SPOILER FREE SINCE…LAST WEEK!
Y’know what? I like to laugh. This world is just so darn serious, scary, depressing even…just like Star Trek has been recently.
I’m thinking back and trying to remember the last time when Star Trek was just good, old-fashioned fun. I mean, there was the Mirror Universe episode of Enterprise, that was fun. I think that might have been the last time for me. Since 2005, we’ve had the three J.J. Trek movies, which weren’t so much “fun” as they were exhausting and, quite often, aggravating (McCoy cures death with Khan’s blood?). STAR TREK: DISCOVERY has been anything BUT fun (not even the two Harry Mudd episodes or Tilly dropping inappropriate F-bombs into otherwise tense scenes). That show is just a downer. And while I thoroughly enjoyed STAR TREK: PICARD, that one’s not exactly a light-hearted romp through space either.
Not that Star Trek HAS to be a light-hearted romp through space, mind you! But when you watch an episode of Picard, it’s emotionally draining. When you watch an episode of Discovery, it’s emotionally draining. You watch J.J. Trek and it’s physically draining. And heck, the entire third season of Enterprise was emotionally draining. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of that. But frankly, folks, I could really use a good laugh right about now!
Sure, there’s a ton of comedy shows out there, and I don’t necessarily need Star Trek to fill that light-hearted void for me. But what I realized after watching the second episode of STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS on Thursday was the following…
WE HAVE ALL BEEN TAKING STAR TREK WAAAAAY TOO SERIOUSLY LATELY!!!
Especially the people criticizing Lower Decks for not taking Star Trek seriously enough or not finding it funny, they are definitely taking Star Trek way too seriously. I know this because, for way too long now, I myself have been taking Star Trek way too seriously!
Don’t get me wrong. Taking Star Trek way too seriously can also be a GOOD thing. Heck, I write multiple blogs each week about Star Trek fan films, and I take each of them very seriously. I’ve been a serious Trekkie/Trekker nearly all of my life. I’m fine with taking this show seriously…just as I take aspects of life seriously: family responsibilities, work, health, taxes, politics, what to binge-watch on Netflix.
But all work and seriousness and no play makes Jonny a dull and VERY overstressed boy! I need to bring balance to the Force…and to myself. And in my opinion, so does Star Trek.
WHAT IS LOWER DECKS? WHO CARES!!!
For the past week, I’ve debated with people on Facebook about what exactly Lower Decks is and how it should be classified. In fact, that was even going to be the focus of today’s blog if I hadn’t been able to find something else about the second episode to comment on. “What IS Lower Decks?” was going to be my blog title. Parody? Satire? Riff? Romp? Farce? Is it “Star Trek done as a comedy” or “a comedy done as Star Trek“? Is the zebra a white horse with black stripes or a black horse with white stripes?
Then I watched this week’s episode and realized the truth: it’s a frickin’ ZEBRA, for gosh sakes!!! Stop trying to define it in relation to something else. Lower Decks isn’t “Star Trek meets Family Guy” or “The Orville done as a space cartoon” or “Animated Star Trek, Phase II” or “Comedy Trek.” It’s just Lower Decks, dammit…let it be Lower Decks. There’s nothing wrong with just being a zebra!
One of my favorite lines in all of science fiction is from the original Mystery Science Theater Love Theme:
“If you’re wondering how he eats and breathes, and other science facts,
Then repeat to yourself ‘It’s just a show, I should really just relax…'”
And that’s kind of the point with science fiction. We’re supposed to suspend our disbelief a little. Explosions don’t go BOOM in space. Every race in the Federation (and the entire Milky Way Galaxy!) probably shouldn’t look like humans with weird ears and foreheads. Dangerous radiation levels aren’t stopped seconds before “lethal exposure” with no ill effects for the crew.
But we take all of this with a cosmic grain of salt when we watch Star Trek. And what’s more, we’ve actually been known to LAUGH about it…and even at it. Ever listen to a filk song at a convention? If you’ve never heard one, check out the granddaddy of them all…
It’s funny because, if you’re a fan of TOS and you know the characters, there’s a verse about each one that treats him or her with a degree of both love and loving mockery…much like a celebrity roast. It’s all in good fun, and after 79 episodes memorized backwards and forwards, it’s nice to just sit back, smile, and enjoy all this useless trivia we’ve got stuck in our heads.
AND SO IT IS FOR LOWER DECKS…JUST SIT BACK AND ENJOY THE RIDE
Seriously (or comedically), folks, that’s all you really need to do. Don’t analyze Lower Decks or try to figure out where and how it fits into canon. Stop asking how four clueless, bungling idiots ever made it through Starfleet Academy, why the captain and first officer are such jerks, why the chief of security only wants to shoot things. Just repeat to yourself, “It’s just a show, I should really just relax…”
Enjoy Lower Decks for what it is: a filk song, a fun half-hour cartoon meant to entertain you with Star Trek style characters and settings and technology and all those familiar old tropes you know and love. And in fact, it’s those tropes that make the show so satisfying for long-time, die-hard fans like me (and hopefully, you, as well!). You could watch this latest episode carefully and…
- Hear a quick quote from Wrath of Khan
- See Klingons (good ol’ fashioned TNG/DS9/VOY Klingons with gagh and blood wine and bat’leths and mek’leths)
- See Andorians, Ferengi, a Lurian (Morn???), and even a Vendorian from the animated series
- See a horga’hn from Risa
- Hear a mention of Captain Janeway
- Get an amusing commentary on how ridiculous it is to have children on a starship going on dangerous, life-threatening missions in space
- And if you look really carefully…Vasquez Rocks hidden in a garden!
As a fan, I enjoyed every one of those references. It felt like a game trying to identify all of the Easter eggs and offhand reference. Some lasted only a half-second. A few I only caught on a second viewing, and one required looking something up on the Memory Alpha website. For me, totally fun.
But for my almost-10-year-old son, it was fun for a whole different reason. He doesn’t possess the lifetime of acquired Star Trek trivia. For him, the episode was bright and colorful and fast-paced with a good story that he could follow along with scenes and characters that were simple and straightforward. Boimler is a by-the-book, arrogant, nervous wreck. Mariner is a rebellious, anything-but-the-book, corner-cutting, cocky adventurer with street smarts who takes nothing seriously but always seems to have her act together. They make the perfect “odd couple.”
My son was also given an easy-to-follow B-story, as the cyber-enhanced Rutherford is trying to find the right career…something a 4th grader knows all about as he wants to be so many different things when he grows up. And it’s something many adults can identify with, as well.
In the end, the A-story and B-story this episode are both simple but still excellent, with a few surprises thrown in for good measure. They each end well, because this is a happy show…unlike the other offerings served up recently by CBS—and even Paramount before that to an extent.
And hey, it was FUNNY! I laughed out loud on multiple occasions this episode. Many jokes were aimed at a hard-core Trekkie, of course, but some of the gags would work even for a “mundane” (non-fan). The episode didn’t drag, it wasn’t unevenly paced or overly dumb or dumbed down…despite the characters often doing dumb things. Like The Office, the idiocy was brilliant and oh-so-satisfying if—and I say this again with love—YOU DON’T TAKE THIS SHOW TOO SERIOUSLY!!!
YOU CAN HATE ON LOWER DECKS, BUT YOU’LL BE MISSING SOMETHING SPECIAL…
Look, if you feel that CBS is the Anti-Christ of Star Trek, then so be it. A blog isn’t going to change your mind. But if you’re hating on Lower Decks just because you can’t allow for the possibility that CBS might have actually gotten something right about Star Trek, then you’re doing both Lower Decks and yourself a disservice.
Lower Decks really is something special. I’ve decided that I not only like it; I love it. I appreciate it and what it’s trying to do. It respects and loves Star Trek the same way we all do. The writers are true fans. But like a good filk song, the goal isn’t to be serious. The whole point of Lower Decks is take everything we know from 54 years of Star Trek history and squeeze some good-natured laughs out of it.
And Star Trek NEEDS this right now. Discovery and Picard have carved their niches in the serious and the brooding and the dramatically intense. Now we fans need a little break from the gravitas. Let’s bring some balance to our Trek fan lives…enjoy a little vacation on Risa for a bit! Laugh a little for ten weeks of half-hour cartoons. Don’t overthink it…just relax. “Serious” Star Trek will still be waiting for you when you get back.
And don’t feel embarrassed if you like the show or laugh at the show or give CBS a pass just this one time. Just as what happens on Risa stays on Risa, what happens on Lower Decks stays on Lower Decks. No one needs to know that you actually like the show…unless, like me, you want them to.