Young and excitable Orion ensign D’Vana Tendi (Noël Wells) is keen to take up her new post, joining the medical staff on the U.S.S. Cerritos, and is quickly introduced to her fellow crewmates: the brilliant but disruptive Mariner (Tawny Newsome), the uptight, rule loving Boimler (Jack Quaid), and the cybernetically enhanced engineer Rutherford (Eugene Cordero). Together, they work on the more menial jobs on the Starfleet ship, which is itself not particularly important as it embarks on “second contact” missions, revisiting planets which have already been discovered by the more popular ships, and they find themselves in many mad and dangerous situations along the way.
Going into Lower Decks, I don’t think that I was expecting much and I was slightly concerned that this animated series which apparently had a strong focus on comedy and a certain irreverent, anarchic nature, as it so appeared in the trailer, would officially be part of the Star Trek “family”. Honestly, the trailer made it seem as though the show would be a p*ss take, not to be taken seriously as a “proper” Trek series, but although I wasn’t completely sold on the show during the first few episodes, I gradually found myself warming to it and in the end, I wound up really enjoying it, appreciating the silly but effective humour, the surprisingly good writing, and the fun, colourful characters.
True, the series does indeed get silly and irreverent a lot of the time, what with the often inept crew participating in antics and acting in such a way that is clearly not Starfleet, but even though the series plays mostly everything for laughs (which is wholly unique for a Trek series), the writing isn’t exactly juvenile, lazy or crude but instead, we are given some properly good stories and the writing is far more decent and mature than you might expect, occasionally trying to be emotional and moving as well and not forgetting the importance of character building. The series is also filled with affectionate references to many other Star Trek series and this is all done in the best possible taste; it’s clear that the writers love and appreciate all that’s come before and when the references occur, they bring about a smile and they’re not too obvious or annoying, as might have been the case in less skilled hands.
Plus, we also see and hear a couple of familiar faces and voices and these moments are particularly entertaining and enjoyable.
Lower Decks also has its fair share of fun, colourful characters and here, it’s the central quartet of Mariner, Boimler, Tendi and Rutherford who take centre stage. Beginning with the former, Ensign Beckett Mariner is surely the MVP of the piece and though she’s a little much to take at first, given her brash, disruptive nature, rudeness, and loud, rapid-fire way of talking, she gradually won me over and it’s quickly made clear that, despite her refusal to take responsibility and her unwillingness to put her talents to productive use, she is very clever, brave, strong, capable, funny, and deep down, behind all of the bravado and toughness, she has a vulnerable side and she clearly cares about her friends and for her mother, the captain with whom she often butts heads; Mariner really is a standout character for me and she’s voiced with passion and great humour by Tawny Newsome. Alongside, Brad Boimler is the Arnold Rimmer of the group, given his dream to advance in rank, his staunch commitment to rules and regulations, and his weasel-y demeanour, and this straight-laced, often timid behaviour provides an ideal juxtaposition to Mariner’s devil-may-care attitude, the two of them eventually forming a particularly endearing and intriguing friendship, and in the end, Boimler is another of the more memorable and funny characters and he’s voiced very well by Jack Quaid.
Completing the quartet, we have fellow ensigns Tendi and Rutherford and although they’re good characters and are voiced with energy and humour by Noël Wells and Eugene Cordero respectively, they both essentially fulfil the same role, namely being “the sweet, naive one who’s a friend to everyone”, and I hope that any future episodes will give them a chance to “spread their wings” and to carve out a more unique position in the show. Elsewhere, the bridge crew are quite different than anything we’ve seen before (in that, since we spend far more time with the “support staff” they’re quite distant and maybe even a little arrogant) and the captain of this particular vessel, Mariner’s mother, Captain Freeman, often shows herself to be a sane, reasonable voice in a crew full of panicky idiots and she’s voiced with grace and authority by Futurama‘s Dawnn Lewis.
The series also succeeds because of how it looks; the animation is nothing game changing or revolutionary but yet, everything – characters, locations, aliens and technology – still looks gorgeous and sleek, playing around with soft focus a lot of the time and giving us action and battle sequences that look just as impressive as any live action sci-fi series.