Five months too late.
Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1, which was broadcast in the United States beginning in August, is finally getting an international release. The show will share Star Trek: Picard’s home on Amazon Prime Video from the 22nd of January – with all ten episodes being made available simultaneously on that date.
It’s anybody’s guess why this couldn’t have happened in the summer, but it is a positive step that Lower Decks has found an international home ahead of Season 2’s premiere – which may come in late 2021 or 2022. Amazon Prime Video has netted a great show and a wonderful addition to its lineup. Hopefully fans of Star Trek: Picard will at least try to give Star Trek: Lower Decks a look-in, and if they stick with it what they’ll find is an enjoyable animated comedy series that pays homage to The Next Generation era of the franchise.
But this whole situation has been an own goal from ViacomCBS. They seriously let down Star Trek’s huge international fanbase by deliberately choosing to broadcast Lower Decks in North America only. The damage that decision has caused will take time to abate, and I don’t blame anyone who chooses to skip Lower Decks Season 1 – or who watched it already by “other means.”
Given that ViacomCBS was clearly in negotiations with Amazon – and perhaps other broadcasters or streaming services too – why couldn’t they have just waited?! All the hurt and anger in the fanbase for the sake of broadcasting the series five months early? What’s five months in the grand scheme of things? Nothing. And if CBS All Access is in such a shaky financial position that they needed the boost from Lower Decks… well that does not bode well for the overall future of the franchise.
Don’t get me wrong, I am glad that Lower Decks is getting an international broadcast. I just don’t understand the corporate decision-making that meant we couldn’t have shared the series with our American friends in the fanbase. With coronavirus causing major disruption to Star Trek’s production schedules, there’s currently nothing on the cards for 2021 after Discovery Season 3 wraps up in the first week of January. Lower Decks Season 1 could have filled that gap for all of us, and we’d still have had more Star Trek on our screens in 2020 that we’d had in fifteen years.
It will be strange to go from 2020, with three Star Trek productions, to 2021 which looks likely to have nothing until the autumn at the earliest. Lower Decks Season 1 could have been something all Star Trek fans shared together; weeks of shared geeking out and humour to take the edge off the end of a phenomenally crappy year for many people. Instead it became another source of division in an already-fractured fanbase, and there’s just no reason I can see why that needed to happen.
The only upside – aside from Lower Decks being legitimately available to fans now – is that the anti-Star Trek social media groups, who have for months proclaimed that “no one wants to buy Lower Decks because it’s crap,” can now shut up! Lower Decks was a moderate success. It didn’t light the world on fire in the way some animated comedies have, but it brought in viewers. Some Trekkies who had skipped Discovery and even Picard showed up for Lower Decks, and I’m sure some fans of animated comedy gave the franchise a try for the first time.
Again, though, we come back to the broadcast being split up. Even if we very generously assume that a full half of Star Trek: Lower Decks’ potential audience is in North America, that means that when no international broadcast announcement was forthcoming, 50% of the hype and interest in Lower Decks vanished. And we see this in the reaction to the show online.
Hype is a funny thing. By killing half of it – or more – when the decision to only broadcast Lower Decks in North America became obvious, there’s no telling how many potential viewers the show lost. If everyone had been on board for the series at the same time its premiere would have been much bigger, and the buzz it generated would have reached far further. Thus we can argue that ViacomCBS didn’t just lose 50% of Lower Decks’ audience by segregating its release by geography, but an untold number. The show was so good that it could have easily achieved the same viewership as some of the better animated comedies in recent years – Disenchanted, Final Space, even Rick and Morty. If we’re judging the series on merit, it easily matches any of these.
But we can’t simply judge Lower Decks on merit. Its broadcast was split up, and every conversation around the show since has at least acknowledged that fact. The final episode of the season even brought in a major starship and two major characters that could be considered a significant spoiler for Trekkies, and it isn’t easy to avoid spoilers in online fan communities. Some fans who chose not to pirate the show will have had it spoiled for them, and while arguably the spoilers in Lower Decks aren’t as egregious as the likes of Baby Yoda had been in The Mandalorian when that show’s release was similarly split up, those spoilers still have an effect on fans.
So that’s that. Five months too late, Lower Decks will be available to Star Trek fans in much of the rest of the world. Some territories and jurisdictions may still have to wait; Amazon’s announcement mentioned Europe, the UK, India, Australia, and “others.” But a lot of fans who had missed out will finally be able to watch.
If you missed Lower Decks when it was new because it wasn’t available to you, let me give you my spoiler-free thoughts. The first episode is okay, but not especially strong. Episode 2 contains perhaps the worst moment of the series; I came seriously close to switching off and not returning, that’s how strongly I felt. But if you stick with it, the first season ends up being solid. There are plenty of callbacks and references to past iterations of the franchise, and some genuinely funny jokes and storylines that, at points, had me in stitches. If you’re a Star Trek fan, a fan of animated comedies, or both, it’s well worth a look.
When it debuts here in the UK I’m planning to re-watch the series – if for no other reason than to boost its ratings on Amazon! And in just over a month, you can finally see what all the fuss is about.
Star Trek: Lower Decks is coming to Amazon Prime Video in the UK, Europe, India, Australia, and selected other territories on the 22nd of January 2021. The series is already available to stream on CBS All Access in the United States. Star Trek: Lower Decks – and the entire Star Trek franchise – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.