Nearly twenty years after William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and the rest of the Enterprise crew played Star Trek for laughs in the Futurama episode “Where No Fan Has Gone Before,” Starfleet is getting colorfully comedic again with Star Trek: Lower Decks, an animated comedy that’s also the newest addition to the Star Trek cannon. And while it takes more than one episode to really get good, watching all ten on the Star Trek: Lower Decks: Season 1 Blu-ray, DVD, or limited-edition Blu-Ray steelbook is the best way to see it happen.
Created by Mike McMahan…
who co-wrote and co-produced Rick & Morty and co-created Solar Opposites, Star Trek: Lower Decks follows a bunch of ensigns on the U.S.S. Cerritos as the ship explores the galaxy in 2380 (which is a year after Romulus was destroyed in the movie Star Trek, and six years before the beginning of Picard).
But unlike previous Trek shows, Star Trek: Lower Decks doesn’t show what the higher ups are, well, up to. Instead, it focuses on the rest of the crew; the people who reconfigure the warp coils and clean out the holo deck bio-filters and generally do the grunt work Kirk and Picard haven’t done since, well, they were ensigns.
As you’d expect, Star Trek: Lower Decks has a lot of fun with the previous Star Trek shows and movies. But it also takes aim at the tropes that have influenced, and have been influenced by, Star Trek over the years. “Second Contact” opens the season by having Ensign Brad Boimler ordered to spy on Ensign Beckett, who may be breaking Starfleet regulations; “Cupid’s Errant Arrow” has Mariner is suspicious about Boimler’s super cool (maybe too cool) girlfriend; while “Much Ado About Boimler” has Mariner temporarily becoming first mate when her friend is the interim captain.
But while Star Trek: Lower Decks…
is both a Star Trek show and a Star Trek parody, it actually works best as a behind-the-scenes kind of thing. Which isn’t to say this is like a sci-fi version of The Office — no one’s looking straight into the camera — but more like what Robot Chicken might do if they ever did a Star Trek special in the vein of their Star Wars ones.
That said, it is slow going at first. It’s not until the eighth episode, “Veritas” — in which the ensigns testifying at a trial somehow ends with Q bitching about Picard — that Star Trek: Lower Decks really hits its stride. While it’s exciting and insightful, it’s also rather twisty and weird, and all the better for it. Thankfully, it’s also not an anomaly; instead, it sets the template for both the penultimate episode, “Crisis Point,” in which Mariner creates a holo deck action movie as a form of therapy, and the season finale, “No Small Parts,” in which a potentially damaging secret is exposed.
While the writing takes until “Crisis Point” to truly find its sweet spot, other aspects of the show work at peak efficiency from the beginning. Most notably, the rather solid voice cast, which includes Jack Quaid from The Boys and the Hunger Games movies as Boimler, Futurama‘s Dawnn Lewis as Captain Carol Freeman, and voice acting icon Fred Tatasciore — whose long career including doing the voices of Kirk, McCoy, and Spock on multiple episodes of Robot Chicken — as Lieutenant Shax. They even got such Trek vets Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis, and John de Lancie to reprise their roles as William Riker, Deanna Troi, and Q.
But the true secret weapon of Star Trek: Lower Decks…
is Ensign Mariner, who never met a regulation she didn’t break, and Brockmire‘s Tawny Newsome, who gives Mariner’s lines just the right amount of lively abandon.. As someone who would be constantly on report if this was The Next Generation, Mariner is not only the needle that pokes the hole in the balloon that is Star Trek, but she’s easily the funniest character in Trek since the tribble who tried to head butt Kirk…though Craig Of The Creek‘s Noël Wells’ enthusiastic take makes D’Vana Tendi a close second.
Sadly, neither Mariner nor D’Vana can save the episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks before “Crisis Point.” Which isn’t to say they’re bad, more that they just didn’t find their footing. Which is why, at first, Lower Decks is neither as good as the best Trek shows (T.O.S., Deep Space Nine, and Destiny), nor is as funny or clever as the best sci-fi ‘toons (Rick & Morty, Futurama, The Venture Brothers). But it does come damn close to both by the end, and is always better than such similar shows as Final Space (the show it most resembles both visually and in terms of its mix of action and comedy), Star Trek: The Animated Series, and (sorry, Mike) Solar Opposites.
As for how Star Trek: Lower Decks: Season 1 looks and sounds on Blu-ray and DVD, well, no surprise, it’s both better and easier than streaming it on Paramount+. There’s no commercials, no digital glitches if your wi-fi gets weird, and it’s way less irritating to rewind if you miss a joke. Which, given how fast Mariner talks, will probably happen.
Along with the ten episodes, the Star Trek: Lower Decks: Season 1 Blu-rays and DVD have a bunch of interesting extras, many of which haven’t been available on Paramount+. There’s a full-length animatic for the first episode, “Second Contact,” which is interesting in a “see how the sausage is made” kind of way; as well funny deleted scenes in animatic form both that episode and the fourth, “Moist Vessel.” There’s even a full trailer for Crisis Point: The Rise Of Vindicta, the aforementioned therapeutic holo film Mariner made in “Crisis Point.”
The Star Trek: Lower Decks: Season 1 Blu-rays and DVD…
also have 10 “Lower Decktionary” production featurettes. As is always the case with these kinds of things, they are entertaining and informative, and not in a Film School 101 way. Though their authority is somewhat undermined by having some interviews set against footage from the show, since they were clearly done over Zoom, and with what seem to be cheap cameras, and thus look low-res and unprofessional.
Along with the “Lower Decktionary” featurettes, the Star Trek: Lower Decks: Season 1 Blu-rays and DVD have two others called “Faces Of The Fleet” and “Hiding In Plain Sight.” In the former, we meet the show’s voice cast and their characters, complete with both interviews and vocal outtakes. Then, in “Sight,” they talk about — or maybe that should be “spoil” — some of the references and Easter eggs in the show, both Trek-related and not.
As for placement, the extras on Star Trek: Lower Decks: Season 1 Blu-rays and DVD are treated both well and badly. While they smartly put the episode-specific extras in the menus for their relevant episodes, and put “Faces Of The Fleet” and “Hiding In Plain Sight” on the second disc, they oddly placed one “Lower Decktionary” featurette in each of the episode menus, even though they’re not episode-specific.
The misplacement of some extras is not the only thing that should’ve been better. This doesn’t have the original trailer for the show, nor commentaries on any of the episodes, though the latter would only be worth it if the cast were involved, not just the producers.
Even with all of these missteps,
in both the show and the extras, Star Trek: Lower Decks is still a worthy addition to both Trek cannon and the current slate of sci-fi animated comedies, and the Star Trek: Lower Decks: Season 1 Blu-rays and DVD are the best way to experience it. Here’s hoping they keep the engines humming for season two.