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SYFY WIRE reviews

Critics say Star Trek: Lower Decks can appeal to die-hard Trekkies and casual fans alike

By Josh Weiss
Star Trek Lower Decks

Season 1 of Star Trek: Lower Decks is now streaming on CBS All Access, but how does the animated comedy stack up against the last 54 years of live-action content?

According to critics (who only got to view the first four episodes), the new show from creator Mike McMahan (a veteran of Rick and Morty and Solar Opposites) proudly wears its fanboy-ish-ness on its sleeve. The references are certainly deep cut — which will please Trekkie die-hards — but the overall product isn't so obscure as to turn off casual viewers. In other words, the project is breezy and approachable in its aim to boldy explore the everyday activites of background Starship workers.

By its very nature as a screwball workplace comedy, Lower Decks reportedly doesn't have the trademark commentative punch of the franchise's mainstream offerings. Still, it's not here to critique society; rather, it's meant to take established Trek lore and have fun with it in new and unexpected ways. It's exactly what Tom Stoppard did when he took Shakespeare's Hamlet and re-molded the classic play into Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are DeadLower Decks may not break the format, but it doesn't have to — not as long as it's got more than five decades' worth of canon to lampoon.

The series is executive produced by McMahan, Alex Kurtzman, Heather Kadin, Rod Roddenberry, Trevor Roth, and Katie Krentz. It features the voices of Tawny Newsome, Jack Quaid, Noël Wells, Eugene Cordero, Paul Scheer, Dawnn Lewis, Jerry O'Connell, Fred Tatasciore, Gillian Vigman.

Take a break from fixing that leaky Warp Drive and check out what critics are saying below...

"Star Trek’s willingness to play with its brand in this way — lending an intellectual property about valiant questing to Rick and Morty vet Mike McMahan, to re-engineer as a comedy about the marginal — is admirable. It calls to mind, perhaps, the adventurousness that brought The Mandalorian to Disney+. But the comparison stops there: The Mandalorian is aiming to excite, thrill, and enthrall, and Lower Decks simply to amuse; it also, in tossing aside the Trek earnestness, does somewhat torch that which makes the franchise special in the first place." -Daniel D'Addario, Variety

"What's missing are the big intellectual or formal swings McMahan has taken in his past efforts in the science fiction space, or anything resembling the timeliness and allegory that the original Star Trek and the best of its offshoots have exhibited ... Even with the intention of peeking into its most mundane corner, a universe this boundless shouldn't feel so comically limited." -Daniel Fienberg, The Hollywood Reporter

"So far, Star Trek: Lower Decks is a great addition to the pantheon of Gene Roddenberry’s universe, and one clearly guided by the hand of a creator who truly loves and knows Star Trek. Some of the humor doesn’t quite land in this first episode, but the voice cast are all having a ball, the animation design is sleek and will warm the heart of any TNG fan, and the nerdy Trek references are plentiful… and yet will not be distracting for newcomers to the franchise." -Scott Collura, IGN

"Lower Decks isn’t here to make fun of Star Trek — even the roughest jokes are clearly written by people who genuinely love this franchise. And not only is the show clearly a labor of fan love, but it even manages to bind comedy stories with the sci-fi action that’s typically happening in the background. Set during the Next Generation era ... Lower Decks manages to pull off the trickiest challenge inherent in its premise: It’s pretty damn funny, but even as a half-hour comedy, it still manages to feel like Star Trek." -Liz Shannon Miller, Collider

"From blink-and-you’ll-miss-them sight gags and references to prior adventures, even to episodes that just build themselves around those sort of silly, geeky questions you’ve always wondered about the humdrum living or working on a Star Trek ship, Lower Decks constantly wears its passion for what Star Trek is on its sleeves. Even Mariner’s constantly rolled-up sleeves, much to the chagrin of her commanding officers." -James Whitbrook, Gizmodo

"Lower Decks is a little too breezy for its own good, and it moves so quickly through its various plots – each episode feels like it was fastidiously edited to remove any dead air – that it leaves no lasting impression ... There’s something admirable about how fiercely committed Lower Decks is to being low-stakes entertainment, which is difficult to achieve in an era in which there is pressure on all creators to be political." -Noah Gittell, The Guardian

"The show's at its strongest when it sticks most closely to its premise: background Trek characters going about their days, intersecting with the glamorous bridge crew only glancingly, if at all ... If nothing else, though, Star Trek: Lower Decks, by staking its claim as the officially licensed Star Trek comedy series, will likely throw The Orville, with its untenable mix of glib goofs and maudlin drama, into a profound existential crisis." -Glen Weldon, NPR

"Lower Decks, however, may be the clearest example to date of Star Trek in its own turn taking hefty cues from the art its fans created over the years. It owes a nod to Galaxy Quest, to The Orville, and to John Scalzi's novel Redshirts, among others. Likewise, as a half-hour 'adult' comedy, it owes nods to every 30-minute animated comedy that came before it, starting with The Simpsons and going straight through its most obvious predecessor, Rick and Morty." -Kate Cox, Ars Technica

"There is potential here. A few of the individual storylines show sparks of life, and if the characters ever calm down, they might turn out to be endearing. It’s refreshing to have a new Trek series that actually takes place post-TNG, and once it settles on a perspective, it could actually have something worth saying." -Zack Handlen, The A.V. Club

"It's an amusing premise, if not an especially edgy one. Nor does it go deep enough initially in playing off the notion of, say, those faceless, red-shirted crewmen who were so disposable in the original series, beaming down to planets and seldom making it back alive ... Lower Decks falls squarely in the second-contact category." -Brian Lowry, CNN

"With references to Geordi’s VISOR, Starfleet regulations, Romulan whisky, a cha'Dich and even Gary Mitchell, Lower Decks contains enough nods to the past to suggest it’s got its phasers locked on pleasing hardcore fans. And yet the irreverent tone and high levels of misbehavior (Picard would be in a constant state of facepalm) are likely to wind up just as much of the audience. Trek has always been about exploring strange new worlds, however, so it’s definitely worth giving Lower Decks a chance." -Richard Edwards, GamesRadar