Star Trek: Lower Decks S1E01 – Second Contact Review
While it’s animated realisation might take some getting used to, there’s a lot to like about “Second Contact”, the pilot episode for “Star Trek: Lower Decks”, the latest and quirkiest member of the “Star Trek” fleet.
Taking its name – and indeed its era – from “Star Trek The Next Generation”, “Lower Decks” takes a deliberately tongue-in-cheek approach to the franchise and while Trek is no stranger to comedy, this consistently silly incarnation may take some getting used to for long-time fans. For fans of “Futurama”, “Rick And Morty” and maybe even “Red Dwarf”, though, there’s fun to be had.
During a routine follow-up mission to the planet Galar, Ensigns Mariner and Boimler run into a little local difficulty while onboard the Cerritos, an alien virus infects the crew.
First of all, the idea of ‘second contact’ is a wonderful idea and an underexplored area of Trek ripe for comic exploitation. With a theme which is curiously reminiscent of the fanfare of “Galaxy Quest”, the titles themselves are an amusing pastiche of both “The Next Generation” and “Voyager” and in its early moments, it not only introduces its four main characters but also provides canon confirmation of the existence of cetacean ops, a fan-favourite detail from the original galaxy-class technical specs.
The main focus of “Second Contact” follows Ensigns Brad Boimler (Jack Quaid) and Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsome) as they bend the rules of Starfleet bureaucracy and inadvertently save the day, while newly arrived Ensign D’Vana Tendi (Noël Wells) bonds with recently cybernetically-enhanced Samanthan Rutherford as they avoid the zombie plague overrunning the ship. Humour-wise, it’s not quite as clever as “Futurama” and, despite the similarity of the animation style it’s nowhere near as sharp – or savagely provocative – as “Rick and Morty” but it’s worth reflecting on the fact that both of those series took more than a few episodes to really find their groove.
What is refreshing about “Star Trek Lower Decks” is that it demonstrates that there are still writers involved in this current Star Trek production regime who remember how to evoke the spirit of the classic TNG-DS9-Voyager era and tell stories which manage to poke fun at and yet honour and celebrate classic Trek tropes and storytelling.
For a pilot episode, it does a great job of setting out its characters and setting, telling a surprisingly compelling, fast-paced story and packing its runtime with plenty of visual gags and enough references to shame a self-indulgent first draft fan fiction.
While it remains to be seen whether it can continue to successfully balance the comedy and drama to the same extent, it’s clear that it won’t be quite as challenging to accept this series into canon as we might have been expecting. It may be silly but it’s every bit as valid an incarnation of Star Trek as “Star Trek Discovery” – and a damn sight more authentic than “Star Trek: Picard”.