You know what the world needs more of these days? People that don't take themselves so seriously. Seriously.
Although Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1 Episode 1 isn't about to break any new ground in ethical and philosophical discourse, it has a good time and presents a fresh take on the world of Trek.
The show is awash in Star Trek trivia easter eggs, from the opening credits through to the fade-out.
And while it may not scratch the itch of Trekkers worldwide waiting for the promised adventures of the announced Enterprise-based episodic series, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, it is going to appeal to those who love culturally-referential comedy.
Take the opening credits.
First, we see the Cerritos dragged into the gravitational pull of a black hole only to slingshot around the other side, referencing TOS Season 1 Episode 21: Tomorrow is Yesterday. We assume time travel isn't the purpose in this case. But, you know what? I wouldn't be surprised if it was.
Then, there's the ice planet. This could refer to DS9's The Ascent (Season 5 Episode 9) or Delta Vega in the 2009 film although the Cerritos is significantly less graceful in its launch.
In a battle with the Borg, the USS Cerritos takes fire and immediately turns tail and runs (as any out-classed starship may well do).
The Cerritos does a fly-by next, carrying a Junior-esque lifeform (TNG Season 4 Episode 16), feeding on its warp core exhaust, before going to warp in the signature exit move used by many/most Star Trek vessels.
The very title (and concept) of this series is lifted from Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 7 Episode 15, an episode titled simply "Lower Decks," that followed the lives of four ensigns aboard Picard's Enterprise.
As this is the series premiere, its prime directive is to introduce the characters and while some of their personalities are reminiscent of Family Guy or (more apropos) Rick and Morty -- showrunner Mike McMahan's playground before getting the call to Starfleet -- they are also familiar to Star Trek fans.
Ensign Boimler is basically what it would look like if Lt. Barclay and Wesley Crusher had a baby. Insecure yet ambitious. A rule-follower with a sense of loyalty.
I thought you were like a boring worker drone. And you are. But inside that drone is an ambitious little weasel. And inside that weasel, might be a tiny human being.Mariner
He may have been a perfect cadet in a traditional Star Trek platform but he's doomed to play the victim and pitiable straight man here.
Ensign Mariner's chip-on-her-shoulder, giant F-U to the higher-ups, attitude echoes loudly of Ensign Ro although, admittedly, with less political agenda and glowering.
Getting past the facepalm reveal of her legacy status as the daughter of her captain and an admiral, she's also exuding a hint of Chris Knight from 1985's film Real Genius.
As voice actor Tawny Newsome revealed during the Star Trek Universe panel at San Diego Comic-Con @ Home in July, she sees a lot of herself in Mariner who doesn't play by the rules but is actually incredibly capable.
And Mariner slam-dunks a bunch more easter eggs in her listing of her job experiences.
I have served on five ships, man. I have seen stuff. One time, I got trapped in a sentient cave for weeks. You ever been trapped in a sentient cave? That's a dark place that knows things. I almost got my head taken off by a singing crystal. I've been in a Klingon prison where I had to fight a Yeti for my own shoes for NO reason. He was just being a dick.Mariner
Sentient cave? That's TNG's Future Imperfect (Season 4 Episode 8) which brought back Minuet, one of my favorite Next Gen recurring characters.
Singing Crystal? Most probably the Crystalline Entity from TNG Season 1 Episode 13 and Season Season 5 Episode 4 BUT it could also be a tongue-in-cheek reference to Lola Chrystal, the singing holodeck version of Kira Nerys, from DS9 Season 6 Episode 20.
Klingon prison fighting with a yeti for shoes? My best guess is Rura Penthe but I'm open to discussion on this one.
Boimler and Mariner appear to be our odd couple at the center of this animated comedy. What's refreshing is that there's absolutely ZERO sexual chemistry there so it's more antagonistic buddy comedy than any sort of rom-com.
Mariner: Let's go check out the holodeck.
Boimler: She doesn't have time for that.
Mariner: How do you know?
Boimler: Because I'm her liaison.
Mariner: Yeah, then what time is it? And don't check because if she doesn't have time, then you should know what time it is. Otherwise, you're just trying to sound important.
And all the romance here is carried by Ensign Rutherford whose Vulcan-programmed cybernetic implant is a literal mood dampener.
I'd like to know what qualifies an ensign for an implant. Geordi La Forge was born blind, hence the visor, but Rutherford's only recently gotten his implant so... was there a freak accident? Did he volunteer? Is there a Borg exchange program in the works?
His ineptness in reading the signals from Ensign Barnes despite them having a pretty great first date (black bile-spewing infected crewmates aside) is definitely a Geordi holdover.
Who has time for romance when there's a level two diagnostic just sitting there, waiting to be run!Rutherford
Meanwhile, Tendi is a fascinating addition to Starfleet as there hasn't been an Orion cadet or officer in the main universe. I love her optimistic outlook and gung-ho enthusiasm.
There's really no equivalent character in the live-action Trek 'verse that I can think of. Maybe Tilly from Discovery?
Mariner: Still happy to be here?
Tendi: Are you kidding? I got to hold a heart!
Tendi's over-the-top niceness is more in tune with Pinky Pie from MLP or Webby from Ducktales (reboot). It feels like an animated archetype that wouldn't quite translate believably to a live-action character.
In any case, she's extremely likable and I think she'll prove interesting as both an ensign and a medic.
As storylines go, the premiere checked all the boxes for A Plot, B Plot, a nice little merge of the two in time for the climax, personality conflicts, secret assignments, an alien planet adventure (Oh, the SUCKLING that went on!), and the sudden reversal of fortunes to ensure a positive outcome.
Mariner: We've been serving together for a year and I still don't get why you worship those guys.
Boimler: They're heroes!
Mariner: All they care about is glory. Stuff that could earn them a mention in the history books. They don't really care about us.
Knowing that Mariner's been kicked down the ladder for Command track means her abilities outrank her...er, rank.
As such, it's pretty clear that she's going to be running the Lower Decks gang, whether by virtue of mad skillz (like being able to adjust Rutherford's implant) or sheer juggernaut-like force of will.
When you're watching Star Trek: Lower Decks online, see what visual easter eggs you can spot. This is a show designed to appeal to those who love the minutia of Trek, created by writers with a wealth of that specific trivial knowledge.
And I know a missed a ton.
I'd expect more in-jokes to pepper the rest of the season just for the hell of it and perhaps some cameos by TNG cast? After all, Star Trek: Lower Decks is based just after the events of Nemesis so they're all still in play (except Data).
What did you think? Will this series live long and prosper or is this a good season to die?
Will Boimler step up or will Mentor Mariner step on him?
What are you hoping for next?
Diana Keng was a staff writer for TV Fanatic. She is a lifelong fan of smart sci-fi and fantasy media, an upstanding citizen of the United Federation of Planets, and a supporter of AFC Richmond 'til she dies. Her guilty pleasures include female-led procedurals, old-school sitcoms, and Bluey. She teaches, knits, and dreams big. Follow her on X.