A new kind of 'Trek': 'Star Trek' gets a new look with the premiere of an animated series

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Rachel Jones / TV Media
A scene from "Star Trek: Lower Decks"

A scene from "Star Trek: Lower Decks"

There's no denying the success of the Star Trek franchise, from William Shatner's Captain James T. Kirk in the original "Star Trek" series and Patrick Stewart's Captain Jean-Luc Picard in "Star Trek: The Next Generation" all the way to the current era's installments such as "Star Trek: Discovery," the sci-fi franchise has been delighting viewers for generations and delivering heroes and villains that stand the test of time.

This year, the franchise gets an exciting addition when the animated comedy series "Star Trek: Lower Decks" premieres. The groundbreaking show kicks off Thursday, Aug. 6, on CBS All Access.

The show is a futuristic take on the lower-deck crew of one of Starfleet's least significant ships, the Cerritos. Executive producer Alex Kurtzman (who also ran "Star Trek: Discovery") initially said the show would air in 2021 or 2022, but fans were delightfully surprised by the announcement of its August 2020 premiere. Although the series is produced for CBS All Access, it is set to air all over the world.

The voice cast includes Tawny Newsome ("Space Force") as Beckett Mariner, an ensign on the S.S. Cerritos and somewhat of a maverick. Jack Quaid ("The Boys") voices Brad Boimler, another ensign and a stickler for the rules who hopes to become a captain one day, but first he'll have to learn how to relax and go with the flow. Noël Wells ("Craig of the Creek,") is the voice of Tendi, a medic new to the starship, and one whose enthusiasm for her new job never wavers. You may also recognize the voice of Jerry O'Connell ("Carter"), whose character is meant to be similar to that of William "No. 1" Riker from "TNG," if Riker was less inhibited and on speed.

The voice cast also includes Eugene Cordero ("The Good Place"), Dawnn Lewis ("Veronica Mars"), Fred Tatasciore ("Kung Fu Panda 2," 2011) and Gillian Vigman ("Life Sentence").

"Lower Decks" isn't your usual Star Trek product, and not just because it's an animated series. The show is set shortly after the events of "Star Trek: Nemesis" (2002), and its name comes from a particular "TNG" episode: the Season 7 episode "Lower Decks," which some say is the best of all of the Star Trek series combined. That episode was the first thing the writers reviewed as soon as they signed on to the new show.

The humor of the series is something new to the Star Trek universe. While the other shows and films are peppered with funny moments, you couldn't rightly call any of them "comedies." Because it's an animated series, "Star Trek: Lower Decks" has an opportunity to provide fans with a mix of sci-fi adventure and comedy that no previous Star Trek installment has managed before. It weaves tales that involve many over-the-top, hilarious characters and also frequently includes humorous nods to other parts of the franchise, Easter eggs that fans will be excited to see.

Ensign Tendi as seen in "Star Trek: Lower Decks"

Ensign Tendi as seen in "Star Trek: Lower Decks"

It's easy to forget that "Star Trek: Lower Decks" is not the first animated series in the Star Trek family. Forty-seven years ago, "Star Trek: The Animated Series" premiered. It was the very first sequel to the original "Star Trek" television show, and it aired for two seasons.

Mike McMahan, who wrote for the hit cartoon "Rick and Morty," is part of the team creating this new series. Last year, Kurtzman said that, while the new series would not be the same kind of comedy as "Rick and Morty," it would have its own unique charm, appealing mostly to adult viewers. He also said the animated series would spend most of its time with new characters, but that older characters may pop up from time to time.

Thankfully, the series was not seriously impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the globe and disrupting so many production schedules. Animated series are coming out on top of this global crisis, and with so many live-action series and films delayed, we're likely to see networks leaning heavily on their cartoons, as animation work, unlike live-action filming, can be done from home. Kurtzman did say, though, that getting the voice actors to record in their homes using remote recording equipment was a bit of a challenge.

Behind the animation geius of "Star Trek: Lower Decks" is an independent studio, Titmouse. The animation work began in early 2019, and McMahan has said that the creative team wanted to pay tribute to the original animated Star Trek series by adding alien designs that referenced the earlier show.

The crew members of the Cerritos wear uniforms with designs that are based on unused creations for the 1994 film "Star Trek Generations," which McMahan notes are more or less the same as those that were used for the rest of the Star Trek series.

Do your best to live long and prosper by catching "Star Trek: Lower Decks" when it premieres Thursday, Aug. 6, on CBS All Access.