Though colorful and upbeat, Star Trek: Lower Decks has a very adult sense of humor.
WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Star Trek: Lower Decks, streaming now on Paramount+.
With its candy-colored visual and cheerful demeanor, Star Trek: Lower Decks looks very much like a kid-friendly program. The recent explosion in Star Trek content has led to the creation of multiple animated series, including Star Trek: Prodigy, which openly aims at a family friendly audience. That’s in keeping with Star Trek: The Animated Series, which was developed for the Saturday morning cartoon market of the 1970s. It can be easy to lump Lower Decks in with them by default.
That would be a mistake. Though upbeat and deliberately silly, the show adopts a very adult attitude and the content is often more than parents of younger children would consider appropriate. It has a rating of PG-13, which is reasonably accurate. While devoid of any hard-core content, it’s definitely aimed towards an audience of teens and above.
Before Star Trek: Discovery, most Star Trek was made for families. While certain episodes might get a little intense – particularly Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which dealt with hard issues of war and loss – the franchise as a whole wanted parents and children watching it together. That changed with Star Trek: Discovery, which adopted adult themes and sophisticated story arcs that the very young wouldn’t understand. Star Trek: Picard, too, focuses primarily on grown-up audiences, and while it is somewhat gentler, both series marked a break in tone from the franchise’s previous efforts.
Lower Decks followed that approach, as least as far as its content goes. Showrunner Mike McMahan was best known for Rick and Morty before joining Star Trek, and his previous work involved the likes of South Park and Drawn Together. The humor in Lower Decks is of a kind with those shows: rarely explicit, but extremely suggestive and often a bit crude. Sex jokes aren’t uncommon, and toilet humor is often a favorite. Season 2, Episode 1, “Strange Energies” for instance, ended with Mariner repeatedly kicking Commander Ransom in the crotch. Though it stays away from anything actively raunchy or violent, it usually does so with a wink and a nudge.
Beyond that, Lower Decks isn’t above indulging in squick horror to get a shock out of its audience. Season 1, Episode 1, “Second Contact” involves a naked Boimler being suckled by a giant spider, and the Season 2 trailer promises a similar fate for Tendi. Some of the jokes have disturbing undercurrents as well, such as Season 1, Episode 4, “Moist Vessel” when a crewman ascending to a higher plane shrieks in horror at what he is experiencing. Same goes for violence. “Second Contact” features most of the crew devolving into zombies and makes thinly veiled references to cannibalism. Tweens and teens are probably safe to enjoy the gallows humors of such moments — and Lower Decks prefers to suggest rather than spell out — but more impressionable family members might want to pass.
Lower Decks helps in its own way by opening the whole series with a taste of what’s to come. “Second Contact” starts with Ensign Boimler composing. He’s interrupted by a visibly drunk Beckett Mariner who, despite his protestations, insists on showing him a new bat’leth she acquired. The impromptu demonstration ends with the blade accidentally buried in Boimler’s leg, blood spurting and bone visible. The violence is mitigated by the animation, and it’s not nearly as gruesome as a live-action version would have been, but it’s a decent bellwether for the rest of the series. If a given parent thinks that scene would be too much for their child, Lower Decks has provided an ample litmus test up front.
Star Trek is diversifying as never before, and the presence of five new shows on its upcoming schedule speaks to a need to keep each show in its lane. Prodigy is being developed specifically to give Trekkie parents something to watch with their children, in part because Lower Decks embraces an adult audience interested in more grown-up content than earlier Trek series could provide. This provides fans with a lot of viewing options, but it makes it so distracted parents can easily mistake Lower Decks for something a little gentler. Check the rating before viewing. Paramount Plus has it right.
Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2 is now streaming on Paramount+, with new episodes premiering every Thursday.
KEEP READING: Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2, Episode 2, ‘Kayshon, His Eyes Open’ Recap & Spoilers
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