The next new Star Trek series won’t actually boldly go so much as it will boldly explore the mundane day-to-day of people in the background of the adventures of Starfleet.
The just-announced animated/comedy series Lower Decks will be the vision of writer Mike McMahan, known for his writing on Rick and Morty and the satirical Twitter account that imagines a wacky, hypothetical version of Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 8. According to the official announcement from Alex Kurtzman, the series Lower Decks will focus on “the support crew of a very unimportant ship as they try to go about their daily lives.”
So what’s the deal? With these pieces of information, it sounds like Lower Decks will be a mash-up of Rick and Morty and... well, the TNG episode titled “Lower Decks.” But what will it really be like? Here are three educated guesses as to how Star Trek: Lower Decks will shake out.
The show probably isn’t really canon
Prior to Lower Decks, there’s only been one other animated Trek series, 1973’s Star Trek: The Animated Series. And though this series is considered to be canon as of 2007, it pretty much wasn’t taken seriously from 1991 onward. (Notably, Discovery referenced the animated series when Saur read the name “Robert April” off of a computer screen in "Choose Your Pain.")
The point is, though the original animated series is canon now, it was goofy enough to cause plenty of canon problems, and it wasn’t technically a comedy, it was a kids show.
The new animated show is already being billed as a comedy. This seems like code for saying it’s not canon. It’s possible of course that it will be canon, but at the point at which the intention of the show is already a slight parody of Trek tropes, it seems like the safe bet will be to keep it outside of any hardcore speculation about timelines, alternate universe, and the like. Or, at the very least, the show will make jokes about canon constantly.
Cameos from the characters in the original “Lower Decks” feels likely
Calling the new animated series Lower Decks is obviously a reference to The Next Generation episode of the same name. In fact, though the seventh season of TNG is wildly uneven, every Trekkie worth their salt will tell you "Lower Decks" rocks, primarily because it showcases the underdog crewmembers who are often behind-the-scenes, or, more stereotypically, killed off as “redshirts.” (More on that later.)
The point is: If you’re going to have a show set in the Star Trek universe called Lower Decks and not feature any of the characters from “Lower Decks” — Taurik, Sam, Sito, Ben, or Ogawa — it would feel really weird. Meaning, the big question hardcore Trekkies should be asking is this: Have Shannon Fill (Sito), Alexander Enberg (Taurik), Dan Gauthier (Sam), Bruce Beatty (Ben), or Patti Yasutake (Ogawa) been contacted yet?
Because if they haven’t, that’s just crazy. The whole point of the original “Lower Decks” was that it was about these “smaller” roles. Let’s get those actors back!
There will almost certainly be a running South Park-style death joke
In the pantheon of Star Trek, the crewmembers on starships who are not main characters and only in one episode are almost always in danger of becoming “redshirts,” i.e. being killed off in some terrible way.
This comes from the idea that in the original ‘60s Trek, people wearing red uniforms often died horrible deaths, even though the very first redshirt in “The Man Trap” was wearing blue. (The concept of Trek having an endless supply of people known as “redshirts” is well known enough to have inspired at least one original sci-fi novel by John Scalzi called Redshirts, which, appropriately or not is dedicated to Wil Wheaton.)
The point is, the trope of “redshirts” is completely wrapped up in the concept of the original “Lower Decks,” and presumably, this new show is too. The characters are like the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of Star Trek, and in the episode “Lower Decks,” one of the characters — Sito Jaxa — does, in fact, become a redshirt and die. Just like Hamlet is not a comedy, but has comedic characters like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the episode “Lower Decks” is not a comedy either.
But, the Tom Stoppard play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead — a sideways midquel to Hamlet — clearly is a comedy. The new series Lower Decks will be to Star Trek, what Tom Stoppard was to Shakespeare.
And so, if you are going to do a comedy version of a bunch of Star Trek redshirt characters as a TV show, that means that almost certainly, someone will die a horrible outer space death, every single week.