Star Trek: Lower Decks
Star Trek, the venerable social science fiction phenomenon which has been on the air, on and off since September 8, 1966, has just crossed this incredible benchmark for televised longevity. The standard bearer for this distinction, however is anything but expected. Star Trek: Lower Decks, a comedy series features the misadventures of lesser crewmembers of the California-class starship, USS Cerritos (NCC-75567) under the command of Captain Carol Freeman.
Far from the serious nature of the franchise, Lower Decks is an animated comedy about life aboard a starship. But its told from the perspective of relatively unknown technical staff managing the daily operations of this unremarkable starship. Worse, the missions they partake of are less than ideal.
And yet, this is why Lower Decks works. If you wanted to get an idea of the tone of the show, one has to go no further than to watch the introduction to Lower Decks to see the USS Cerritos passing near various spatial phenomena, often with deleterious effects. The Cerritos doesn’t get the best missions. They get the missions more famous captains pass up. You know, missions such as “second contact.”
What’s that? You know how when the Enterprise first discovers a planet and wants to invite them into the Federation. There is pomp and circumstance, everyone gets dressed up and signs the treaty? ‘Second contact’ isn’t that. Second contact is where a starship goes back to a planet to finish all of the other less interesting paperwork, tech and trade agreements, personnel transfers, infrastructure maintenance, the stuff you don’t normally get to see. It’s dull, it’s boring. It’s the actual running of a galactic civilization. But onboard the Cerritos, second contact can be… problematic. Which, of course, is why its fun to watch.
Our eyes and ears on these less-than-ideal missions include: Ensign Beckett Mariner, voiced by Tawny Newsome. Mariner is a hotshot Starfleet officer and could be one of the best. Tough, smart and capable, Mariner has trouble with authority. Especially if its her mother. Who is also the captain. Mariner could have been promoted by now but regular screwups brig time keep her from making rank. Beckett is the unofficial leader of this group of Federation misfits.
The rest of Beckett’s Fab Foursome included Lieutenant junior grade Bradward Boimler, voiced by Jack Quaid. Boimler is highly intelligent, quite capable but unfortunately neurotic and unable to get out of his head. He would be more successful on missions if he spent less time trying to suck up to the command structure. Ironically, Boimler finds himself promoted by the end of the first season. He gets his dream assignment to serve with Captain William Riker onboard the legendary, USS Titan. No longer on the Cerritos, his transfer will only give us more reasons to watch his antics onboard the Titan.
Ensign D’Vana Tendi was a female Orion Starfleet sciences division junior officer. Tendi is the quiet one of the quartet, in that she is usually least likely to be in trouble in any given moment. Her Orion background has made her sensitive to jabs from other Federation crewmembers since her academy days. People think of Orions as thieves or pirates. Thus, she spends most of her time trying to prove herself a valuable crewmember with all the baggage that entails. She is voiced by Noël Wells who plays her enthusiasm to please to the hilt. Tendi is lightning in a bottle.
Last, but not least Ensign Sam Rutherford, voiced by Eugene Codero. Sam is a cybernetically-enhanced Human and works in the engineering division for Lieutenant Commander Andy Billups whom he idolizes. Sam is hard working, knowledgeable and highly-prized among the technical staff of the Cerritos. His hobbies actually include holodeck programming. For entertainment. He does it because he likes it. Yep. This is how he finds himself among our group of misfits. While he is technically-proficient, socially, possibly because of his implant, he is awkward. Very awkward. Rutherford has an attraction to D’vana Tendi though he will never admit it.
The Command Crew
Captain Carol Freeman, played by Dawnn Lewis spends her time scheming on how to get the Cerritos more important missions. It’s no secret Freeman wants a bigger ship, but she is dedicated to the Cerritos and its crew. The first season opens with her hiding the secret Beckett Mariner is her daughter. Jonathan Frakes, as Captain Riker, joined Lower Decks as a friend to Captain Carol Freeman. He was also a role model for Becket Mariner, much to her mother’s dismay.
Her second-in-command Commander Jack Ransom is everything the Federation says it wants in an officer. Smart. Strong. Handsome. Full of himself. Annoyingly full of himself. Yet, he is incredibly confident and capable when he can put his ego aside. Voiced by Jerry O’Connell, the character’s exudes smugness in every command. It’s no secret Ransom wants the Cerritos for himself. Ransom does his best to do every mission as well as he can given the tools at his command. He dislikes Beckett Mariner because of her competence and the misguided belief she is looking to take his place.
The Security Officer Lieutenant Shaxs was everything you want in a security chief. He made gung-ho seem dainty by comparison. A great character voiced by Fred Tatasciore, he has gone on to meet the Prophets, as Starfleet security personnel often do, in the line of duty.
Commander T’Ana, MD is an acerbic Caitian Starfleet sciences division officer annoyed with her Human crew mates. Akin to most Starfleet doctors, she is prone to use colorful metaphors to describe the Cerritos crew and its missions. She is, however, a remarkably competent doctor, nonetheless. Voiced by Gillian Vigman, the role probably has some of the best one-liners in the series.
Funnier Than I Imagined It Would Be
I am a big enough man to admit I did not like the idea of Star Trek: Lower Decks. Star Trek, to me, was about the serious stuff of exploration, science and adventure. I am happy to say I am wrong and Lower Decks is every bit as much Star Trek, while lampooning the hell out of anything and everything they can lock a transporter on. I enjoy our Fab Four working through their personal issues while slacking, complaining and wanting to be the Federation’s best.
The eight hundredth episode of Star Trek couldn’t come at a better time for the franchise. The franchise has nearly half a dozen projects happening at the same time. Star Trek: Picard, Star Trek: Lower Decks, Star Trek: Discovery, are already in production. Star Trek: Section 31 and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds are slated to be ready within a two year window. The future of Star Trek will be as bright as a warp core explosion.
If you haven’t given Star Trek: Lower Decks a chance, I hope I have piqued your interest. It may surprise you with its clever writing, great characterizations and complete willingness to poke fun at this venerable and highly-respected institution of speculative fiction. It’s about time. You can find Lower Decks on Paramount+ streaming service.
To eight hundred more episodes! Live long and prosper, Star Trek.
Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning writer, editor, podcaster and activist creating speculative fiction, scientific, political and cultural commentary from his office in Hayward, California.
Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He has published two books, ‘Hayward’s Reach’ (2011), a collection of short stories and ‘Broken Glass’ (2013) an urban fantasy novella starring his favorite paranormal investigator, Clifford Engram.