Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3, Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1, Star Trek: Picard Season 1, and other iterations of the franchise.
Almost half a year ago (26 weeks would be a half-year) we sat down to watch Second Contact, the premiere episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks. This episode kicked off something ViacomCBS billed as “23 weeks of Star Trek” – ten weeks of Lower Decks followed immediately by thirteen weeks of Discovery. Now that we’ve had Discovery’s season finale, I thought it would be fun to look back on the past five-ish months and see how it went.
2020 was the first year since 2004 that saw more than twenty Star Trek episodes premiere, and with three different productions on the go for the first time since the 1990s it’s really beginning to feel that Star Trek is back! Assuming all of the currently-announced series and projects make it to screen, we’ll be seeing the franchise continue through at least the first half of the 2020s, hopefully even until the 60th anniversary in 2026. There have been bumps in the road – and more seem likely – but overall the franchise seems to be in a good place as these 23 weeks come to an end.
Lower Decks did suffer because of the stupid decision to broadcast it in the United States months ahead of anywhere else. Of all the Star Trek projects we’ve seen announced in recent years, Lower Decks had the greatest potential to expand the fanbase. The entire purpose behind creating a show of this kind is to take Star Trek to new audiences, and that required a unified broadcast so fans everywhere could enjoy it and get hyped for it.
The sad consequence of Lower Decks being split up and shown to some fans but not others is that the buzz around the show died down in the weeks leading up to its broadcast. Many potential viewers tuned out or never even became aware of its existence, and we’ll simply never know how big it could’ve become were it not for that godawful decision. Could we be talking about Lower Decks hitting the mainstream like Rick and Morty? It’s good enough on its own merit, but we’ll never know now.
When it was decided to press ahead with this 23 weeks of Star Trek, the team at ViacomCBS clearly knew that the pandemic had massively set back other projects in the franchise. Whereas we might’ve hoped to see Picard Season 2, Lower Decks Season 2, Prodigy Season 1, and maybe the Section 31 show or even Strange New Worlds in 2021, as things sit right now, no announcements have been made regarding any releases this year. Understandably so, of course, but to me it just compounds the stupidness of the Lower Decks decision.
Since we now know that Lower Decks will be broadcast internationally later this month, I’m left wondering why it was pushed out in North America first. We could have all enjoyed it together, and it would have filled a hole in the schedule in the first part of 2021. But that’s not the way it happened, and re-litigating the issue over and over accomplishes nothing! Instead, let’s look at some of the high points from these past 23 weeks. There have been quite a lot!
First up, Lower Decks itself. Despite a rocky start, by midway through the second episode the series was beginning to find its feet, and as the season went on it became a thoroughly enjoyable watch with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. There were a ton of references and callbacks to past iterations of Star Trek, including The Next Generation era. Until Picard premiered earlier in 2020 the franchise had been looking backwards at reboots and prequels for almost twenty years, leaving little room to even name-drop something from The Next Generation onwards.
Discovery included fewer elements from The Next Generation’s era than I’d have liked to see. Partly that’s a consequence of shooting forward in time centuries beyond that time period, and partly it’s a creative choice. There were a couple of references though, like bringing back the Trill and introducing a new USS Voyager. I was especially pleased that the Qowat Milat – a Romulan faction introduced in Star Trek: Picard – also cropped up in Discovery.
Bringing together the shows currently in production is something I hope to see more of going forward! I had theorised before we knew too much about Discovery’s third season that – due to time travel shenanigans – it could have been set at the dawn of the 25th Century along with Picard, but ultimately that didn’t happen. It would’ve been cool, though!
Lower Decks and Discovery didn’t really connect in any significant way during these 23 weeks. The most significant thing I noticed which came close to tying the two series together was that in both of their season premieres, a main character gets chewed on by an alien monster! In Second Contact it happened to Ensign Boimler, and in That Hope Is You, Part 1 it happened to Burnham. Maybe that was a conscious choice – but I suspect it may be little more than coincidence.
Both Star Trek: Lower Decks and Star Trek: Discovery represent a franchise stepping out of its comfort zone and trying to do something different. In Lower Decks’ case we see Star Trek trying a different genre – comedy. The particular style of comedy chosen may not be to everyone’s taste, but I would argue that fans of shows like Rick and Morty or The Orville would have found something to enjoy. Discovery took Star Trek away from the familiar ground of the 23rd and 24th Centuries in a major way for really the first time. We’d seen individual episodes or parts of episodes set in the far future before, but never a whole season.
Both shows felt like they were made with Star Trek fans firmly in mind. That may seem obvious, but we have to remember that hardcore fans are a small percentage of any franchise’s audience. Lower Decks in particular was a series that was largely episodic and that relied at key moments on references to somewhat obscure events in Star Trek’s wider canon, both for its comedy and for narrative beats. That was a bold move, and one which could have backfired.
Discovery didn’t take an episodic approach, but there are more episodes in its third season which act as standalone stories than there were in Seasons 1 and 2 combined. The writers and producers have clearly tried to blend season-long storylines with shorter episodic stories, and while we can debate which episodes were the best and the worst, taken as a whole the season was definitely better for the inclusion of some of these smaller stories.
Though we won’t know for sure until the new show hits our screens, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is supposedly going to take a similar approach: keeping the season-long arcs while at the same time flying the ship and crew to different adventures every week. Discovery Season 3 provides a good foundation to build on in that regard – provided the writers and producers pay attention to what worked and what didn’t!
Though I plan to do a proper look back at both Season 1 of Lower Decks and Season 3 of Discovery in the weeks ahead, looking back at this 23 weeks of Star Trek I can already say that I had a great time. There were some stumbles and some storylines and episodes that didn’t work for a few different reasons, but the quality of both shows was generally high. I can’t fault the visual effects, the acting, the direction, the editing, the post-production work, or anything behind-the-scenes when considering the bigger picture. Narrative will always be something subjective, but I would encourage anyone to give both shows a try and to stick with them beyond the first couple of episodes.
The only thing I’d say is that, having set up this promotion between the two shows, it’s a little odd that there were essentially no references or crossovers between them. Because of the decision to send Discovery into the future, there was the possibility for Lower Decks to reference something from Discovery’s first two seasons, and for Discovery to reference something from Lower Decks’ first season. Maybe that’s something that can happen at some point in the future.
Though we don’t have access to viewing figures – something which, unfortunately, leads to a lot of speculation and misinformation floating around online – I hope that both shows did well. On merit I’d happily recommend both to any Star Trek fan, and to any fan of either animated comedies or action-sci fi. The upcoming rebranding of CBS All Access as Paramount+ may bring in more new viewers to both shows, and Lower Decks’ international broadcast later this month will hopefully attract some attention too.
As I said at the beginning, Star Trek feels like it’s in a good place. There are projects in the pipeline that should see the franchise grow and build on what both Discovery and Lower Decks have done over the last 23 weeks, and it’s my hope that it will remain viable and stay on our screens for many years to come. I have the same sort of feeling that I had in the mid-1990s when Deep Space Nine and Voyager had picked up the baton from The Next Generation; there’s a lot going on, and all of it is different or at least not afraid to try new things.
I will miss my Friday appointment with Discovery now that the third season has concluded. However, as I look ahead to the rest of 2021, I’m hopeful that we may see Prodigy and Lower Decks Season 2 even if we have to wait until 2022 for more live-action Star Trek! I hope you’ll stay tuned here on the website, as I’ll break down any news that comes our way regarding upcoming Star Trek projects as well as look back at some of the stories and themes that we saw over these 23 weeks. It really is a great time to be a Star Trek fan right now – or a fan of sci-fi and fantasy in general. I truly hope that you enjoyed the last 23 weeks as much as I did.
Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1 is available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States and will be available to stream on Amazon Prime Video on the 22nd of January in the rest of the world. Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States and on Netflix in the rest of the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks, Discovery, and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.