“Comments disabled for this video,” read the comments section on the first trailer for Star Trek: Lower Decks, only a few hours after it was first uploaded in July. The franchise’s fans are notorious for being hypercritical, pedantic, and obsessive with the maintenance of the Star Trek canon. They—very loudly and publicly—did not take kindly to the idea of the Star Trek universe being transferred to an animated show before it had even been released. To be fair to the fans, they had some reasoning in their fear that an animated show wouldn't do justice to a strong legacy of dramatic writing. However, this wasn't an excuse to judge the show before watching it.
The programs that many of the most intense Star Trek fans connect to are: Star Trek (1966-69), also known as The Original Series (TOS), and the “’90s shows,” or Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) (1987-94), Star Trek: Deep Space 9 (DS9) (1993-99), and Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001). When TOS was first created by Gene Roddenberry, the image of the future was one where humanity had learned to coexist within itself and other species. The crew of the original “Enterprise” was a diverse—or at least, diverse for the ‘60s—group that traversed space, encountering new creatures. Humanity was so evolved that they often served as a guiding hand to civilizations that were struggling to understand morality, or they protected “the little man” against bigger, scarier aliens.
One could argue that the ‘90s programs took the philosophical nature of Star Trek even further. The “Prime Directive” of Starfleet was that you couldn’t interfere with a civilization not yet capable of warp–travel. This led to more moral conflicts for the characters to contend with as they explored space further. TNG was famous for Patrick Stewart’s Shakespearean monologues and nuanced performances as the diplomatic Captain Jean-Luc Picard—a far more cerebral leader than the macho Captain Kirk from back in the day. DS9 explored the politics of war, and is considered by some to be the “ultimate Trek” for its serious, serialized stories, and deeply complex characters. Voyager features a stranded crew, composed of the remnants of two enemy ships, attempting to return home while maintaining the ideals of the United Federation of Planets.
This legacy of conceptual science fiction writing is powerful, and it’s easy to see why fans would not be thrilled for the sardonic and goofy new setting. But Star Trek has always balanced its darker side with humor, fun, and the occasional romance. Possibly the most recognizable original episode of TOS is “The Trouble With Tribbles,” in which the “villains” are essentially multiplying fluff balls. Lots of other campy ‘60s episodes such as “Mudd’s Women” and “The Way to Eden” get their entertainment value from their sheer, inherent wackiness. The time jump from the 23rd to 24th century for the newer shows allowed for the in–universe innovation of the “holodeck”—the ultimate VR experience—and the real–world innovation of holodeck based episodes. These featured the characters interacting with historical figures, literary characters, or anything else they could dream up, and were very rarely episodes with any serious moral quandaries.
If this wasn’t enough to convince the fans, then they should have recalled a little program that ran from 1973–74 that was titled Star Trek: The Animated Series. Was the animated series great? No—but it featured the characters of TOS, created a few decent stories, and added some interesting details to the canon that have often been referenced in the following shows.
The unfortunate truth is that many of the most intense Star Trek fans will not be satisfied by anything less than the Trek of the past. Obsessed as they are, they are very aware of the precedents of humor and animation in Trek, and choose to ignore them. Those complaining that Lower Decks is too goofy and inconsequential are the same people who take issue with the other new shows, Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard, for being too serialized and action–focused. Although I personally love the shows, I’ve understood a lot of the criticism of Discovery and Picard over the past few years. Stylistically, these are very different from the episodic, high–brow programs many of us grew up watching (either live, syndicated, or on Netflix).
However, here’s the deal: When you ask for a show that “feels more like Star Trek” and then refuse to even try the programming released, you're the one at fault. Although Lower Decks took a few episodes to really hit its stride, the latter half of the season was excellent. The show itself is a love letter to the fans, jam–packed with pieces of Trek minutiae in every episode. Even more so, it's a tribute to the '90s shows that fans miss so much—from the font in the opening credits down to the uniforms. The voice cast is talented and filled with fun guest–stars. On the more specific side, the show’s one recurring villain, “Badgey” (Jack McBrayer), a parody of Microsoft’s “Clippy,” is one of the most cleverly humorous creations I’ve seen in animation recently.
“Crisis Point,” the penultimate episode, was a detailed and brilliant homage to the Trek films—something no one suspected would be parodied here. The finale, “No Small Parts,” felt more Trek–y than anything I’d seen produced in the last fifteen years. I laughed, almost cried, and ended the season with a smile etched on my face. Not only is this an accomplishment in and of itself, it’s an accomplishment for the Star Trek franchise, notorious for terrible first seasons.
I can’t wait for season two of Lower Decks, but above all, I hope to share my love of this new addition to the franchise with the entirety of one of the most enthusiastic fanbases in the world. I hope that those who announced in July that they were “boycotting” Lower Decks have changed or will soon change their minds and watch the show, and that those who watched an episode and gave up will offer it a second chance. I hope that they can maintain faith in their hearts that the writers of any new Trek show are fans too, and will keep the honor of the franchise as their top priority.
And at the end of the day, at least it’s not Star Trek: Enterprise (2001-05).