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'Star Trek: Lower Decks' warps into the animated comedy frontier with 'Second Contact'

"Star Trek's" new animated series — only the second ever for the franchise — that warped onto television Aug. 6 to join the acclaimed collection of shows that currently includes "Star Trek: Discovery" and "Star Trek: Picard"

"Star Trek: Lower Decks" is developed by Mike McMahan, creator of Hulu's "Solar Opposites" and co-creator of "Rick and Morty." It focuses on the support crew aboard an insignificant Starfleet starship, the California-class USS Cerritos, shortly after "Star Trek: The Next Generation" era, in 2380, after the events of "Star Trek: Nemesis." The show is the latest in a slate of new Trek offerings from the subscription streaming service CBS All Access that will soon include "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds." Plus, we've still got a Section 31 spin-off in pre-production, starring Michelle Yeoh and another animated series, "Star Trek: Prodigy," in production for Nickelodeon.

Here's the thing about "Lower Decks," if we didn't already have "Archer" for 11 seasons, this would be super fresh. Consequently, it might feel a little bit like you've seen this before. Even down to the excessive shouting and the fact that Ensign Mariner (Tawny Newsome) is basically Lana Kane — more knowledgeable, more experienced, more capable and frustrated at being under-appreciated.

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However, that doesn't mean this show isn't enjoyable. It's somewhat refreshing to hear characters in a "Star Trek" show have dialogue like this:

"What's it [a giant, killer space spider chasing Ensigns Mariner and Boimler] doing?"

"It's shooting butt webbing at a tree. It looks pretty pissed."

The crew of "Star Trek: Lower Decks." New episodes of the 10-episode first season will be available weekly on CBS All Access. (Image credit: CBS All Access)

The tone is set straightaway. During the opening credits sequence we see the USS Cerritos nearly get sucked into a black hole, clip an ice mountain with its port warp nacelle (in a "Voyager" credits-esque sequence) and hilariously have second thoughts about supporting a Romulan fleet engaged in a battle with the Borg, choosing instead to warp away and flee. 

It even pokes a little fun at "Star Trek," which is really refreshing to hear. "Don't worry, you'll be fine, Doc will wave a light over it," Marina quips as Boimler finally emerges, battered and broken, from a giant, killer space spider.

The name of the show is a throwback to the "Star Trek: The Next Generation's" episode "Lower Decks," (S07, E15) that followed four junior officers involved in a top-secret mission and there are plenty of nods to Trek canon. From familiar aliens, like a blue-skinned Bolian, to Romulan whisky (coincidentally, also blue) all the way to name-dropping characters like Kirk, Sulu, Spock and even, bizarrely, Gary Mitchell

(This is actually a super-nerdy, super-layered Easter egg, as Boimler hadn't heard of Mitchell, because Kirk falsified his report at the end of "Where No Man Has Gone Before," the pilot episode of "The Original Series" where Mitchell appears, mirroring Boimler making up his log report at the beginning of this first episode.)

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"Lower Decks" focuses on the crew of the California-class USS Cerritos, which specializes in "second contact." (Image credit: CBS All Access)

The cast includes, Eugene Cordero (Ensign Rutherford), Noel Wells (Ensign Tendi), Jack Quaid (Ensign Boimler), Tawny Newsome (Ensign Mariner), Fred Tatasciore (Lieutenant Shaxs), Dawnn Lewis (Captain Freeman), Jerry O'Connell (Commander Ransom) and Gillian Vigma (Dr. T'ana).

The humor of "Star Trek: Lower Decks"  comes thick and fast and is thoroughly entertaining, albeit in a slightly familiar tone. (Image credit: CBS All Access)

"Lower Decks" is the second cartoon incarnation of "Star Trek," following "Star Trek: The Animated Series," which was set aboard the USS Enterprise during Captain Kirk's tenure. It's also the second official attempt to incorporate humor into "Star Trek." The first of which was the "Short Trek" episode entitled "The Trouble With Edward," which was not only brilliant, but also happened to star H. Jon Benjamin, who voices the character Sterling Archer in the show "Archer."

Hopefully "Lower Decks" will find its footing and carve a unique position for itself and iron out the clichés. The humor comes thick and fast and there are lots of pop-culture references to keep most people happy – including The Monkees pop band, a meta musical throwback that seems to be catching on recently

It seems like all the ideals of "Star Trek" are here, plus there's a nice twist towards the end of this first episode. Hopefully, the number of callbacks to Trek canon will be kept to a minimum and not incorporated purely for the sake of it.

You'll find yourself laughing out loud probably more than you originally expected and hoping this show only improves – it certainly has the potential. "Lower Decks" captures a youthful energy ironically by adopting adult humor, thus removing any need for over-acting or a clichéd coming-of-age storylines. 

The second episode of "Star Trek: The Lower Decks" airs on Thursday, Aug. 13 on CBS All Access. 

While "Discovery" and "Picard" are currently available on Netflix and Amazon outside the US, there's no word yet on whether "Lower Decks" will stream elsewhere. New episodes of the 10-episode first season will be available weekly.

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