Star Trek: Lower Decks creator Mike McMahan

Sarah Coulter/Paramount+

Noel Wells as Ensign Tendi, Tawny Newsome as Ensign Beckett Mariner and Jack Quaid as Ensign Brad Boimler

CBS Interactive, Inc.
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December 15, 2021
In The Mix

Set Those Phasers to Fun

A Star Trek fan heads below deck for his new animated comedy.

Ramin Zahed

If you’re going to launch an animated comedy spinoff of Star Trek, you couldn’t ask for a better creator than Mike McMahan, the Emmy-winning former head writer of Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty and the cocreator of Hulu’s new sci-fi hit Solar Opposites. And McMahan couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity than a meeting with Alex Kurtzman, an executive producer of Star Trek: Discovery and a producer of the franchise since 2009.

That get-together took place a couple of years ago, says McMahan, who is now showrunner of Star Trek: Lower Decks, with Kurtzman as a fellow executive producer.

“It was just a casual meeting, but they liked my idea of focusing on the support crew,” recalls McMahan, whose @TNG_S8 Twitter parody account led him in 2015 to write Warped: An Engaging Guide to the Never-Aired 8th Season, a franchise-approved “official parody guide” based on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Now that fandom is in full effect on Star Trek: Lower Decks, which centers on the lower-ranking crew members of one of Starfleet’s least important ships, the U.S.S. Cerritos. The series debuted in early August on CBS All Access.

McMahan is a huge fan of ’90s-era Trek, and that’s why he set the show in the year 2380 — Star Trek: The Next Generation was set in 2364.

“In Lower Decks, you’ll get everything you want from Star Trek,” Kurtzman says. “Mysteries, adventure, ethics, honesty and morality. We are very careful not to break anything. We are definitely not making fun of Star Trek, and you can definitely fit Lower Decks into a proper timeline of the other shows and movies in the franchise.”

Part of the challenge for McMahan and the team was creating Starfleet officers who don’t undermine the existing mythology. “They had to have points of views that create comedic tension and situations,” he explains. “Setting the show in a part of the ship that we’ve only seen a couple of times in a couple of episodes allowed us to do so. In fact, the [1994] episode titled ‘Lower Decks,’ from TNG is by far one of my favorites.”

The new show looks different from Star Trek: The Animated Series, which ran for two seasons in the early ’70s. “We wanted Lower Decks to look like it would fit in a primetime animated comedy block, but it’s not scatological — it’s Star Trek,” McMahan says. “As an added nerdy element, all the sci-fi needed to look legit and imbue the show with this sense of wonder. The humans needed to look relaxed and comforting, kind of like Matt Groening’s Life in Hell comics. So, the visuals are a mixture of honest Star Trek fleet designs and broad, comedic animated visuals.”

McMahan is thrilled to present his take on the world Gene Roddenberry brought to life fifty-four years ago. “I love these characters so much,” he says, “that I could spend years with them. And whether viewers know a ton about the show or can’t tell the difference between Star Trek and Stargate, I hope they’ll fall in love with these new characters and their stories.”

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 9, 2020

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