The “adult content” controversy surrounding Lower Decks

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2, particularly the second season episode Mugato, Gumato. There are also minor spoilers for Star Trek: The Original Series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

This article deals with topics of sex and sexuality and may be uncomfortable for some readers.

The plan for today was to talk about new video game Kena: Bridge of Spirits. But while the game downloads (20+GB will take a while on my crappy internet connection) I thought it would be interesting to address a bubbling controversy involving Star Trek: Lower Decks.

When I watched the episode Mugato, Gumato a couple of weeks ago, the scene at the centre of this controversy barely registered. I was enjoying the episode’s central pairing of Ensigns Boimler and Rutherford, who teamed up for their first major outing of the season and I felt played off one another exceptionally well. As the two ensigns stumbled into mugato territory having escaped from an away mission gone wrong, they found themselves trapped by a pair of mating mugatoes. A third mugato appeared and seemed to be pleasuring itself by rubbing its horn, something the ensigns commented on.

This moment, which lasted only a few seconds, is at the centre of the “adult content” controversy now engulfing Lower Decks. I found the whole conversation to be quite odd, and reminiscent in some ways of the relentless attacks by people like Mary Whitehouse and the National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association in the 1970s – the kind of reactionary, social conservative “outrage” that inspired characters like The Simpsons’ Helen Lovejoy.

British campaigner Mary Whitehouse.
Picture Credit: BBC/Forge Productions via YouTube

When I watched Mugato, Gumato for the first time, I remember rolling my eyes at this moment. Masturbation jokes are pretty low-brow, and I didn’t think it was especially funny. As someone who is asexual, jokes about sex and sexuality can be uncomfortable for me, but this one wasn’t particularly. I didn’t find it hilarious, but I certainly didn’t find it offensive. In an episode that had other good jokes, a busy story, and some further development of Ensign Mariner’s character to hold my attention and interest, I simply wasn’t all that bothered about a fragment of a scene that was clearly meant to be a joke. In my original review I didn’t even consider the horn-joke worth making note of.

I’ve said before that Star Trek: Lower Decks is an animated comedy first and a Star Trek show second. Though it largely succeeds at “feeling like Star Trek” – a pretty nebulous, ill-defined concept that means different things to different people – it’s a show that very much occupies a space similar to the likes of The Simpsons, Rick & Morty, and even shows like Family Guy. Jokes like this one are thankfully infrequent, but to be expected, and after watching sixteen episodes of the show across two years, I’m surprised that some people still don’t fully appreciate that.

The sight gag at the centre of the controversy.

Humour is a very personal thing, perhaps second only to musical taste in terms of being purely subjective. A joke that one person considers hilarious will be boring or even offensive to another, and as long as comedy is well-intentioned and not punching down or deliberately picking on one group of people, I’m okay with that. I haven’t laughed at every single joke in Lower Decks just as I haven’t at every joke in other comedy shows. Humour sometimes misses the mark for all of us.

The conversation around this moment in Mugato, Gumato has taken a strange turn, though. Some fans seem adamant that this kind of sexual joke or sight gag is somehow inherently “un-Star Trek” or beneath what the franchise should aim to be. And I fundamentally disagree with that assertion. To anyone making such a claim, I want to ask: “have you ever seen Star Trek before?”

The famously non-sexual Star Trek: The Original Series

The Deep Space Nine fourth season episode Bar Association saw the character of Rom make a comparable reference to masturbation. Oo-mox, a Ferengi term for pleasurably stimulating their ears, had been depicted in The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine as a very intimate act, so when Rom said he was performing it on himself it was meant as a joke. It wasn’t the funniest joke in that episode, but it was in keeping with Rom’s characterisation at the time and with the way oo-mox (and other sexual acts) had been presented in Star Trek.

One of the things I liked about Star Trek when I was growing up and struggling with my own sexuality was that the franchise didn’t put things like sex and relationships at the centre of every story. But even going all the way back to The Original Series, where Kirk would have romantic entanglements with a different woman almost every week, Star Trek has had this sexual dimension to it. Sometimes sex has been presented as something casual or jokey, and at other times the franchise has taken a very serious approach to sensitive topics. But to say sex has never been part of Star Trek is patently false and just ridiculous.

Rom mentioned the Ferengi “massage” known as oo-mox in the episode Bar Association.

One thing I admired about Mugato, Gumato is relevant to this discussion as well. The Ferengi poachers seen in the episode were harvesting the titular apes for their horns, then selling them on claiming the horns were an aphrodisiac. This environmental message parallels real-world poaching in Africa, where the trade in illegal rhinoceros horn is driving the species to extinction. It made sense, in that context, to see a mugato using its horn for some kind of sexual purpose.

When we compare Star Trek: Lower Decks to other animated comedies, there are far fewer of these low-brow jokes. Shows like Rick & Morty, Family Guy, and the like all lean far more heavily into sexual humour, and that’s something which is always going to be subject to taste. Personally, I prefer Lower Decks’ approach. These kinds of jokes can be funny – even to me – but the show is at its best when it finds ways to make the regular goings-on in Starfleet funny, or when it references obscure characters from past iterations of the franchise.

Mugato, Gumato had an important message about poaching for folks who could look past the jokes.

If you’re a regular reader and you saw my reviews of Lower Decks last season, you’ll know I’m not someone who would blindly leap to the show’s defence. I’m happy to criticise Lower Decks when I feel it misses the mark. For examples of that, take a look at my reviews of Season 1’s Envoys or Veritas, or even the Season 2 premiere, Strange Energies. In short, I’m not trying to defend the indefensible nor insist that Lower Decks can do no wrong.

I also feel that, as someone who is asexual, I have a different perspective on this. If the mugato masturbation joke was going to piss off anyone, it was going to be someone like me! It didn’t, because it just wasn’t that important. It wasn’t the focus of the episode, heck it wasn’t even the main focus of the scene in which it appeared. It was a throwaway sight gag that lasted all of a few seconds. The plot of the episode then moved on to other things. Like any joke, gag, or one-liner, it didn’t ruin the entire episode.

This moment just wasn’t a big deal in what was a busy episode.

People with an outside agenda are often looking for the next thing to jump on to further their cause and generate controversy, and in this case the anti-Trek folks think they’ve found a winner in Mugato, Gumato. But I’d wager a lot of them didn’t even watch the episode in its entirety before deciding this was something worth discussing, and even if they did, can we really argue that one sight gag that lasted a few seconds in a single scene was that important? Good luck if you try to argue with some of these folks, though. Their minds are made up about Lower Decks – and the rest of modern Star Trek.

If you watched Mugato, Gumato and hated that joke, that’s okay. If it spoiled the episode for you, that’s okay too. I’m not in the business of telling anyone how to feel, and with humour being something so subjective I can understand how a joke that goes over particularly poorly can ruin someone’s enjoyment. But to try to reduce Lower Decks to one insignificant gag in one episode does the series a huge disservice. It does Mugato, Gumato a disservice too, as the episode had a great central character pairing in Boimler and Rutherford and also saw a significant moment for Ensign Mariner’s characterisation.

Despite not being the star, Ensign Mariner got some decent character development in Mugato, Gumato.

I’m surprised that this has become such a big deal. It’s ironic, in a way, that the people who are most likely to use terms like “snowflake” are often the ones to become so aggressive when they encounter a joke or a television show that they don’t like. And to me, that’s what I see happening here. Something minor that’s being blown out of proportion either by folks with very short memories who’ve conveniently forgotten comparable moments in Star Trek’s past, or by folks who have a deliberate anti-Trek agenda.

I wasn’t a big fan of that sight gag in Mugato, Gumato. I thought it was pretty dumb, but after rolling my eyes at it I quickly forgot about it. It just didn’t matter that much in the context of the episode or of the series as a whole. Trying to ignore everything else Lower Decks has done across its first season-and-a-half and focus on one tiny moment in one episode is nitpicking in the extreme. That particular joke was, I would argue, out of character for the series. Lower Decks prefers a more referential style of humour, one which draws on the lore and history of Star Trek. There are other sight gags and moments of cringeworthy humour for sure, but to try to claim that this is all Lower Decks is isn’t just wrong, it demonstrates an ignorance of what the show has been and what it’s achieved.

Lower Decks is better than jokes like that, and I can understand if some folks want to tell the writers and producers that they expect a higher standard of humour. As I said, it wasn’t something I personally found funny either. But I just don’t see why this has to be such a big deal. It’s not representative of Lower Decks as a whole, and it’s not indicative of a series somehow losing its edge and trying to cater to a low-brow crowd. It was a throwaway gag in an otherwise-decent episode. I didn’t care for it, but you know what? I’d all but forgotten about it within seconds. It was only when people kept dragging it up – to the point that series creator Mike McMahan felt the need to defend it in an interview – that I felt compelled to add my two cents to the conversation.

Star Trek: Lower Decks is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks 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.

Star Trek Day roundup!

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Star Trek franchise, including the following upcoming series: Strange New Worlds Season 1, Picard Season 2, Lower Decks Season 2, Discovery Season 4, and Prodigy Season 1.

Yesterday was Star Trek Day! And in case you missed it, ViacomCBS held a live event that was streamed online and via Paramount+ showcasing and celebrating all things Star Trek! We’ll break down the big news in a moment, but first I wanted to give you my thoughts on the event as a whole.

This was the first big in-person event that many of the folks involved had been able to attend since 2019, and there was talk of the pandemic and its enforced disruption on the various shows that have been in production over the last couple of years. There was also a lot of positivity from presenters and interviewees not only about Star Trek – which was to be expected, naturally – but also about being back together and simply being able to hold a major event of this nature. The positivity of hosts Wil Wheaton and Mica Burton was infectious, and the event was much better for the role the duo played in hosting the panels and introducing guests.

Mica Burton and Wil Wheaton were great hosts.

That isn’t to say that Star Trek Day was entirely without problems, though. To be blunt, the event dragged on a bit too long (it ran to over three hours) and several of the panels and interviews were the worse for being conducted live instead of the pre-recorded, edited, and curated segments and panels we’ve had to get used to in the coronavirus era. Several of the guests seemed unprepared for what should’ve been obvious questions, and there were too many awkward silences and pauses while people gathered their thoughts and responded to the hosts. Such is the nature of live broadcasting – and it sounds rather misanthropic to criticise it!

During what I assume was an intermission on the main stage we were treated(!) to a separate pair of presenters on the red carpet reading out twitter messages and posts from the audience. This was perhaps the segment that dragged the most; one of the presenters even admitted to not being a regular Star Trek viewer (she hadn’t seen Discovery at all) so unfortunately this part of the show was less interesting as the pair were a little less knowledgeable about the franchise. If it had been made clear that this section of the broadcast was going to last as long as it did I might’ve taken a break as well!

This segment in the middle of the broadcast dragged on a bit.

Overall, though, despite running a bit too long and the ending feeling a little rushed (something we’ll talk about later), Star Trek Day was a success. It didn’t only look forward to upcoming projects like Strange New Worlds and Picard Season 2, but it looked back at every past Star Trek series, inviting members of the casts of those shows to talk about what made them – and the franchise – so great.

As a true celebration of all things Star Trek, the broadcast has to be considered a success. And although a pre-recorded event could’ve been edited and streamlined to cut to the more interesting parts and to give interviewees a chance to gather their thoughts, it was nice to see many of the folks we know and love from Star Trek back together and able to spend time in person with one another. Hosts Wil Wheaton and Mica Burton did a great job at making us as the audience feel included, as if we were there at Star Trek Day right along with them. For those few hours – even through awkward moments and segments that seemed to run a little too long – it felt like being a member of the Star Trek family. As someone with few friends, I appreciated that immensely. For those few hours last night – and yes, even though Star Trek Day didn’t start until 1:30am UK time I did stay up to watch it – I felt like I, too, was an honorary member of the Star Trek family, and that’s a feeling I would never have been able to get anywhere else.

Star Trek Day was a successful celebration of all things Trek!

Now then! Let’s talk about the various panels, trailers, and interviews. Over the coming days I’ll be taking a closer look at some of the announcements and trailers in more detail (as well as perhaps crafting a few of my patented and often-wrong theories), but for now I want to try to include an overview of everything that was included in Star Trek Day.

We’ll come to the biggest announcements and trailers at the end, but first I wanted to talk for a moment about the music. Star Trek Day had a live orchestra on its main stage, and we were treated to live renditions of Star Trek theme music past and present – as well as a medley that kicked off the event. I was listening to Star Trek Day on my headphones, and the music sounded beautiful. Composer Jeff Ruso (who composed the theme music to Discovery and Picard) picked up the conductor’s baton, and the medley he arranged was really an outstanding celebration of all things Star Trek.

Star Trek Day both began and ended with music, as Isa Briones (Star Trek: Picard’s Soji) sang her rendition of Irving Berlin’s 1926 song Blue Skies to close out the broadcast.

Isa Briones’ rendition of Blue Skies brought proceedings to a fitting end.

There were five “legacy moments” spread throughout Star Trek Day, and these celebrations of past Star Trek series were genuinely moving. Actors George Takei, LeVar Burton, Cirroc Lofton, Garrett Wang, and Anthony Montgomery spoke about their respective series with enthusiasm and emotion. Cirroc Lofton paid tribute to his on-screen dad Avery Brooks, talking about how Deep Space Nine showed a single dad balancing his work and family commitments. He also spoke about Deep Space Nine’s legacy as the first Star Trek show to step away from a starship and take a different look at the Star Trek galaxy.

The themes of diversity and inclusion were omnipresent in these legacy moments, and all five actors spoke about how Star Trek and Gene Roddenberry have promoted diversity since the very beginning. George Takei spoke about Gene Roddenberry’s vision for Star Trek, how sci-fi had previously been something often seen as just for kids, and how putting a very diverse cast of characters together was groundbreaking in the 1960s. It’s always amazing to hear George Takei speak, and even fifty-five years later he still has a grace and eloquence when speaking on these topics. As someone who has himself been at the forefront of campaigning for diversity and equality, he does so with a gravitas that few can match.

George Takei’s speech was outstanding.

Garrett Wang spoke about how Voyager could be a “refuge” for fans; a place to go where everyone could feel included and like they were part of the family. The way the show combined two crews was, I would argue, one of its weaker elements, but Wang looked at it through a different lens, and I can see the point about how Voyager put those folks in a difficult situation and brought them together to work in common cause. He also spoke in very flattering terms about Captain Janeway and Kate Mulgrew – who is returning to Star Trek very soon.

Anthony Montgomery was incredibly positive about Enterprise, and how the series embodied the pioneering spirit of exploration. I loved his line about how Enterprise, although it was a prequel recorded later than many other shows, laid the groundwork and filled in much of Star Trek’s previously unvisited stories and unexplained lore. Above all, he said, Enterprise was a “fun” show – and it’s hard to disagree! The orchestra concluded this speech with Archer’s Theme – the music heard over the end credits for Enterprise – which is a beautiful piece of music. If I were to remaster Enterprise I’d drop Faith of the Heart (which is a nice enough song, don’t get me wrong) and replace it on the opening titles with Archer’s Theme. The orchestra played it perfectly.

Anthony Montgomery spoke with passion and good humour about Enterprise.

LeVar Burton talked about The Next Generation, and how Star Trek was reinvigorated for a new era. The Next Generation was the first spin-off, and it came at a time when spin-offs didn’t really exist in the sci-fi or drama spaces, so it was an unknown and a risk. Burton also spoke about The Next Generation’s sense of family, and how Star Trek can be a unifying force in the world.

Far from being mere padding, the five legacy moments saw stars of Star Trek’s past pay tribute to the franchise and the shows they were part of. There were consistent themes running through all five speeches, particularly the theme of inclusion. Star Trek has always been a franchise that strives to include people who are “different” – people like myself. For many fans, that’s one of the things that makes Star Trek so great. To see some of the biggest stars acknowledge and celebrate that aspect of Star Trek was wonderful, emotional, and rather cathartic.

Cirroc Lofton paid tribute to Deep Space Nine and his on-screen dad Avery Brooks.

Each of the five actors spoke with love, positivity, and enthusiasm for the franchise that made them household names. Anthony Montgomery’s incredibly positive attitude in particular shone through – he was beaming the whole time and seemed genuinely thrilled to have been invited to speak and to celebrate Enterprise.

If Star Trek Day aimed to celebrate all things Star Trek, then the legacy moments went a long way to making that ambition a reality on the night. The speeches were pitch-perfect, as were the orchestral renditions of all five Star Trek themes, and I had an unexpectedly good time with these moments. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the programme listed on the website; I didn’t really have any expectations of what the legacy moments would include. They surprised me by being one of the most enjoyable, down-to-earth parts of a hugely entertaining evening.

Garrett Wang represented Voyager in the show’s legacy moment segment.

Let’s talk about news and announcements. That’s what you’re here for, right?! That was certainly what I was most interested in and excited for when I sat down to watch the Star Trek Day broadcast – though, as mentioned, I was taken aback by some of the other elements present that I wouldn’t have expected!

First, a non-announcement! Wil Wheaton interviewed the head of production on Star Trek, Alex Kurtzman, early on in the evening. Kurtzman didn’t have anything to say about the Section 31 series, nor about the upcoming Star Trek film due for release in 2023. However, he mentioned something that I found really interesting: a Starfleet Academy series or project. This isn’t anything close to an official announcement, of course, and he and Wil Wheaton talked about it in abstract terms. But a Starfleet Academy series has been something Star Trek has considered in the past; Gene Roddenberry was quite keen on a Starfleet Academy spin-off prior to developing The Next Generation. Watch this space, because it’s at least possible that a project centred around Starfleet Academy will get off the ground under Kurtzman’s leadership.

Alex Kurtzman seemed to tease that a Starfleet Academy project may be coming sometime soon!

There were no brand-new shows or films formally announced at Star Trek Day. While I wasn’t necessarily expecting such an announcement, and Kurtzman’s earlier statement that no new show will be worked on until the current crop have run their course would seem to exclude it, there are multiple pitches and projects that have been rumoured or talked about over the last few years. The Section 31 series was absent again, as mentioned, and that’s more bad news for a series that feels like it isn’t going to happen. There were also no mentions of the likes of Ceti Alpha V, Captain Proton, or Captain Worf – just some of the heavily-speculated or rumoured pitches believed to be floating around over at ViacomCBS.

We did get release dates or release windows for several upcoming seasons, though! After Lower Decks Season 2 draws to a close in mid-October there’ll be a couple of weeks with no Star Trek, but then Prodigy will be available (in the United States at least) from the 28th of October. Shortly thereafter, Discovery Season 4 will kick off – it will premiere on the 18th of November in the United States and on the 19th internationally. Finally, Picard Season 2 is scheduled to arrive on our screens in February next year – presumably shortly after the season finale of Discovery.

Prodigy is coming soon… if you live in the USA, anyway.

All of this is great news! There was no release date for Strange New Worlds, but I think we can assume it will follow within a few weeks at most of Picard Season 2, which would put it perhaps in May or June 2022 at the very latest. But there will be a whole lot of Star Trek on our screens this autumn and winter, well into the first half of next year. Wil Wheaton said it best: with so many new Star Trek projects in production, we’re living through a new golden age of Star Trek right now!

I was a little surprised when the Discovery panel ended without revealing a new trailer or teaser for Season 4. Michelle Paradise, Wilson Cruz, Blu del Barrio, and Ian Alexander talked about how the show is fostering a sense of family in the 32nd Century – and that we will see Gray get a “corporeal” body in Season 4 somehow, which is great! But I have to say I’d been expecting a new trailer; the show is only a couple of months away after all. Perhaps we’ll get that nearer to the time. There wasn’t any mention of Season 5 either, but it’s possible that announcement will come as the marketing campaign for Season 4 ramps up.

Wilson Cruz speaking during the Discovery panel.

Wilson Cruz seems like such a positive person in every interview I’ve ever seen him participate in, and he brought a lot of positive energy to the stage in Star Trek Day as well. There was talk of the Stamets-Culber relationship being revisited in Season 4, which is great – Stamets and Culber really form the emotional core of the show. He also spoke about how Dr Culber is embracing new roles in Season 4 – the role of counsellor to others aboard the ship as well as a parental role for Adira and Gray.

Gray’s storyline has the potential to be one of the most powerful in Discovery as the show moves into its fourth season. Being trans or gender-nonconforming can make one feel invisible – something I can speak to myself – and this is literally shown on screen by Gray’s invisibility. The powerful story of discovering how to be seen, and to do so with the help, encouragement, and support of one’s closest friends and family has the potential to be an exceptionally powerful story, one which I can already feel resonating with me. Blu del Barrio and Ian Alexander spoke very positively about their on- and off-screen relationships, and they seem like they work exceptionally well together as a duo. I can’t wait to see what Season 4 will bring for them both.

Blu del Barrio and Ian Alexander play Adira and Gray respectively. I’m greatly looking forward to their stories in Season 4.

I’ve already got a Prodigy theory! The show’s co-creators talked about how Prodigy Season 1 begins with the kids on a never-before-seen planet described as being “far removed and mysterious.” It sounds like we aren’t seeing a planet that the USS Voyager visited in the Delta Quadrant – something backed up by scenes seemingly set on that world in the trailer – and the USS Protostar appears to have crashed “inside” the planet. Did it crash during the final leg of Voyager’s journey home through the Borg transwarp network? Or perhaps during one of Voyager’s other flights – the space catapult from The Voyager Conspiracy or Kes’ telepathic launch in The Gift, for example. More to come on this, so stay tuned!

So we got a release date for Prodigy in the United States, but as I’ve said on a couple of occasions now it seems as though Prodigy isn’t going to be broadcast anywhere that doesn’t already have Paramount+. Considering that the series is a collaborative project between Star Trek and Nickelodeon (itself a ViacomCBS subsidiary), it should surely have been possible to secure an international broadcast on the Nickelodeon channel – a satellite/cable channel here in the UK and in many other countries. It’s a disappointment that, once again, ViacomCBS does not care about its international fans. It’s not as egregious a failing as it was with Lower Decks, because as a kids’ show Prodigy’s primary audience won’t really notice the delay. But for Trekkies around the world, to see Prodigy teased then find out we have no way to watch it is disappointing, and there’s no way around that.

The USS Protostar in flight.

Despite that, the Prodigy panel was interesting. Dee Bradley Baker, who voices Murf – the cute blob-alien – seems like he’s a real Trekkie and spoke about the franchise with passion. It was so much fun to see him perform Murf’s voice live, as well! Brett Gray, who will take on the role of young leader Dal, seemed overjoyed to have joined a franchise – and a family – with such a legacy, and I liked the way he spoke about how the young crew of the USS Protostar will grow as the season progresses.

The show’s co-creators – brothers Dan and Kevin Hageman – spoke about how Prodigy won’t be a series that talks down to children, but rather aims to be a series with plenty to offer for adults as well. The best kids’ shows manage this – and the Hagemans have received critical acclaim and awards for their work on Trollhunters and Ninjago, so there’s a lot of room for optimism. They both seemed to have a good grasp of the legacy and role Star Trek plays and has played for young people, and I think the show is in safe hands.

Dee Bradley Baker gave us a tease of Murf’s voice!

The Prodigy trailer was action-packed and exciting! We got a glimpse of the villainous character played by John Noble – and heard his distinctive voice – as well as got a much closer look at the USS Protostar than we had before. Perhaps the most exciting moment, though, was seeing the Janeway hologram for the first time! Janeway’s role in the show seems like it will be that of a mentor; the kids will make their own calls and decisions, but Janeway will be on hand to offer advice – at least that’s my take at this stage.

There were some funny moments in the trailer, too, which will surely produce a lot of giggles from Prodigy’s young audience. “Just hit all the buttons” until the phasers fire was a great laugh line, and the ship losing artificial gravity was likewise hilarious. There was also a crash-landing that reminded me very much of a scene in the Voyager episode Timeless. I’m really looking forward to Prodigy and to spending time with the young crew of the USS Protostar.

The crew of Prodigy on the bridge of the USS Protostar.

The Lower Decks panel was perhaps the funniest of the night. It was also the one where the interviewees felt the most comfortable and did their best at participating and answering questions; there were none of the awkward silences or long pauses that made me cringe during other panels. Noël Wells, Eugene Cordero, and creator Mike McMahan initially took to the stage before being joined in truly spectacular fashion by Ransom voice actor Jerry O’Connell. The cast members clearly get on very well together, and this came across as the four talked with host Mica Burton about the first four episodes of the season as well as what’s to come in the remaining six episodes.

Wells and Cordero talked about how they see their characters of Tendi and Rutherford becoming friends and bonding over “nerd” things – geeking out together over things like new tricorders, engineering, or how best to do their work was a hallmark for both in Season 1. I’m not so sure how I feel about Mike McMahan saying that the rest of the season plans to go “even bigger” with some of its stories. Lower Decks can be overly ambitious, at times, with the number of characters and story threads it tries to cram into a twenty- or twenty-five-minute episode, and this can be to the detriment of some or all of the stories it wants to tell.

Mike McMahan, Noël Wells, Eugene Cordero, and Jerry O’Connell participated in the Lower Decks panel.

However, McMahan spoke about the episode Crisis Point from Season 1 as a kind of baseline for how big and bold the show wants to go in the second half of Season 2. That episode was one of the best, not just for its wacky over-the-top action, but for its quieter character moments. If the rest of Season 2 keeps in mind the successful elements from episodes like Crisis Point, then I think we’re in for a good time!

The mid-season trailer was interesting! Here are just some of the things I spotted: the Pakleds are returning, Rutherford seems to get a “Wrath of Khan-inspired” moment in a radiation chamber, Tendi was transformed into a monster that seemed reminiscent of those in Genesis from Season 7 of The Next Generation, Boimler and Mariner are involved in a shuttle crash, Mariner rejoins Captain Freeman on the bridge, there was a scene in which Boimler easily defeated some Borg that I assume must be a dream or holodeck programme, a Crystalline Entity was seen, the creepy bartender with the New England accent was back, and Boimler and Mariner shared a joke about the utility of phaser rifles. I’m sure there was more – but those were the key things I spotted! The rest of Season 2 will hopefully continue to hit the highs of the past few weeks – and there’s another episode coming out very soon here in the UK that I can’t wait to watch!

Rutherford’s “Wrath of Khan moment” from the mid-season trailer.

It was very sweet for Star Trek Day to take time to discuss Gene Roddenberry’s legacy, coming in the centenary year of his birth. His son Rod, and former Star Trek stars LeVar Burton, George Takei, and Gates McFadden joined Wil Wheaton to talk about Gene Roddenberry, and this was one of the most touching moments in the entire event. There were some laughs as George Takei told us about his first meeting with Gene Roddenberry and how he came to land the role of Sulu – including how both he and Gene mispronounced each others’ names! Gates McFadden seemed to have been talked into joining the cast of The Next Generation by Roddenberry, having initially wanted to return to the stage and join a play. Rod Roddenberry’s reminiscence of the design process for the Enterprise-D was hilarious – apparently his mother thought the ship looked like “a pregnant duck!”

LeVar Burton, who had been a Star Trek fan prior to joining The Next Generation, spoke about how he was overwhelmed at first when meeting “the Great Bird of the Galaxy,” and how a small role on a made-for-television film introduced him to producer Bob Justman, who later arranged for him to meet with Gene Roddenberry during pre-production on The Next Generation. All of these anecdotes went a long way to humanising Gene Roddenberry the man – we can often get lost in the legacy and philosophy he left behind, and how Star Trek and the world he created has influenced and impacted us, but this was a rare opportunity to hear small, personal stories about the man himself. I greatly appreciated that.

LeVar Burton spoke about working with Gene Roddenberry before giving a speech about The Next Generation.

George Takei got one of the biggest applause lines of the evening when he spoke about the importance of Star Trek’s fans, in particular Bjo Trimble, on popularising The Original Series and getting a nationwide fan community started. Decades before the internet came along to make fandoms and fan communities a part of many peoples’ lives, Star Trek was already developing its very own devoted fan community thanks to people like Bjo Trimble, and for George Takei to take time to acknowledge the role fans have played in Star Trek’s ongoing success was wonderful to hear.

As I’ve said before, The Motion Picture was the culmination of this fan-led journey for Star Trek, but the film also laid the groundwork for much of what we’d come to know as Star Trek in the eighties and nineties. Many sets and design elements were in continuous use in some form from The Motion Picture’s premiere in 1979 right the way through to the cancellation of Enterprise in 2005, and much of the aesthetic and feel of Star Trek is owed to what The Motion Picture pioneered. George Takei acknowledged that, and that was a pretty cool moment. The Motion Picture is one of my favourite Star Trek films, and a 4K remaster was briefly shown off as well – the 4K blu-ray set of the first four Star Trek films is out now, so Star Trek Day took a moment to plug it!

There was a brief glimpse of the remastered version of The Motion Picture from this new box set.

The panel that seemed to get the most online attention was, I felt, one of the worst and most cringeworthy to watch! The Strange New Worlds panel was followed up by a pre-recorded video that introduced new members of its main cast, who joined Anson Mount, Ethan Peck, and Rebecca Romijn. Among the newly-revealed characters were an Aenar (an Andorian race introduced in Enterprise) a possible descendant or relation of iconic villain Khan, and three characters from The Original Series who are returning to Star Trek: Dr M’Benga, who appeared in a couple of episodes, Nurse Chapel, and the one who got the most attention: Cadet Nyota Uhura!

Uhura blew up online after the announcement, and it’s fair to say that I was not expecting this! There was scope, I felt, for Strange New Worlds to bring back classic characters, but the choices they made seem to be pitch-perfect. I’m especially excited to see more from Dr M’Benga – he was a minor character who feels ripe for a deeper look. The same could also be said of Captain Pike and Number One!

Uhura’s return pretty much broke the internet!

As I predicted a few months ago, the uniforms for Strange New Worlds have been slightly redesigned from their Discovery style. I was never wild about the asymmetrical collars; they worked okay on Discovery’s all-blue uniforms but looked perhaps a little clumsy on the recoloured uniforms worn by Pike and the Enterprise crew. So to see the teaser show off a redesigned style that keeps the bold primary colours but ditches the Discovery style was pretty great! As with any new uniform I think we need time to see them in action and get used to them, but there’s already a lot to like. In addition to the V-neck style worn by Pike and Spock, we saw a white medical variant worn by Nurse Chapel, another medical variant with a broad crew collar worn by Dr M’Benga, and a zipper style worn by Number One. Starfleet uniforms – like any aesthetic or design element – are of course subject to personal taste, but from what we’ve seen so far I like the Strange New Worlds uniforms.

The Strange New Worlds live panel was not the best, though. Anson Mount, who is usually so full of life and happy to talk about all things Trek, sat in silence for large parts of it, deferring to the rest of the panel to answer questions. He may have been trying to avoid jumping in too fast or dominating proceedings, but it led to several very awkward silences that weren’t fun to watch. I got the sense that perhaps he wasn’t feeling well.

Anson Mount was not on his best form for the Strange New Worlds panel, unfortunately.

The producers – Akiva Goldsman, who has previously worked on Picard, and Henry Alonso Myers – gave us a few tidbits of information about the series. I was very pleased to hear so much positive talk about returning Star Trek to a more episodic format. Goldsman, who had been instrumental in crafting Picard’s serialised story during Season 1, seems quite happy to return to episodic television. There are a lot of advantages in a show like Strange New Worlds – i.e. one about exploration – to using a more episodic format. Episodic television can still see wonderful character growth – I’d point to Ensign Mariner in Lower Decks as a recent Star Trek example – so it was great to see how positively the cast and crew talked about that aspect of Strange New Worlds.

The producers and cast seemed very keen to embrace the legacy of The Original Series in more ways than one. Without looking to overwrite anything, they want to bring their own take on classic characters, and I think that’s great. Spock benefitted greatly from the expanded look we got at him in Discovery’s second season, and there’s no reason to think characters like Nurse Chapel or Cadet Uhura won’t likewise get significant character development that plays into the characters we know and love from their roles in The Original Series.

Jess Bush will be taking on the role of Nurse Christine Chapel in Strange New Worlds.

In terms of aesthetic, Strange New Worlds is trying to walk a line between embracing the 1960s style of The Original Series and also updating the show to a more modern look. There was talk about the design of sets, in particular Captain Pike’s quarters, and how the designers had been keen to return to the 1960s for inspiration. Likewise hair and nail styles were mentioned by Rebecca Romijn for Number One – a ’60s-inspired, “retro” look seems to be on the cards for the character, but not to such an extent that it becomes distracting. Walking that line is a challenge – but one I’m glad to see the show tackling!

We didn’t get a full trailer for Strange New Worlds, and the character introductions were cut in such a way as to minimise what we could see of the USS Enterprise. However, we did get a decent look at the transporter room set, which looks really cool, and when we met Dr M’Benga we got a glimpse of what I assume to be sickbay – and it looks like the colour scheme from The Original Series is still present in some form. We also got to see the logo and typeface for Strange New Worlds.

The Strange New Worlds logo.

So an underwhelming panel in some respects led to one of the biggest reveals of the night! Uhura, Chapel, and Dr M’Benga make welcome returns to Star Trek, that’s for sure. And there’s a particular genius to choosing these three characters in particular: they’re all ripe for more development and exploration. Uhura was a mainstay on The Original Series, but compared with the likes of Kirk and Spock there’s still plenty of room to explore her characterisation, background, and learn more about who she is in a way that will inform the original character and portrayal. Likewise for Nurse Chapel and Dr M’Benga – in many ways these two characters are near-blank slates for the new writers and producers to mould into their own creations.

I’m more excited today for Strange New Worlds than I was 24 hours ago, and that’s really saying something! I loved how Mount and the producers spoke about how his portrayal of Pike and Pike’s leadership style led them to redesign parts of his quarters so he could accommodate more of his crew around the table. Cooking was a big part of Captain Sisko’s character in Deep Space Nine, and I picked up at least a hint of that in some of the things said about Pike.

Dr M’Benga, despite being a returning character, offers a lot of scope for further development by a new team of writers.

The panel also discussed how the USS Enterprise is a “star of the show” in many respects, and how episodic storytelling will allow the series to return to Star Trek’s roots in terms of producing entertaining stories with morals. As I’ve said before, Star Trek has always used its sci-fi lens to shine a light on real-world issues, and to learn that Strange New Worlds is embracing that is fantastic news.

Spock’s characterisation was mentioned by Ethan Peck and the producers, and there was talk of how we’d see different facets of his personality. The Cage was mentioned as showing us “smiley Spock,” and I liked how the producers have a keen knowledge of how Spock and other Vulcans perceive and experience emotions – Spock is an emotional person, even if he suppresses those emotions much of the time. An exploration of that aspect of his character – informed by his experiences in Discovery Season 2, perhaps – will be truly interesting to see play out.

Captain Pike and the crew of Strange New Worlds will be on our screens in 2022.

Finally we come to Star Trek: Picard. This was the final event of the evening, and unfortunately the way it was teed up felt incredibly rushed. Jeri Ryan – who will reprise her role as Seven of Nine in Season 2 – raced onto the stage to introduce the new trailer, and it just seemed very obvious that the people running the event were acutely aware of time constraints and wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible. There was no Picard panel, no appearance from Sir Patrick Stewart (even by video-link or in a pre-recorded message), and though the trailer was very interesting the way Picard Season 2 was handled felt rushed right at the end of Star Trek Day – ironic, perhaps, considering the rushed way Season 1 also ended!

We’ll get to the trailer in a moment, but it was great to see that Picard Season 3 has been officially confirmed. We knew this was coming – Season 3 is already in production, and filming has already begun. But to get an official confirmation was good, and it drew a huge cheer from the audience. There’s clearly a big appetite for more Picard!

Picard is coming back for a third season!

Onward, then, to the trailer. This is one that I’ll have to return to for a more detailed breakdown in the days ahead, but for now here are my summarised thoughts.

A return to the 21st Century is not what I would have chosen. Time travel isn’t my favourite Star Trek storyline, and in particular time travel stories which return to the modern day can feel awfully dated very quickly. Look, for example, at Voyager’s two-parter Future’s End, or Star Trek IV as examples of that. Star Trek feels like the future – one of the reasons I love it so much – and when it comes back to the modern day I think it risks losing something significant. It’s possible that only a small part of the story will be set in the modern day, but even so I wasn’t exactly wild about this story element, unfortunately.

We knew from the earlier trailer that there has been some kind of change or damage to the timeline. It now seems as though Q may be more directly involved, as Picard blamed him for breaking the timeline. Whatever the change was, it seems to be centred in our own 21st Century (though it could be anywhere from 2020-2040, I guess) and resulted not in the creation of the Federation but a “totalitarian state” by the 24th Century. I don’t believe that this is the Mirror Universe that we’re familiar with, but rather a change to the Prime Timeline itself – perhaps caused by Q, but earlier comments seemed to suggest that Q wasn’t to blame, so watch this space.

A visit to the 21st Century would not have been my choice… but I will give it a chance!

In voiceover we heard Laris questioning Picard’s motivation for wanting to join Starfleet or leave Earth, something we’d seen him talk about in episodes like Family and again in Generations. She seemed to question whether he’s “running” from something in his past – could it be some darker impulse or perhaps a family secret that’s connected in some way to the creation of the totalitarian state? Could it be, as I suggested recenly, tied into World War III?

One of the things I was most curious about was the role of the Borg Queen, whose return had been signalled a few days ago via a casting announcement. It seems as though Picard has access to the incarcerated remains of a Borg Queen – somehow – and that she may be vital to allowing the crew of La Sirena to travel through time. Rather than the Borg themselves playing a role in the story, then, this may be a battle involving Picard and Seven – victims of assimilation – and a captured, damaged Borg Queen.

What role will the Borg Queen play? She appears to be a captive of some kind.

There’s a lot more to break down from the Picard trailer, and in the days ahead I’ll put together my thoughts in more detail – as well as perhaps fleshing out a theory or two. For now, I think what I want to say is that I have mixed feelings. The big drawback I can see is the modern-day setting for part of the show. I hope I’m proven wrong, but to me Star Trek has never been at its best with these kinds of stories, and I’m concerned that it’ll stray from being a Star Trek show into something… else.

On the other hand, there are many positives. The return of Laris, who seems to have an expanded role compared to where she was in Season 1. Q’s mysterious time-bending role, too. Is he the villain of the piece, or is his latest “trial” something that he believes will help Picard and humanity? What role will he play – ally, adversary, or something in between? The “totalitarian state” definitely channelled some elements of the Mirror Universe, but also seems to have put its own spin on this concept, taking it to different thematic places. I’d be curious to see what role the Picard of this timeline has in the government of the totalitarian state.

Something has broken the timeline – leaving Picard and his crew trapped in a “totalitarian” nightmare.

So that’s all I have to say for now. In the days ahead I’ll take a closer look at the Picard trailer, as well as talk about other things we learned at Star Trek Day.

Although it was a late night and a long broadcast, I had a good time with Star Trek Day overall. There were some moments that didn’t work well, some unprepared interviewees and some segments that dragged on too long, but on the whole it was a fun and incredibly positive celebration of Star Trek. I came to the broadcast hoping to see more from upcoming shows, but I was blown away just as much by the celebration of Star Trek’s past as I was by the look ahead.

The hosts, presenters, and most of the speakers and guests showed off their passion and love for Star Trek in a very positive way. There was a lot of talk about returning the franchise to its roots, celebrating the legacy of Gene Roddenberry and his original vision for Star Trek and what made it so appealing to people of all ages across multiple generations. As we look ahead to Star Trek’s future in 2021, 2022, and beyond, taking these moments to look back at what got Star Trek to where it is today was fantastic, and well worth taking the time to see. Above all, Star Trek Day shone with passion and positivity, and that’s just what the franchise needed as it marked its fifty-fifth birthday. Here’s to the next fifty-five years of Star Trek!

Star Trek Day was broadcast online and on Paramount+ on the 8th of September 2021 (9th of September 2021 in the UK). At time of writing the event can be re-watched on the official Star Trek website; panels and trailers are supposed to be available via Star Trek and Paramount+ official YouTube channels. Clips may also be available via official social media pages and channels. The Star Trek franchise – including all properties and series 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.

Star Trek: Lower Decks – thoughts on the Season 2 teaser

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1 and the teaser for Season 2. Further spoilers are present for the following: Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Nemesis, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Star Trek’s First Contact Day event took place earlier this week, and in addition to some fun panels with members of the cast and behind-the-scenes teams we got three teaser trailers for upcoming Star Trek shows. I’ve already taken a look at elements from the Discovery Season 4 teaser and the Picard Season 2 teaser, so this time it’s Lower Decks’ turn to go under the microscope! And a microscope seems appropriate considering series creator Mike McMahan called this teaser a “microscopic look” at the upcoming season!

If you missed my write-up of the First Contact Day event, by the way, you can find it by clicking or tapping here.

Lower Decks is not really a show that lends itself to a great deal of theory-crafting. Its episodic format and somewhat random nature mean speculating about specific storylines feels futile! Despite that, however, there are a couple of big questions raised by the teaser, and I’ll do my best to look at them in turn.

Ensigns Tendi, Rutherford, and Mariner in the teaser.

First up, the bridge crew. Aside from Commander Ransom (who appeared to be possessed!) the rest of the bridge crew were absent from the teaser. What could that indicate? After Shaxs was killed off at the end of Season 1, it feels as though the main characters are not as “safe” as we might expect, so perhaps another member of the senior staff won’t survive the season? That could be one explanation! Alternatively, the bridge crew could’ve been kept under wraps to avoid spoiling Shaxs’ replacement, particularly if there’s a new character who’s either visually distinctive or perhaps a returning character from a past iteration of the franchise.

We’ve seen a number of guest-stars across Season 1 who had been involved in Star Trek in the past – such as John de Lancie and JG Hertzler – but it would be potentially really interesting if someone we knew well from a past iteration of the franchise were to have a recurring role. Tuvok could replace Shaxs as head of security, for example, or time-travel shenanigans could see the return of someone like Travis Mayweather from Enterprise. That could be a great twist, and bringing back a character who doesn’t seem to fit anywhere else in the franchise right now seems like a lot of fun!

Ensign Mayweather of the USS Cerritos?

We’ve seen Prodigy go down a similar road with the return of a holographic Captain Janeway, and that series has a lot of potential. Maybe it would risk feeling repetitive coming so soon after Prodigy’s announcement of Janeway’s return, but even so I think it could be fantastic if done well. There must be plenty of ex-Star Trek stars who’d love the chance to come back even in voiceover form!

Next let’s look at Ensign Rutherford. At the end of Season 1, Rutherford’s trademark cybernetic implant was ripped out. This put him in a coma, and when he awoke he was missing all of his memories from Season 1, including meeting Tendi. In the teaser, though, his implant was back (and looking exactly the same as it did last season) and he seemed to be friends with Tendi and Mariner again – so what happened?

Rutherford’s cybernetic implant was ripped out in the Season 1 finale.

We’ve been promised that Season 2 won’t simply “reset” Lower Decks and ignore the events of the Season 1 finale, so somehow Rutherford has gotten a new implant and rebuilt his relationships with Mariner and Tendi. I hope we get to see at least some of that, because there’s potential in a “we used to be friends but you can’t remember” storyline, both from a dramatic and comedic perspective.

The implant was okay, and certainly gives Rutherford a distinctive design. Having had it removed in Season 1, though, there was potential to redesign it or do something different with Rutherford, and changing things up for him could open up new storytelling possibilities for the character. We’ll have to see what – if anything – the show does with all of that.

Rutherford’s implant is back!

That brings us to Boimler! At the end of Season 1, Boimler was promoted and transferred to the USS Titan under Riker’s command. Mike McMahan had already said that Season 2 would begin with him serving there; as mentioned there would be no “reset” to keep him on the Cerritos. And we saw in the teaser the first signs that his posting was not going well!

After cutting to Boimler, the first thing we see is him screaming loudly, panicking and unable to cope with whatever bizarre situation the Titan has got itself into. Up next, with the ship seemingly on course for a nebula, ion storm, or other spatial anomaly, Boimler doesn’t understand one of Riker’s turns of phrase, loudly exclaiming “what does that even mean?!”

Boimler’s new posting doesn’t seem to be going so well…

It seems safe to assume that, somehow, Boimler will find himself back aboard the Cerritos. But how? In one of the teaser’s other scenes, we seemed to see Boimler taking part in some kind of away mission, working on a computer while three other figures – clearly not the three other ensigns – defended him from being attacked. Did this mission happen during his time on the Titan? The absence of the other ensigns hints at that, and not seeing the three of them together at all in the teaser suggests that Boimler could remain aboard the Titan for more than just a few minutes during episode 1!

For a show that bills Mariner as its main character, we didn’t see as much of her in the teaser as I might’ve expected. She was briefly seen wearing anbo-jyutsu armour (first seen in The Next Generation Season 2 episode The Icarus Factor) and again fighting off a group of Cardassians. Neither of those short sequences told us much from a story point of view – except that, at some point in the season, she presumably takes part in an anbo-jyutsu match and battles some Cardassians!

Mariner in her anbo-jyutsu armour.

The Cardassian fight looked like it could potentially be a flashback; on rewatching it I’m not entirely sure why I think that, but it was my initial reaction so I’m sticking with it! We saw a flashback of Mariner in Season 1 when she visited Deep Space Nine, so perhaps this will be something similar. And it’s worth noting that the only anbo-jyutsu match we’ve ever seen in Star Trek featured Riker – who will be making an appearance in the season. Could Mariner face off against Riker? And if so, could the “prize” be getting Boimler back?

Other things I spotted in the teaser were: a Miranda-class ship coming under attack, a mugato (the white ape-like creature with a horn) from The Original Series Season 2 episode A Private Little War, Ransom’s “possession” possibly taking place on either the Klingon or Cardassian homeworld (a guess based on the architecture in the background), Mariner’s Cardassian fight taking place in front of four lights (perhaps an homage to The Next Generation Season 6 episode Chain of Command), and the Titan seemingly coming under attack while on course for the anomaly.

It’s not easy to spot from this angle, but that’s Boimler in the upper-right, working on the computer terminal.

The only character who didn’t have much to do in the teaser was Ensign Tendi. She had one moment with what looked like a snake-alien (or perhaps just a bunch of snakes) and she had the trailer’s only real line, wondering about how Boimler is getting on. In Season 1 Tendi never really found the right fit, with different stories trying out different personalities for her. She spent most of the season in “new and eager” mode, overawed by every small detail she encountered. Attempts to move her away from that had her turning clumsy, like Boimler, or into a super-genius like Rutherford, and I never really felt that Tendi was a settled character. Perhaps her lack of role in the teaser is indicative of that trend continuing – but I hope not. It would be great for her to find a niche and settle in.

For a teaser that barely clocked in at thirty seconds, the Lower Decks team crammed a heck of a lot in! I’m sure I missed things even having rewatched it a dozen times, so be sure to take a look for yourself to see what you can spot!

The USS Cerritos.

The first season of Lower Decks was fantastic, but sadly marred by a stupid decision on the business end from ViacomCBS to split up the show’s broadcast by geography. The resultant damage to Lower Decks from lost hype and interest was a problem during Season 1, and there’s no getting away from that. However, now that an international agreement has been struck to give Lower Decks a home on Amazon Prime Video, its future feels a little more settled.

Speaking of the show’s future, a third season has now been confirmed. With all of the other exciting things going on from First Contact Day I didn’t spot that announcement at first, but it’s now official! Obviously ViacomCBS was pleased with the reaction to the show both in the USA and around the world when it finally made its international debut, and that’s great news. If the creative team can keep up the quality, it would be great to see it run for four seasons, five, or potentially even more.

Lower Decks is the only upcoming Star Trek project to have an official broadcast date: Season 2 will premiere on the 12th of August. Presumably that means the 13th of August for the rest of us! Oh well, that’s only four months away! We can start to get excited already!

Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and other countries and territories where the service is available. The series is available to stream now on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks 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.