The cast of the animated Star Trek series, 'Lower Decks.' Tendi (Noël Wells), Rutherford (Eugene Cordero), Boimler (Jack Quaid), and Mariner (Tawny Newsome) stand in a row looking sheepishly at each other.

Mike McMahan on the Sweet Appeal of ‘Star Trek: Lower Decks’

Part of the joy of being a fan of Star Trek comes when you get to poke fun of the thing you love. No one else can make fun of it, of course. Just fellow fans. That’s why shows like Star Trek: Lower Decks are so sweet and adorable because you get to see fellow fans bringing to life the absurdity of Trek brought to life in a beloved way. The series, which premiered its fourth season this summer, has been making fans fall in love with the lower deck crew from the start but they’re on to bigger and better things. Like becoming live-action and going to the Enterprise in Strange New Worlds and then instantly agreeing to “not talk about it” in Lower Decks.

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At New York Comic Con, I was lucky enough to be a part of the roundtable discussion with creator of Star Trek: Lower Decks Mike McMahon about the series and taking the crew to a new place with the new season and still having that heart while separating some of the characters from where we know them. “So like obviously Lower Decks inverts the usual Trek paradigm of a lot of serious, a little comedy and it’s a lot of comedy and then it gets really serious and you’re like, ‘oh no, I’m having feelings.’ It’s been really fun this season because promoting them, I was worried at first being like, ‘will this change the basic DNA of the show? Will it not feel like Lower Decks anymore? Will it feel like the college years or something where you’re like, no no? Because you don’t want somebody to come back and be like, here’s this show I love. It’s different now.’ And in producing this season, not only did it give us a ton of very Lower Decks, feeling situations that still feel Lower Decks, because I still feel lower decks, like (Alex) Kurtzman is my boss, you know what I mean? I am still getting notes from the network. There’s very few times I think in life that you don’t feel lower decks. And I think it’s knowing that that’s a strength and not a weakness.”

McMahan went on to talk about how the feeling of “lower decks” helped to guide writing and crafting a series of the show where the crew was no lower living in the lower decks of the ship and were rising to different ranks themselves. “There’s people you meet and there’s things you learn and there’s things you learn about yourself when you are lower decks in life that you end up carrying more than what you learn when you’re at the top of your game. And there’s a lot more paths for Lower Decks to go where they’re not captains. You know what I mean? You’re always like, ‘oh, somebody’s gonna be captain and that’s the end of their story.’ Which by the way isn’t true,” McMahan said. “You see captains learn in Star Trek all the time, but I do wanna explore lots of stuff before I’m in charge of a whole crew. Because when you’re in charge of a whole crew, it changes the types of stories you can tell and it makes the audience not be on board with choices those characters might make because they’re in charge of a crew now and you can’t, when you’re captain, it can’t be about you. It has to be about something bigger. So Star Trek: Lower Decks, going through season four really showed me that there’s so many more stories to tell and that I don’t have to worry about that. And, and it’s been an awesome.”

Bringing Lower Decks to the Enterprise

Tawny Newsome as Beckett Mariner and Jack Quaid as Bradward Boimler in a live-action scene from 'Strange New Worlds.' Beckett is a Black woman with long, curly hair tied back in a ponytail with curly bangs and wearing a red Starfleet uniform in the style of 'Lower Decks.' Brad is a white man with dyed purple hair also wearing a similar uniform. They are standing in a transporter room.

The bringing together of Lower Decks and other Star Trek worlds came when Boimler (Jack Quaid) and Mariner (Tawny Newsome) ended up on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. In the episode, Boimler sits down on a chair backwards and says “Riker!” as he does so which is made infinitely funnier when you realize that Jonathan Frakes (who played William T. Riker in Next Generation) directed the episode. The line itself was improvised by Jack Quaid.

When I asked McMahan about working with the actors on improvising and creating these characters in the Lower Decks world, the talked about how animation gave them the freedom to do things and change things based on the voice performances. “In animation we specifically can be adjusting everything for a year,” he said. “We don’t just get a take on set. If we decide to change something, we can bring the voice actors back in. But I think more to your point, one thing that I got to choose and Strange New Worlds led the charge on that episode and I got to kind of nudge and bump and pitch lines and I knew Tawny and Jack were going to improvise on set, that was always the plan, I didn’t know how much they were going to use and that’s what I loved, because you never know, it’s up to them. But one thing I did get to choose was when does this episode take place in Lower Decks.”

McMahan went on to talk about putting the crossover into Lower Decks, saying. “And Boimler could not have done that episode season one and he couldn’t have done it season two, and it fit in to what you’ll be seeing. There’s a lot of interesting Boimler stuff in season five that the DNA of that is directly, you could track that from the crossover episode.”

Star Trek: Lower Decks is streaming on Paramount+.

(featured image: Paramount+)

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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her current obsession is Glen Powell's dog, Brisket. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.