On August 6, Star Trek: Lower Decks will premiere on CBS. This is not only the first animated Star Trek series since 1974, and the first ever comedy-centered Trek. It’s named after a famous, beloved TNG episode that followed the life, struggles, and ambitions of lower rank officers on the Enterprise over the course of a few days.
Using that premise as a jumping off point, Lower Decks is about four ensigns on the USS Cerritos: Beckett Mariner, Brad Boimler, D’Vana Tendi, and Sam Rutherford. Their own inadequacies are reflected in their ship’s mission: not first contact but… second contact. They have to do all the paperwork and damage control after ships like the USS Enterprise breeze on through. So to say they’re all struggling to reach their potential is about right. Each week they will face new challenges of science and space and aliens that they (hopefully) don’t screw up.
But as Mariner sliced open Boimler’s leg in the promo, fans will have to see how that goes.
Lower Decks speaks to a more interesting trend than just the ever-expanding Trek franchise.
Rick and Morty: The Inspiration
While the outfits, aliens, and settings are hardcore Trek, the style, tone, and humor might remind people of another show: Rick and Morty. The popular scientific comedy has clearly been an inspiration to Lower Decks. After all, Rick and Morty itself draws from classic science fiction like Star Trek. Why wouldn’t Star Trek see their own potential in the medium?
Comparisons go deeper than a general reverence for science fiction, though, and for good reason.
In the last few years, Rick and Morty has become wildly popular, hitting a sweet spot for lovers of sci-fi fandom and animated comedies. The series has drawn in a passionate, dedicated fanbase. The show loves the genre and because of that is highly referential, making its fans feel clever for always being in on the joke. Rick and Morty has used the sci-fi genre like a broader universe it can draw from, whether it be a well-placed joke or an entire episode idea.
It’s not surprising that Star Trek saw that success in references and humor, looked at their own decades of lore, in-jokes, and planets, and realized they had a possible gold mine on their hands. After all, who else loves deep references like a Trekkie?
Lower Decks‘ Potential
Lower Decks could be a brilliant move for multiple reasons. Old fans will pride themselves in knowing the lore. New fans could be drawn in by a fresh animated, sci-fi comedy with an endless universe to explore. Between giving their loyal Trekkies bold new content and expanding their diverse collection of shows, Lower Decks could create a whole new era of adventures for Star Trek as a franchise.
With the success of She-Ra, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Bojack Horseman, etc., there is clearly a market for powerful, funny, well-written animated stories. Considering the addition of Star Trek: Prodigy to their line-up, CBS is aware of that. They’re using the great aliens and universe of Star Trek to follow in the footsteps of those success stories.
However, being a clever, marketable idea doesn’t mean that it’ll work out. Star Trek has to be careful that their stories and characters are strong. If they treat Lower Decks like some cardboard cut-out to pander to the Rick and Morty audience, they will struggle to keep up. Rick and Morty already exists, so they need to bring their own unique flair and appeal to the table. Humor and deep sci-fi lore aren’t enough. No one likes a half-cocked show just written to make money . And especially not if it’s just trying to copy something something they love.
But if the other Star Trek shows are any indication (Discovery, Picard), the current Kurtzman team is bold, diverse, and creative. They’ve Star Trekked like Star Trek has never been done before, for better or worse. At the very least, Lower Decks will probably not be boring and bland.
It could be a hot mess, though, but that’s a different conversation.
Conclusion on Lower Decks
Star Trek is trying to use its own highly expansive lore and universe to break into very popular markets. Compared to the famed “Marvel cinematic fatigue”, Star Trek is at least diversifying to give more to hyper-fans without bogging everyone down with the same style and formulas over and over.
Lower Decks may be clearly inspired by the likes of Rick and Morty, but if fans are lucky, it can be its own comedic powerhouse rooted in the complex Trek universe. They just have to lean into the charms of Trek itself instead of Rick and Morty‘s endless pool of cynicism. While it’s funny, it isn’t Trek (especially not the fun parts of it). A drunk Ensign mariner is a concern, especially with a much more nervous Ensign Boimler as her foil. However, the existence of excitable, wide-eyed Tendi and the very futuristic Rutherford, as well as leaning into the lesser-known aspects of Federation culture, Lower Decks has a real shot at making an impact.
In theory, Lower Decks is a clever idea in every way. Hopefully, it’ll pay off. For CBS and for the Trekkies who love the franchise.