Star Trek has been many things in the last 54 years: eight TV series, 1
The ninth and last Star Trek the series aims to change all that. Lower tires is a half-hour animated series in the timeline two years after the end of Star Trek: Voyager. The half-hour comedy format is a definite change of pace from ViacomCBS ‘second recent Star Trek offers, the highly serialized dramas Picard and Discovered. The question that all fans can have then is simple: does it hold up?
And the answer is yes, mostly – but do not set your expectations on “stunned”.
A work of love
I previewed the first two episodes of Lower tires at a “premiere” event online Tuesday, ahead of the series’ public debut on Thursday. The content was exactly as you would expect from the trailer, which was heavily (but not exclusively) composed of images and scenes taken from the first episode.
Lower tires takes place on USS Cerritos, a “second contact” ship, in 2380. The main characters are a motley quartet of ensign who serve in the divisions of medicine, engineering and command. Our heroes are the usually unnamed and unsung crew members with only a single lone beep on their collar that shows up when older officers have delegated their duties and moved on to the next interesting thing. The CerritosThe missions are not new explorations and important diplomatic functions, but instead bureaucrats and atrocities who must hold everything together in some way.
Producer Alex Kurtzman described earlier this year Lower tires as a “love letter” to the franchise from series creator, producer and author Mike McMahan (author of Rick and Morty), who is a huge Star Trek fan, and that description is appropriate.
McMahan’s love shines through literally the first note of Lower tires theme. The entire opening sequence is done in style Star Trek: The Next Generation, with the same iconic blue font to add the names of the cast. The way in which sections are directed, with a more static camera and only the use of ships against the plane’s exterior shots, is inspired more by the 1990s than by the kinetic, panicked framing and editing of the 2010s.
The name of the series is taken from an episode of Next generationseventh and final season, which moved the top staff and bridge crew to background activity and instead focused on four lower-ranking officers among the Business crew. Almost every scene drips of Easter eggs and open references to tricks that came earlier, from Gary Mitchell and Sulu as swordsmen to the “Janeway Protocol.” the Cerritos the crew is inhabited by Benzit, Bajoran and Trill officers along with the more common complement of human, Vulcan and Orion crew.
I’m not allowed to do TV shows, but I’ve been one too Star Trek damn since I was six years old, and TNG is my show. It’s the one I grew up on, it’s the one I watched again at 5 and 6pm every weekday when it hit its 100th episode and went into broad syndication, and it’s the one I can still recite disturbingly large parts of in my sleep. In short, I’m McMahan’s audience, and when he tries to refer to my long-standing comfort food, yes – I’m really comforted.
However, such love work strikes a dangerous line. Flashes, nods and references are good up to a certain point; they tell the audience that they and the creator are joking together and can respect each other’s knowledge. But too many are strangers: a viewer may begin to feel that the creator understands the form, but not the function, of what they are to perform.
In the first two sections, at least, Lower tires manages to fall on the right side of that line. I felt like I was in a room with a very enthusiastic and knowledgeable fan who just fell over things he wanted to say, rather than trapped in a “how do you, colleagues” hellscape. That said, once the show has proven its bona fides – it’s OK! I’m a real Star Trek show, I promise! – It can be good to let go a little of the deep cuts that do not add anything.
Although it pushes itself to be considered a proper member of the canon on its own, Lower tires feels most like one amuse bouche: a fun little treat to keep you fed and happy until your real food arrives.
Art, a wise friend recently reminded me, is always part of a conversation – with other art, with the wider culture and with its audience. Star Trek in particular, has always consciously planted its efforts and stood the ground in our culture, and countless other media have taken inspiration from it.
Lower tiresmay, however, be the clearest example to date Star Trek in turn takes hefty clues from the art that fans have created over the years. That’s thankful Galaxy Quest, to Orvilleand to John Scalzi’s novel redshirts, among others. In the same way as a half-hour “adult” comedy, it nods to every 30-minute animated comedy that came before it, beginning with The Simpsons and go straight through its most obvious predecessor, Rick and Morty.
Star Trek, wrote big, has always made a point of using his position to say something worth hearing: to urge us to be our best selves, to explore the universe with wonder, to accept and cherish that the world around us is full of infinite diversity in infinite combination. Over hundreds of cumulative episodes, there are still soaring, searing investigations that ask us to challenge what it means to be alive … right up there with absolute dudes of pure silliness (and not the good kind of silliness).
This attempt to make sense, even when handled clumsily, is a big part of what has given the valuable franchise such extraordinary adhesive power. Star Treklast attempt at a half-hour animated series – the aptly named Star Trek: The Animated Series– has not specified Hike canon with almost the delightful and staying power of all four live-action series aired in the 20th century.
New participants Discovered and Picard, for all their shortcomings and controversies, both bowed strongly to their perceived obligation to say something from the beginning. It can reasonably be argued that both performances took that principle a bit for in fact seriously – and the heroes from Lower tires would agree. In a universe of lofty goals and monological moral demands, Lower tires mainly asking us to control ourselves before (and after) we destroy ourselves and take the chance to screw around, have fun and enjoy the absurdity of space when presented.
The first season of Star Trek: Lower tires will premiere on CBS All Access on Thursday, August 6, with the remaining nine episodes of the season airing weekly on the following Thursdays.