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Star Trek’s hysterical retro shorts need to become a real show

The creator of Too Many Cooks gives Trek an Adult Swim glow up

Spock standing in front of a screen displaying a transporter accident that left a red shirt’s guts spilling out in Star Trek: very Short Treks Image: CBS Studios
Matt Patches is an executive editor at Polygon. He has over 15 years of experience reporting on movies and TV, and reviewing pop culture.

Star Trek does not have a long history of being funny, but it has its moments. The original series’ “The Trouble with Tribbles” saw Gene Roddenberry’s social commentary take a light-hearted swerve, and future generations were more than happy to dip back in (see: DS9’s “Trials and Tribble-ations.”) Thanks to the godly powers of Q, The Next Generation crew found a reason to dress up in Robin Hood attire for the delightful romp “Qpid.” Lower Decks was born from the obvious potential of Trek stories being able to poke fun at themselves while sprinkling in the catnip of Easter eggs.

Trek can be funny! But the latest Trek experiment might be the franchise’s funniest turn.

This week saw the debut of “Holiday Party,” the second installment of the short animated web series Star Trek: Very Short Treks. Created by Casper Kelly (Too Many Cooks, The Fireplace), the shorts pluck characters from across the Star Trek universe — everyone from TOS through Discovery and Strange New Worlds — and plops them into wacky adventures in the style of 1973’s The Animated Series. What could have satisfied as a nostalgic bit of fan service (the promise of seeing Neelix in retro 2D form certainly would be enough) becomes an unexpectedly unhinged approach to goofing around with old Trek friends.

Kelly is a student of the Adult Swim school of cartoon inversion, having clocked time on Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law back in the day. He understands the appeal of infusing stiff ‘70s animation with mildly caustic personalities and scenarios that careen into the R-rated. CBS and Paramount gave him the go ahead to build that sandbox in the Trek universe. With a deadpan Spock performance by Ethan Peck, the right amount of awkward cringing by the other Strange New World side players, and a perfectly timed moment of horror courtesy of Discovery’s Saru (Doug Jones), “Holiday Party,” written by Claire Friedman, is a four-minute riot. I want more.

We’ll get a bit more. Three more episodes of Star Trek: Very Short Treks will air on Wednesdays into October, with episodes including “Worst Contact” and “Holograms, All the Way Down.” Last week saw the premiere, “Skin a Cat,” which saw a Kirk-like unnamed captain (voiced by Pete Holmes) realizing he does not have the most inclusive language to work aboard a ship full of animal-like alien crew members.

While Lower Decks has proven to be a manic-but-honorable comedic ode to Trek, I gotta say: A revival of The Animated Series with the soul of Space Ghost: Coast to Coast or The Brak Show would beam me up to a higher plane of existence. Paramount, make it so.

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