Star Trek: Lower Decks

Star Trek: Lower Decks – A Look Back at Season 1

Dept of Ops, Ops, and More Ops


We weren’t thrilled with the first half of the first season of Star Trek: Lower Decks. It was neither Trek enough nor funny enough. Everything that Galaxy Quest and The Orville seem to pull off almost effortlessly felt like such a slog in this, the first ever comedy set in the Star Trek universe. At least until Episodes 9 and 10, which surprised us with just how great they were – not just for this series, but for Trek as a whole. So what gives? 

Warning: Here be spoilers here for the first season of Star Trek: Lower Decks.

Star Trek: Lower Decks

Umapagan Ampikaipakan: Something shifted towards the end of this first season of Star Trek: Lower Decks. It wasn’t that the writers suddenly hit their stride. No. This felt like a completely different show. Both “Crisis Point” and “No Small Parts” seem to address all of the issues that I had with the series. All of the funniest moments were rooted in the eccentricities and idiosyncrasies of Star Trek (of which there are many!). And they gave all of our heroes genuine character moments as well.

My problem with the early episodes of the series was that Mariner, Boimler, Tendi, and Rutherford felt like blank canvases. The writers would just bombard them with jokes, loudly and indiscriminately, hoping that something would stick. In these last two episodes, however, they suddenly felt like real characters.

Iain McNally: 1) You take Rutherford and Tendi’s names outta your mouth! Those are my babies. And 2) I completely agree when it comes to Boimler, and especially Mariner. These characters felt like they were modelled on the later seasons of Friends (a personal bugbear) where the cast became collections of quirks rather than actual characters. Boimler is a rule following wimp and Mariner is just a chaotic badass, but that’s about it. Those last two episodes have some character growth for both of them, but it only comes in those last two episodes. 

UA: And up until those last two episodes, there was no real reason behind why Mariner was such an ass. I mean, we’re lead to believe that it’s some kind of rebellious behaviour against her mother, but for the most part, she behaves badly just because she wants to. She likes challenging authority figures. She thinks it’s fun. And it’s a great set up for a joke, but it can really get wearing week after week.

IM: I think that’s an inherent problem with the series. The supposed evolved humanity of Roddenberry’s future would find a way to focus that energy into Section 31, or the time police, or whatever. Her mother is just as much of a mess as she is and that doesn’t work for a captain. In a way, the whole crew of the USS Cerritos are the “Lower Decks” of the title, subpar officers and crew, but the show wasn’t sold on that.

UA: “It’s the eighties, dude, we don’t have psychiatric problems!” 

IM: Right! The 2380s!

Star Trek: Lower Decks

UA: That’s something you brought up in your review. Having these underlings be involved in every major ship event automatically elevates them to being more than just “lower deckers.” I think the show had a real opportunity to show us what happens in the underbelly of a starship in a witty and insightful way and totally dropped the ball.

IM: With that title, I had assumed we would be getting a workplace comedy that just happened to have some Star Trek stuff going on in the background. The closest they came to that idea was in Episode 8, “Veritas,” where the lower decks crew is quizzed about a secret mission by the officers, in what they think is an alien trial, but Mariner and her cohorts have no clue what was actually going on. It’s also an episode that lets Tendi and Rutherford take the spotlight as almost accidental badasses, which is a nice break from Mariner.

UA: For me, Episode 9, “Crisis Point,” was when that really took root. The idea that the lower deckers would play out their own big (movie) adventure on a holodeck, while the rest of the crew were off doing “real work,” was the perfect formulation of the concept of this show.

IM: Lower Decks: The Movie was the best bit of Star Trek parody they managed all season. It’s also kind of weird that the TV show was poking fun at the movies seeing as they are owned by different companies right? The lens flare, the beauty passes around the Cerritos, and was that James Horner’s Khan Score?

UA: Their names as signatures at the end credits was genius!

IM: Chef’s kiss for that. Star Trek VI was iconic.

UA: But I really didn’t need them to take this long to get there. Mariner’s great revelation came far too late in the series.

IM: Ironically it might have been more impactful if we didn’t know she was Captain Freeman’s daughter until Boimler did.  

Star Trek: Lower Decks

UA: So what the hell do you think happened? Because I was watching these last two episodes, and everything felt tighter. The jokes. The plotting. The TNG references. Q! Everything suddenly worked.

IM:  The TOS gag (Those old Scientists). Revisiting Landru on Beta III with the starfleet sticker “Do Not Obey” on it. This felt like a different show, one more comfortable in its regulation Starfleet boots. 

UA: The (now canon) Spock Helmet which we saw in Netflix’s The Toys That Made Us!

IM: Peanut Hamper! I was so happy to see an exocomp and then to have Tendi point out the difficulties in medical seeing as she has no hands was delightful. As was the reversal that she doesn’t need hands, and that the obvious character, who was perfectly suited to solve the predicament faced by the crew, wasn’t in fact going to solve it. That’s a nice bit of comedy. Not “laugh out loud” comedy, but it got more of a grin than whole episodes earlier in the season.

Star Trek: Lower Decks

UA: What did you think of them killing off Shaxs? That took me by surprise.

IM: Was I surpised? Yes. Did it feel earned? No. 

I also wished they delved a little more into the idea that “Starfleet is good at observing, but bad at maintaining” that comes up these later episodes. The Pak’led’s getting more powerful. Landru regaining control of Beta III. This was something they really could have leaned into. A ship full of space janitors, taking care of all the trash that hasn’t yet reached the combustion point that will put it on the radar of ships like the Enterprise.

UA: You’re absolutely right! That’s the USP of Star Trek: Lower Decks. If you want to boldly go, you might as well boldly go to all the side stories and c-plots of every Trek series that has come before. The number of jokes we were making about the plot holes in Picard. How Starfleet just ditches whole entire civilizations after 44 minutes. There is comedy gold there. (As we witnessed in that one moment when the Captain Freeman says to the citizens of Beta III: “You just went back to worshipping the computer?”)


IM: Which was something Stargate SG1 did in a really weird but cool way. They took what seemed like one-off joke civilisations, and made them members of an alliance that eventually got wiped out in a war. That show returned to plot threads you didn’t even think were dangling and wove them into new seasons.

UA: Hell, that show made entire spin-offs around minor plot threads. 

IM: That said, the appearance of Q and his Picard disses were just perfect: “Picard’s always quoting Shakespeare… and making wine.” It was a lovely little taste of Q. 

A similar jokey reference I really liked was Mariner referring to Earth as boring because it’s all just vineyards and soul food restaurants, as that’s all we ever got to see of “normal life” on earth in TNG and DS9

The best part of the season though has to be the reappearance of two characters, who also injected new life into Picard. This time they brought their ship with them!

Star Trek: Lower Decks

UA: It also makes complete(!) sense that Mariner would know Riker and Troi. She’s the daughter of a Captain and an Admiral. I’m sure their kids hang out all the time!

IM: “C’mon Mariner – were going to the Riker’s for pizza!”

This gave us a glimpse into what another Lower Decks show could be. Could you imagine if Mariner, Boimler, Tendi, and Rutherford were on the USS Titan but you only saw the officers for like a minute every episode? That was the type of show I thought we were going to get!

UA: That’s the Star Trek: Lower Decks that I want! And you know what, with Boimler leaving the Cerritos, it might be the show we get next season. I think the thing I liked most about these last two episodes is how it’s moved everything along. Suddenly, this very pointless sitcom felt like it had some stakes attached to it. I mean, I really felt for Mariner as she kept leaving countless voicemail messages for Boimler!

IM: Hah. You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone eh? Is it renewed for a second season? Wil Mariner have a new “crew” of underachievers to hang out with on the Cerritos?

I wouldn’t be against more Riker turning up, especially if he keeps doling out zingers like THE BEST joke in the ENTIRE series, as he enters the bridge explaining, “Sorry, I was watching the first Enterprise, Archer and those guys, they had a long road  getting from there to here!”


IM: That joke had SO MANY LAYERS at the expense of the finale of Enterprise, an episode nobody watched, or liked!

This episode also had the second best joke, in my opinion, of the series. As Captain Freeman remarked on the Cerritos repairs:  “I hate it when a ship gets repaired and comes out all Sovereign Class.” More of this please!

Star Trek: Lower Decks

UA: That’s what makes this series work. It’s those kind of jokes that really shine. I don’t know if the showrunners are under any illusions that this is a series with wide appeal. Because that really shouldn’t be their aim. Star Trek: Lower Decks needs to be laser targeted to the Trek fan. Because I’m not sure if this is a gateway drug. I don’t know if watching this will bring in a new audience to the franchise.

IM: I doubt it will bring in anyone new in its current format, but I’m sure CBS wants more non-Trek viewers to make it worthwhile. I don’t know though. I think if they focused on an actually funny workplace comedy first, then layered in the Trek gags, it could also work. Also building their own recurring jokes is something they need to do. Not just Boimler and Mariner’s annoying quirks, but things like Ransom’s double fist punch, which reappears in these episodes. That’s a gag based upon a mocked part of Trek lore but works well as part of Ransom’s character. They need to start building their own road at some stage and not just really on reference/memberberries humour. I think that might be the real challenge.  

UA: I also need the main crew of the Cerritos to be far more competent than they are shown to be. I mean, it’s Star Trek dammit. You don’t get to be on that bridge unless you’re the best of the goddamned best.

IM: Or alternatively, ALL their missions are like delivering the post, or changing the fuses on deep space listening posts, and the humour comes from EVERYBODY’S boredom and frustrations. They seem to hint at this at points in the show but never really lean into it. There are crews out there like this. Not having a flashy adventure every week might put off executives, but leaves more room for humour. 

UA: So here’s what I want. Besides the inevitable Riker Loves Troi spinoff (I’ll settle for an animated one at this point), give me a crossover with Rick and Morty and I’ll be all in. 

IM: Nooooooo! [Laughs] Rick would WRECK Mariner, the Cerritos, and everyone, and leave them in some horrible fate worse than death on a whim! 

UA: And then they wake up and it was ALL a dream.

IM: “Wolf 359 was an inside job!”

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

The entire first season of Star Trek: Lower Decks is now streaming on CBS All Access.

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