Star Trek: Lower Decks is a new series premiering on CBS All Access. The series centers around a bunch of minor crewmen aboard a lesser Federation starship, who work in the—wait for it—lower decks of the ship, showing us how the less-popular, less-heroic other halves live in Starfleet. The cartoon Wesleys pal around, play programs with nude occupants on the holodeck, try not to screw up on their unimportant jobs, wish they had more important jobs, and regularly get caught up in the trademark catastrophes that tend to regularly happen to Starfleet crews.
Did I mention that it’s animated? Or that it’s satire? I should have, because those two facts are integral to this new show. Lower Decks is essentially Star Trek meets Rick and Morty (whose writer-producer, Mike McMahan, animates this show) meets The Orville. And that probably helped to get its fairly positive early reviews from critics.
Because this is what Americans want from science fiction in 2020.
The years of taking the future seriously seem to be over. Americans in general see sci-fi as fully cliché: People of literally every color, wearing technicolor uniforms, hob-nobbing with aliens who all speak English, jetting to stars light-years away, fighting weird and goofy aliens, talking technobabble, and resetting everything to day one at the end of every episode. No one really believes the future will ever be like that. A lot of Americans don’t see much of a future at all.
Programs like The Expanse have modernized science fiction; movies like The Martian show the practical, realistic side of SF; and Elon Musk has taken corporations to space and made science fiction reality today. But America would rather watch superhero movies that like to pretend their fantasy is, in fact, sci-fi. It’s no wonder that the most popular animated programs have basically lampooned science fiction for the last decade.
And so, television responds with its usual bread and circuses to take our minds off of our damaged lives and unlikely futures, making us laugh deliberately at something we’ve abandoned that we actually used to be hopeful about. (And even better, it’s charging you for the privilege.)
Okay, I’m not going to tell people what to watch. I’m not even going to criticize the makers of this cartoon. I’m just disappointed that America is on the outs with science, and with it, science fiction; and in a world where people apparently and increasingly have to be told who they should not be attacking, mocking or laughing at, Americans have decided it must be safe to mock science and laugh at our once-desired futures. It’s no wonder that we can’t tame a simple virus.
Whatevs. Enjoy Lower Decks as you will. I’ll be over there, waiting for the next season of The Expanse, applauding SpaceX, missing the days of Orphan Black and Person of Interest, and wondering what it will take for America to get serious about science again.