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.
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.
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.
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
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.