Oct 10, 2023
Lower Decks is arguably the best show of Star Trek’s modern era and is a love letter to the franchise that reminds fans not to take it too seriously.
Star Trek returned to television in 2017 with the premiere of Star Trek: Discovery. Despite a shaky beginning, Discovery became a hit, inspiring an entirely new line of Trek shows, including Picard, Strange New Worlds, and the late lamented Prodigy. Each of these programs has their own distinct vibe: Picard is a character-study, Prodigy was made for children, and Strange New Worlds is a modern riff on the classic Star Trek formula. These three shows have helped bring Star Trek into the modern era and introduce a new generation of fans to the final frontier.
And then there is Star Trek: Lower Decks.
Lower Decks is unlike any other Star Trek show yet. True, it is not Trek’s first foray into animation—seven years after the original show premiered, Star Trek: The Animated Series debuted. Airing on Saturday mornings, the show continued the adventures of Captain James Kirk, Mister Spock, and the crew of the Enterprise. The show, more sophisticated than other cartoons of the era, introduced a number of cool concepts and characters to the mythos. Unfortunately, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry later declared the show out of canon, although this has not stopped later writers from “backdooring” certain aspects of the show back into continuity.
While The Animated Series’ canonicity is debatable, Star Trek: Lower Decks is not. It is firmly a part of the Star Trek mythos and is a love letter to Star Trek as well.
Created by Mike McMahan, whose other credits include Rick and Morty and Solar Opposites, Lower Decks rewards long-time fans for their deep knowledge of the franchise. Any given episode is loaded with references to other Star Trek shows and movies. Some of them are quite subtle, other are “blink and you miss it.” The animation style is similar to the other shows McMahan has worked on. This initially led to skepticism among fans: How exactly do you reconcile the Star Trek universe with what are decidedly raunchy cartoons?
The answer is: It works beautifully.
Beginning a few years after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis, Lower Decks follows the adventures of four (later five) lowly ensigns aboard the USS Cerritos, a California-class starship specializing in “second contacts.” The Cerritos is not a glamorous Galaxy-class ship like the Enterprise, nor is it a warship like the Defiant.Instead, it is just another ship in the fleet. While this may not sound like it would make for compelling viewing, Star Trek: Lower Decks is arguably the best show of Trek’s modern era.
Lower Decks’ five main characters—the humans Boimler, Mariner, and Rutherford, the Orion Tendi, and the Vulcan T’Lynn—navigate the ups and downs of starship life in the late 24th century. Boimler (voiced by Jack Quaid, of The Boys) is an eager beaver, a student of Starfleet history who desires a command of his own one day. His best friend on the Cerritos is Beckett Mariner (voiced by Tawny Newsome, of Space Force), the daughter of the ship’s captain with a long history of insubordination. Sam Rutherford (Eugene Cordero, of Loki), stationed in Engineering, adores his job, as does his best friend Tendi (Noël Wells, of The Incredible Jessica James), who works in the sickbay. They were joined in season four by T’Lynn (Gabrielle Ruiz, of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), who first appeared in the show’s second season.
Lower Decks also shines a light on the Cerritos’ senior officers as well; among them are Chief of Engineering Billups, voiced by comedian Paul Scheer, and the arrogant but ultimately competent Commander Ransom, voiced by Jerry O’Connell (The Donor Party).
Despite its toilet-bowl humor, and its TV-MA rating, Lower Decks is surprisingly wholesome. The constant barrage of in-jokes and references are never meant in a mean-spirited way; instead, they pay homage to Star Trek’s rich 57-year legacy. Lower Decks has given shout-outs to every corner of the Star Trek franchise, with some cuts so deep they can go over viewers’ heads.
Lower Decks also subverts franchise tropes, and no character better exemplifies this than Tendi. Hailing from the planet Orion, Tendi is an eager, cheerful medical officer—a stark contrast to what fans had seen of Orion before. Prior to Lower Decks, the Orions were best known for the green slave girls, supposedly so desirable that no man could resist them. Star Trek: Enterprise tried to rectify this by revealing that Orion women secrete pheromones that control men. However, the execution of this left something to be desired.
On the other hand, Lower Decks has flipped the script on every bit of this: Tendi is not a sensual slave girl nor are other Orion women. The “pheromones controlling the men” have been retooled as well, making Orion a matrilineal society.
That’s just one example of the genius of Star Trek: Lower Decks. Despite initial misgivings, fans by and far have embraced the series. The characters are exceptionally well-written, with superb performances by the voice cast.
Lower Decks has also made significant strides in representation: the aforementioned Billlups is coded for asexuality and the show has featured crew members wearing the hijab and the Sikh dastar. Lower Decks is a love letter to the Star Trek franchise that reminds fans not to take it too seriously.
Lower Decks is currently streaming on (with a subscription) Paramount+ and Prime Video, or you can rent Seasons 1-4 on Apple TV, Google Play, and Vudu.
Shaun Corley is an East Coast pop culture enthusiast who loves to write about everything entertainment. A big, important Screen Rant writer, Shaun has many leather-bound books, but they’re far outnumbered by comic books and the smell of rich mahogany in the air.