The latest series from Mike McMahan (who adds a third animated sci-fi comedy to his roster after showrunning “Rick and Morty,” for which he won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program, and “Solar Opposites,” which he created), “Lower Decks” follows the support crew serving on the U.S.S. Cerritos in 2380. The “lower” is both literal and figurative: The officers, scientists, and commanders in training actually bunk in a hallway in a far corner of the ship’s lowest level, and also serve as the grunt workers tasked with doing some of the worst jobs on the Cerritos. They clean conference rooms, empty trash, fix faulty food replicators, check wiring, pass out copies of presentations during meetings, and test shields and force fields. None of it is glamorous, but the Cerritos itself isn’t a particularly prestigious assignment, either—the ship has no major successes to its name, no real achievements of which Captain Carol Freeman (voiced by Dawnn Lewis) can be proud.
“We’re not really elite,” says ensign Beckett Mariner (voiced by Tawny Newsome), the ship’s resident cool girl. Instead, the unfiltered and cheeky Mariner insists, they are the “cool, scrappy underdogs of the ship,” and “Lower Decks” busies itself with sharing their contrasting perspectives about serving in Starfleet. For Mariner, who was already demoted once before, it’s all a bit of a joke. She’s excellent at everything—fluent in various alien languages, skilled with a Klingon bat’leth sword, adept at recognizing dangerous species of animal and plant life—but utterly nonplussed by the hierarchy of Starfleet.
Her entire ideology is in total opposition to fellow ensign Brad Boimler (voiced by Jack Quaid), a Starfleet mega-fan who is also a stickler for following the chain of command, abiding by the rules, and doing the job right. The two are like oil and water, with Brad complaining in every episode about how Mariner is naturally great at everything without barely seeming to try, and the animosity between the two drives each of the four episodes provided for review. (Thankfully, though, “Lower Decks” doesn’t push them, at least in this early part of the season, into the romantic direction that so many other sitcoms use for characters who rankle each other.) Less formed are the other two members of the core foursome: Sam Rutherford (voiced by Eugene Cordero), who struggles with adjusting to his new cyborg implant, and D’Vana Tendi (voiced by Noël Wells), new to the Cerritos. The former’s engineering prowess and the latter’s desperation to be liked are about the only personality traits they get, and their antics remain firmly in the B-story slot.