With the success of Star Trek: Discovery and Picard, CBS continues to expand its offerings within the Star Trek universe, this time with a new animated comedy series: Star Trek: Lower Decks. The series boasts a unique angle: it focuses on telling the stories of the lower-ranking crew members, with all the big dramatic events of a typical Star Trek episode happening in the background. As Ensign Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsome, Space Force) says in the new trailer, “We’re not really elite. We’re more the cool scrappy underdogs.” That sounds like a Star Trek series the fans can get behind.
This is the first animated Star Trek series since the Emmy-award-winning Star Trek: The Animated Series (TAS) which ran from 1973-1974. That show served as a sequel to the live action Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS)—effectively a fourth season—with many of the original cast members returning to voice the characters. Among the new characters introduced were a three-armed, three-legged alien crew member named Arex, and a Caitian (a cat-like alien) crew member named M’Ress. The 22 episodes included a sequel to the famous “The Trouble with Tribbles” episode from TOS, in which the breed is genetically altered to not reproduce—with the tradeoff being that they grow extremely large (or rather, clusters of tribbles are able to function as a single whole).
Star Trek: Lower Decks is a different beast. It’s part of a five-year overall deal Discovery co-creator and showrunner Alex Kurtzman signed with CBS to expand the franchise. Kurtzman tapped Rick and Morty head writer Mike McMahan to spearhead the project. “Mike won our hearts with his first sentence: ‘I want to do a show about the people who put the yellow cartridge in the food replicator so a banana can come out the other end,’” Kurtzman told Variety back in October 2018. “His cat’s name is Riker. His son’s name is Sagan. The man is committed. He’s brilliantly funny and knows every inch of every Trek episode, and that’s his secret sauce: he writes with the pure, joyful heart of a true fan.”
Kurtzman was adamant from the start that Star Trek: Lower Decks would not be in the same R-rated vein as Rick and Morty, although it would “skew slight more adult” than TAS. Since late March, production has been taking place remotely because of the coronavirus pandemic—something that is easier to do on an animated series. The biggest challenge, per McMahan, was figuring out how to record the voice actors with remote equipment in their private homes.
Kurtzman has described Lower Decks as a “love letter” to Star Trek. Chronologically, it takes place after the events of the 2002 film Star Trek: Nemesis; the name is an homage to an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG). Per the official premise, the new half-hour animated comedy series “focuses on the support crew serving on one of Starfleet’s least important ships, the U.S.S. Cerritos, in 2380. Ensigns Mariner, Boimler, Rutherford, and Tendi have to keep up with their duties and their social lives, often while the ship is being rocked by a multitude of sci-fi anomalies.”
Newsome’s Mariner adopts a lax approach to following the rules, which contrasts sharply with the attitude of Ensign Brad Boimler (Jack Quaid, The Boys), who is a stickler for the rules and dreams of being captain of his own starship one day. Eugene Cordero (Tacoma FD) voices Ensign Rutherford, who sports a cyborg implant and bears some resemblance to Geordi La Forge from TNG. Rounding out the main below-decks crew is Ensign Tendi (Noël Wells, Master of None), a new addition to the medical bay.
The cast also includes Dawnn Lewis (A Different World) as Captain Carol Freeman; Jerry O’Connell (Sliders) as Jack Ransom, a character McMahan compared to TNG‘s William Riker “if he was on speed and had less shame”; Fred Tatascriore (Robot Chicken, Bojack Horseman) as a Bajoran lieutenant named Shaxs; and Gillian Vigman (Sons & Daughters) as T’Ana, a Caitian doctor who heads the medical bay on board the Cerritos. Her character is a callback to M’Ress in TAS, described by McMahan as “a good doctor, but she’s an unpleasant cat.” There have also been rumors of cameos by a few original TNG characters, although nothing has been confirmed.
The trailer opens with Boimler pretending to keep a captain’s log, much to the amusement of Mariner. (“I can’t believe you’re wasting your shore leave on this.”) We meet Tendi, who is overwhelmed with awe at being aboard the Cerritos, although reality sets in the second she enters sick bay and T’Ana hands her a human heart. (“Hold this. Don’t pass out!”) Meanwhile, Mariner learns she’s been assigned Holodeck waste removal, rather than having the chance to explore strange new worlds and solve “space mysteries.” She is excited to get to check in out the new shuttle with the blast shield, though. (“It comes down and it goes up, blast shield!”) And it looks like Rutherford, in addition to be a handy mechanic, has some mean fighting skills.
Star Trek: Lower Decks premieres on CBS All Access on August 6, 2020.
Listing image by YouTube/CBS All Access