Since the beginning of “Star Trek” 54 years ago, humor has been part of its equation. Who could forget the smile-inducing interplay among Kirk, Spock and McCoy — a theme that continued in all the “Trek” series and films that followed.
But no incarnation of “Star Trek” has been a flat-out comedy. Until now.
The animated “Star Trek: Lower Decks” is designed to make you laugh, not just smile. And it might make you chuckle — occasionally. But not nearly as often as it intends.
(The 10-episode season is streaming weekly on CBS All Access beginning Aug. 6, with new episodes added on successive Thursdays.)
It’s at least mildly amusing when Ensign Brad Boimler (voiced by Jack Quaid) has to deal with a food replicator spitting out order after order of “banana, hot.” It’s far less amusing when crew members are transformed into ravening zombies and Commander Jack Ransom (Jerry O’Connell) is concerned about how much human flesh he ate.
“Lower Decks” comes to us from former “Rick and Morty” writer/producer Mike McMahan, and there are similarities with that show — including that much of the humor is gross and childish.
The series is set aboard the U.S.S. Cerritos — “one of Starfleet’s least important ships” which specializes in “second contact” with planets. It’s set in 2380, a year after the events in the movie “Star Trek: Nemesis,” so this is the universe occupied by “Next Generation,” “Deep Space Nine” and “Voyager.”
There are Klingons, Andorians, Ferengi, Bolians and Bajorans. There are references to characters familiar to casual “Trek Fans” (Spock, Sulu, Troi, Janeway) and to the more obsessed fans among us (Gary Mitchell).
The show focuses on junior officers who work on — you guessed it! — the ship’s “Lower Decks.” Boimler is an inexperienced, uptight, ambitious, play-by-the-rules ensign; and Ensign Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsome) is a habitual rule-breaker who’s been demoted and shipped off to the Cerritos as punishment. When we meet her, she’s obnoxious, juvenile and drunk. But, it turns out, she’s also really good at handling the kind of “Star Trek” situations for which the rules don’t apply.
Ensign D’Vana Tendi (Noel Wells) is a medical ensign who’s green in more ways than one — she’s new and she’s Orion, so she’s literally green. And Ensign Sam Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) is an awkward engineer struggling to adjust to his new cyborg implant.
We see far less of the bridge crew — including Captain Carol Freeman (Dawnn Lewis) and first officer Ransom — who basically serve as foils for the ensigns.
“Lower Decks” looks really cool. The characters are cartoony, but the animation of the ships and shuttles and various space stuff is pretty amazing.
And, to its credit, the show is not “Star Trek: The Sitcom.” It’s not set-ups and jokes, it’s situational humor that comes out of crazy (and, too often, dopey) situations. Like Boimler being toyed with by a giant spider or a drunken, shuttle-stealing Klingon.
The great flaw is that “Lower Decks” is just not funny, for the most part. Humor is, of course, subjective. And if you’re a “Rick and Morty” fan, odds are you might like “Lower Decks.” Again, there are similarities — Mariner is not unlike the unconventional, wacky and weird Rick; Boimler is not unlike uptight Morty.
Weirdly, “Lower Decks” almost seems designed more to appeal to fans of “Rick and Morty” than to fans of “Star Trek.”
There’s some attempt to appeal to older fans — there’s a reference to “The Monkees,” which aired during the original run of “Star Trek.” But, for the most part, it’s a rather specific sense of humor that’s not going to appeal to everyone.
There will be Trekkers out there who find the whole idea of making a comedy (successful or not) out of “Star Trek” is some kind of sacrilege.
It’s not. As with everything else, laughs make up for a lot. Unfortunately, there are a very limited number of laughs to be had in “Star Trek: Lower Decks.”
Ah, well. At least we have have Season 3 of “Star Trek: Discovery” to look forward to, starting Oct. 15.