Preface: My change of course on Lower Decks
Lower Decks comes out of the gate literally swinging away with aggressively framed "jokes," featuring a drunken Ensign Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsome) playfully attacking Ensign Brad Boimler (Jack Quaid) with a bat'leth as she teases him mercilessly for making an overly officious "captain's log" in embarrassed private. It ends with her accidentally slicing into his leg with the sword and both of them screaming in horror before cutting to black, har har.
"Second Contact" is a busy and creaky pilot that has to establish characters, setting, plot, and tone — which is never an easy feat in a single episode — and if there's one thing that especially worries me here, it's the tone. This is waaaaaay too manic and madcap, with the volume, pace, and kinetic energy cranked up to 11 in a feeble attempt to paper over the fact that the jokes just kind of sit there and die. I didn't laugh at this once, because none of it is funny. Oh, it's self-confident. It has the rhythms of the certainty of hilarity, but doesn't genuinely land even a single joke.
They do cram a lot into 22 minutes, however — including a virus that turns the crew into violent zombies; a budding would-be romance between engineering Ensign Sam Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) and a young Trill officer who just isn't that into technical procedures; and the first day on the ship for Orion Ensign D'Vana Tendi (Noël Wells), who is green both literally and figuratively, which I suppose is this show's idea of clever. Also, a slapstick bit where Mariner and Boimler are attacked by a giant, angry spider creature, which pushes really, really hard into pure annoyance. The sheer glut of material may explain why this is executed at such an unrelenting fever pitch, but even though there's a lot here, none of it does much beyond showcasing a buncha crazy (but not funny) stuff happening. As animation goes, it's purely functional.
Oh, yeah — the commander of the USS Cerritos, Capt. Carroll Freeman (Dawnn Lewis), is also Mariner's mother, who is watching over her following her most recent disciplinary demotion. Mariner is a cheerfully cynical rogue who doesn't especially care about her career, whereas Boimler is a stodgy stickler for regulations. Freeman asks Boimler to secretly keep tabs on her daughter, which is sure to bring about a betrayal plot between the two friends at some point later in the season.
Lower Decks is set around the TNG years, which is a welcome change of pace for Kurtzman-era Star Trek, and takes its title and perspective from the TNG episode of the same name, focusing on the lowly grunts who don't get the glory of the bridge crew. But it's got a very long way to go to live up to that classic episode's premise, even as an alleged comedy. Mike McMahan, the creator and showrunner, is a writer/producer who hails from Rick and Morty, acclaimed by many, unseen by me. Star Trek and comedy are not incompatible, but it takes the right touch and sensibility; based on this first outing, it appears the writing staff has their work cut out for them.
Can I fault a show for trying too hard? Sure I can, when the effort is all in its hyperactive execution and excessively loud voice acting, rather than solidly constructed writing or amusing wit. I'll put this on par with the Orville pilot. Hopefully this show can grow as that one did.
Note: The comments that were originally posted before the show premiered can be found on this general discussion page.
Next episode: Envoys
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