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STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS 1×01 “Second Contact” review

Our very of Starfleet captain, Neil, reviews the first episode of CBS All Access series STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS! The series debuts new episodes weekly.

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Star Trek: Lower Decks airs new episodes weekly on CBS All Access in North America. International air dates are yet to be confirmed.

Synopsis

Ensigns Mariner and Boimler run into difficulty on Galar. Meanwhile, an alien virus infects the crew of the Cerritos.

Review

Whenever Star Trek branches out in to a new area of storytelling it tends to rattle a core fanbase who see the series in its purest form. A hopeful, positive look at a future where humanity has shunned all of the dark foibles which plague our everyday lives.

In the dark days of Covid, Trump and Black Live Matter, people look to series like Star Trek as aspirational goalposts to aim for.

But then in walks Star Trek: Lower Decks, an entirely new beast set to ruffle the fandoms feathers. An adult comedy, set aboard a Starfleet vessel? Many will no doubt write Lower Decks off as an attempt to cash in on the rabid audience of series like Rick & Morty, a series which also happens to have been created by Mike McMahan.

Meet a brand new cast of Star Trek characters, not the captain, first officer and senior staff but instead a group of ensigns currently working in the bowels of the USS Cerritos.

The episode opens with a very familiar Trek trope, the captain log. But quickly McMahan flips the trope on its head when it’s revealed the log is being dictated by one of our two leads, Boimler (Jack Quaid).

It doesn’t take long for Lower Decks in begin injecting a healthy dose of humour in to proceedings. Boimler’s log is quickly interrupted by Mariner (Tawny Newsome) as she interrupts and berates him for taking himself so seriously.

Within the opening two minutes of the episode we’re able to understand exactly who both these characters are. Boimler is the typical Starfleet flyboy, all about making a good impression on his superiors and climbing the ladder. But also fairly hapless and likely to get eaten by the nearest alien creature.

Mariner has little respect for the rules and despite being a commissioned officer is highly likely to be found slacking off and almost severing her colleagues legs with a Klingon bat’leth.

From here the episode begins a cascade of witty dialogue as the various storylines unravel and begin to coalesce. Admittedly it took me a while to adjust to the overall pacing of the episode, compared to the measure pacing of TOS and The Next Generation, Lower Decks moves at absolute break-neck speed.

We learn that the USS Cerritos is the Starfleet vessel used for second contact. It’s not as important as making first contact, but they come along to mop up the paperwork and check the planet’s name is spelled correctly.

It’s a small but clever idea which immediately take the familiar Trek of old and puts a snarky spin on it.

Through the first act we’re introduced to the rest of the series cast: Ensign Rutherford (Eugene Cordero), Mariner (No’l Wells) and bridge crew Captain Freeman (Dawnn Lewis), Commander Ransom (Jerry O’Connell) and Lieutenant Shaxs (Fred Tatasciore) amongst others.

All of the characters have individual looks, amping up the classic Trek feel by introducing plenty of familiar looking alien races. But it does deeper than that, the entire crew of the Cerritos who we meet in this episode feel like already fleshed out characters.

Our mission-of-the-week takes us to the planet Galar. Our purpose is to secure required documentation for second contact. But also to continue building relations with the locals.

Captain Freeman sends Boimler down to the planet with Mariner, giving him a secret mission to keep a close eye on her. What could possibly go wrong? Well pretty much everything!

The missions leads to a hilarious side plot where the two get caught up in selling Starfleet materials to the locals and ends with them battling a local spider-like creature. By the time the pair return to the Cerritos, Boimler has lost his uniform and is covered in a sticky pink goo which happens to also resolve our other issue of the week.

Bolshy first officer, Ransom, has managed to get himself bitten by a local creature on Galar kicking off a zombie apocalypse aboard the ship.

It sounds a little outlandish for Star Trek but the storyline plays to the strengths of each of our ensigns and allows them a moment to shine. Whilst I wouldn’t say every episode needs to put focus on the entire cast, it works brilliantly as an introduction to them all.

All the action culminates in the cast coming together to keep Boimler alive and discover a cure for the zombie virus. It underpins the comedy with a sense of family/workplace drama which strays further from Rick & Morty territory and more towards a standard network comedy series.

The episode wraps up with our crew of ensigns celebrating their victory together in the equivalent Ten Forward lounge. It’s a moment which will be undoubtedly familiar to TNG fans and circles the episode back to the idea that underneath all the crazy this is very much still Star Trek.

Verdict

Star Trek: Lower Decks beams down with plenty of laughs and enough heart to keep the core of Star Trek alive.

7/10

Star Trek: Lower Decks stars No’l Wells as Ensign Tendi; Eugene Cordero as Ensign Rutherford; Tawny Newsome as Ensign Mariner and Jack Quaid as Ensign Boimler.


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