Part of the recent "New Trek" shows, Lower Decks is an animated series in which a group of four ensigns assigned to the USS Cerritos. The series is set at some point after the end of Nemesis because Riker is now the Captain of his own starship, the USS Titan, with his wife Deanna Troi. The principal cast are Tawny Newsome as Beckett Mariner, Jack Quaid as Brad Boimler, Eugene Cordero as Samanthan Rutherford and Noël Wells as D’Vana Tendi with Dawnn Lewis as Captain Carol Freeman and Jerry O’Connell as Commander Jack Ransom
I am what I suppose what you would call a Star Trek traditionalist, and I loved The Next Generation, and whilst DS9 and Voyager didn’t hold the same place in my hearts as TNG they were still great shows. Now whilst I did enjoy the recent Star Trek Discovery that is not the traditional Star Trek that I know and love, so whilst I have thoroughly enjoyed the previous Star Treks, with Discovery I liked it for the same reason I like Michal Bay films. Stuff explodes, lots of action, but mindless fun that isn't really making a point about anything, it doesn't enrich the world, it is there to be mindless fun...it is the equivalent of me throwing a tennis ball around to keep Columbo entertained.
"Lower Decks" was the name of an episode of The Next Generation in which the audience followed the story of four lower ranking officers onboard the Enterprise-D, with the main story being told from their perspective so they were in the dark regarding what was happening during much of the storyline. It was a good premise and one that I thought had the promise of being expanded into a whole series. Did the animation follow the possibilities set up by the episode, well let's not hang around and jump straight into warp to find out...
Beckett Mariner is a cocky ensign that serves onboard the USS Cerritos, a vessel that makes up the work force of the Fleet, their mission is not charting a new frontier or making first contact with exotic alien species. Instead they are tasked with Second Contacts, towing artefacts to space dock, and things of that nature. Basically the less important stuff that the Capital ships like the Enterprise or Titan would never be assigned to do. Mariner is friends with a neurotic guy named Boimler, an Orion nurse named and an engineer named Tendi, and Rutherford who has a cyber augmentation implant in his head.
Boimler and co are very by-the-book whilst Mariner is of the opinion that Starfleet only does so much and there are gaps in their policy that need filling. As a result she is a constant source of panic for Boimler who believes that following the rules is the only way to go. He follows the rules and frequently ends up falling foul in his assignments as Starfleet regulations don’t necessarily cover how to deal with a drunk Klingon who steals a shuttlecraft. Mariner on the other hand as served on numerous ships, so has a lot of firsthand experience and lazily breaks the rules to get things done. Rutherford loves being an engineer and Tendi is one of the few Orions serving in Starfleet, she is also a little nervous, as the Cerritos is her first assignment.
Mariner is also a massive headache for her long suffering Captain as well as the other senior members of the Cerritos command crew.
The episodes are self-enclosed stories, which is in itself classic Star Trek and the amount of references in these episodes are staggering. There is an episode when Boimler gets ‘phased’ during a transporter accident and ends up on a ship that is taking sick officers to a “spa” for treatment. Amongst the people on the ship is a large salamander-like creature which is what Tom Paris turned into in the Voyager episode Threshold after breaching the Warp 10 barrier, it is a great reference to the things that can, and often do go wrong in Starfleet. Each episode is crammed with such references, often blink and you’ll miss them, plus the missions we saw in TNG, DS9 and Voyager are the stuff of stories told by other officers in the fleet.
The voice acting is also top notch with Jack Quaid fitting Brad Boimler to a tee, but in truth there is not really anyone that drops the ball. Star Trek veterans also pop up with John De Lancie appearing as Q, Jonathan Frakes as Riker with Marina Sirtis as Troi. These actors reprise the roles they played in the show but Jeffery Coombs also appears but not playing one of the numerous characters he portrayed across his time in Star Trek.
You can tell that there is real love for the franchise behind the series, the animation is top-notch and the Cerritos feels like the kind of ship that makes up the workforce of the fleet. I especially like the fact that the Cerritos has its name and registry on the back of the saucer rather than the front because chances are it is going to be towing something rather than meeting it head on.
So there is a lot to like, however the show has a major problem, a problem that can be summarised in one word: Mariner.
Lower Decks suffers from the same problem that Discovery does, in the fact that it focuses on a character that the creators of the show seem to think is really interesting, but has no business being in Starfleet. Michael Burnham in Discovery and Beckett Mariner in Lower Decks, neither of whom manage to follow their orders, and irritatingly never seem to get adequately punished for their actions.
It makes a bit more sense in Lower Deck because we learn that Captain Freeman also happens to be Mariner’s mother, so naturally she is going to be more leaniet with her daughter’s disregard for orders. Freeman can't just court martial her own daughter so tries to do everything she can to make Mariner quit on her own. What makes Mariner a better character than Burnham is the fact that she demonstrates leadership qualities, intelligence, bravery and basically everything that would be ensuring her a fast track to her own command. However, she is happy as an ensign and is currently just trying to find herself. That in itself is fine but good officers manage to find a way to work within the bounds of their rules, and do not disregard them when they don’t agree with them.
I think the show would have worked better if it was just about a group of ensigns working through the menial tasks on a starship whilst to get noticed. Mariner is someone that can be great but she can also be very annoying. I like the show, and the other characters enough to recommend Lower Decks giving it a Thumbs Up. But be warned that this is definitely a “New Trek” production. You might want to be watching it thinking of it a soft canon series that can link to the other shows if you want it to or ignore it if you don’t.
7/10 – Mariner is not as bad as Burnham, and is generally quite likeable even if there are times when you will be wondering why she hasn’t been drummed out of Starfleet already. I like the rest of the characters, especially Boimler, and the cameos by famous Star Trek faces does just show how much love for the franchise those actors and actresses still have.