Adult animation is certainly a tried-and-true television medium. As the format was, for a while, relegated to children, it has again exploded into a massively popular format among adults, spawning beloved comedy shows like The Simpsons, Futurama, and Family Guy. More recently, shows like Rick and Morty, Bojack Horseman, and Bob’s Burgers have been huge hits with adult crowds, presenting hilarious, existential, and thoughtful television. In the past, Star Trek turned toward animation with the 1973 cartoon Star Trek: The Animated Series, which ran for only two seasons on Saturday mornings, a prime time for children’s programming. Now, the franchise is returning to animation in the adult-centered arena.
Deadline reports CBS All Access is developing Star Trek: Lower Decks from Rick and Morty writer and producer Mike McMahan. Aimed at adult viewers, Lower Deckswill be an animated series centered around a “support crew serving on one of Starfleet’s least important ships.” The series received a two-season order, adding to CBS’ ever-expanding Star Trek television shows, which presently includes Star Trek: Discovery and will soon be joined by a Patrick Stewart-helmed Picard-centered series.
As Lower Decks takes a look at a relatively small group in a massive universe, it’s worth noting other franchises have toyed around with a similar idea. In 2017, NBC launched the now-canceled Powerless, a sitcom set in a business that creates super-products for ordinary people in the DC Comics universe that’s home to Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman. On the other side of the superhero spectrum, ABC’s popular show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. follows government agents as they traverse the super-powered Marvel Cinematic Universe.
McMahan is the perfect person to spearhead a new Star Trek series. He is a huge Star Trek fan, having named his cat after Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Riker. In addition to Rick and Morty, McMahan also already writes for Star Trek: Short Treks, CBS’s Discovery spinoff series that consists of very brief character-focused episodes, and he co-created the upcoming Hulu series Solar Opposites. At the 70th Creative Primetime Emmy Awards, McMahan and the other producers of Rick and Morty received the Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program.
McMahan has written some intense Rick and Morty episodes. Yes, “The Rickshank Rickdemption” is very deep and even haunting, but my favorite episode of his is “The ABC’s of Beth,” which takes Beth down a dark, violent road toward existentialism. This episode is visceral, cutting deep into questions of free will, purpose, and even self-worth. I finished this episode perplexed, taken aback by Rick’s assertions that intelligence will naturally incline you toward fulfilling your own meaning, instead of following an unwritten moral or social code.
This is exactly what a new Star Trek series needs, an infusion of Rick and Morty’s hilariously profound nature into Star Trek’s vastly exciting universe. Personally, as a lover of both Rick and Morty and Star Trek, I’m ecstatic. Rick and Morty is one of the best shows on television today. It knocks you on the ground laughing with creative comedy, but it also plunges deep into dark themes of existentialism and nihilism. It finds this perfect balance between comedy and drama that keeps me thinking about the greater implications that philosophy and science have on our existence and purpose.
Meanwhile, the Star Trek franchise is absolutely wholesome and presents similarly profound themes in its own right. The original shows posed thoughtful questions like, “What does it mean to be sentient?” Or, “How do you remain loyal to the truth even in the face of great stress, danger, and pain?” Similar to Rick and Morty, these contemplative themes are ingrained in Star Trek’s DNA, so this is an absolute match made in heaven.