend; Terminal Provocations features an ensign who makes both Boimler and Mariner look like the ideal Starfleet officer, and introduces Badgey, a psychotic tutorial hologram obviously inspired by Microsoft's "Clippy"; Much Ado About Boimler finds this series' master-of-suffering-from-weird-problems turned into a blue, transparent wraith by a transporter mishap; Veritas has the main characters interrogated about their officers' recent activities by what appears to be an alien drumhead trial, but is really more of an object lesson about cultural misunderstandings; Crisis Point is where Mariner works out her mommy issues by casting herself as the villainous Vindicta in a holodeck movie parody of the TOS feature films; and No Small Parts brings the season to a cliff-hanging conclusion (not literally) with one regular character killed off in an act of sacrifice and another transferred to a different ship.
Guests include John de Lancie as Q, Jonathan Frakes as Riker, Marina Sirtis as Deanna, as well as J.G. Hertzler (Martok on DS9), Haley Joel Osment, Kurtwood Smith, Jack McBrayer (30 Rock), etc. etc. What else can I tell you? There's a lot of profanity in this series but it's all bleeped out ... barely. Use your imagination.
Honorable mentions: The trippy thing that happens when that one crewman ascends, the gag about the most important person in the history of Starfleet, and the movingly Shaxs thing that Shaxs does when his character arc arrives at its inevitable conclusion.
Bottom line, I love these characters. I love them from page one. They're well designed, well written, super-well acted – I mean, these folks have scene-stealing comedic talent, and that's with their voices alone. The imagery is great. The storylines are a gas. The visual and audible Easter eggs are a treasure trove for Trekkies. It's truly Trek, not just a parody of Trek; but it's so, so funny. And it manages all these things in 10 episodes of 22 minutes each, not a wasted moment among them. Knowing CBS had this up its sleeve makes me wonder how they've botched Discovery so badly. (In fairness, I've only seen the first two seasons of that show; but in unfairness, the only parts I totally loved are spinning off to become a separate series, Strange New Worlds.) Just think, this show was in development before Discovery went on the air. It takes a year to make each episode. It's a process that must be fraught with tremendous care, and it's paid off so far. The hard part is waiting for another year for my next 3 hour, 40 minute fix of Lower Decks.