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Monday, September 7, 2020

Star Trek Reviews: Lower Decks

While I was working on my Trek reviews, the animated series Star Trek: Lower Decks came out on CBS All-Access. I didn’t really have the time to finish my reviews, track down Star Trek Beyond, AND start watching a new series, so I decided to delay it for a while.

See the first review post for links to the other six reviews and an explanation of my letter-grade ranking system. The short version: C is average, something I have no strong feelings about one way or another. To avoid uncontrollable rage, please remember: Average is not Bad. It’s just average.

Star Trek: Lower Decks

Rating: C-

I had other reasons for delaying this review as well. For one, my reviews for all the other TV series and streaming series were written after I’d watched the entire series, not just a single episode. I’d need to wait until at least three or four episodes had been released in order to get a good sample of what the series was like.

Another reason to delay: it’s a comedy, not a dramatic series. I was way into Star Trek (original and animated) as a kid, and science fiction/fantasy in general, but one thing I probably watched more of was comedy. I saw at least one episode of just about every sitcom or sketch comedy show on American TV in the '70s or early ‘80s, even summer replacements or specials like The Bluffers or Keep On Truckin’. Maybe even Pink Lady and Jeff, although I may have hallucinated that one. And one thing I learned: the first episode of a comedy show, even moreso than dramas, is often garbage. They have to get a feel of their characters or their available talent before they know how to crank out good product.

So I definitely didn’t want to judge Lower Decks based only on its first episode. I would want to give it a fair chance of showing me how funny it could be. Especially since the clips I’d seen in the ads didn’t seem funny at all. I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume either those clips were funnier in context or were the only clips they felt even stood a chance of making sense in a short clip.

Good thing for Lower Decks that I was so generous and watched a total of five episodes, instead of just the first, because the first episode was the worst of the five, based on one important criteria: I never laughed once when watching the first episode. That’s the kiss of death for comedy shows. You have to be funny, or you are just doing a terrible job.

I kept track of every time I laughed or even just chuckled for each episode. After a few minutes, I realized I would need to be more generous and keep a separate count of times something made me smile or at least mildly appreciate something, but those were actually rarer. Even with this much leeway, things were dire, averaging 1.2 laughs per episode.

The feel of the series reminds me a lot of Teen Titans Go! or Archer, neither of which I like much, but either one is way funnier. Most of the “humor” is pop culture references (usually Star Trek references, for Lower Decks.) Characters have two modes: “fast talking” and “shouty”. Comic situations are very broad and predictable: you will know how each scene will end at least a minute beforehand.

Worst episode was the first. Funniest episode was the second. If I were giving each episode a rating, they would be a D and a C, respectively, with the other episodes falling in between.

Funniest bits:

  • The command training simulations which score officers on how many children are lost in each encounter (“Let’s try it again, adding more children!”)
  • One character’s final ascension beyond the material plane.
  • Another character’s attempt to keep his girlfriend by designing the ultimate “cool” wardrobe and persona.

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