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Star Trek: Lower Decks season 4 may be ending this week, but the adventures of the crew of the USS Cerritos are just getting started. At New York City Comic Con earlier this month, showrunner Mike McMahan sat down with us for a roundtable interview to chat about the series and what’s in store for our favorite animated crewmen.

In our roundtable interview, McMahan dished about some of the long-term plans for Mariner’s character and how Boimler has evolved. We also chatted about the Chase Masterson episode, the naming conventions of California-class starships, and T’Lyn’s role in the show’s dynamic. And we even got a hint of what’s to come after that Strange New Worlds crossover episode for Boimler.

The interview with Star Trek: Lower Decks’ creator Mike McMahan

[Editor’s Note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity. There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks. Turn around and warp back to Starbase if you don’t want spoilers and heavy discussion of raisin vineyards.]

Interviewer: “So Lower Decks gets to have a fun aspect of Star Trek and the way that you get to basically pull whatever you want, just kind of make fun of it, that no other Star Trek series gets to make fun of itself. And so with this new season, obviously you’re breaking out of the mold, but it still has that heart where they are. They are still making fun of Star Trek. They’re still making fun of everything we love about the franchise. In a new situation where they’re not in the lower deck anymore, what has been the most fun of getting to take that into a different area of the ship for these characters?”

Mike McMahan: “Yeah, so obviously Lower Decks inverts the usual Trek paradigm of a lot of serious, a little comedy, and it’s a lot of comedy. And then it gets really serious and you’re like, oh no, I’m having feelings. And it’s been really fun this season because promoting them, I was worried at first being like, will this change the basic DNA of the show? Will it not feel like Lower Decks anymore? Will it feel like the college years or something that you’re like, no, no, no. You don’t want somebody to come back and be like, here’s this show I love. It’s different now. And in producing this season, not only did it give us a ton of very Lower Decks feeling situations that still feel Lower Decks, I still feel Lower Decks. [Alex] Kurtzman is my boss, you know what I mean? I am still getting notes from the network.”

“There’s very few times I think in life that you don’t feel “lower decks.” And I think it’s knowing that that’s a strength and not a weakness, and that there’s people you meet and there’s things you learn and there’s things you learn about yourself when you are “lower decks” in life that you end up carrying more than what you learn when you’re at the top of your game. And there’s a lot more paths for Lower Decks to go where they’re not captains, you know what I mean? You’re always like, oh, somebody’s going to be captain and that’s the end of their story, which by the way isn’t true. You see captains learn in Star Trek all the time, but I do want to explore lots of stuff before I’m in charge of a whole crew because when you’re in charge of a whole crew, it changes the types of stories you can tell and it makes the audience not be on board with choices those characters might make because they’re in charge of a crew now. And when you’re captain, it can’t be about you. It has to be about something bigger. So Star Trek: Lower Decks going through season four really showed me that there’s so many more stories to tell and that I don’t have to worry about that. And it’s been awesome.”

On the long-term plans for Mariner

Interviewer: “But at the same time, if I may follow up on that, is Mariner also… Her tension of being promoted and being okay, is that sort of an outlet for that worry of, oh, is this going to be different if we start changing the format?”

Mike McMahan: “Mariner, I’m not really worried about because Mariner, I have a long-term plan for, and you’ll see we haven’t released the last two episodes of this season, but they are, I can say, pretty Mariner-focused. And we’ve been kind of leading up to them across the season and across the series. And what I really love about Mariner as a character is I’m really unlocked by Tawny Newsome because I wrote Mariner before having met Tawny. And then having worked with Tawny, I’ve adjusted her to really embody the way Tawny loves Star Trek the same way I do. Again, it’s not really making fun of Star Trek, it’s having fun with Star Trek. It’s the fun you have with your friends who love something as much as you do, so you have a shorthand that you can make fun of it together, but if somebody else made fun of it, you’d be like, shut the fuck up, get the fuck out of here what you’re talking about.”

Tawny Newsome as Beckett Mariner in Star Trek: Lower Decks (Paramount+)
Tawny Newsome as Beckett Mariner in Star Trek: Lower Decks (Paramount+)

“So with the character arcing kind of stuff, to me, I thought we were going to hold the secret of Mariner being the captain’s daughter for at least two seasons or more. And then at the end of first season, I found that that was a bad idea. And then when I revealed the secret in the finale of first season, I was like, oh my God, I can breathe again. I can tell stories with this character that doesn’t need that. You don’t need this kind of thing you’ve created because the character has grown across the season. And really it was “Crisis Point” that really made me start to understand what we could tell with Mariner. So I have an internalized backstory for Mariner and I know why she’s been behaving the way she has, and I know why what she’s working on and the ways that it’s expressed has changed and grown and gotten better. And so yeah, Mariner’s an easy one. I know exactly where we’re going with that and I love it.”

On if anyone in Star Trek: Lower Decks is challenging to write

Ayla Ruby: “Is there anyone that isn’t easy? So if Mariner’s the easy one, whose arc has been maybe a little bit challenging to…?”

Mike McMahan: “Well, yeah, challenging in that it’s all a little challenging. I think when I say Mariner is easy it’s because from the very get-go, I love the idea of a Starfleet officer who’s getting kicked off of multiple ships, but almost like the opposite of Riker who’s turning down promotions. You know what I mean? And how would somebody even be in Starfleet? I remember talking to Kurtzman at the very beginning being like, the person who does the lowest level job on any federation ship has to be the best of us. There’s no bad actor on any Starfleet ship, right? So how do you get a comedically flawed person out of that? And Mariner, her whole story is easy in that’s like, I know where she’s coming from. Now, there’s other characters that you’re writing and you’re like, oh, Rutherford, originally when I was writing him was going to be a person who went on a lot of dates and he was going to be the person who you got to see what the social life was like on a ship.”

“I thought there was some comedy from that. And at the end of the pilot I was like, no, this feels disgusting. I was like, this is very not Star Trek. I don’t want to do a dating show in Star Trek. What was I thinking? When you’re open enough to try that. And that’s why his friendship with Tendi and they’re kind of like, they’re shipmance, they’re being in love with the ship together at the end of the pilot was another moment of like, oh my God, I can breathe again because this feels Star Trek. And Rutherford is tough. So then, because I’m writing up to what we’re learning about Rutherford as we’re going, because I completely changed his character, it still had to have meaning to me. So that was a little tougher. Even though that stuff is hard, when you find things about the characters, whether it’s from stories that they’re having or actors bringing something to them that you don’t really foresee coming, you have to be brave enough to be like, I’m going to make my job harder by creating something that’s a little different than what we had before.”

“Because I don’t think anybody ever sits down to watch a TV show to be like, all right, how figured out is this motherfucker? You know what I mean? I only shows that are totally figured out. I don’t want to be surprised. You know what I mean? And what that results in is somebody might be like, well, I like it all figured out, but it’s like, why is my thinking before better than my thinking now? Why now that I understand the characters better? Why if I had a dream about a character or if I was driving and I was struck by inspiration, why is that better than the plan, or not better? You know what I mean? And so letting yourself have that and then having some plan to stick to, so there is some structure to it, but the structure shouldn’t beat these wonderful things you find while you’re making it.”

On Brad Boimler’s backstory

Interviewer: “Just to follow up on that, sorry a little bit earlier. That’s okay. We’ve gotten so much backstory, right? You were talking about Rutherford, and we got his story last season and then with Tendi’s awesome story this season. Are we going to get that with Boimler finally, besides the raisin farm?”

Mike McMahan: “First off, just the raisin story. And it is a vineyard. I’ll have you.”

Interviewer: “It is a vineyard.”

Mike McMahan: “Boimler’s backstory is not steep to mystery to me, Boimler is all of us. Boimler is, oh my God, I’m on a Starfleet ship. I better have studied, this is my chance. I couldn’t love this more. And he’s, it’s funny, I write Boimler as a straight man who’s being stymied by comedy around him. But then Jack Quaid is so funny that he ruins that and makes him funny and then makes you want to know more about him, and it just speaks to the character and to Jack and to his friendship with Tawny and with Mariner that you want to know more about Boimler. But to me, especially writing season five, what we learn about Boimler on the show is always going to be better than what Boimler was before he ended up in Starfleet. And that we could tell those stories. And I like throwing in a little mystery of man, those raisin maidens on the vineyard. Love him.”

Gabrielle Ruiz as T'Lyn and Jack Quaid as Brad Boimler in Star Trek: Lower Decks (Paramount+)
Gabrielle Ruiz as T’Lyn and Jack Quaid as Brad Boimler in Star Trek: Lower Decks (Paramount+)

“I love that Boimler with his kind of Futurama fry purple hair, and he’s very shrimpy. Look at him next to Rutherford. Rutherford’s like a hunk. But that women see Boimler, they’re like, ooh, baby. But then of course Jack Quaid is handsome and tall and you walk around with him and people are like, ooh, baby. And I’m like, no, stop that. He’s shrimpy like Boimler.”

On the writing of the Ferengi episode

Mike McMahan: “It is because I stole it from better writers than me. For me, what I got excited about Ferenginar, I mean really I wrote that episode because. I didn’t write it, but I had a writer write that episode, and we did that episode because I wanted to work with Chase Masterson. I had met her at different Comic Cons when I was an assistant like a decade ago and she was super nice to me back when I was writing TNG season eight. She showed me such kindness when there was absolutely no benefit to her out of it, that I literally never forgot it. And then at a Star Trek day after Lower Decks started, I met her at that and went running up to her as a fan and was like, please let me write an episode where you and Rom can be in it. I want to see you guys again.”

“So that was really the Ferenginar instinct. And then getting these little vignettes with the characters on Ferenginar, getting to see a lot of Ferengi jokes, as comedy writers, that was fun getting to do landlord cops and seeing all of the signage. You can pause everything to find lots of funny bits. I was actually worried people wouldn’t dig that episode. because I see online a lot people being like, this is filler. And it’s like, well, what is filler? Lower Decks is existing to take all of this stuff we know and have seen and have read about and have thought about and fill in the frog DNA of the alpha quadrant a little bit more where you’re like, I always suspected there was something like that.”

“That’s why I like bringing in the Pakleds and that’s why I like the Exocomps and that’s why I like going to Orion. So just spending time in a little downbeat because the next, it’s that episode and then it’s Caves and then it’s two really, really plot-driven episodes. So I just wanted to take a break for a second and check in with everybody and I’m really glad everybody loved it because I love it too. I love that Tendi and Rutherford story. It’s so amazing.”

Interviewer: “Yeah”

Mike McMahan: “I remember when I got engaged, we had to do an engagement photo shoot, me and my wife, and they made us touch foreheads. And I remember being like, well, I’ve never felt worse with a person I’ve loved in my entire life. This is ludicrous. And the whole, that Tendi and Rutherford story was all out of the feeling of making you touch your forehead to your fiance’s forehead isn’t not a great feeling.”

Interviewer: “The blushing is fantastic.”

Mike McMahan: “Isn’t that fun? Oh yeah. You just want those two to get together. I love those two.”

On the names California class starships

Interviewer: “Okay. This one’s selfishly motivated, but what does it take to get a California class ship named? Because I live at the Alhambra San Gabriel border.”

Mike McMahan: “Oh damn.”

Interviewer: “And I appreciate the Alhambra, but it’s like I desperately-”

Mike McMahan: “You need San Gabriel in there.”

Interviewer: “I need a San Gabriel t-shirt. That’s what I really need.”

Mike McMahan: “I mean, what’s funny is if you look at the California class ships that showed up at the end of season three, look at what we’ve named them in what order. It’s just going right up the California map. I was going through being like, I want that one, that one, that one, that one. Because Tawny grew up in the Modesto area and so did Brad Winters, my producer who Brad Boimler’s named after. And I love using all those little California, those ship names that are important to us, but hadn’t gotten a time to shine, kind of. So next time you just have to hope that I’m going the other way on the map.”

On balancing newcomer T’Lyn with the other characters

Interviewer: “Going back to the characters for a moment. I wanted to ask about T’Lyn specifically because she has a great chemistry with these characters who we’ve known for seasons. How do you find that balance?”

Mike McMahan: “I mean, again, I’m just stealing from Nimoy. I grew up watching Wrath of Khan. I love Kirk and Spock. They’re the perfect tonal combination for comedy. They play it for comedy all the time, you know what I mean? And playing T’Lyn exactly like that and then treating the rest of the lower deckers like Kirk. They’re fiery, they’re emotional, they are strong-willed and then T’Lyn just explicitly calls out with like, I think that’s a fun joke for T’Lyn is somebody comes in and says something, second level dialogue. They come in and they say something that isn’t what they want, but how they feel. So let’s say I’m like, you took my seat. I wouldn’t come in and be like, you took my seat. I’d come in and be like, what are you doing here? You know what I mean? But to T’Lyn doesn’t use second-level dialog. She only uses first.”

“So she’ll walk up and go, you took my seat. And it’s like having somebody that you don’t, that doesn’t cage what they’re saying in other levels. That she just explicitly says what’s going on ends up being funny, but also relatable and feels like all of us at some point. You know who else totally stole from it or not stole from it, at least was homaging it, was in Guardians of the Galaxy, was Drax. And there’s a reason that character is so fun because a strong Vulcan character who’s super smart and really strong and can read minds, all that stuff. But yet they’re also so deadpan and it’s just a great comedic tool to have when everybody else is so big and fast. And then she can say four words and it makes you laugh. It’s just a superpower that Vulcans have.”

On actors, improvisation, and animation & how the SNW episode tracks to Boimler in season 5

Interviewer: “To go back to Boimler really quick. Okay. Just to have Jack Quaid get to play Boimler in live action and say Riker to Jonathan Frakes’ face.”

Mike McMahan: “Improvised.”

Interviewer: “When you then have to go back to have those just all in your wheelhouse to be able to pull from when you are writing a new season, knowing that that is now just part of his character. Is that something that you get to work with, with the actors to know he improvised?”

Mike McMahan: “Oh yeah.”

Interviewer: “Do you guys go back and work on that kind of stuff?”

Mike McMahan: “Yeah, I mean, in animation we specifically can be adjusting everything for a year. We don’t just get a take on set. If we decide to change something, we can bring the voice actors back in. But I think more to your point, one thing that I got to choose, Strange New Worlds led the charge on that episode and I got to nudge and bump and pitch lines, and I knew Tawny and Jack were going to improvise on set. That was always the plan. I didn’t know how much they were going to use. And that’s what I loved because you never know, it’s up to them. But one thing I did get to choose was when does this episode take place in Lower Decks. And Boimler could not have done that episode season one, and he couldn’t have done it season two. And it fit in to what you’ll be seeing. There’s a lot of interesting Boimler stuff in season five that the DNA of that is directly, you could track that from the crossover episode.”

On comfort food episodes of Star Trek

Interviewer: “Comfort food episode, I just want to know what your favorite?”

Mike McMahan: “My favorite comfort food?”

Interviewer: “What is your favorite comfort food episode.”

Mike McMahan: “Of all Star Trek?”

Interviewer: “Yeah.”

Mike McMahan: “That’s tough. It’s all so comforting. That’s like what’s your favorite… I think it’s always changed. It used to be I loved the classics of TNG and now as an adult, I’ve never been a TOS guy, but now I like going back because having made Star Trek, it makes you watch Star Trek different. And I would not recommend anybody who loves Trek make Trek because all you’re seeing is the production. You don’t lose yourself in it anymore. And I didn’t know that making Trek was going to be asking me to lose that part of myself. Luckily, there’s a lot of shows to watch, so I’ll be fine. Don’t pour one out for McMahan. But now it’s comforting to watch one that I haven’t seen a million times and that’s TOS for me because I’ve seen everything else a million times. I’m thinking of rewatching Enterprise as well. Because I watched that when I was an assistant. I know. It’s so cool. And what I really like and I know we got to go.”

“What I really like about Voyager and about Stargate Atlantis is those are shows that people are having to come up with new stories after tons and tons of episodes have come before them. And the creativity it takes to find those characters and stories really lights me up. It’s really, really hard. And I was watching those when I was writing TNG season eight, and that was my first inkling of like, wait, writing Star Trek is hard because TNG season eight had to do entirely new ideas for episodes in them. And Lower Decks, I can do a this or that type episode. I don’t have to create the entire new thing. So Voyager and Stargate Atlantis I think are for completely new in a really tough position, I can’t believe those shows are that successful. They’re really good.”

Interviewer: “I’m so happy they didn’t drop Stargate Atlantis.

Mike McMahan: “It’s so good.”

How to watch Star Trek: Lower Decks

You can watch the season 4 finale of Star Trek: Lower Decks on Thursday, November 2. Last week’s episode, “The Inner Fight,”  written by Mike McMahan and directed by Brandon Williams, is available on Paramount+ now

We had a blast chatting with some of the fantastic guests at NYCC! Check out the rest of our interviews here, and keep following for more exciting interviews coming soon.  Are you excited for the finale of Star Trek: Lower Decks? Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or in The Cosmic Circus Discord!

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Ayla Ruby

I am a writer and interviewer based somewhere in the Alpha Quadrant. I love all things nerdy - but Star Trek and Spiderman have special places in my heart. Find me at @TulinWrites on Twitter. And visit my other website for more reviews and interviews: movieswetextedabout.com

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