Star Trek: Lower Decks season 2 keeps boldly going to the right places

Star Trek: Lower Decks season 2

Credit: Paramount

Star Trek: Lower Decks is back for season two on Paramount Plus, and the animated series is as good as ever.

The “lower decks” crew of the U.S.S. Cerritos continues to vie for the attention of their superiors in the new season, as Boimler adjusts to life aboard the bridge of the U.S.S. Titan.

Paramount shared the first five episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks season 2 with Android Authority ahead of the new season, which premieres August 12 on Paramount Plus.

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Going where others have gone before

One of the great pleasures of Star Trek: Lower Decks is its sense of humor about Star Trek as a whole. It’s sometimes an outright parody. But, like all great parody, it’s crafted by folks who clearly love what they’re poking fun at.

Lower Decks season two isn’t taking any cheap shots. It’s lovingly ribbing something that can be genuinely silly at times, while respecting what Star Trek fundamentally stands for. And what it means to people.

Fan obsessiveness gets a few nods within Lower Decks season two.

Fans can even see themselves reflected in moments of explicit course correction. Known for their nearly absurd attention to detail, fans never miss a continuity error, flaw in a spaceship’s blueprints, or inconsistent character arc. Lower Decks season two knows this, and it insulates itself from criticism in often funny ways. A character with the wrong number of pips on his collar will brush one off, revealing it was just a crumb and not a rank error. Or characters will openly chat about how they never go on missions together, robbing them of important character development within the broader story.

Maybe the best bits are the insider jokes, throwbacks to other Treks. Captain William T. Riker plays up his brash over-the-top theatricality, voiced by original Riker actor Jonathan Frakes. Data is a folk hero, and his brother Lore is seen as a cheap knockoff. Tamarians repeat famous lines from their metaphor-filled language like,”Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra,” and “Shaka, when the walls fell.” And the silliness of sonic showers gets a send-up as characters try to outdo each other by raising their shower levels well beyond comfort.

A smart update of Star Trek

Star Trek: Lower Decks season 2 on Paramount Plus

Credit: Paramount

It’s easy to write off Lower Decks as the silly entry in the franchise with little substance, but that would be a mistake.

Star Trek has always been political. Actress Nichelle Nichols was famously urged to stay on the original series by Martin Luther King Jr. because he felt it was important to see Black people depicted in the series. But Star Trek has also always been fundamentally utopian. The Federation of Planets exists as a beacon of hope, justice, and equality. Even interpersonal conflict is kept at bay. This was a dictum of creator Gene Roddenberry for the writers of Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1987. Whatever the main conflict in an episode, it couldn’t be between crew members without some science-fictional explanation like alien mind control.

But there was conflict in every iteration of Star Trek. And no matter the creative intention, all Star Treks are also made by humans who don’t live in a utopian society. Sexist, racist, and other coded tropes certainly snuck their way in. The beauty of Lower Decks is in its recognition of this inevitability, or more specifically in its eagerness to pick at the impossibility of this lofty ideal.

Lower Decks certainly doesn’t abandon Star Trek’s commitment to stories with political weight.

Of course, humans who co-exist will butt heads at some point. How do you deal with big personalities in the workplace? What do you do when colleagues aren’t pulling their weight? Can you maintain a friendship with someone who’s after the same promotion as you? And how do you square egalitarian principles with the basic class divides that exist in any hierarchy?

We don’t usually see this side of Starfleet. Even characters struggling (like the hopelessly nervous Reg Barclay in TNG and Voyager) eventually find their place. The usual takeaway: everyone can thrive when properly supported.

Check out: What’s new on Paramount Plus in August

But Lower Decks looks to the bottom of the chain of command, to the people who do the grunt work, frequently letting the glory go to those at the top. It’s what the show is all about — it’s right there in the title. The lower decks of a Starfleet ship are not where we spend most of our time in other Star Trek shows.

It’s a refreshingly realistic look at human relationships within the Federation, and it makes for terrific workplace comedy in Star Trek: Lower Decks season two.

Star Trek Lower Decks season 2 review: A welcome part of the Trek universe

Star Trek: Lower Decks season 2

Credit: Paramount

In the first episode of Star Trek: Discovery’s second season, Captain Pike announced that the crew of the U.S.S. Discovery was going to, “have a little fun along the way,” under his command. It was a self-aware wink to the audience. Following complaints of an overly dour first season, Paramount conceded, making a few adjustments to what was the first Trek series in over a decade.

Star Trek: Lower Decks goes in the other direction altogether. It’s the first comedy in the franchise since the original series premiered in 1966.

See also: The 10 best sci-fi shows on Netflix

As the Star Trek universe expands, with Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, and the upcoming Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, an episodic, adventure-of-the-week format that doesn’t take itself too seriously feels like a pleasant throwback to Treks of yore.

But by balancing that lighthearted sense of nostalgia with a more serious engagement with the entire premise of Star Trek, Lower Decks is much more than that. It’s not just a throwaway animated sideshow. It’s a vital part of what Star Trek is as it finds its footing in the 21st century.

Star Trek: Lower Decks season two continues to punch above its weight, and it’s very much worth watching for new fans and hardcore Trekkies — or Trekkers (please don’t yell at me!) — alike. So, check it out August 12 on Paramount Plus.

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