Star Trek: Lower Decks

"Temporal Edict"

2 stars

Air date: 8/20/2020
Written by Dave Ihlenfeld & David Wright
Directed by Bob Suarez

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Scotty's way of keeping his reputation as a miracle worker is such a classic piece of Trekkian lore that I've for years used it as a running gag at work. Want to impress people, or at least set reasonable expectations? Then be sure to "Scotty It."

In "Temporal Edict," the lower deckers decide to Scotty It with their bosses so there's room in the day for some "buffer time." But when Boimler accidentally lets the concept of "buffer time" slip to the captain — while she's in a particularly bad mood about her ship being disrespected and reassigned — she decides to implement strict productivity deadlines around all shipwide tasks in order to increase efficiency and improve her crew's discipline and reputation. This has the effect of turning everyone into an overworked zombie (I immediately thought of Amazon workers trying at all costs to make their numbers) — except Boimler, who already operates at such peak efficiency that his day-to-day continues without disruption.

This is a reasonably good workplace comedy concept. But the big problem here is the completely unworkable collision between the episode's cartoon logic and our ability to believe the characters are so slavishly governed by it. There's a glaringly obvious lack of common sense here. Freeman's orders have the workplace effect of setting the entire ship on fire, with everyone running this way and that and tripping over one another as they attempt to beat the clock. I get that one tactic of comedy is exaggeration, but Freeman's policy so clearly causes more harm than good that she simply comes off looking like an idiot for not recognizing her crew is drowning and, oh, by the way, an alien takeover is happening because no one can tear themselves away from meeting their productivity requirements to stop it. (As a reward for pointing out Freeman's error, Boimler has the idea for built-in downtime named the "Boimler Effect," counter to his own philosophy and much to his eternal shame.) Subtlety here is a lost virtue. Comedy is a balancing act, but when all human plausibility is sacrificed for goofy plotting as it is here, the balance is thrown way off.

The ship-based plot is interwoven with an alien encounter on the planet surface that goes awry, leading douchebro first officer Jack Ransom (Jerry O'Connell) and Mariner to be thrown into a holding cell, while the rest of the away team is sentenced to execution. The two argue over who will fight in the forthcoming trial by combat that may allow the team to be spared. Ultimately, this leads to a big showcase for Ransom (as Mariner looks on with newfound attraction/appreciation) as he gets his shirt torn off in a cage match with a big alien muscleman. It's a parody of all those classic Kirk-centric TOS episodes in the vein of "Arena" (with Ransom making frequent use of the bizarre Trekkian two-fisted club-punch trope, which I guess I appreciate), but little of this plays out with much wit or hilarity. It's just kind of there.

So, yeah, writers — you've watched Star Trek and there are references here. Great. Now can we do something with this show that isn't just a patchwork of random Trek clichés and exaggerated plots and stupid characters that mostly traffic in tepid jokes and obvious payoffs?

Previous episode: Envoys
Next episode: Moist Vessel

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20 comments on this post

Karl Zimmerman
Thu, Aug 20, 2020, 7:52am (UTC -6)
The third episode is good, but not funny. IMHO this show succeeds more as a light drama than as comedy.

The good part of this episode is it inverts much of what was set up in the first few episodes. Mariner makes a legitimately bad call in this episode. Ransom turns out to not just be a dudebro, but a competent commander (if a bit full of himself). Boimler is shown to be able to thrive in certain situations.

However, I think a lot of people will have issues with how the Captain Freeman is portrayed. The central message (that she has high standards that she holds the crew to, which makes things much, much worse than before) is a good narrative core. However, in order to up the "comedy quotient" the show portrays the sleep-deprived crew without buffer time as constantly making mistakes. This means Freeman is shown to have a ridiculous level of obliviousness to how her own ship is falling apart. No Trek Captain other than Jonathan Archer has been portrayed in as negative a light as Freeman is here. Admittedly she "learns her lesson" by the end of the episode, but she's not new to command - she shouldn't be making rookie mistakes like this at this point in her career.

That said, it was a minor issue, because the episode itself worked from a dramatic standpoint, if not a comedic one.
Thu, Aug 20, 2020, 4:32pm (UTC -6)
Three episodes watched now. I gave it a fair shot. Did not go in with any expectations. Both the "haters" and those who unconditionally love everything Star Trek annoy me equally. I judge things on what they are.

I haven't laughed once is three episodes so I'm not watching anymore.
Dave in MN
Thu, Aug 20, 2020, 11:57pm (UTC -6)
You know an animated show is falling when the easiest way to improve it would be to delete the characters.

Honestly, if there was an option to watch just the background art, I would be more entertained.

Mariner is intolerable. I loathe this character.

Ep. 3 gets zero stars. Astonishingly unfunny.
Fri, Aug 21, 2020, 6:54am (UTC -6)
"Temporal Edict"

I didn't enjoy this one so much. Made the CO look like an idiot.

Mariner is getting really annoying. I thought she was much better in 'Envoys', but she's off the deep end in this one. She's getting hauled off to the brig, so maybe we'll see a change. She is incredibly talented.

At least Ransom put her in her place. I see a relationship-a-brewing...

Loved the classic 2-handed punches.

I guess a way to look at this might be if this were 1987, we'd have just watched 'Code of Honor'.

I'm not throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

2 stars from me.
Fri, Aug 21, 2020, 6:57am (UTC -6)
My negativity.. if that's the word you want to use to sum me up... stems form the fact that I actually care about this franchise. I've cared about it my whole life. I hardly remember a time when Star Trek 2 was unseen by me, and it is one of the best films I think I'll ever see. I remember then going to high school and college and really like TNG-era Trek.. loved the life on a ship stuff as well.. but even loving that stuff, sometimes the premises of episodes would feel like fluff pieces.. like.. I'd agree with Kevin Smith "Would you fire at a Klingon or something".. like I would miss the edge that TWOK seemed to have naturally. But even then TNG still took it's characters and situations relatively seriously, and the details added to the scope.. and it's for precisely these reasons that a 25 minute show where people are delivering lines at what seems to 1.5 speed, where everything is drawn to look so simple and childish..that I feel it's as far from from that kind of naval "edge" that tWOK had as you could go. The stories are ok actually, but just the execution is so unappealing to me personally . I do think.. despite me not liking the characters (Mariner, Boimler, and the senior staff) very much, this show could work as a live action series with 43 minutes, where the jokes can be paced well and the dialogue can feel more genuine. Here is my comparison: when Braga and Moore were first given the assignment to write Generations, which was to have Kirk and Picard meet, Braga said on the commentary that the first thing he does is create an image.. in fact.. and image of what a movie poster could be like, and he imagined one of the two enterprises locked in battle "kirk vs Picard.. this summer" but alas thaey didn't make that movie. Later in the commentary, during the scene where they are actually making eggs together and Braga said "I think [the audience] wanted something a little more high octane than hanging around the house, making eggs, and it's as far from the poster that he imagined. This series, LD, is just veering far away from Trek as it could be, mainly because of how quick it is, how it is drawn, how trivial it makes everything feel (from exploration, to first contacts, etc). Not to bring up the other show.. but the Orville managed to mix comedy that might not work for some people, but to me it never made the actual stories seems less substantive
Fri, Aug 21, 2020, 10:57am (UTC -6)
Oh, I missed the best part of the episode!

"Miles O'brien is the most important person in the universe"

HAHAHA.... true lower decks perspective!!
Fri, Aug 21, 2020, 2:53pm (UTC -6)
So far the whole "second contact" shtick has basically just been the opening credits gag from "Captain Star":

There's some griping about this above, but really just the whole idea of releasing a parody under the banner of the actual show is kind of innately strange--imagine Mel Brooks trying to release Spaceballs as an actual Star Wars movie. Making a travesty of the source material is, after all, largely the point of the exercise, so adding 'authenticity' in this way is kind of counterproductive and liable to rub a lot of people the wrong way.

On the whole I'm finding ST:LD to be less ST: Rick and Morty and more a Clone High knockoff set on a starship. The Clone High creators themselves are still on their game though, after all these years, and I imagine they'd have jumped at the chance to helm such a show if SH had approached them. Ah well.
Fri, Aug 21, 2020, 8:28pm (UTC -6)
CBS' management of the Trek Franchise is like someone secretly cryfarting through a stage production of the entirety of Season 5 of Happy Days. Just hand the series over to someone else if you don't care, guys.
Sat, Aug 22, 2020, 2:16pm (UTC -6)
Three episode's is enough for me. I'm bailing on this. It's just very lame, lacking the humor and edginess of "Rick and Morty", and most of the qualities I like from Trek. Every episode has had a few decent sequences, but it's not enough to compensate from the Attention Deficit Disorder dialogue and the annoying glibness of Mariner.

And here's more grim news from Manny Coto (from a interview he did this week):
"I do know somebody who's working on the next season of Picard. And some of the stuff I've heard is pretty disturbing. There's no way they're going to do what they're talking about. And if they do, there'll be a riot. That's all I can say."
Sat, Aug 22, 2020, 3:04pm (UTC -6)
". And some of the stuff I've heard is pretty disturbing"
Could you provide a link? (sorry couldn't find it)
Sat, Aug 22, 2020, 7:53pm (UTC -6)
I am now three episodes in. While it's much better than the awful trailer led me to believe, it just feels like Futurama with far worse jokes. Mariner is indeed painfully unfunny to watch.
Sat, Aug 22, 2020, 11:39pm (UTC -6)
"On the whole I'm finding ST:LD to be less ST: Rick and Morty and more a Clone High knockoff set on a starship."

Oh no, I can see it! But... Clone High makes me laugh. Consistently. I'm happy someone referenced Clone High but I'm sad it was in reference to Lower Decks. It's too apt. At least Clone High was very up-front about its parody elements, and it wasn't trying to sincerely be an official spinoff of Dawson's Creek.

God I love that show.
Sun, Aug 23, 2020, 8:37am (UTC -6)

Here it is, timecode 45:10-47:00
Sun, Aug 23, 2020, 3:21pm (UTC -6)
@ Burke
Thank you!
Sun, Aug 23, 2020, 4:43pm (UTC -6)
"everything is drawn to look so simple and childish"

Your opinions are simple and childish.
Sun, Aug 23, 2020, 5:00pm (UTC -6)

Simple and childish is the "I know you are but what am I?" retort you just used.
Mon, Aug 24, 2020, 5:40pm (UTC -6)
Now, it seems (slow news week) people are attacking others for being “trolls” on this site. Apparently, if you have a different opinion than the consensus-machers, you are a troll, meaning you post once, say nothing Star-Trek related, and then leave. Speaking as someone who has used this “handle” before, if someone wishes to post a contrary opinion, and it is cogent and well-thought out, that person has every right to not always post using the same name. Jammer is free to prohibit this, and he knows who is posting what, in any event.

People who are denouncing these sinners have themselves had portions, sometimes large ones, of their posts deleted by the site administrator. And they lecture others on Internet etiquette.

If we REALLY wanted to have “personal” conversations,some people here would have to realize there is another person to a conversation, then it will be all over.

If you care about this franchise, you must be negative. I’ve heard the argument iterated and reiterated. The contrapositive is that if you are not negative, you do not care.

It’s wrong to dismiss people’s viewpoints with this inherently specious logic.

I too take issue with the haters who reflexively hate Star Trek and with the people who love it irrespective of its merits. I also try to judge things for what they are. If the Star Trek franchise were put into the hands of a different production group/different ownership group, many fans would not like the end-product, irrespective of actual merit or lack thereof. They wouldn’t like it simply because it was not hand-produced for their individual consumption in their living rooms. This attitude is no worse or better than the attitude of fans who uncritically devour whatever tv or movie product has the name Star Trek on it.

I think Lower Decks is basically a two-Star show; I think one’s motor impulses need time to express themselves, and the show goes by way too fast to allow that or anything of meaning (or frivolity, for that matter) to sink in. This shows a certain contempt for the viewer, I think, in my opinion, intentionally or not.

As far as Discovery Season 3? I haven’t watched it yet, so I withhold judgment.
Tue, Aug 25, 2020, 8:25am (UTC -6)
I wrote lower decks off, but because CBS All Access was giving me a free trial for a month (which they subsequently charged me for anyway) I figured, what the heck.

I really enjoy Lower Decks. It take place in a near-TNG time, a time I've been arguing that new Trek show show pickup on. No more of the pre-pre-prequel-alternate-timeline BS.

Lower Decks takes full advantage that it's a cartoon and has a lot of fun while showing us new parts of the ship we've never seen. It's super-silly, we don't have to take it 100% serious or try to dove-tail it into being cannon. It's a cartoon. It's fun.

I respect that Jammer isn't writing review for it Lower Decks, but if he does, I'll read them!

I wish you all well!
C.T. Phipps
Wed, Aug 26, 2020, 6:33pm (UTC -6)
Lower Decks is awesome so it's your loss. Mind you, I find the idea of people wanting it to be a serious drama is about complaining about a dog not being a cat. It's meant to be fanservice and hilarity for hardcore Trek fans.

Love it for what it is.
Sun, Aug 1, 2021, 7:00am (UTC -6)
But. Miles O'Brian IS the most important person in the galaxy!

Such loving irreverency. And a two fisted punch fight!

I'm having fun with this show.

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