Lower tires, CBS All Access animated comedy in Star Trek universe, has been described as Rick and Morty for Hike. Understandable: It̵7;s a sci-fi cartoon for adults, and it’s shared by the same writing staff. But that description is reductive, too Lower tires playing in a larger universe … and Rick and Morty is a better show.
After seven episodes, I have to say that I agree with most of the criticism Lower tires. It’s creatively shallow, it does not fit the tone Star Trek, and it uses the long-running franchise as little more than putting on its sitcom shenanigans. As someone who considers himself a rather picky TV viewer, I should probably release this show as if it is a later season of Family boy.
But I can not. I enjoy it, even though I wish I was not. Maybe it says more about the condition in Star Trek franchise, or yes, some of my own bad habits media consumption, than it says about Lower tires sig.
Undo the polarity of the plot
Lower tires takes its name and concept from a much-loved episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It follows the “adventures” of the four adventures: the straight Boimler and world-weary sarcastic Mariner are the natural comedy duo, while the green-skinned Orion Tendi and cybernetically enhanced Rutherford are about the same wide-eyed ball of positivity. Each week, the show spends far more time on their interpersonal conflicts than the weird sci-fi stuff that has hit the USS Cerritos of late.
It is an intentional reversal of Star Trek ‘s primary installation: The stories that would be the B-plot in a normal episode of TNG, Deep Space Nine, or Voyager is the main focus here, and the always squirting and eye-catching strangeness that goes on in the background is what the command group has to do with. The four ensigners usually have a direct hand in solving this week’s sci-fi madness, but often by accident or as a casual addition to their more sitcom-sized problems.
This change in plot polarity extends to the structure of the show itself: 20-minute comedy instead of 40-minute sci-fi adventure. It’s a first for Star Trek. While some individual episodes have been comical and sometimes brilliant (The problem with Tribbles is the classic example), Star Trek has usually been lacing, even during the almost completely forgotten Animated series from the 1970s. However, Mariner shows off his holodeck program full of hunky naked guys during the first minutes of episode one.
A typical episode of Lower tires sees Ensign Boimler highlight his duties and fight for promotion, Mariner encourages him to blow them up while she intentionally opposes the command crew, and Tendi and Rutherford handle something that is mostly unrelated Star Treks deep lore. And on that note …
Hi, do you remember that?
If there’s one thing Lower tires love, it reminds you that it is one Star Trek show. Sometimes it gets difficult, as its short driving time and intentional appeal to adults can be a shocking tonal shift if you expect TNG-ere pranks. But do not worry: almost every frame of the animation contains some form of redial that you will find on the pages of the various Star Trek wikis.
The Hike damn me love it, like watching Pike and Number One in season two of Discovered or the Picard Day banner in, yes, Picard. But the writer and TV viewer in me must admit: there is very little like these 50-year-old callbacks Hike section actually accomplish. They’re dressed, or at least they would be if this show had sets.
YouTube movie and TV commentator Ryan George points out this kind of thing in his critique of the latest Harry Potter and Star Wars movies. These little Easter eggs are only there to be discovered and recognized. It is pop culture’s comfort food that does not offer anything stimulating or even particularly interesting, just shows the fans a flash of something they have seen before in a slightly different context.
For those who care: Sure Lower tires is canon, although I suspect it is treated as such in a lot Star Trek V: The Final Frontier type of way. (This means that even the most dedicated fans will not be disturbed if you ignore it.)
Not exactly the last limit
Judged as a comedy on its own merits, Lower tires does not really stand up on its own two warp cells. Although the lightning-fast dialogue and the frequent non-sequits clearly mimic the style of something similar Rick and Morty or Archer, installation and relationships are more akin to The office. This is a situation comedy that happens to take place on a spaceship –Seinfeld in space.
There are no efforts for these characters or their relationships. Tendi is the only stranger in the lead role, but unlike traditional Star Trek outsiders, she never asks people to reconsider their assumptions or prejudices. Ditto Rutherford’s status as a cyborg, a simple and unexplored connection to various abilities.
Mariner is briefly promoted to lieutenant, a ploy by his mother (the captain) to get her transferred to another ship and out of her hair. At the end of the episode, we are treated to an extremely predictable piece of mother-daughter conflict, and Mariner is a prisoner again, after claiming to have learned a lot … but not so much that her character actually needs to change by next week.
It may be unfair of me to judge Lower tires for it. After all, it’s not like Bart Simpson has changed in decades.
But consider the opposite Harley Quinn, another adult-focused animated comedy, on a premium streaming network, in a very familiar universe. Although they are sometimes a bit cloying and rely on very current comedy, Harley and her crew learn from their mistakes, and Gotham’s status quo changes drastically from one week to another. That show also deliberately avoids layered characterizations, although it does work with some characters who are old enough to have survived their creators.
Lower tires seems much more complacent. It’s not putting familiar characters in familiar situations – situations for an office comedy – not Star Trek. It’s embarrassing to show that Red dwarf and Futurama has shown more science fiction creativity than this official Star Trek entry.
A welcome phase adjustment
It’s very negative up there, huh? After spending a thousand words tangling Lower tires, you may be wondering why I even bother to tell you about it. And the answer is this: I’m still looking forward to a new episode every week.
Maybe it’s my compulsive need to look at every bit of it Star Trek media. But I suspect two other factors: the general illness of six months with COVID quarantine and being intensely overwhelmed by Star Trek Discovery and Star Trek Picard, CBS All Access is more conventional Hike shows.
Discovered and Picard trying to bring Star Trek into the era of prestige television, while still linking them to the show’s decades of history. But the presentation and style of these performances differ so radically deliberately from the 80s and 90s shows that I loved, that I find them extremely jarring.
Seeing Spock and Captain Picard drop F-bombs over transparent Marvel-style screens would be strange enough, even without the strangely uneven fan fiction feel of the seasonal arcs in these shows. How strange that this odd little cartoon would make me feel more connected to my favorite franchise than two shows that have such intentional connections to Enterprise’s old and new.
So I suspect I’m a hypocrite and I’m watching Lower tires because it is more firmly rooted in time Next Gen, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager. I like to fall back into that world, even through the lens of short and toothless comedy. It is an almost shameful thing to realize, as a critic who casually cast a shadow on Simpsons a few pieces ago.
But you know what? I have a hard time taking care of. Star Trek is my sci-fi comfort food, and Lower tires is a more tasty help than Discovered or Picard. I am fully aware of the criticism of it and agree with pretty much everyone – see above. But I’m still watching.
Sorry not sorry.
Star Trek: Lower Decks is in its first season on CBS All Access (soon Paramount +).