How this literal cartoon is outdoing multiple seasons of live-action prestige sci-fi shows ought to be studied in a damn lab.
If you have the patience to get through its rocky first season, Star Trek: Lower Decks proves itself to be an adult animated series that's deeply committed to getting significantly better with every season. What started as a sort of budget Rick and Morty riff with grating humor and stiff animation has turned into an effortlessly witty sci-fi show with plenty of life in the way it moves. It's still mostly concerned with having silly little adventures at the end of the day, but what's striking is how complete its adventures and sci-fi ideas are in the span of its 20- to 30-minute episodes.
And as it's found its footing, Lower Decks has also gained the confidence to begin telling more overarching stories by its fourth season, with an even stronger focus on character. These kinds of animated comedies could easily avoid any profound development for its protagonists—and this show doesn't exactly have the most deeply-written crew members in Trek history—but there's real heart in how the lower decks crew reflect on the modesty of their stations and how they view themselves within a larger institution. If it doesn't seem too groundbreaking, that's part of the appeal too; smaller stories still deserve to be told.
From its first episode to its most recent season finale, the one thing that's remained consistent about Lower Decks is the strength of its voice acting. Led by Tawny Newsome, Jack Quaid, Nöel Wells, and Eugene Cordero, the ensemble here nails their roles with the kind of expressiveness that many celebrities-trying-voice-acting just don't understand how to do. Newsome and Quaid, in particular, manage to bring lots of wit, sincerity, and emotion into admittedly ridiculous lines of dialogue that are delivered at rapid-fire speeds. But you never lose sight of where these scenes are going with this cast steering the ship.