Star Trek Day 2020: Checking in with Lower Decks

Dept of Ops, Ops, and More Ops


Senior Editor’s Log, Supplemental: In honour of “Star Trek Day,” commemorating the first broadcast of Star Trek (The Original Series) on television in what used to be the United States of America, on Sept 8, 1966, we’re rendezvousing with the crew of the U.S.S. Cerritos, as they reach the halfway point of their inaugural 10 episode mission.

Five episodes in, have they managed to live up to the potential of a comedy set in the Star Trek universe? Was it even a good idea anyway? Have the crew of the U.S.S. Cerritos lived up to the high standard set by the captains and crews of the ships (and space stations!) who came before?

I really don’t know, and that’s a problem.

Peak Performance

I love Star Trek. I’ve been to a dedicated Star Trek convention. I have a tricorder from The Next Generation. I’ve completed all the series multiple times, even before they were readily available on streaming platforms. Except maybe Enterprise. And Voyager. Once through each was more than enough for me.

I’ll watch any new ‘Trek, but even I had to admit that the idea of Star Trek comedy was going to be a hard sell.

An Office style comedy, starring the junior members of Starfleet who are usually relegated to the background of the main series, seemed like it could work though, especially in animated form. Hell, even a two camera comedy set in the Lower Decks while events of galactic importance play out off screen, should have been a goldmine for comedy, right?  


Before Lower Decks the closest we got to comedy in the federation was the odd focused Ferengi focussed episodes or Q related hijinks.  Even when making his sci-fi comedy The Orville, Seth McFarlane, overseer of the family Guy “comedy” empire, wisely decided to just make a knock off of The Next Generation with the registry numbers filed off and with the odd joke thrown in. (If only for the first season, I’ve not yet caught up with the second.) In that first season, large swathes of The Orville can go by without a joke, feeling more like a lost episode of The Next Generation before the showrunners seem to realise what was happening and awkwardly inert a sex joke.

Lower Decks gets a one up on those who have gone before by being able to explicitly poke fun at Trek canon. Many of my favorite jokes could only be made in the context of this show. It’s been averaging roughly one joke per episode at the expense of some sacred cow or trope of ‘Trek lore. I’ve enjoyed these but even I have to admit they only raised a knowing smirk.


In Episode 3 someone finally poked fun at the standard Starfleet martial art, the way of the double fisted hammer punch, as Commander Jack Ransom fought an alien. You know what I’m at talking about. That weird interlocking hand axe swing that every Starfleet officer seems to prefer over literally any other way of throwing a punch.

The same episode also revolved around the elimination of “buffer time,” the time every member of Starfleet includes in every task, that can be magically shaved off in case of an emergency. It’s a funny bit that forms the basis for so much of the drama in Trek. It was funnier though when Scotty alluded to it in the Next Generation episode “Relics”:

Scotty : Do you mind a little advice? Starfleet captains are like children. They want everything right now and they want it their way. But the secret is to give them only what they need, not what they want.
Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge : Yeah, well, I told the Captain I’d have this analysis done in an hour.
Scotty : How long will it really take?
Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge : An hour!
Scotty : Oh, you didn’t tell him how long it would *really* take, did ya?
Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge : Well, of course I did.
Scotty : Oh, laddie. You’ve got a lot to learn if you want people to think of you as a miracle worker.

It also makes complete sense in Episode 2 when an anxious Ensign Rutherford is met with complete support and encouragement by his superiors when he quits his role in engineering to try other departments. In the post-scarcity future of Star Trek, where everyone (well, almost everyone) gets to follow their heart’s desire, why would any boss be mad if someone wanted to move teams? There’s literally no profit motive to keeping miserable people in jobs they hate. It’s a nice reversion of audience expectations that the show doesn’t do enough.

Hero Worship

These jokes at Star Trek‘s expense might seem slight but they raise the biggest problem with Lower Decks. These are the only gags I can remember, because on the whole, I just don’t find the rest of the show funny. Nothing against any of the actors involved, but the showrunners seem to have confused rapid fire bickering between Ensign Mariner and Ensign Boimler as humour and it just doesn’t work for me.

This might be something to do with the central pairing of the show. Despite the title Lower Decks, Mariner and Boimler somehow manage to be involved every thrilling thing that happens to the ship each week. Not only that, but Mariner is always the most qualified person to deal with it.


I can see that the humour is supposed to come from her rejection of Starfleet mores in favour of slacking off and having fun, despite her obvious talent and her mother’s encouragement. Pairing her with Boimler’s yearning-for-success-while-never-quite-being-cut-out-for-it, would seem to be comedy gold, but they just come off as two annoying petaQpu’.

Move Along Home

When Mariner puts together a crazy person string board of all the possible in-universe reasons why an attractive woman might be overly interested in Boimler in Episode 5, I get every reference. Shapeshifters with ulterior motives must be a constant concern in the dating scene of the future, but the episode doesn’t build on this except to make the already manic Mariner even more frantic.

Maybe my problem is simply with the concept of the show. Sci-fi comedy is difficult to do at the best of times. Most sci-fi comedy movies usually lean heavily in one direction or the other. The successes (Men In Black, Ghostbusters) are far outweighed by the failures (Land of the Lost, The Adventures of Pluto Nash).

Even when it comes to TV, the successes are even fewer and further between. Rick and Morty leads the pack, but even venerable old Red Dwarf, which has lasted 32 years and 12 (and a half) seasons only managed to be truly funny part of the time.

Rightful Heir

The sad fact is that the greatest Star Trek comedy of all time was already made and it was called Galaxy Quest. Dean Parisot’s parody managed to poke fun at the tropes of the franchise, while having a fun intergalactic adventure at the same time. Even the cast of The Next Generation loved it.

That’s not to say that there isn’t space for a Star Trek comedy. Maybe if Lower Decks shifts its focus back to the lives of the real rank and file members of Starfleet and their daily struggles, pushing the Star Trek elements more into the background, it might find more room for real humour.

Lord knows you didn’t need to have an interest in paper to enjoy either version of The Office. Maybe by focusing on the comedy rather than the Star Trek, Lower Decks might win me over, but for the moment, I’m only watching while I wait for the return of Discovery.

Star Trek: Lower Decks  
CBS All Access, Season 1, 10 episodes
Showrunners: Mike McMahan
Cast: Tawny Newsome, Jack Quaid, Noël Wells, Eugene Cordero, Dawnn Lewis, Jerry O’Connell, Fred Tatasciore, and Gillian Vigman

Star Trek: Lower Decks currently airs every Thursday on CBS All Access.

Irish Film lover lost in Malaysia. Co-host of Malaysia's longest running podcast (movie related or otherwise ) McYapandFries and frequent cryer in movies. Ask me about "The Ice Pirates"

Mark Ivanir and Hilary Swank star in Netflix's Away.
Previous Story


Chef's Table: BBQ Featured Image.
Next Story

Chef's Table: BBQ

Latest from Opinion TV