A ‘Star Trek’ Animated Series By And For ‘Star Trek’ Fans — ‘Star Trek: Lowers Decks’ Season 1 Blu-ray Review

by Erik Amaya

One thing is clear watching the new Blu-ray release of Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1: it was made with a lot of love by Star Trek fans. Set a number of years after Star Trek: Nemesis, Lower Decks features the junior officers of the U.S.S. Cerritos — Ensign Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsome), a brash brawler who does not play be the regs; Ensign Bradward Boimler (Jack Quaid), an ambitious kiss-ass obsessed with the regs; Samanthan Rutherford (Eugene Cordero), a engineering nerd whose recently installed cybernetic implant gives him plenty of trouble; and newcomer D’Vana Tendi (Noël Wells), a very enthused Orion ensign splitting her time between the sickbay and engineering. The four slack off, get into big Star Trek adventures, and clash with the Cerritos command staff across the ten episodes of the first season. Although, sometimes, they manage to bond with the senior offices, too.

As far as Star Trek concepts goes, it would be a good starting place for a live action series, but Lower Decks sets itself a part by being both animated and the first out-and-out Star Trek comedy series. Created and executive produced by Rick & Morty veteran Mike McMahan, the series is very funny with jokes ranging from broad physical humor to incredibly obscure references to previous Star Trek shows. At the same time, though, the series is still Star Trek with stakes getting real, emotions getting realer, and that sense of family permeating each show and crew still being very much present aboard the Cerritos. And at roughly 25-minutes per episode, no idea — funny or serious — has the chance to wear out its welcome. Tendi’s bizarre reverse-engineered dog, Captain Freeman’s (Dawnn Lewis) obsession with task efficiency, and Gorn Weddings last exactly as long as they need to.

The strong writing is also backed by gorgeous animation from the good folks at Titmouse. Sure, the character designs might share a lot in common with Rick & Morty, but the starscapes, strange alien worlds, and decks of the ship provided by the background layout artists will put you in a Star Trek state of mind. Beyond that, the animation is just fun to watch with expressive faces, lovingly rendered cartoon violence, and the occasional beauty pass of a starship as powerful as anything on a live action show.

All the while, the music of composer Chris Westlake gives you the sense of Star Trek‘s past and its future with some excellent episode-specific compositions and a grand main title theme.

Of course, we will admit Lower Decks‘ charms are not entirely evident in its first episode. Though it features a well-crafted zombie invasion plot, the main characters are at their broadest and not yet bonded to one another; which means they might not connect with the viewer at first. But by the time you’re on Episode 3, things click for the most part — which means if you don’t enjoy Mariner and Boimler by that point, Lower Decks may not be your preferred Star Trek. Luckily, the whole enterprise (pun intended) is proving elastic enough to encompass a number of tones, settings, and series. Lower Decks just happens to be the most goofball and nerdy version available.

The Blu-ray release looks stunning on our 4K television. Colors pop, stars are bright, and though the show looks great on Paramount+, the constant 1080p signal means all of that quality remains at high quality without the worry of your internet freaking out and making it a pixelated mess.

The two-disc set comes with some fun special features which only underscore the love McMahan and his collaborators have for Star Trek — whether they were life-long fans or learned to love it while working on the show. The two main featurettes, “Faces of the Fleet” and “Hiding in Plain Sight” focus on the voice cast and the Trekkie Easter Eggs hidden throughout the series. In a production note that may only interest us, the traditional “talking heads” portions of the featurettes were made using video conferencing software. The technique produces an interesting effect and energy. We also think its make these bonus features just a little bit more endearing. Meanwhile, each episode has a shorter featurette called a “Lower Decktionary” focusing in on episode-specific issues or the process of making a modern animated series. The Decktionary centered on the workflow required to make one episode of the series proved to be a real treat — it is also contains the clearest explanation of what a layout artist does that we’ve ever seen in a DVD special feature. Some episodes feature animatics of scenes or moments cut for time before the full animation was completed; and though they are interesting from a filmmaking standpoint, they do not prove as illuminating as the snippets of animatics included in the featurettes.

Nevertheless, the set is a handsome addition to your Star Trek shelf. It may even prove to be a good gateway series to show a Trek-resistant friend.

Star Trek Lower Decks — Season 1 is available now.

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