Interview: Mike McMahan On How ‘Star Trek: Lower Decks’ Has Grown The Beard For Season 2… And 3

At the red carpet “block party” premiere event for season two of Lower Decks, TrekMovie had a chance to speak with the people behind the show including creator and showrunner Mike McMahan, who gave us some clues on where the show is headed with insights into season three and beyond.

You retweeted our interview with Tawny and I wanted to ask you about something she said, that the show has more confidence in season two. Can you talk about something that you can do in season two or three that you wouldn’t have tried in season one?

I think season one was interesting because for a lot of the writing in the first half of the season, I would get notes saying, “What is sickbay?” And I was kind of trying to balance Star Trek 101 with a Star Trek comedy, with meeting new characters, with understanding a new class of ship, and 2380 and 2381 in Federation history. There was a lot of explaining. And it’s not funny explaining stuff. It’s hard to make emotional character stories when stuff’s getting explained. So then the second half of season one, now we got a movie episode going, we’ve got the Titan showing up. We were letting our hair down a little bit.

For season two we took that energy from the end of the first half of season one, and you’ll see from the very first scene that there’s no hand-holding anymore. From that first scene, you see that we’ve got Mariner in a situation that would be impossible to describe to people who had never seen Star Trek before. And we’re wielding it in a way that is just saying, “Hey, this is an emotional story. This is a comedic story. And let’s have fun.” The training wheels are off, and you’ll see that across all of season two. We’re going to weirder planets. There’s deeper cuts. And the characters are doing stuff that is little bit more unleashed.

It just feels good. We have 10-episode seasons. I grew up watching 20-something episode seasons. And I think that we’ve gotten to this place where I’m like, “Oh, this is what the show is.” Now Tawny is performing like we are going to write up to her and vice versa and it’s just all working together.

Mike McMahan talks to TrekMovie at Lower Decks season 2 premiere event

You appear to be clean-shaven, but are you saying you have grown the beard?

We’ve grown a beard on the front. We’ve grown a beard on the back. We got a beard growing in the middle of our chest. We got like a big old stomach beard. I would like to think that the beard sprouted in the final three episodes of season one. Season Two, we’re just grooming that beard, that luxurious beard. Caressing the beard in season two.

The other thing from the interview I know you want to talk about was Tawny challenging you on a specific reference.

So the spoiler is, there’s a joke where we needed Mariner to say, “Why can’t have this person have one name just like Odo.” And we’re treating Odo like it’s Madonna. I get a call from Tawny, where she’s like, “Listen, I know I recorded that today. I didn’t like doing it because I know, Odo has a full name, he’s not just Odo.” And I had forgotten that. And I was like, “Tawny, I think it’s going to play.” Nobody calls him by his full name, I never hear it. And she’s like, “You got to take it out because the real fans are going to know and they’re going come after me.” And I was like, “Oh, now I’m leaving it in! I want that to happen.” I’ll back up that this was on purpose.

You are already in production on season three. So is it just a continuation of what you have done, because you don’t really have a lot of feedback on season two yet.

That is scary. Because sometimes I’ll be like, “Will people like Badgey? I don’t know. I like Badgey!” We used him twice in the first season. All you can do is write up to the characters. And then the jokes will come and the stories will come. If you’re searching in the dark for what the audience will like, you’re really writing for yourself and for them. Because we’re the first audience of the show.

Season three is the first steps towards what my kind of vision for these lower deckers is, which is: when do they stop being lower deckers? When do they start moving up in rank for real? Not Boimler ditching out and taking a crack at the Titan, but what is the real slow journey for them? And it feels like season one is: Here we are, get used to it, this is fun. Season two is: We had some bills to pay from season one, and some crazy stuff goes down with a bit of a… I don’t want to say anything about the second half of season two, yet. And then season three continues the story, but it also starts new stories in a way.

There are two ways to end an episode, right? There’s a cliffhanger which is like, ‘Come back or you’re punished,’ you won’t know how it ends. And there’s a way to end an episode that’s like, ‘Hey, that was an amazing time. If you want another amazing time you can’t predict, you should come back.’ I think season three is that. Season three is even more confident than season two. And the way it goes is: ‘Oh, we’re doing a Star Trek.’ There’s no bait to make somebody come back. You’re going to come back because you love these characters and these stories are just starting.

Missi Pyle as Interrogator and Tawny Newsome as Ensign Beckett Mariner in the Lower Decks season two premiere “Strange Energies”

I know you recently extended your deal with CBS. So how long do you see the show going?

I would do this show forever. I would hit seven seasons and then beg for a TNG season 8-style Hail Mary season. I would do movies of this show. I’ve got a billion ideas. I love the Cerritos, I love the Cerritos crew, I love the 2380s era. We’re going to do as many stories as we can until we run up until the events that kind of trigger the stuff that happens in Picard because the Federation drastically changes at that point.

But we’ve got this four years of the Star Trek I grew up with. And so, I don’t know how many seasons we’re going to have. Every season is news to me. We started off with a two-season pickup. And then season three felt like a big victory. But there is no guarantee. In my head, I’m like, ‘Are we going to have as many seasons as TOS, or as many seasons as Enterprise, or are we going to have as many seasons as TNG?’ I know how many seasons you can get of a Star Trek show before it kind of gets pulled away from you. And I also know Star Trek shows find themselves after a certain number of seasons. If you love Lower Decks, or if you’re curious and you want it to grow and see more, you got to be vocal about it. You got to shout and tell Paramount Plus. You got to tell CBS we’re here, we love this show. We want more of it.

You just said you got a million ideas. Alex Kurtzman–your Star Trek boss–just signed a 5-year deal. And he said he’s looking to push the boundaries and taking pitches. So have you pitched him some more crazy Star Trek ideas?

What I love about Alex is when he hears any idea, but especially–this is my experience with him–a Star Trek idea, when he can tell it’s coming from a place of joy and a place of personal confidence and excitement, he doesn’t fight that. He adds to the excitement of it. He doesn’t question you. A lot of times you’ll pitch stuff and people will ask you a thousand questions. His response to it as always, “And then what, and then what!” like a kid hearing a story that he loves.

It’s a miracle… he’s the only person who ever would have given Lower Decks a chance because of a conversation I had with him where we were just laughing and geeking out and loving Star Trek together. It was almost like he understood how much I loved it before he even heard about everything that I wanted to do with the show.

So yeah, I’ve talked to Alex about other ideas. We’ve kind of like, “what-iffed” stuff But the main thing is, I don’t want to pull my focus away from Lower Decks. I love Lower Decks. I have a million more things I want to do with Lower Decks. And so far, I’ve never been told I can’t do something on it. So before I start opening doors to having to be more careful, I know a good thing when I haven’t. And that’s where all my energy is going.

Earlier this year we talked about the Star Trek showrunner meetings, so for example you and the Hageman brothers [Star Trek: Prodigy] can avoid both using the same characters and that kind of thing…

Yeah, it’s important to both me and the Hagemans that our show respects canon to the extent that our shows CAN respect canon because we’re doing new stuff, too. So, if a legacy character is showing up in [Prodigy] and they were going to show up in [Lower Decks], they were gonna show up in our show, we sit down and are like, “Alright, how are you using yours?” And we see if we can both use them. Like, there’s a character in Lower Decks season two, where we just altered their appearance to make it in line with what you’ll be seeing in Prodigy. Other times it’s like wow, they were using one of my favorite characters in a way that I never could have just because of the way the shows are designed. So, I actually removed a legacy character from Lower Decks because I don’t want to step on what they’re doing. What they’re doing is awesome.

I say step on, but I think that there’s an element of spectacle to when these legacy characters show up. It’s almost like this gravitational pull, and it feels really special. I’m very aware that in the first season, I didn’t know that Riker was going to show up and save the day in Picard. That was before these showrunner meetings. And that’s one of the reasons that I love these showrunner meetings. I guess I blindly ended up having Riker swoop in to save the day, and he’s much younger, and he’s on the Titan. It’s a whole different thing. But I would have liked to have known and gone into it with the confidence of knowing that at the same time. Now we all know everything about each other’s shows.

Riker and the Titan swoop in for Lower Decks season one finale

Now it’s Riker’s thing.

Yeah, it’s his thing. He has to swoop in at all times. They should just give him a swoop-in show it. It would be called Swooping with Riker. The Titan’s swooping in every episode. You know in the third act he is going to swoop, and the fun is just finding how are they going to do it again.

But collaboration can be more than just who gets to use which character. Like the latest season of Discovery picked up on some elements from Picard, like the Qowat Milat…

Well with time… Prodigy and my show, we are a couple of years apart. They are at different speeds and different areas of space. But when you are talking about Discovery I have to worry about it less, because that’s very distant future stuff.

But isn’t there also an opportunity here for more MCU-style cross-pollination and making this feel more like a single universe?

Oh, a hundred percent. The trick of it is: How do we make this a single universe, but every show has its own identity and feels like it’s its own thing. What you don’t want is to simulate 800 episodes of Star Trek over five shows all at once. You want every one of them to bring its own thing but to all respect the same stuff. The thing the Hagemans and I never talk about is how a Star Trek show should feel. We have our own opinions of it. And that’s why you’ve got Mariner running around with a bat’leth in mine, and you’ve got the Prodigy cast doing their stuff in theirs.

Look, Enterprise and TOS are totally different-feeling shows, totally different sort of ways of handling everything. But, they feel like they’re connected with the different stuff that they utilize. Every time somebody mentions Zefram Cochrane in something I’m like, “Ah, yes. I’m in my comfort zone.” I don’t care which Star Trek it’s in. As long as they know that Zefram was important, then I’m there. And that’s what I think we’re trying to hit, just with simultaneous shows as opposed to decades-apart shows.

More Lower Decks to come

For more of our coverage, check out our interviews from last week with Tawny Newsome and Jack Quaid, and Noel Wells and Eugene Cordero.

Season two arrives on Thursday, August 12th, and we will have more interviews from the red carpet premiere coming up all week long. TrekMovie’s full recap and review will be posted on the site on Thursday, August 12th, which will be followed up with our regular Easter egg analysis. This Friday’s All Access Star Trek podcast will discuss the red carpet event and other interviews, with our Friday, August 13th episode diving for full review and discussion of the season two premiere.

ICYMI: SDCC 2021 trailer

In case you missed it, here is the trailer released in late July.

Star Trek: Lower Decks season two arrives on Paramount+  in the USA and CTV in Canada Sci-Fi on Thursday, August 12th. It will be available internationally on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, August 13th, and in Latin America in September.

Keep up with all the news and analysis for Star Trek: Lower Decks.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

For those wondering Odo’s full name is Odo’ital – Cardassian for “Unknown Sample”

I’m rewatching DS9 again. I’m in the sixth season now. I think I saw that episode where he said his full name like a month ago…and I STILL forgot it lol.

I just read Matt’s comment about 12 seconds ago and I’ve already forgot it ;)

Really fun show and best of the nu-trek offerings so far , impossible to hate on it.

You underestimate Trekkies.

It gets a lot of deserved criticism.

Oh man, I realized this show has that guy who had the best line in all of Loki: “What’s a fish?”

Out of all the new shows, season 1 of Lower Decks was DEFINITELY my favorite by far, it’s not even close! It’s one of the best first seasons of Star Trek for me, period. No wonder it got a season 3 so early!

I can listen to McMahan talk Star Trek all day long. He talks about it like the way I do and just love the entire universe of it. You can tell he’s excited discussing it and all the crazy ideas he wants to do with it. I especially just love being back in this era of Star Trek again and to do it in such a fun way. I would love for him to do a straight live action 24th century show since that era is clearly in his wheelhouse. Since CBS is giving all these guys extended contracts and they probably plan to make 10 more Trek shows it’s certainly possible.

And I thought how he used Riker saving the day in LDS was much better than Riker saving the day in Picard. For one thing we didn’t get 100 cut and paste ships which ironically is very common in animation.

I’m going to keep saying it, 7 seasons and a movie! (But I’ll also take the Hail Mary 8 season too!)

100% agree. Seven seasons, Hail Mary season 8 and one to three movies would be great!

I agree. I particularly love reading his interviews.

“What is sickbay?”? Who did *that* note come from?

If you ask me, this whole interview confirms the problem: he thinks of Star Trek as trivia — the literal embodiment of the “what was the combination to Kirk’s safe in episode 13” gag from the old SNL skit. So we get Odo’s middle name, “what is sickbay,” etc.

I get that hard-core Treksperts, like the audience members in the skit, have fun with trivia; I can have fun with it, in small doses. And I get this guy likes to think of himself as (to channel Lady Gaga), Trek’s number one fan. But his work like a never-ending diet of Big Macs.

Gene Roddenberry’s rule about “wagon train to the stars” — in other words, that you should be able to tell a good story on Star Trek that you could have in a non-science fiction format, like Horatio Hornblower — appears to be out of fashion.

Oh I don’t think so. Underneath the Comedy and Trivia layers this rule can be found in the show throughout. Be it the Mariner arc, be it Boimlers growing up and raising to the various occasions. Or be it the various A-Stories of the episodes. You could probably tell at least 8 of the episodes in a non-Trek format, probably all ten of them.

Very well said.

That is a big problem I have with LDX. The guy is such a fan (and I do not doubt his fandom) that he seems to be deathly afraid to make a joke that pokes fun at the Trek universe. Instead, he’d rather throw in easter eggs and make references only the most hard core fans will pick up on. Now on the surface, there is nothing wrong with easter eggs. I love fan service as much as the next fan. But first and foremost the show has to work. If it doesn’t, all the fan service in the world won’t make the show any good. That’s what season one of LDX was. 10 episodes of fan service. No laughs. Just “member berries”. It seems there are fans who can survive on such a diet. But I am not one of them.

I’ll disagree with you completely. My 24 year old daughter watched season one of Lower Decks with me, loved every episode and began to completely fan out over it. She loved the characters, the humor and the relationships.

And here’s the kicker: SHE’D NEVER SEEN A MINUTE OF ANY TREK EVER. She didn’t know a Klingon from a Vulcan. Yes, there were many times where I’d laugh at something she completely missed and I’d explain the reference. Sometimes she appreciated it and sometimes she didn’t.

So I don’t know if the producers will see this, but they should know they did indeed make a show that can be appreciated by someone without any knowledge of Trek lore at all.

I think you missed the point. Obviously the show needs to be seen by people who know nothing of Trek. You need to expand beyond the core audience. But after viewing it, it very much looks like it is catering far too much to the super hard core fans. The ones who will get angry if they think there was a joke made at the expense of what they love so very much. The writers seem to be deathly afraid to poke fun at the source material. They need to. I’m a fan and I’d love to see some of that. But beyond that, even if they don’t poke fun at themselves, the show is supposed to be a comedy and it had NONE of it.

But here is another anecdotal story for you, too. I watched the first two shows with Mrs. ML31. She has seen Trek and hasn’t found any of it to be her cup of tea. I talked her into trying LDX because I thought it was going to be funny and perhaps she might enjoy it if it was amusing. Couldn’t get her to watch beyond the 2nd episode. Neither of us laughed at any of it. No, that’s not quite fair. We both got a small charge out of the Caitian’s salty tongue.

Bottom line is, the 1st season wasn’t funny. Not to this long time Trek fan who was very much looking forward to it nor to someone who never liked Trek to begin with.

I cannot wait for friday! I am rewatching season one (again) right now and I am always astonished as to how good the show is. It is much more than an animated comedy show, there is so much meat in it. And it is “real Star Trek” (TM) on so many levels, its just great!

It’s disappointing to me when they talk about “character” stuff. In addition to not writing good jokes they also fell into the Star Trek Discovery trap of making terrible characters. I tried. For the first few episodes I tried my best to like them. But I couldn’t. Tendi had the best chance but no. Just couldn’t find a reason to care about any of them. Yes, it’s a cartoon and if I care about the characters it’s a plus. But the fact is the show just isn’t funny. Since I’m not distracted by laughing that means the characters have to be interesting in some way. But they just aren’t. They are as flat as the cell they are painted on. At this point the only character I even remotely enjoy is the Caitian Dr. And even that is a one note joke that doesn’t hold a lot of repeat value.

I had such hopes for this and now it turns out McMahon was the wrong man for the job. Seth MacFarlane would have been the better choice here. There were more laughs in the opening episode of (a partial comedy back then) The Orville than there were in all 10 episodes of LDX season 1. And based on what I am reading about season 2, I’m not exactly instilled with confidence they have learned from their mistakes.

No one hates Star Trek as much as Star Trek fans

If you don’t like it so much don’t watch it. It gets tiring seeing these reviews where there’s one person who complains about everything and completely trashes the show, but then says they’re going to watch the next season.

If you are tired of it then don’t read them. Problem solved.

I make no apologies for being a Trek enthusiast. And if the latest incarnation of it sucks, I will say so. But as a fan I want to keep giving it chances. And too bad for you that the people making it today produce a bad product.

I liken it to being a fan of a ball club. The team could suck but the fans are still there watching their team suck every game. Why? Because they are fans. Currently, the Trek being created is terrible. They have below average talent on the field and the front office appears to be incompetent. But as a fan, I am still there hoping one day it gets better.