What if Star Trek pivoted from badass intergalactic battles and instead focussed on the drudgery of its corporate employees who kept things running smoothly while Kirk and Spock were saving the day? New Amazon Prime Video series Star Trek: Lower Decks has the tough task of making that premise work.
Created by Rick and Morty writer Mike McMahan, it follows low-level ensigns on one of Starfleet’s least popular spaceships, the USS Cerritos. They mop up spilled coffee, fix faulty wiring and handle the paperwork when more qualified officers make contact with new alien species. While the banality of their jobs and Starfleet’s countless bureaucratic procedures are topics ripe with the potential for satire, the show plays it safe, feeling more like a loving work of fanfiction rather than a completely irreverent workplace comedy. Frequent references to characters and events from the original series add to the overall tone of a carefully crafted homage, rather than a show that intends to break new ground in an established franchise.
What perks up the show is the relationship between its two main characters. Ensign Boimler (Jack Quaid playing a lovably awkward loser once again after The Boys) is socially inept, a stickler for the rules and hopeful of moving up the ranks. His closest friend on the ship, ensign Mariner (Tawny Newsome), is streetsmart, scrappy and dripping with disdain for Starfleet protocol. The uptight Boimler and the motormouth Mariner riff well off each other, their contrasting personalities forging a dynamic that’s not unlike Kirk and Spock’s, and just as charming. Less well-rounded are their friends, who each get one major character trait, like Tendi, a new hire desperate for her colleagues to like her, and Rutherford, a cybernetically enhanced engineer passionate about his job.
Each of the show’s 10 episodes is a standalone (mis)adventure involving travel to a new planet or contact with an alien race. Around 25 minutes each, they’re light and breezy, but consequently have no stakes that are high enough to create tension. There are flashes of humour that occasionally veer towards the more risque, like a simulation of an “all-nude Olympic training facility” and a conversation full of double entendres, but otherwise remain strictly PG13.
For a series that espouses the virtues of boldly going where no one has before, Star Trek: Lower Decks stays firmly put in familiar territory. And yet, it’s fun enough to prove that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Recommendations in collaboration with Amazon Prime Video.