Star Trek: Lower Decks
Credit: CBS All Access

Yup, there's another Star Trek show coming to TV. But this one’s different! Lower Decks is Star Trek in animated comedy form, marking the first time the venerated 56-year-old brand has launched a pure comedy (no, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier doesn’t count). Writer Mike McMahan says he pitched the concept to CBS All Access by saying, “I want to do a show about the guy who brings the yellow cartridge to the back of the food replicator so that a banana comes out the front.”

If that sort of sci-fi goofing on an animated series brings to mind Rick and Morty, as it so happens, McMahan is a former writer on the Adult Swim hit (which surely didn't hurt his pitch). The animation also looks slightly similar. Yet McMahan says Lower Decks clearly distinguishes itself in a couple of key ways. First, while Lower Decks is aimed at adults, the show is far more PG-13 than R-rated. "It's definitely not a kids show, but only because it's a little bit more complex than a kid show would be," he says. And then, there's the show's entire perspective. “The fun of Rick and Morty is that it breaks down sci-fi tropes and is told through Rick Sanchez, who has a very specific, chaotic, nihilistic lens,” he says. “Lower Decks treats mythological sci-fi things just as important as a regular Trek show, while finding new stories to tell — just from a different angle. It's not disassembling mythological sci-fi things. It's treating them as important for everybody on the starship as it would be in a regular star Trek show."

That angle focuses on the adventures of low-ranking crew members of Starfleet’s USS Cerritos (a name that sells us on watching this show as much as anything). The crew is assigned the less glamorous jobs on a city-size starship while the bridge crew led by a traditionally heroic captain does all the so-called “important” work. “The big stories are happening in the bridge crew and there's more kind of social-emotional stories happening to the Lower Deckers," he says. "So it's like their job and the world they're in get affected by these sci-fi stories. But the funny thing too is that whatever menial job you have to do in Star Trek, it might be something that they do every day, but it's still sort of a fascinating look into stuff that happens onboard that haven't been highlighted in another series. So instead of being on the turbolift — the elevators in Trek — our guys are repairing the turbolift. We also spend a lot of time in the bar. You'll also see the Lower Deckers go on away missions doing things that the bridge crew doesn't have to deal with."

While the focus is on the Lower Deckers, the bridge crew isn't kept entirely distant and anonymous. For instance, the crew sometimes interacts with the captain, Carol Freeman (Dawnn Lewis). "She is sort of trying to do this balancing act that all captains do, where they demand respect and are admired and trusted by the crew, but then they also kind of have to be the bad guy," he says. "And a thing we play with a lot is that the Lower Deckers don't always get all the information they're delegated to, but they don't get to have a voice and they don't get to know the context a lot of the time."

Star Trek: Lower Decks
Credit: CBS All Access

Lower Decks is set during the time period of The Next Generation, and while McMahan can’t outright say familiar faces from the fan-favorite late-’80s, early-’90s series will appear, he sure does hint at it. “There are a lot of recognizable characters in the galaxy at that point," he says. "Next Gen is my favorite era. And as a huge Trek fan, I would definitely want to try to use some of them so that I could not only build out the world, but also work with some of my heroes. But I can't get more specific than that. You'll have to wait and see."


Star Trek: Lower Decks
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