Interview: Mike McMahan Talks Yanking Mugato And What’s Next For ‘Star Trek: Lower Decks’

Star Trek: Lower Decks just passed the halfway point of season two, with episode seven arriving on Thursday. On Star Trek Day, TrekMovie had an exclusive (but brief) chat with McMahan about what to expect between now and the season finale next month. The executive producer and showrunner also talked about testing the limits on Lower Decks, including a controversial episode from earlier in the season.

Can you give the highlights for the second half of season two?

You don’t know what you have coming. We’ve got our biggest episodes. We’ve got our Star Trek-iest episodes. We’ve got a little romance coming your way. It’s just awesome. If you liked the first half of the season, you’re going to lose your mind for the second half.

Rutherford and Tendi in midseason trailer

The fourth episode [“Mugato, Gumato”] had a little controversy about some racy content. Do you see a limit on what you can do on Lower Decks that say you couldn’t do on Solar Opposites or Rick and Morty?

Oh my god, watch five minutes of Solar Opposites, and you’ll see there are limits in Lower Decks. You know, I’ve never seen Star Trek as celebrating puritanism. I think that Star Trek has always embraced sexuality, humanism, and all sorts of great stuff. When you’re making shows like this, you’re trying to find those limits. Even in TNG, you’ve got people tugging on Ferengi ears. There’s always been that kind of stuff.

I think the moment that everybody has been all whipped up about has a Mugato yanking on its horn, which, comedically, is funny. It was one of those moments where the artists kind of pushed for it and they made me laugh. And at the end of the day, we’re trying to make a show that’s Star Trek, but also makes you laugh. And I’ve got to be honest, for people that are pearl-clutching and freaking out because we had a suggestive moment in an adult animated show, it’s just falling on deaf ears. It still felt like Star Trek to me. And if you’re putting your six-year-old in front of Lower Decks, like, there’s been other stuff. There’s been other violence, there’s been other complex stories that you’re trusting them with. I think a Mugato yanking on its horn is not the most adult thing we’ve done.

From “Mugato, Gumato”

[Jerry’ O’Connell steps in to interject] You know what, I got to applaud my boss here. I just wanted to applaud him and how he worded that.

[McMahan continues] I think none of us make TV looking to make something that people expect. We look to make something that people are surprised by. I think sometimes you’re not going to like stuff. Sometimes you’re going to love stuff. There’s a lot of different people watching these shows, and we’re just doing our best to bring something into the world that makes us all really happy.

[Eugene Cordero interjects] Mugato, Gumato, whatever it is, I thought it was hilarious.

Jerry O’Connell and Eugene Cordero applaud Mike McMahan at Star Trek Day

Lower Decks has had some great guest stars, like Richard Kind as the Dooplers. Do you just do regular casting, or are you making these roles to suit the actors you already have lined up?

No, the Dooplers were created, and then we were all like, ‘You know who would be perfect for this is Richard Kind.’ And then Richard voiced the role and had so much fun with it that then we changed a lot of the lines to the funnier stuff he said sometimes. So it’s kind of both.

Richard Kind as the Dooplers in 205: “An Embarrassment of Dooplers”

ICYMI – Midseason trailer 

More to come

There is still more to come from Star Trek Day, including more red carpet interviews, so keep reading TrekMovie for our full Star Trek Day coverage.

Find more Star Trek: Lower Decks news and analysis.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

I laughed at the horn scene. I thought it was funny. I just didn’t like it in Star Trek. But art is subjective and I appreciate hearing Mike’s perspective about it. There is very little I don’t like about Lower Decks!

You know… as someone who wasn’t offended but mildly annoyed with that scene… I can’t help but respect the hell out of that response haha. Being gently told off is the strangest way for my opinion to be changed retroactively, but whatever, it worked. Maybe the magic was in his phrasing?

He’s got a point. I don’t see how the horn is any worse than all the Oomax we’ve seen. I mean, its just a horn, its not like we actually saw anything dirty.

It wasn’t just the horn. The mugato was watching the other pair have intercourse and that was visible and referenced in dialogue.

The solution as a parent of kids – teens who tell us that they don’t want to see sexual content – is to prewatch and filter out the episodes that are likely to put our teens off the series completely. It doesn’t take more than a couple of rounds of “Why did they have to show that?!!” before our kids refuse to watch a show with me any more.

(Our kids still haven’t gotten into DS9, and the more mature story lines are why. The adult themes in TOS and TNG were also off putting for them. But Voyager was very accessible from school age on.)

However, marketing is an issue. The Paramount+ launch video promoted LDS as the “first Star Trek animated series targeted to a teen audience.” Meanwhile, the showrunner is still defending it as an adult animated series.

McMahan has work to do with Kurtzman and Paramount+ on the same page regarding the target audience and the promotion needs to be honest. This isn’t a Trek show for all audiences.

And that’s the last point, while I agree that having a menu of shows is great strategy for the franchise, it would be great to have one new series in the quiver that is suitable for a family audience that isn’t specifically designed for kids. I like having an in family watch party, but this kind of thing has made it impossible to do with most new Trek content.

But catch 22 is, if they market it as an adult series people will rightfully
complain that the humor is too
juvenile for grown ups.

I have literally NEVER seen it marketed as a teen show. It was always an adult show in my memory. Can you point to the marketing that says this?

Also that joke was totally teen-appropriate. Teens are able to deal with adult things in their media. Source: I teach teens for a living. Teens and kids that see that and aren’t there yet don’t even remember stuff like that (there’s a lot of evidence for this). Kids pay attention to the things they understand and filter out the things they don’t.

Sorry you can’t watch with your family, but that seems more like a decision you have made to be extra strict about content. I would be totally fine watching this show with my family, as well as pretty much all of other of the Trek shows.

As I understand, these are not TG’s strict decisions, but the boundaries his kids set for themselves and which he just repects. What I find commendable.

Exactly, while it may be that some teens are looking for mild sexual content, in an internet universe where kids spend a lot of energy avoiding what they don’t want to see, there’s a good portion of teens that would like to enjoy shows at their development level that don’t include that.

I think the most people over 25 don’t realize what it’s been like for kids who have experienced the ongoing risk of inappropriate content spliced into kids videos as a fact of life since primary grades. The first time one of our kids called us over to hear an inappropriate voice over on a kids animated show (that had been added) or show us spliced in adult content we were shocked. By the time they were in middle grades all of us were weary, and I spent a lot helping them with internet safety. Filters, even in the school environment, have generally been wholly inadequate.

So, this kind of thing isn’t seen by them as cool and edgy, just an uncomfortable and tiresome intrusion in what they had viewed as a safe show.

One way for kids to stay safe is to avoid content they find disturbing. So I can hardly ask them to do that just because it’s Trek.

See (45 seconds in). It’s marketed as a teenage comedy.

“I have literally NEVER seen it marketed as a teen show.”

There has been a trailer explicitely mentioning LDS as “teenage comedy” and PIC as “adult drama”…The “Expansion” trailer for P+…


“Also that joke was totally teen-appropriate.”

YES! It was totally harmless. First, it’s just an animated HORN. Mugatos are animals and animal intercourse can been seen on the Discovery Channel :-) It’s even in that song… Do it like they do it on the DC…

I’m the first one to be offended by actual nudity but THIS is totally harmless. They only missed out on that inevitable pun… horn, horny… what a waste :-)

Yeah, this is one issue I totally understand. Trek used to be an established family-friendly franchise. That very nature has been scattered by elements in all three new Trek shows.

On the other hand… you seem to be some sort of a lucky exception to the rule. Normally kids, esp. teens do NOT shy away from adult content these days. On the contrary: they are very much into stuff like GoT, TWD or John Wick… I only need to mention the DAY Friday the 13th when introducing ordinal numbers in fifth grade and there are 10-year-olds mentioning Jason Vorheese. When asked to give there favourite movies on posters, there are many who give Deadpool! And those aren’t even teens yet!

I guess, the target audience issue will just be irrelevant as most teens or tweens will be watching whatever they want. Tarantino wants his five-year-old son to watch his movies as he pleases… Many parents share that opinion, others are unable to prevent that from happening.

I guess, people like you and me, we’ll just have to learn to accept that.

On yet another hand: even at the age of 41 one, I dislike some of the “adult” elements as a matter of taste. The horny Mugato wasn’t on that list…

I’m sure we were also talking in the 80s about adult movies. 😉

Ugh. There are still people like this??? No one care about you arbitrary, outdated and silly taboos about what is “family friendly.” The 80s called. They want their TV evangelist faux morality back.

In VOY didn’t we literally see a Vidian wearing a dude’s face? Not sure how that is more accessible to kids than some horn rubbing.

Yeah, I don’t want to watch that kind of stuff with my parents either — but it doesn’t mean that teens don’t want to watch it, period.

It’s pretty darned tame.And they certainly didn’t show “intercourse”

They’re not wanting to watch it on their own either. That’s more to the point.

What they showed was the other two coming together. No it wasn’t explicit, but if it were live action it would scan that way.

But that’s rather besides the point.

Think back to however many of the Trek writers, EPs and actors have been saying in promotional moment videos and conference panels in recent years that it was a sitter, or a parent or an older sibling who got them into watching Trek when they were preteens.

So, even if some middle graders and teens are comfortable in seeing this in their own, how would that even come about?

If older fans can’t introduce them to Trek because no general audience new content is being made, it won’t matter if they might like it.

Prodigy can’t carry the entire burden of developing a future audience.

“…it’s not like we actually saw anything dirty.” Had it been a penis, it also would not have been “dirty.” Body parts, biology and sexuality are not “dirty.” Dirt is dirty. Silly, subjective, arbitrary and absurd cultural norms are not to be taken seriously as they are illogical and pointless to perpetuate. It’s a valuable lesson that Trek has pointed out in many instances – with the most funny being the Ferengi being offended and disgusted that human females wore clothes. They called it “perverted.” Someone from the Taliban would think a woman wearing running shorts or showing her hair was offensive. That’s about as ridiculous as an American being fine with a man’s nipple on screen but shocked to see a woman’s. It’s all dumb. It’s a pass/fail IQ test. ;)

Yeah, but a woman’s nipple as part of a scene that’s expressly written, directed and edited to be a traumatic rape scene is something I’d have a hard time watching with a kid, whereas there’s much less content from the older shows that’s not family friendly. Retconning that later didn’t absolve them, they made a choice to be explicit and adult and wanted it to be thought of as a rape. Same with showing Icheb, a character last seen as a sweet and bright-eyed boy, getting one of those eyes ripped out of his head without painkillers until his surrogate mother has to kill him. There goes the idea of going right into Picard after Voyager with the nephew, then! Often the reasons why Trek was smothered in allegories and alien stand-ins was to get around censors and puritans, but that’s part of what made the shows cleverer than they are now, IMO.

Also, Oomaks don’t have quite the same triggers as a gorilla jerking his horn while watching another couple getting off. But they’re basically gorillas and Star Trek isn’t supposed to be puritanical, so… mmkay.

It’s an adult cartoon which made its content parameters known from day one, so the pearl clutching is a little silly, though I don’t think it’s wrong to be surprised by a decision once in awhile. I was watching an episode of the amazing Sex Education the other day which is as raunchy and adult as can be, yet I was still taken aback by the decision to graphically show the death of an animal, complete with blood oozing out from its corpse. Totally gratuitous even in the context of why it was done. Sometimes I think these shows just don’t read the room, they’re just happy they don’t have to rein it in. But I respect McMahan’s response to stand behind the content!

At the end of the day, every parent/aunt/uncle/babysitter etc knows the kid in their charge and gets to make his or her own decisions about what content is suitable. All of the All Access shows are squarely aimed at an adult audience, as is their right. But not being more easily inclusive of the children in the family audience that watched in the 60s-2000s feels a bit lazy and short-sighted to me, is all.

It’s been 20 years and Gens X-Z are fondly waxing nostalgic about childhood memories of TOS-ENT and eating up reruns on the streamers. Adult Doctor Who, Jurassic Park and Star Wars fans get to share the new shows and movies with their own kids now and enjoy them together, and those kids will likely repeat the cycle, which ensures franchise longevity. You can’t as easily replicate that spark of joy and loyalty debuting something strictly for adults. In 20 years I seriously question if Discovery and Picard will still inspire as much affection as the family-friendly shows have now.

Thanks Ian.

I think we’re looking at this from a similar perspective.

To sum up, I’ll quote my kids, because they are the ones being turned off Trek at an age one might expect it to be drawing them in : “Why did the have to do that?”

I remember reading an article in Starlog during the late ‘70s about how some local TV stations owned by religious conservatives would snip out pieces of TOS episodes in syndication, such as Vina’s Orion slave dance in “The Menagerie,” that they deemed offensive or insufficiently family-friendly. That seemed pretty absurd even at the time, but in a sense those owners were onto something, what with costumer Bill Theiss’s “Titillation Theory” that always made the female guest stars look like their outfits were about to fall off, Bill Shatner’s shaved chest and torn t-shirts, not to mention an entire episode devoted to the sexuality of the show’s second lead. Yes, it’s all quite tame by today’s standards, but that’s precisely the point. Just a few years before the first Trek pilot was shot Lucy couldn’t mention her obvious pregnancy in prime time and married couples on television slept in twin beds. Times change.

As to your children, I can only say with no disrespect intended towards them or yourself that I have never personally encountered any who would view mild sexual content not intended for their age group with anything other than indifference or curiosity, and have a difficult time understanding how they came by such attitudes on their own. In any case, while it’s a shame that they’ll have to delay in sharing this franchise that obviously means a lot to you, it’s not reasonable to expect the rest of the world to conform to their tastes, which is perhaps a more valuable lesson than anything on TV can teach them anyway.

I’ve not seen the scene yet. Did they play Mickie Krause to it?

I doubt anyone in the English-speaking world is familiar with the name “Mickie Krause”… But you’ve got a point mentioning that name… Like with so many European pulp singers, sex is frankly adressed in so many all-age party songs over here. I doubt anyone would deem such a scene (or song) not being teen-approriate in Europe. No “parental advisory” needed.

BUT with violence like “Icheb” on PIC it used to be quite different. Only a decade ago, this scene would have been cut, even from an 18+ release. Things have changed (PIC now being 16+ despite that scene)… but it’s still a lot more problematic than animated sex references…

I agree with almost all you said, except when I saw that ‘Icheb’ episode on netflix, I had to verify I was over 18. So that episode was not 16+ at that time. That said, I’m not a fan of that scene in the context of what amount of violence Star Trek should show.

Yeah, but that 18+ rating was only there for a day. Amazon wanted to be on the safe side while the FSK rating was still not available. And no, most likely not Netflix :-) PIC is on Amazon… Amazon wants the official FSK rating, Netflix does the rating on their own. But sometimes, the official rating is a bit late and Amazon creates an 18+ placeholder rating.

But as far as I know, even the FSK ratings will be available quicker as an AI can be used instead human experts for TV shows… But that option was not available in early 2020…

Now that specific LDS episode was rated 16+ on amazon.

I didn’t object to the racy content, we’d come close to the same thing with the Ferengi on DS9 and Rom’s Ooo-mox joke. I simply thought Mugatu wasn’t a very well written episode. The episode before (Paris) and the two following (Dooplers and Spy Humongous) achieved their comedy through natural storytelling and character development. Mugatu seems to have been written entirely to create cheap laughs.

I like Lower Decks, but for me Mugatu, Mogato was a low-point.

This! Of all the episodes to date, this one is my “Spock’s Brain”.

which, comedically, is funny”

But is it tough? I didn’t find it funny at all. In the context of a Star Trek show it just doesn’t work

I think it is. And it fits with Trek. TOS and TNG had far more cringe-inducing sex elements than LDS ever has.

I am fully functional! 😁

Also, unless it’s obvious nudity, most of that stuff goes over kids’ heads. I never knew that Data and Yar did it when I saw it as a kid — because I didn’t really know what doing it was.

I do get tired of some here cherrypicking what Star Trek is — it’s had plenty of sex and violence (not graphic G of T-style, sure — but it’s still been there, since the beginning).

Funny is in the eye of the beholder. He’s the showrunner, and he thought so. Many people, such as myself, thought the same. Many others didn’t. And that’s how it goes. That’s why sitcoms have laugh tracks, to “smooth out” those differences by playing our mimicking instincts.

I did like some parts of Mugatu. Everyone pronouncing ‘mugatu’ differently was subtle and hilarious. But most of the story just fell flat to me. I don’t judge Lower Decks based on this one episode, no more than I judge Voyager on the basis of Darkling or Threshold. The bad episodes make me appreciate the good ones even more.

I’m not sure what the big fuss is about. I thought it was hilarious! It’s an adult comedy. I’m glad they are pushing the limits. I’m ok with it.

End Communication!

I’m doing a grand rewatch of Star Trek and I am now on Lower Decks. I watched the entire first season yesterday (which is a easy first season to watch length wise ;)) and really enjoyed it. I decided I’m going to rewatch all of season 2 so far as well tonight and will include the new episode. This show is a lot of fun and very bingable. It’s the complete opposite of Discovery season one which feels like pulling teeth since I really hated the Klingon story line and it just feels overly dark and cynical. LDS came out at the right time since DIS and even PIC are accused of being too dark with little optimism. Tendi alone makes up all the optimism for the entire franchise lol.

As far as the Mugatu episode, I wasn’t bothered by the episode as a whole but even I admit the Mugatu sex went a little too far to me. I’m not remotely a prude and yes Star Trek actually has a healthy view on sex. But they never shown it much, probably to keep the rating family orientated. But everyone knows people were using the holodecks for lots and lots of sex. ;) And planets like Risa sounds like one big sex paradise, definitely why Riker loves it so much lol. He also made a great point about the Ferengi and Oo-mox. So he’s not wrong. I was going to rewatch the episode again after watching it the first time and see if I felt differently but never did. But will be rewatching it later tonight for sure now.

Some people are forgetting, from one of the original series episodes, Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy were attacked by one of these Mugatos.
Furthermore, there should be more character references of the original crew from the Enterprise in future episodes of Star Trek: lower decks.
Just as it should be for other character references from Voyager, DS9, and Star Trek: Enterprise.

“That was not his knee”

[visible confusion]

“Not everyone keeps their genitals in the same place, Captain”

The Mugato horn joke was funny. So was Rom when he made his own remedy for self inflicted Oomox. Which is essentially the same joke – they’re referring to the same self-act.

However, I remember a line from an old fashioned, dated TV show with bad CGI that said something like “it’s not up to us to force our own moral standards on others, or to judge others by our standards”.

So I’ll revise my statement to say *I* found the Mugato horn joke funny. It’s not the best joke they’ve done I don’t think. But it needn’t have caused a furore in my opinion. It’ll probably be a one off. Personally I prefer the jokes in LDS when they play off trek tropes. Boimler talking about Riker polishing his trombone (same damn joke, no?) to the point of it being a problem was hilarious to me 😂

IDIC and all that 🖖🏽

And if you’re putting your six-year-old in front of Lower Decks, like, there’s been other stuff. 

There was naked Boimler sitting in the shuttle waiting to have sex with his girlfriend among many other things. The mugato were offscreen at least while mating.

Don’t forget the very first episode of the show as well when Mariner showed off her holodeck program of all nude male Olympic trainers!

Yeah. And most of that goes over kids’ heads — they think it’s dumb/funny.

All this so-called “outrage” of being offended by three or shots (brief shots, at that) of animal intercourse and horn yanking reeks of people wanting to offended for the sake of it. It comes across as disingenious, performative and a desire to slam a show for the sake of it.

You don’t see people get outraged about Tom Paris literally pulling out his own tongue, Dexter Remmick being literally blown apart, the orgy going in the background of Justice, Beverly literally having an ORGASM in Sub Rosa. Like I said, this faux moralising and outrage is just purely performative.

Not trying to be pedantic, but they did not show animal intercourse. I saw no parts going into other parts. It was semi-humping. (I just don’t want people to read this thread and start pearl-clutching that Trek is showing ___ing now).