That first episode is the least successful of all the shows outings. It relies on elements that, while they usually work in at least early Rick and Morty, don’t work here. Chief among them was the dynamic between Mariner and Boimler. Mariner, the hot shot does whatever she wants lead was contrasted with Boimler, the neurotic over achiever who never wants to get into anything too dangerous. It was just Rick and Morty but in the Trek universe. The key thing that didn’t work was how it treated Mariner.
In Rick and Morty, much of the humor of the Rick character comes from the fact he’s a hollow shell of a person who ends up being the cause of his own problems. He may act like he’s perfect and smarter than anyone in the room but he’s his own greatest enemy. Mariner in Lower Decks, at least in the first episode, is just a kick butt action lead who’s seemingly perfect aside from disobeying orders for the right reason. It’s like if in Rick and Morty, Rick was actually shown to be perfect all the time and never had flaws. It’d make him annoying and all his horrible actions would be perfectly justified, losing their dark comedic edge.
Lower Decks quickly realized this wasn’t the way to go and throughout the first season filled in Mariner’s back story, making her a major screw up that wasn’t always right. Boimler could one-up her at times and she could go too far, like in “Cupid’s Errant Arrow” where her insistence that Boimler’s new girlfriend must be an imposter is proved wrong.
The show also took the time to flesh our her back story, giving her genuine trauma that’s mostly played for comedy but still fills in why she acts the way she does. We also get a softening of her friendship with Boimler. While in early episodes the relationship felt incredibly mean spirited on Mariner’s part, later on the two genuinely grow to like each other but still have an edge that provides some fantastic comedy.
The gross out humor of the first episode, in particular an extended sequence where Boimler is suckled on by an alien, is mostly gone from later episodes. They still do “gross” gags but they aren’t as overplayed and tend to come more from the characters. In “We’ll Always Have Tom Paris,” medical officer Tendi has to travel with Mariner in order to find a libido post for T’ana, the ship’s chief medical officer (who’s basically a cat person.) After a series of madcap adventures the two accidentally break the post but T’ana doesn’t care. All she wanted was the box to play in, just like a real cat. The subversion is just perfect.
Lower Decks could still be accused of relying too much on the “we said a Trek thing you know” and the first episode is guilty of it. In its closing moments Mariner just lists off characters from other Trek shows and the joke is mostly that she’s just listing them off. Later episodes also rely on Trek references but, like the Wolf 359 joke, it’s done in a way that uses the Trek universe the same way a regular comedy might use a pop culture reference.