Ahead of the arrival of Star Trek: Lower Decks on Blu-ray next week TrekMovie had a chance to talk to creator and showrunner Mike McMahan about the release, season two and more.
One of the features on the Blu-ray is a look at Easter eggs. As you know, our site (and others) did weekly Easter egg articles for each episode…
Yeah, we must have kept you guys busy. Sorry about that.
I guess that’s my question. How did we do? Are there many Easter eggs no one spotted?
It’s funny. It’s kind of a combo. Some of my artists slipped some in at the last minute because we’re working on stuff till the very last second. So my artists slipped in stuff that I didn’t catch until broadcast, and I was like, ‘Oh, you fucking stinkers.’ All that stuff you guys caught, which was great. There are a few. You guys caught all the literal… you guys did an amazing job, and kind of a horrifying job as I make season two and three right now knowing that there’s an army of people smarter than me that are seeing my stuff at all times.
But I will say that the only thing you guys might not have been looking for is that when we’re writing, character motivations and turns and kind of things that come up as ridiculous. A lot of the time the most ridiculous stuff is grounded in Star Trek episodes other characters made a similar choice under lateral circumstances. And so there’s almost a way to deconstruct stuff about Lower Decks that’s in a character choice that’s based in stuff you’ve seen in Star Trek. It’s almost like echoes and fun things where you’re seeing it in a new way and seeing it through the lens of the character you’ve just met. But if you really dig through 700 episodes, you can find a person in Starfleet making a decision that isn’t completely unlike it. And that’s a way that we say, ‘Okay, we’re making a comedy. We’re bending the rules sometimes. But it’s been done before.’
Those aren’t really Easter eggs. And the stuff you’re finding, I don’t really think of Easter eggs either. Occasionally when we stick somebody in a closet, or if you’re in like a store, and you see like stuff in the background. There’s kind of fun stuff like that. We think of it as like reusing props from other Star Trek shows, which is what they did too! When you watch [Star Trek:] Generations it’s like, ‘I’ve seen all this stuff before.’ And we’re doing that to try to build out the world. A lot of what you guys are calling Easter eggs is us saying, ‘Hey, be okay with our show being animated and a comedy shorter and louder and faster and crazier because look at all this familiar stuff.’ It’s in 2380 and it’s on a Starfleet ship – a new Starfleet ship – and a lot of this stuff is familiar.
We often just say “references,” but being that these “Easter eggs” are called out on the Blu-ray it’s kind of a highlighted feature of the show. Do you see these as a permanent feature of Lower Decks? Or do you feel that you may move further away from it these Star Trek references constantly coming at you?
I think that the reason it says “Easter eggs” on the Blu-ray is you need folks that maybe aren’t as deep as you and I to understand what one of the appeals of the show is. And I think “Easter eggs” in the vernacular is, ‘Hey, there’s going to be stuff here you recognize.’ And some of it will be fun because there are Easter eggs in there, too. For me, the show is always going to be a mixture of the familiar and the new. Every time we’re doing something like we’re creating a new alien race, you go through all of these different Star Trek episodes and there are aliens that end up popping that you like you want to see again. So like Exocomps didn’t show up again in Starfleet a lot. But I love them and I wanted to bring them back, and the same with the Pakleds.
So there’s sort of a fine line between what’s going to be the new stuff that you’re seeing – because we are creating new alien races as well – and what are the Easter egg-y kind of things as well. Like what does that sign say in Klingon in the background on Little Qo’noS and stuff like that. So I do think, from an Easter egg point of view, Lower Decks is always going to be playing with stuff that is familiar and celebrating it. And feeling like Star Trek like that while doing new stuff at the same time. So having the Easter eggs on the DVD is great. If you want to do you see that bonus feature and have somebody walk you through everything and you might see something you didn’t see, although you guys probably know all of it. It’ll just be like a greatest hits to you guys. But to somebody who’s not as well versed, it might make you want to be like, ‘Oh, I should go watch that TNG episode.’ That’s cool.
But, I want the show to feel different than a DVD bonus feature. Episodes aren’t made to be deconstructed. They’re made to be enjoyed and feel the stakes and live along with the characters and laugh. Then maybe on the second time through, it can be deconstructed and the whole buffalo can be picked apart a little bit and you can find all the Easter eggs and stuff we hid in there. And on DVD the nice thing is, if you’re just feeling like looking for Easter eggs, there’s a separate way to do it instead of kind of pausing as you are going through the episodes.
You’ve previously said we will see more legacy characters from Star Trek canon in season two, like Riker who you introduced in season one. Many have noted how Riker is a bit different on Lower Decks. There is even a crazy fan theory that your Riker is actually Thomas Riker…
Ha! Thomas Riker is a dork. He joined the Maquis, like, ‘What are you doing?’ Our Riker is the real Will Riker.
But let’s say you bring in Michael Dorn to play Worf or Gates McFadden to play Crusher. Can we expect the same kind of thing, a broader version of these characters where you pick some elements to caricature as your versions of them?
It depends. The easy answer to that is, yeah, of course. It’ll be my version of them because I’ll be writing them and directing them. But then, of course, they will be balancing it. Like when we work with [Jonathan] Frakes and Marina [Sirtis] and John de Lancie, it was like, “Tell me how your character would say this line.” Let’s rewrite this line in the booth. Let’s record in different ways. Let’s find a great middle ground.
Like when we were working with Jonathan Frakes He was like, “Gosh, it’d be great if I could go ‘red alert!’ here. I love how Riker says that so we rewrote the scene to make sure that he could start with the exact way he likes to do it. For me, bringing in a legacy character has to make sense diegetically. It has to make sense on the show. It has to make sense for where that character is in the canon and in the timeline right then. And if we’re going to exaggerate it or not, it’s never going to be the punch down on the character, it’s never going to be to make a mockery of them. It’s got to be to embody a certain element of them.
It’s tough because we don’t want to cartoon-ify or diminish anything that people have done, which is why it’s probably less likely that Sir Patrick Stewart is ever going to be on Lower Decks. How is our dinky ship going to run into him? And for a lot of the quote-unquote lower decks characters, it is a little easier to get them. For Frakes and Marina, they were easier because I had spoken to Jonathan before we pitched the show and he loved the idea and wanted to work together. But, I love all of these existing characters in canon, and I want to do right by them. And you got to be careful. You have to recognize who they are and feel like it’s a celebration of them as opposed to just utilizing them and disposing them and saying something in canon that isn’t true about them.
So, I would love to work with all of these folks – with Gates and everybody. I would love for the show to go seven seasons and for us to to do little check-ins on people as we’re going that makes sense. But I only want to write them in a way that it really feels worth having back. So it feels like our show changed to fit how they are and not the other way around. And on top of that, I wouldn’t want to write them so drastically, that you just aren’t feeling like you’re not catching them on a certain day. Like, this is a funnier day for Riker. This is what he’s like in this six months of his life.
At the same time, you see these characters shift and change when you’re watching the original shows that they’re on. Because the actors are finding different things to express with them. You don’t want things to be static. You want the characters to be reacting to stuff and changing. Sometimes you’ve got a funnier writer who is writing them a little more comedically. Like sometimes you have Worf and he’s a stoic warrior who’s trying to find his identity from growing up with human parents versus his place in his House back on Qo’noS. Those are heavy stories and at other times Worf is funny and Dorn gets to play him funny. The way I think of it, we are playing people funny. When they are on Lower Decks they get to do the funny stuff that inspired me to do Lower Decks in the first place.
Season two picks up with Boimler still on the Titan with Riker. Picard season one showrunner Michael Chabon had worked out a whole backstory for Riker and Troi on the Titan. Based on timing you guys could be running into some of that stuff, maybe even Deanna pregnant with their son Thad. So are you all coordinating? Could we see elements of Chabon’s Titan story in Lower Decks?
I don’t want to give anything away. I will say that I think Chabon is brilliant. And he’s a true Trekkie. I’ve hung out with him multiple times, with him and his wife. Secret Hideout has set up a showrunners meeting that we do where all the of the showrunners on the different Trek shows come together and talk about what we are doing seasonally and what we are doing with legacy characters. It’s to make sure that it feels like there’s a cohesive understanding of the timeline and what we think is important about the characters.
The way I’m handling Riker is the stories we’re telling on the Titan are a part of Riker’s history. They might be a little bit of an exaggerated version of it through our show, but the events that we’re talking about, definitely fit into where Riker’s journey is. Where he’s no longer on the Enterprise and he’s doing his own thing. Now the version of Riker we’re seeing is the kind of thing that I like about Riker. He is the larger-than-life jazz-loving, kind of mischievous Riker. Which is not everybody’s Riker, but it is a Riker you see every once in a while.
The stuff you’re going to be seeing in season two of the Titan is stuff that happened. It’s probably a little bit more ebullient. It’s told through our show’s point of view. And it’s probably a little bit before the stuff that Chabon wrote for Riker and for Troi as they are heading into where you find them in Picard. I like to think of it as the calm before the storm, this kind of era that we’re in for Lower Decks. It’s pre a lot of heavy stuff. It’s post-TNG, post-Nemesis, pre some pretty, big events that lead to changes in the Federation in his current life and everybody around him. So, we’re really careful that 2380 – which is where we’re telling most of our stories right now – it’s this little calm. What are people’s lives like when they’re stretching a little bit and when they’re exploring and having fun and before life gets a little bit more complicated.
One of the surprising things revealed about Star Trek: Prodigy is the setting in 2383, only 3 years after where you guys are. So is this coordinating making sure you are all on the same page for the late 24th century?
Yes. There’s a couple things about Prodigy. I can’t remember what they’ve revealed about their show and I don’t want to step on any toes. But there are some intrinsic storytelling details about their show that keep us from bumping into each other too much, both with timeline and location and characters and that kind of stuff. There have been a couple times where we’ll turn in a story area to Secret Hideout and I’ll get a call from an executive telling me the Prodigy guys were also talking about taking a look at this or that character. So then Hagemans and I will jump on the phone and we’ll talk about how are you going to be using this character? What timeline will it be? What’s important for you guys? Sometimes it’ll be like ‘Okay we’ll just make sure that when we’re using them, there’s an understandable reason that they could get to you guys in that way.’ And other times, it’s like, ‘Wow, I love the way you guys are using this character,’ or they love the way we’re using it and we’ll just switch out the character for somebody else. So it’s a little bit of like a dance.
We’re working together because we all love Star Trek. If you’re watching Lower Decks and then you switch over to Prodigy and watch that, we don’t want you to be distracted watching either show by being like, ‘Well, wait a minute, the other show says something else!’ It’s important to us that we’re respecting canon, but also respecting each other’s shows. I think that is there’s a lot of easy ways to do it. There’s so many characters in Star Trek and there’s so much to use and go around that sometimes we geek out about the same ideas, and sometimes those work together. But the short answer is: yeah, we’re talking all the time. We’re making sure that we’re both making the best show possible. Neither Prodigy nor Lower Decks is entirely dependent on legacy characters. They’re kind of a part of what’s fun about it, but the new characters and the new stories we’re telling is really the feature. So when you’re swapping that stuff out or making adjustments, it’s really just producing. It’s making sure that we’re being careful. That we’re trying to do things that make the audience feel like we are making sure not to do anything with a cavalier or flippant or dismissive kind of bias towards what we all love.
I know that you have a new security chief for season two that you’re very excited about. So I just want to squeeze something out of you as a tease. Can you say anything? Is it a new character?
It’s a new character… a species we’ve seen before, but not one who we’ve seen in Starfleet before.
Lower Decks arrives home next week
The first season of Star Trek: Lower Decks arrives on home media on May 18th. You can pre-order Blu-ray edition at Amazon for $24.99. The limited-edition Steelbook Blu-ray set can be pre-ordered at Amazon for $29.99. And the DVD edition can be pre-ordered at Amazon for $25.99.
More from Mike on All Access Star Trek podcast
Check back on Friday to listen to the full interview with Mike McMahan on TrekMovie’s All Access Star Trek podcast along with our discussion and analysis of what he had to say about the past, present, and future of Star Trek: Lower Decks.
Find more news and analysis on Star Trek: Lower Decks.