Every time there’s a new Star Trek production, Trekkies ask the same question:
Is it “real” Star Trek?
When the original show went off the air and the first movie came out in ’79, they questioned its authenticity. 1987 when The Next Generation premiered… same thing. Rinse, repeat all the way to today with the upcoming animated series Star Trek: Lower Decks.
To quote the greatest philosopher of our time… “haters gonna hate hate hate.”
Or in the case of some Trekkies, they’re going to ask, “Is it real Star Trek?”
What Happens Below Decks Stays Below Decks
Star Trek: Lower Decks is the third Trek show for CBS All Access since Discovery premiered in 2017. And the first animated version since the 1970s Filmation series.
The year is 2380. Years after The Next Generation explored the final frontier. The starship Cerritos ventures into space… the not-so final frontier. Unlike the Enterprise, she doesn’t encounter new life for the first time. Their job is second contact. Doing the follow ups for all those exploration ships.
The bridge crew aren’t the heroes in this show either. This show is about the misadventures of those poor ensigns, who on Kirk’s Enterprise wouldn’t last past the opening credits before some alien creature zapped or devoured them.
Ensign Beckett Mariner (Space Force’s Tawny Newsome) and Ensign Brad Boimler (Jack Quaid) lead the underdogs of the Cerritos, as they work behind the scenes to keep the ship afloat.
Rick and Morty scribe and Solar Opposites creator Mick McMahan is the show’s mastermind. And you can see his humorous footprint throughout the trailer. Seems both Ensign Boimler and Jerry from Rick and Morty have a knack for getting sucked up by hungry alien worms.
Of course, must of the negative reaction to the trailer is around its humor and whether its appropriate for Trek.
What is ‘Real’ Star Trek?
There’s this attitude in fandom and pop culture that Star Trek is this deadly serious show. That Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s vision was for a philosophical show that’s a blueprint for what humanity could become.
“Roddenberry’s Vision” is the first thing trotted out by critics. Honestly, it’s just code for “This isn’t the Star Trek I prefer.”
Yes, Trek contains a little bit of philosophy. Tackles today’s social issues through metaphor. It’s a polemic at times.
But first and foremost, Star Trek is an action-adventure space drama. That’s Roddenberry’s original vision. He even wrote so in the first ever pitch to the networks.
The beauty of Trek storytelling is it can be anything. Action-adventure. Space western. Social commentary. Deep philosophy. And yes… comedy. A little broad and sometimes a bit slapstick.
Star Trek is Funny AF
Comedy has been part of Star Trek since 1966. William Shatner has great comedic timing if you actually watch the old show. The way he plays off Leonard Nimoy’s Spock is gold.
“The Trouble With Tribbles” is the prime example of Trek comedy. Tribbles continue to be source of laughs up until now (see Short Treks: “The Trouble With Edward”).
The Original Series has many knee-slapper episodes, like “A Piece of the Action,” where Kirk must face off with 1920-like mobsters.
Or the time Scotty gets an alien drunk so he can steal a device.
Even TNG, which is slightly more serious than the original, has its moments.
And the recent reboot movies don’t shy away… even going a little slapstick.
Funny and silly go hand in hand with the final frontier.
The Fun and Silly Star Trek I’ve Been Looking For
Lower Decks is the fun, silly Star Trek I’ve been wanting to see for a while.
While I like Discovery, sometimes it’s as serious as a rip in a spacesuit, which it tries to repair with a patch of melodrama.
Although I will say the second season of Discovery is rip-roaring fun space adventure.
Now I know Lower Decks won’t be a Trek for everyone. Hardly any Trek is. Some people like it all. Others prefer the one they grew up with. For me, TOS is my first Trek love and I like all the rest to varying degrees.
Trek Isn’t Above Criticism
Just because it’s Star Trek doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be criticized. Heck, I criticize Trek a lot myself because I want it to be better. I want it to continue to improve. To be better than the last series or movie.
For instance, my major critique of current Trek shows is they aren’t very good at long-term storytelling. Both Discovery and the recent Picard story arcs don’t hold up to scrutiny. Nothing is set-up and paid off in a satisfying way. Also, I’m tired of huge universe-ending stakes… an article for another time.
But I don’t go around claiming those shows aren’t “real” Star Trek. That’s not a criticism. Because how do we quantify that? How do we pigeonhole the show into being just a few narrow qualities? And why would you?
Like I said, the beauty of Star Trek is its versatility as a storytelling vehicle. Trek can be anything for anyone. You. Me. Someone whose first Trek will be Lower Decks.
Critique the show on its own merits rather than on this narrow notion of what Star Trek can and cannot be. And if it’s not for you, the Trek you love is still there. It always will be.