What Star Trek Fans Are Missing About Lower Decks
Star Trek: Lower Decks has so far been met with polarizing reactions from fans, but the show has a worthwhile purpose in the ever expanding world of the final frontier. The animated comedy from Rick and Morty veteran Mike McMahan chronicles the adventures of the USS Cerritos, one of the least important ships in Starfleet. These aren't the epic tales of the Enterprise taking on the Borg or Romulans, but instead showcase the everyday lives of mediocre Starfleet officers on a mediocre ship.
While reviews for the show have been lukewarm at best, a vocal contingent of Star Trek fans have loudly objected to the goofier take on the franchise. There are legitimate criticisms of the show, like its irreverent tone and, more worryingly, lack of big laughs, but the series deserves time to find its footing like all the other Star Trek projects.Click the button below to start this article in quick view. Start now
So why does it feel like Lower Decks has a bigger uphill battle for fan acceptance than the other Star Trek series? There are a host of reasons, none of which are really the fault of the show or its producers.
Star Trek: Lower Decks Was Written Off Long Before It Aired
While it's true that the reception to the first few episodes of Lower Decks has been somewhat muted, there is a certain contingency of Star Trek fandom that wrote the show off on principle before it ever aired. The tone was clearly going to be closer to something like Rick and Morty than other traditional Star Trek series, a fact that some fans simply could not accept. The manic pace and more cartoonish flourishes were evident in the show's trailers, which set the tone for the ensuing backlash.
This is not something new to the Star Trek franchise, nor to the current iteration of it on CBS All Access. Star Trek: Discovery was met with harsh criticism for its dark, uneven first season that was plagued by routine behind the scenes calamities, like the departure of the series co-creator Bryan Fuller before an episode was ever filmed. To a lesser extent, Star Trek: Picard endured criticisms that it had pacing problems and logic gaps, proving even franchise titans like Jean-Luc Picard are not immune to the wrath of fans who feel Star Trek current head honcho Alex Kurtzman fundamentally misunderstands the appeal of the franchise.
More than Discovery or Picard, Lower Decks is trying something very different for Star Trek. There was always going to be pushback on something this different, but the level to which it's currently being lambasted is largely unfair, as virtually every Star Trek series takes time to find its footing.
Lower Decks Shows Another Side Of Star Trek
If fans can get past their preconceived notions about it, they'll find Lower Decks isn't betraying the spirit of Star Trek - it's expanding on it. All other Star Trek series have showcased elite, celebrated Starfleet officers and ships who represent the best of the best, the living embodiment of Gene Roddenberry's utopian vision of the future. We've always known there were lesser officers in Starfleet - they routinely run afoul of men and women like Jean-Luc Picard and Michael Burnham - but this is the first time overtly flawed characters have gotten the spotlight in Star Trek.
And while they certainly have their shortcomings, these characters are still true to Starfleet. Ensign Boimler may be an eager to please, anxiety-riddled wreck, but he's trying his best to be worthy of Starfleet, and worthy of his fellow officers' friendship. Ensigns Tendi and Rutherford are so wide eyed and efficient they wouldn't feel out of place on the Enterprise, helping Geordi or Dr. Crusher in the background. Ensign Mariner is the show's most problematic piece for most aggrieved fans, as she has little regard for authority or Starfleet protocol, despite flashes of brilliance that prove she could be a decorated officer someday. She shares more than a little DNA with Star Trek: The Next Generation's Ensign Ro, the scrappy fan favorite Bajoran ensign with an attitude problem. If fans can invest in a character like Ro, Mariner shouldn't be too far of a leap.
Ironically, Lower Decks also offers something Star Trek fans have been clamoring for - a strictly episodic format that tells a complete story with each installment, just like the 20th century Star Trek series. Of course, these episodes are told with different ideas in mind - particularly comedic ideas - but the format is still true to classic Star Trek.
How Lower Decks Can Attract More Star Trek Fans
Under Kurtzman's leadership, it's clear that Star Trek's goal is to grow its fanbase, as well as bring in old fans who'd lost track of the franchise during its wilderness years in the late '00s. Star Trek: Discovery was the opening salvo, attempting to integrate the grittiness and shocking developments of contemporary hits like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. Star Trek: Picard dual wields potent nostalgia for Star Trek: The Next Generation, while also telling a story that evokes the multiple global crises we're currently enduring, like endangered refugee resettlements and the danger of bureaucracies motivated more by fear than idealism.
Lower Decks is aiming for a more lighthearted take on the final frontier, and there's nothing wrong with that. Star Trek has dipped its toe into comedy plenty of times before, with classic episodes like "The Trouble With Tribbles," or even on the big screen with Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Lower Decks is certainly more than a toe dip - it's more of a big loud cannonball - but the potential for bringing in new fans is readily apparent. It should be no surprise that the show evokes the gonzo energy of Rick and Morty, but it manages to eschew that show's cynical streak for something more hopeful, to the point the show is downright sweet in certain moments.
Star Trek: Lower Decks is clearly made by fans of the franchise; you can feel the love for what's come before in every scene. That some fans are unable to gets past the basic premise and format to see that love is unfortunate. But if the show is given time to grow and figure itself out, it can still take its place in the pantheon of beloved Star Trek series.
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