Trailer: 'Star Trek: Lower Decks' Season 4
Bear with us here, as if you just watch the following trailer, you may be a bit confused as to what it actually has to do with the furry fandom. You'll just have to take our word that there is actually a fairly important, fun furry character in this series, despite the fact she's in less than a second total of the trailer. (If the video below isn't visible, try this link.)
Star Trek: Lower Decks is the eighth television series (if you count streaming series as such) and the second animated series in the long running Star Trek franchise. The first three seasons of the show are available from the Paramount+ streaming service; the fourth season will begin airing September 7. In a tribute to the original animated Star Trek series's catperson alien Caitian crewmember Lt. M'Ress, Lower Decks's supporting cast includes Dr. T'Ana.
This article is going to assume most readers on this site are, if not familiar with Star Trek, at least aware of its existence and its general concepts. It may be overshadowed by the other big "Star" Title space opera, but it is still had a huge impact on world popular culture. And even if it's not normally in the purview of furry, any group who describes themselves with the moniker "fandom" owes the Trekkies something.
Star Trek: Lower Decks follows the adventures of the USS Cerritos, a California-class starship in the United Federation of Planets's Starfleet, which is a lower ranked ship then the flagships the Star Trek franchise usually follows. In addition to this, and inspired partly by the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Lower Decks", Lower Decks follows the adventures of four junior officers rather than the senior officers. In addition to being the second animated series, it's also the first series in the Star Trek franchise to feature a primarily comedic tone. The show creator, Mike McMahan, is a story editor on Rick & Morty, and while Lower Decks does still feel distinct from Rick & Morty and in line with other modern Star Trek series, it would not not be entirely inaccurate to describe the show's tone as "kind of like Rick & Morty, but with more direct Star Trek references".
Dr. T'Ana (voiced by Gillian Vigman) is the head doctor of the Cerritos, and therefore a senior officer, and also therefore a bit out of focus for the series. However, Vigman still gets credited in the show's opening, and usually at least shows up in the background of every episode. Her personality is that of a cranky old cat, and her complete lack of "bedside manner", despite her role as doctor, is a source of humor throughout the series. Her feline nature is also often exploited for jokes. Of the main cast, she mostly interacts with Ensign D'Vana Tendi (voiced by Noël Wells), a member of the green-skinned Orion species. As Tendi is the most kind-hearted of the main characters, she contrasts well with the surly feline, and they have formed an odd mentor/student pair as the series has progressed.
Let's return to the original Star Trek animated series, Star Trek: The Animated Series. Meant as a continuation of the The Original Series (note that The Original Series and The Animated Series were added to the series' titles retroactively; technically, both series aired as just Star Trek), The Animated Series began in 1974, aired for two seasons, won the Star Trek series its first ever Emmy award and retained most of the original show's cast. Only Walter Koenig (Ensign Pavel Chekov) was left out, but he was allowed to write an episode as a consolation prize.
To replace Chekov, two new characters were added to the bridge, and to take advantage of the animation skipping the need for costly special makeup effects, both characters were aliens with more than just pointy ears. Despite helsman Arex having way more screentime and arguably a much more interesting character design, at least in science fiction terms, the new secondary communications officer, Lt. M'Ress, became popular with a group of cartoon animal fans who would one day become known as "furries". M'Ress was voiced by Majel Barrett, who played multiple characters on Star Trek shows, including the Enterprise's first officer in the original pilot and Nurse Chapel, possibly the most important member of The Original Series's cast nobody remembers as she didn't appear in the movies. She voiced the ship's computer of the Enterprise, as well.
The Animated Series's relationship with Star Trek continuity has been dodgy in the past; Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry said the series didn't count, but in the years since his passing, Paramount, who currently own the franchise, have been inclined to add it to continuity, if only because having it "in canon" makes more people willing to buy DVDs or stream the episodes. Some Star Trek fans still consider the series as "not counting", but this mostly seems to stem more from snobbery towards the medium of animation than anything else. More recent Paramount+ Star Trek series have made direct reference to The Animated Series episodes, most notably in the reintroduction of Admiral Robert April as the original Captain of the Enterprise, as established in The Animated Series. And, of course, Lower Decks can't go an episode without throwing in a shoutout to The Animated Series, but is itself counted entirely in the continuity of the other Paramount+ series, Strange New Worlds's second season including a crossover episode with Lower Decks. However, not all animated Star Trek series are doing as well; the third animated Trek series, Prodigy, was abruptly canceled and then removed from Paramount+ after one season, making it the only Star Trek show not available on the service.
M'Ress's alien species, the Caitians, whatever the situation of The Animated Series is, have always been one of the things that later Star Trek creators have tried to salvage, even before today's more accepting stance. Most accept that an unnamed background alien character with a heavily feline makeup effect in the fourth Star Trek movie, The Voyage Home (a.k.a. "The One with the Whales"), is a Caitian Starfleet Admiral. Less successfully, there's the dancer with an unusual anatomical attribute in the fifth movie, The Final Frontier (her badly choreographed fight scene with Kirk may be the low point in what is usually considered one of the worst movies, making it an erstwhile contender for worst moment in the entire franchise) and a pair of twins from Into Darkness (which the screenwriter swears were written as Caitians, but that the makeup and special effects teams either ignored this or were unaware what that meant, in another pair of overtly sexualized roles). Another Caitian, this time a child, played a small but important recurring role in the ill-fated Prodigy series.
The Animated Series also introduced another feline species, the Kzinti, which, if you accept The Animated Series, are actually canon with two seperate space opera continuities. The episode "The Slaver Weapon", written by Larry Niven, was a straight-up adaptation of his own story set in his own continuity of inter-connected science fiction stories dubbed "Known Space". Despite the possible copyright headaches caused by this (and despite the Kzinti being originally an enemy of Starfleet), Lower Decks also features a recurring Kzinti extra (who can also be seen in the Season 4 trailer, perhaps even more than T'Ana!).
"The Slaver Weapon" is also one of the recommended episodes of The Animated Series. The series is 70s television-quality animation, which is a nice way of saying it's not very good. M'Ress herself doesn't actually do much; her original popularity with the nascent furry fandom has more to do with her character design than her actual character. However, in addition to "The Slaver Weapon", furries might enjoy "The Jihad", which features multiple interesting aliens, most vaguely animal-based (including the Vedala elder, which can be seen at left), and of course, "Yesteryear", which is the one episode even the naysayers agree is good enough that it ought to count. Of course, the entire series is available on Paramount+, though it's mostly for completionists only. Lower Decks is worth a binge, but highlights include season 1's "Crisis Point" (with a pitch perfect parody of the film series) and finale "No Small Parts" (which is a great finale and introduces Ensign Peanut Hamper), season 2's "wej Duj" (Klingon for "three ships", featuring the lower decks of ships from that alien species as well as Vulcans) and season 3's "A Mathematically Perfect Redemption" (featuring the return of Ensign Peanut Hamper as well some nice avian aliens for furry bird fans) if you just want a sampler.