I have discovered that The Lower Decks is a fine entry point for new viewers to Trek. I wonder whether that was done by accident, or whether there was some co-aligned intent that made it so. Regardless, my partner really enjoyed it. We’re both looking forward to the next season coming out in a little over a month.
Did it help that I’m overly familiar with Trek? Probably.
I grew up on The Next Generation. I’m pretty sure some half-remembered version of “Remember Me” (Dr. Crusher is caught in a collapsing warp bubble, people disappearing around her while she’s the only one to notice) fused with The Nothing from The NeverEnding Story and a fragment from Bucky O’Hare to fuel a lingering childhood fear. The climactic moments of “Conspiracy” (brain parasites infest Star Fleet) were also etched in my memory.
But my Trek-neophyte partner liked it even without my input. They were laughing before I answered any of their questions.
The Lower Decks excels at being accessible to viewers who aren’t veteran Trekkies for several reasons. Reveling in its Trek-ness, the show wears the setting’s tropes on its sleeve. This earnest obviousness is a huge advantage. The show is so clearly enamored with its setting, it shares an infectious delight even while it pokes fun—and it doesn’t feel like it’s satirizing Trek so much as celebrating it and laughing at the same time. All of that made it easier for my partner to pick up on the setting of Trek without other context, while still having fun with it: several times, they cackled while asking “that’s a thing?” (They were right, it was a thing.)
Similarly, the characters are both varied and endearing while remaining plausibly Trek. They play to their comedic bits and obsessions, but the writers preserve their “humanity.” And I actually think this show does a better job of exploring the characters of its cast than Discovery does, and in far less runtime.
I’ll elaborate: this show feels more Trek than Discovery does to me, because of its unabashed embrace of the ideals of Star Fleet. In that way it feels more like the TNG I grew up with, more hopeful and earnest and less focused on following some larger dramatic arc. The important deliberations of this show are ultimately smaller in scope, and we have more time to watch people being people at people-scale instead of losing the little personal details as they’re dwarfed by the Big and Important Drama of the season.
Right now, I prefer this.
Back on track, part of what makes The Lower Decks accessible—and such an ideal entry point—is its plethora of easy references to other Treks. Normally I’d call that a bad thing. In many cases, those references would impede a new viewer with obvious missed in-jokes that feel like hostile gatekeeping. But this show references other Treks in a way that prepares viewers for the genre as a whole, ties it into the larger setting continuity, and makes those other Treks more fun later. It’s extremely well done.
Now, most times, I wouldn’t say that being a good genre starting point is an accessibility feature for a series itself. But when this show excites someone who’s never watched Trek before, it also makes them more invested in itself. It’s a virtuous cycle. It’s an admirable achievement, too.
So if you like Trek and haven’t watched The Lower Decks yet, I recommend it. If you’re wanting something that comes in manageable bites and is good fun, I recommend it. And if you’re wanting to introduce someone to Trek but you’re not sure where to start, this show is a delight.