YAY – NO SPOILERS!
If you’re one of those people who can’t understand why folks like me and many others absolutely love STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS while you just can’t accept it as Star Trek, I might have a simple solution for you…
Just think of it as a holo-comedy-adventure sitcom set in the late 24th century!
Seriously, this makes so much sense if you think about it. Many of the complaints I hear about this satirical animated series center around the issue that not only does the show not take itself seriously, it goes overboard in…
- Making fun of Star Trek and Starfleet and most of the races we know from the various series, and
- Presenting totally unrealistic and unbelievable scenarios that would never happen in “real” Star Trek.
In other words, it’s too stupid/ridiculous/nonsensical to be taken seriously as part of Star Trek canon.
Fine. You win. It’s not canon. Have a beer to celebrate.
So if Lower Decks isn’t canon, then what is it? Well, maybe it’s the 24th century equivalent of a sitcom. I mean, we already know there’s lots of holodeck entertainment by then—everything from murder mysteries to Victorian romances to campy 1940s black and white sci-fi classics. So why NOT a satire about Starfleet and the Federation, its allies and enemies, its most famous officers, and its most well-known missions?
After all, in the future, folks like Kirk and Picard and their crews are probably pretty well known, like the star players of the top sports teams are today (assuming you like sports—and one would assume that officers in a future Starfleet would be just as well-versed in the most famous officers and their missions).
Of course, I know there’s gonna be people out there who say, “Yeah, but the show is just so inane! Why would anyone want to waste their holodeck time on something so stupid? It’s not even that funny!”
Hey, if you personally don’t think Lower Decks is funny, that’s fine. You do you. I personally think the show is hilarious and brilliant, so please don’t assume your opinion is fact. Different people find different things funny.
In fact, comedy comes in all shapes, sizes, genres, and styles….from a classic like Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night to the raucous slapstick of the Three Stooges. Comedy can range from the dry subtlety of Monthy Python to the riotously raunchy Benny Hill. American TV sitcoms evolved from I Love Lucy to Dick Van Dyke to All in the Family to Friends to The Office. Heck, at one point in time, television’s comedies included (during the same years) Three’s Company, Taxi, and M*A*S*H…how’s that for variety! From crass comedies like Married with Children to more erudite sitcoms like Frasier, from Saturday Night Live to In Living Color, and from The Flinstones to The Simpsons to Rick and Morty…comedy caters to many different tastes and audiences. So why wouldn’t at some folks in Starfleet want to tune in to Lower Decks?
But you wanna hear something mind-blowing? Lower Decks isn’t simply a comedy…
Taking a few random examples from my previous list of TV’s “great” comedies—let’s choose I Love Lucy, The Flintstones, M*A*S*H, and Friends (wow, what a combination that is!)—these characters aren’t necessarily stuck in time. Lucy and Ricky got pregnant and had a child. So did Ross and Rachel and, for that matter, Fred and Wilma. Candler and Monica fell in love and got married. And M*A*S*H lost three major characters in short order, replacing each and shifting the tone and tenor of the comedic (and dramatic) scenes that were written. Indeed, each of those changes I just listed resonated in shifts to what those sitcoms could suddenly do and what they could no longer do. Colonel Potter wasn’t as easily fooled as Colonel Blake. Pranks on Charles Winchester were significantly different than those on Frank Burns.
Of course, sometimes the characters on sitcoms don’t change or evolve much, like The Simpsons or the Dick Van Dyke Show. But when they do, those subtle changes can be fascinating to watch and analyze (rather than simply laugh at). And such is the case with Lower Decks.
Maybe you’ve noticed and maybe you haven’t, but the officers on board the U.S.S. Cerritos—from the ensigns up to the senior officers—are evolving as characters. Mariner and Boimler aren’t the ridiculous “odd couple” they started as. (Jeez, I forgot to mention The Odd Couple!) Tendi and Rutherford are growing as characters, too. Mariner’s relationship with her parents is certainly evolving. And we’ve learned a lot about the “upper decks” characters along the way, as well.
In some ways, this evolution is inevitable. Just as happened on Next Gen, DS9, and the other Trek series, more stories and more dramatic moments helped to better define the characters for both the writers and the actors. The Jean-Luc Picard or Benjamin Sisko of season one was vastly different by season four and even more different by season seven. And the same thing is happening—if you pay close attention—on Lower Decks.
The show also works on an even deeper level. This sitcom has a message for viewers if they take the time to look for it: the “little people” (ensigns) can often do very important and heroic things as they work just as hard—sometimes harder—than the higher-ups. But in the end, the ensigns are expected to pay their dues and usually aren’t acknowledged for their contribution. On the other hand, their relative anonymity allows them to get away with some amazing stuff, and they often get out of trouble by the mere fact that nobody notices them or takes them very seriously. Aren’t they a bit like you and me?
And of course, you can just sit there and try to find all of the many, MANY Star Trek easter eggs hidden (often in plain sight) inside each episode.
So even if you don’t find Lower Decks funny (although it’s seriously hilarious!), then watch it for those evolving characters, their growing knowledge and experience, and their interrelationships. I really think you’ll find some of the nuances fascinating. Or watch it for the underlying themes and messages. Or just try to count all the references to Star Trek history stretching back five and a half decades!
And as I said at the beginning, if you simply can’t bring yourself to believe that Lower Decks is canon, then just repeat to yourself: “It’s just a holodeck sitcom. It’s just a holodeck sitcom. It’s just a holodeck sitcom…” and then sit back and relax.
(Oh, and don’t ask why the season three premiere features three different styles of Starfleet uniform…including two different admiral styles. Remember: it’s only a holodeck program, and programs can glitch!)