Lower Decks taps into what Star Trek really is

The sci-fi sitcom has added growth to its armory.


The following article discusses the fourth season of Star Trek: Lower Decks.

There’s a risk, using a word like “should” that we’re a short hop away from a tantrum to police the borders of What Proper Star Trek(™) is. But after watching most of Star Trek: Lower Decks’ fourth season, it does feel as if the show’s outlook is the most Star Trek of the bunch. Part of this is because the show is mature enough to laugh at itself, and part of it is because it’s now letting its characters grow. This is a sitcom, so its first duty is to be funny rather than weighty, but it’s a welcome sight to see the quartet escape the bottom rung.

I don’t think that’s much of a spoiler, because it’s in the trailer, the press material and the cast’s promotional interviews with TrekMovie. At the start of season four, some of the quartet get their promotions to Lieutenant Junior Grade, and out of their shared bunk. Now they’re expected to lead away missions, take on real real responsibilities and actually lead other people. It affects them all differently, with Boimler struggling to grow into his role, and Mariner fighting every urge in her body not to self-sabotage, with varying degrees of success. And it’s here, I think, that we see the side of Star Trek that so often gets overlooked in its other properties.

After all, Starfleet is an organization of people coming together to do better for other people, but also to improve themselves. For every daring scientific experiment and skin-of-the-teeth rescue, we see more of the senior officers’ desire to actually nurture their charges. This, too, helps to broaden the series’ focus, to include T’Lyn, the fan-favorite who joined the Cerritos at the end of last season. The broader view also gives Captain Freeman more of a central role in several episodes, especially highlighting the times when her knowledge is ignored by her superiors. For all we’ve seen of the dung rolling downhill and landing in Beta Shift’s trench, it’s not as if those higher up the chain don’t get their fair share of excrement, too.

I wonder if its status as Star Trek’s officially-sanctioned Class Clown gives it room to be more subversive than anyone gives it credit for. Time and again, both in this series and before, we see totems of Star Trek’s past commoditized and packaged for sale. It’s an easy way to milk fans’ nostalgia glands, but it’s also potentially a subtle critique about the nature of nostalgia. As much as Lower Decks was created by a Next Generation fan who wants to recapture some of that magic, it’s also a commentary on that very same desire. And the show’s creative team is clear-eyed enough to notice that series’ blind spots and mine them for comedy.

But, for all of this high-falutin’ talk, this remains Lower Decks, a series that can have you in tears at the sight of a pair of dueling [SPOILERS] trying to out-compliment each other. And, if nothing else, it’s a pleasure to spend more time with Starfleet’s horniest and weirdest crew.

The first two episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks will be available to watch on Paramount+ on Thursday, September 7. A new episode will arrive on subsequent Thursdays.