'Star Trek: Lower Decks' Season 2 Review: The Animated Comedy Returns With Even More 'Trek' References

Considering there are literally hundreds of hours of Star Trek films and TV shows that preceded it, the first season of Star Trek: Lower Decks was surprisingly friendly to newbies. The animated comedy, which focuses on a new group of low-level Starfleet members doing grunt work on an unimportant ship, threw in a few specific references per episode for the hardcore Trek fandom in its debut season, but the barrier to entry wasn't very high. As long as you knew the basic shape of what Star Trek was and is, you could enjoy the show just fine – even if a random allusion to an obscure character might sail over your head from time to time.

In the first five episodes of season 2 that were provided to press for review, references to specific Trek tropes or lore become slightly more difficult to ignore, which may leave some non-Trek-conversant viewers feeling a little out of the loop. On the other hand, those references will surely delight longtime fans. At this point, the show seems comfortable with the calculus that if you liked the first season, you're either willing to put some time in to learning about the larger franchise or you're already a person who's in the bag for this stuff.

Your Favorite Ensigns Are Back

Season 2 picks up with Mariner (Tawny Newsome) feeling conflicted about working so closely with Captain Freeman (Dawnn Lewis), who everyone now knows is Mariner's mother. Mariner has always seen herself as a rebel, and these new episodes explore what it means when that rebellious, contentious relationship is replaced with one that's more open and collaborative. Mariner is also still miffed at Boimler (Jack Quaid) for taking a new gig on the U.S.S. Titan under the command of Riker (Jonathan Frakes). Although it seemed like Boimler's dream job, the inherently nervous and by-the-book ensign finds life on the Titan far more stressful than on the Cerritos. But fear not: if you're worried that the show's dynamic will be thrown out of whack by Boimler not being with his Cerritos pals, it doesn't take long for the show to come up with a creative way to get the gang back together.

So far in the season, the least successful dynamic is between Rutherford (Eugene Cordero) and Tendi (Noël Wells), who have redeveloped their friendship after Rutherford's memory loss at the end of season 1. But it's clear Tendi has romantic feelings for Rutherford, and over the course of the first episode, she goes out of her way to foil his attempts to date other people in a way that feels desperate and a little pathetic.

Thankfully, Tendi gets more to do as the season continues: she goes on a "girl's trip" mission with Mariner in which they learn they haven't actually spent much time together before, and in a subplot that feels incredibly relevant to what's happening now with anti-vaxxers, Tendi is tasked with tracking down Cerritos crew members who have refused to get their physicals. Meanwhile, Rutherford discovers the horrifying truth behind how a character returns from the dead, as a way of humorously commenting on the Trek franchise's sometimes loose approach to the finality of death.

Set Phasers to "Laugh"

I don't want to mischaracterize the reliance on references in season 2: it's not like the show is suddenly leaning so hard on them that it has become inaccessible. But if, for example, you have no idea who Tom Paris is, or you don't know the personal proclivities of William Riker, these episodes probably won't be nearly as funny to you. The comedy is still fast-paced and largely broad enough to work pretty well, and there are several non-reference-based gags that had me cracking up, like a low-level character named Stevens who is obsessed with Ransom (Jerry O'Connell), or the presence of an alien race that duplicates when they're nervous.

It's always difficult to review a show without seeing the full season and knowing how the character and story arcs play out, but so far, Lower Decks season 2 remains a highly enjoyable way to "engage" with the Star Trek universe. (And yes, I'm very much hoping that you read the word "engage" in Patrick Stewart's voice.)

Star Trek: Lower Decks season 2 premieres on Paramount+ today, August 12, 2021.