Star Trek Guide

How Star Trek: Lower Decks Transforms the Series' Drama Into Comedy

After a rough few years on the big screen, Star Trek has found new life on streaming services thanks to series like Discovery and Picard. They both trade heavily on a healthy mix of new ideas and nostalgia. Now, fans can add the new animated series Lower Decks to the growing roster of Star Trek series on CBS All Access. While it's not the first time Star Trek has gone animated, Lower Decks is the first time it has leaned fully into comedy.

Since debuting in 1966, Star Trek has been mainly live-action and mostly dramatic; however, NBC aired two seasons of Star Trek: The Animated Series, which expanded on the adventures of The Original Series crew in 1973 and 1974. There have certainly been classic episodes in every series that fall into the category of comedy, but the movies and TV shows would still be classified as dramas. As such, Star Trek: Lower Decks is unique to the franchise.

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That being said, it's not the first time the franchise explored the lower decks themselves. One of the best episodes of the seven year run of Star Trek: The Next Generation was "Lower Decks," which focused on the adventures of crew members who rarely were discussed or only appeared in this one episode. It received acclaim from fans and critics for taking a much different look at life on the Enterprise-D, but Lower Decks is quite different from "Lower Decks."

The recent debut of the first episode introduced fans to the crew of the USS Cerritos, a ship whose mission is to conduct Second Contact with new species. Second Contact might not be as illustrious as First Contact, but it's incredibly important as it's a major step in establishing an ongoing relationship with new friends of the Federation. That being said, Second Contact seems like the Rodney Dangerfield of Starfleet's mission as it gets no respect.

Much of the comedy in Lower Decks is coming from the characters and how they handle the situations they're involved in, like the utter lack of respect the Cerritos gets from Starfleet. Also, the lack of respect the crew on the lower decks get from the bridge crew is key. Adapting the traditional Star Trek dramatic narrative to a comedic world is no easy task, especially on an ongoing basis, but taking overdue shots at the heroic ambitions of the glory chasing senior crew is a solid place to start.

Naturally, Episode 1 is a lot of world building, laying out the new characters, their relationships, their ship and their mission. It's a lot to fit into the first episode of a half hour comedy. Some critics haven't been impressed with their first taste of the series, but it has potential. Dedicated comedy is a new arena for Star Trek, and it's going to need time to grow into it. Fortunately, Lower Decks has someone at the helm who can guide it through the next two seasons.

Mike McMahan is the creator of Lower Decks. He has quite the pedigree in animated comedy, having worked on both Drawn Together and South Park. He was a writer and producer on Rick and Morty, winning a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program for the episode "Pickle Rick." In addition to Lower Decks, he also works on another animated, science-fiction comedy with Justin Roiland called Solar Opposites.

The benefit of having someone like Mike McMahan on board is that he understands what happens when one crosses science-fiction with comedy in the world of animation. For Lower Decks to be successful, it needs to help long time fans accept the idea that the Star Trek universe can be used for a comedy program without being disrespected, but it also needs to draw in new fans who are more familiar with more recent animated science-fiction comedies like Final Space, Futurama and Rick and Morty.

Star Trek: Lower Decks has quite a mountain to climb by winning over fans who have been there since day one while simultaneously appealing to a new demographic. Ultimately, all McMahan and crew can do is make a great show and hope people watch it. CBS All Access has given Lower Decks two seasons to make Star Trek funny. That's more than enough time to boldly go where the franchise hasn't gone before.

Star Trek: Lower Decks stars Tawny Newsome as Ensign Beckett Mariner, Eugene Cordero as Ensign Rutherford, Jack Quaid as Ensign Brad Boimler, Noël Wells as Ensign Tendi, Dawnn Lewis as Captain Carol Freeman, Jerry O'Connell as Commander Jack Ransom, Gillian Vigman as Doctor T'Ana and Fred Tatasciore as Lieutenant Shaxs. The show premiered on CBS All Access on Aug. 6.