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Star Trek LD - Season 1 - Episode 01

Star Trek LD - 1x01 - Second Contact

Originally Aired: 2020-8-5

Synopsis:
Ensign Tendi has her first day of work on Starfleet's U.S.S. Cerritos, where she meets fellow support crew members, Ensigns Mariner, Boimler and Rutherford. Meanwhile, Boimler is tasked with a secret special assignment and Rutherford attempts to keep his dating life intact while a sci-fi disaster strikes the ship.

My Rating - 6

Fan Rating Average - 5.83

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Problems
None

Factoids
- The title of and entire concept behind this series is in part inspired by the TNG episode of the same name, TNG: Lower Decks which similarly focuses on low ranking characters.

Remarkable Scenes
- Mariner ridiculing Boimler for making a fantasy captain's log.
- Much of the crew suddenly turning into zombies.
- T'Ana discovering that the slime is the cure for the zombie infection.
- Boimler covering for Mariner.

My Review
An animated comedy is a risky move for Star Trek. Star Trek has had a checkered past with animation. The 1970s animated series was mostly embarrassing, Star Trek: Discovery's "Ephraim and Dot" short was a mixture of pointless and canonically problematic, and Star Trek: Discovery's "The Girl Who Made the Stars" was reasonably well-made and charming but probably should've been incorporated into an actual episode of Discovery instead, since presenting it as a short makes it feel more like a deleted scene than a piece of its own.

When it comes to comedy, Star Trek has had a checkered past there as well, but less so. Some of Star Trek's most celebrated episodes are highly effective comedy, like TOS: The Trouble with Tribbles, TOS: Shore Leave, TNG: QPid, TNG: Hollow Pursuits, DS9: Looking for par'Mach in All the Wrong Places, DS9: Trials and Tribble-ations, Voy: Message in a Bottle, Voy: Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy, and Ent: In a Mirror, Darkly, not to mention Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and of course countless funny scenes in countless episodes that were not primarily comedy episodes. Notably excluded from that list are episodes of Star Treks: Discovery and Picard though, which have delivered little to no effective comedy so far, which is harder to do with fully serialized dramas. Plus the older series had plenty of failed attempts at comedy peppered throughout their long runs too, so botched comedy is not a new phenomenon in Star Trek.

Star Trek: Lower Decks so far is no exception to that trend. Some of the comedy in this pilot episode is effective, some of it is not. Thankfully they didn't try to double down on the dreadful tone in the absolutely awful Star Trek: Discovery "The Trouble with Edward" short. While "The Trouble with Edward" and Lower Decks both draw comedy from characters behaving in awkward and at times reckless ways, "The Trouble with Edward" took it much too far, trying to present deadpan, vindictive cynicism as somehow a species of comedy as well whereas Lower Decks is more upbeat and goofy. Ensign Mariner—the standout character so far—is a screw the rules rebel not unlike Ensign Ro Laren from TNG, but more carefree about it like an even more unhinged Tom Paris from Voyager. The fact that she's serving aboard her own mother's starship in a remedial role adds even more fun texture to the premise of her character.

Boimler, Tendi, and Rutherford seem less interesting so far. Rutherford in particular was a bit of a head-scratcher given his presentation as a "recent cyborg" which isn't explained all that well. Why does he have that implant? Why does it randomly suppress his emotions? Are we really to believe that because the implant was made by Vulcans that it has that severe a side effect? Hopefully that's a plot point that will be expanded on and buttoned up better in the future. Another aspect of the comedy that is less effective is the continuation of Discovery's trend of overly contemporary and usually hyperactive delivery of dialog, making the characters seem positively manic at all times, as though the mania is the joke. Fast dialog can be used effectively for comedy (Bojack Horseman was excellent at this), but the content of the jokes has to be funny too. Often the fast dialog existed solely to deliver rapid fire references to previous episodes of Star Trek for longtime fans to pick apart and giggle about, like "haha, she's talking about Martok!" The references are certainly amusing on a mostly banal surface level, but we need more than that.

That said, the references to previous Star Trek series do run pretty deep in places too. There are countless tasteful and well-placed visual and audio callbacks to old series, the most impressive being the setting and set designs. When Boimler fantasizes about being captain in his log entry, he cites the stardate as 57436.2, which translates to roughly the year 2380, about a year after Star Trek X: Nemesis and roughly 20 years before Star Trek: Picard. The visual design of the Cerritos, the starbase, and just about everything we see embeds this series perfectly in that era to a degree of accuracy that has a surprising amount of attention to detail, a sharp departure from the "visual reboot" trend we've seen recently. The computers have the LCARS design, the holodeck looks like TNG's, the ship design looks plausibly like TNG-era ships, the warp effect has been restored to the beautiful star flybys instead of the hideous hyperspace effect we get in Discovery and Picard, etc, there are too many examples to list. They even brought back the font from TNG.

It's worth noting that people so often complained about how the original series and TNG visual designs looked "dated" thus justifying Discovery's and Picard's visual reboot, but Lower Decks does much to undermine that notion. For example, Discovery and Picard didn't just take the original series' jelly bean button computers or TNG's LCARS displays and add more detail, they morphed them into a considerably less plausible "movie OS" holographic display that would be an ergonomic nightmare for anyone to actually use for serious work. It may look flashier on TV, but it's less realistic than the interfaces presented on both TOS and TNG, just as the Discovery/Picard hyperpsace-style warp effect is less realistic than the old stars flying by warp effect from TNG. In this sense, Discovery's and Picard's visual reboot is only "modern" in the sense that their aesthetics are currently trendy, not because those aesthetics are actually better. They're dumb fads, not improvements. Lower Decks, Ent: In a Mirror, Darkly before it, and Rogue One from the Star Wars universe have each shown us it's entirely possible to add a bit more detail to previous, timeless aesthetics to make them look more modern instead. That's the most updating the visuals ever needed. If only Star Trek: Discovery and to a lesser extent Picard treated canon with as much care as this silly comedy show does.

All things considered, while this may be a silly comedy show, it's an unexpectedly effective one. The writers would do well to pivot the comedy more in the direction of the smarter, subtler comedic style and tone seen in Futurama or The Orville rather than making it so reminiscent of Rick and Morty slapstick, but by and large this show works surprisingly well as-is and so far is a welcome and promising addition to the canon.

The following are comments submitted by my readers.

  • From Ross on 2020-08-25 at 10:11pm:
    I was actually surprise by this show. The trailer fooled me into thinking I'd hate it or maybe I went into it with such low expectations that all opinion of it could only go up.

    After the missed opportunity in Discovery and the dreadful misstep with Picard -- Just give us a new generation set in the 25th century already -- well, this show turned out to be the better of the three. Not a high bar to reach, certainly, but I didn't expect that the creative team behind it would have a solid appreciation of not only the larger universe of Star Trek, but (as you mentioned) it has respect enough for the old shows aesthetics too. I also liked the Andorians in the second episode. Can't have enough of them.

    Mind you, it could tone down some of its goofier humour though, (not every scene needs to get a laugh or chuckle out of its viewers) so I will give it a three out of five for the time being. It's got a bit of promise and I hope they improve upon a good foundation.

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