When CBS created their All Access streaming platform, one of the strategic moves it made was to put Star Trek content on the platform. At least in the United States, to watch the Star Trek: Discovery show or the Star Trek: Picard show, you have to be on that platform.
Now, that essentially means that CBS has the intellectual property rights to Star Trek and that means that they can dabble in the world and create new things as well. That permission is what makes the latest Star Trek creation happen, as the service has recently debuted Star Trek: Lower Decks.
Star Trek: Lower Decks is an animated show that looks at the premise of what life must be like for those crew members way down the chain of command and who are not likely ever to get to visit the leaders on the main deck of the ship.
It isn’t an entirely new idea; after books like Redshirts and skit shows like Saturday Night Live have all visited the space before. Not everyone working on the Death Star needs to be a dastardly villain. Some are just folks showing up and punching their time card. So, does it work if it is set in the Star Trek world?
The show certainly has pedigreed people at the helm of it. Alex Kurtzman serves as Executive Producer over all the new Star Trek properties. And Kurtzman gave show running duties for Lower Deck to Mike McMahan, whose largest claim to fame is that he was a writer and producer on the show Rick and Morty. They have brought in a reputable voice cast to tell the tales of the support crew of the USS Cerritos in Stardate 2380, which is tagged as one of the “Starfleet’s least important ships”.
But sometimes great pieces don’t add up to a greater whole. Having seen two episodes, there are certainly moments that resonate and feel Trekkie. For instance, in “Second Contact,” the premiere episode, there is something heartwarming about one of the crew breaking Starfleet rules to make sure a far out of town farmer on a new world gets some basic farm equipment that helps them survive.
But, there also is a failure to really work at developing characters. Almost immediately into that episode, I went “Oh. So they want this to be Family Guy meets Star Trek.” And while Family Guy isn’t my jam, I could see where it could be an appealing formula.
Except we’ve seen this story and pitch already, both recently and in the past. Want to know what really is Family Guy meets Star Trek? Check out the show Orville from Fox, which was a loving tribute to Star Trek that had the Family Guy humor laid on it by showrunner Seth MacFarlane. Or, dig out your copy of Galaxy Quest, which has that weird sense of humor that smoothly moves into your heart strings when you realize that the aliens that they are fighting aren’t as fake as the Hollywood actors thought they were. It isn’t that Lower Decks is awful; it just feels like a retread.
As episodes 3-10 come out, I am sure I will check back in. Maybe the show needs the time to find its own unique voice and tone. The premise could be a good, fun animated show. But, thus far, it is failing to live into that potential, especially as only the second animated Star Trek series ever.