Star Trek: Lower Decks referenced a lot of past content in their inaugural season and showrunner Mike McMahan explained why that was to Trek Con.
While Star Trek: Lower Decks may have split the fanbase and became the lost rated series in Star Trek history according to many review outlets, the series attempted to find a home within the franchise’s universe. Part of doing that was embracing the rest of the series and all the good that has come out of the franchise.
Part of connecting to the franchise in their own unique way was by doing callbacks to moments within Star Trek canon, and treating it like they’ve learned about it through mission logs taught at the academy. This was a big hit for fans who liked the brief nostalgia trip.
"We get a lot of people saying, “Wow, there’s a lot of references in this show.” Some people misunderstand and think that we think that the references are funny. We don’t think the references are funny. We feel like criminals that have gotten away with doing a Star Trek show. And the lower deckers would be huge fans of all this stuff that happens in Starfleet. They would be learning about it at the Academy. They would be reading the logs. And this show is a celebration of all Star Trek stuff, for the characters in it and the audience watching it, and the guys writing it. We almost feel like, ‘Oh crap, we did it, we got a Star Trek show. Let’s have as much fun as possible.’ All these references for us, it’s worldbuilding. These are animated, two-dimensional characters. How could they not be excited about Gorn. If they know everything about this ship, they know everything about Starfleet."
Much like with most modern-Trek, this was a double-edged sword. Many fans felt the show didn’t have its own identity, instead of borrowing from the animation style of Rick & Morty and making a Star Trek show in that series image. Other fans cited the overuse of past Trek characters and plot points as a sign the show struggled to have its own identity.
Still, yet, other fans enjoyed the familiar design stylings and Trek-continuity callbacks, claiming it made the show feel part of the larger overall universe.
The first two seasons of Lower Decks were green-lit after one another, so it’ll be interesting to see with rumors of new Trek shows developing in the pipeline if Lower Decks has the legs to sustain itself into the third season.