The second season of Star Trek: Lower Decks ended with Captain Freeman Day, which turned into Captain Freeman’s First First Contact Day, which ended with the crew working together to avert disaster… and then, the episode had a surprise twist ending that left Trekkies counting down the days until season three (it was just too much, man).
Recently, I had the chance to chat with series creator and executive producer Mike McMahan about California Class cuisine, how Trekkies can start a campaign for Lower Deck comics, season three, and more!
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This interview has been condensed for conciseness, clarity, and to remove copious speculation regarding Vulcan artifacts.
Interview with Mike McMahan
Rebecca Kaplan: We frequently see Mariner eating a burrito over the course of the Star Trek: Lower Decks second season. What type of burrito is it?
Mike McMahan: Oh, it’s definitely a Carnitas burrito. I think she’s a woman who would have a Carnitas burrito with pico and guacamole inside.
RK: Are there California burritos on California Class ships?
MM: Absolutely. Eagle-eyed viewers might notice, but there’s a lot of California cuisine on the California Class ships. Part of that is because when I moved to California, there were a bunch of amazing foods I’d never had in Chicago. There was not a great burrito in Chicago; I hate to break it to everybody. But I love food out here, so I was like, “Oh yeah. That’s what they’re going to be eating on the Cerritos.”
RK: Does the Cerritos bar have a name? What would you order?
MM: I would definitely order a Cerritos Manhattan or some sort of alien bourbon. I love bourbon. Plus, I grew up with Romulan Ale always being in Star Trek, so I added Romulan whiskey because I’m more of a whiskey guy.
And the Cerritos bar doesn’t have a name. We call it “the bar,” partially because I love the name of “Ten Forward” so much that I didn’t want to be too cutesy and have a sorta similar name, and having the logo on the wall of the bar, which they always just call “the bar,” or Mariner sometimes calls “my bar.” I love the Cerritos logo with the martini olive in it, so that was my replacement for naming it. If you’re on a ship, and there’s only a couple of places to drink, of course, you might just call it “the bar”!
RK: Can you tell us what went on behind the scenes with Jen & Mariner’s fledgling romance? Can we expect more in Star Trek: Lower Decks season three?
MM: I think Mariner had her eye on Jennifer the Andorian ever since episode two of season one because Mariner just can’t deny that high ponytail. There’s a lot of attitude with that ponytail, you know? And Andorians, in general, are very attitude-filled.
Mariner’s first romantic move towards Jennifer was shoving her out of the way in the hallway in episode five of season one. Because that’s how Mariner expresses when she likes someone: she pushes everybody away… Literally, in that case.
I don’t want to give away too much of season three. But what I’ll say about season three is, we start the season with Mariner dating Jennifer. They’re an item. But, the stories aren’t really about them dating – that’s not what the show’s about. So you’ll be seeing it, but don’t expect this to turn into The Jennifer and Mariner Show.
RK: Although I feel the text makes it clear that Andarithio Billups is asexual. Is it possible for you to confirm that?
MM: Oh, Andarithio. All I can say about Andarithio is that he has a passion in life, and it’s for engineering, and if he did have sex, it would cause him to lose everything he loves in life.
Now I’m not confirming nor denying whether he’s ace or not, but I will say, not only does he not want to have romantic kind-of relationships with people like that, you know, he does want to have relationships…But, I don’t know if we’ve defined yet if he would still avoid that if it didn’t mean it would change his whole life.
But I’ll tell you one thing that he is very romantically inclined to: that beautiful warp core; he’s deeply in love with the Cerritos‘ warp core, and that’s where his primary focus is on.
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RK: One thing we saw in the second season was Bradward’s growth, in part because of his time serving with William T. Riker aboard the Titan. Were you ever concerned that his transfer would cause a decrease in the humor?
MM: No, I think there’s something really funny about “be careful what you wish for,” and I think that our beloved Bradward can be confident. I think that the reality of what he wanted hit him in a way that comedically wasn’t the way he thought it was going to be.
He gives a speech like that like he might not be in Starfleet to experience these action-packed fights fighting Pakleds. He is more into the chill, Enterprise-D/The Next Generation era.
So I knew that even though Boimler was going to be confident, surrounding him by super-confident action hero characters would reset him back to being the guy who’s running to catching up to everyone and wanting to please everyone, just in a different sort of situation.
And then we did ourselves a favor – he got cloned, so we get to have two Boimlers now to experience stuff.
RK: How did Matt and Kimolu get promoted to Lt. Junior Grade?
MM: They put in a lot of star cartography time, and they pretty much are workaholics. They work hard, and they play hard. They love swim parties, but they love charting four-dimensional navigational paths through the stars. When you’re that committed to Starfleet, you just zoom up the ranks.
Also, there’s not a lot of competition in their department.
RK: You’re currently working on another animated show, Solar Opposites, which has a very different tone than Lower Decks – for example, the swears aren’t censored. How does the creative process behind these two shows compare?
MM: Everything behind Lower Decks is, “How do I honor Star Trek while making a comedy at the same time?” Everything with Solar Opposites is, “How do I break everything from other comedies and animated shows that I’ve loved before?”
The bleeps are funny because, on Lower Decks, I want them to swear, but I don’t want the show to be full of swearing because I just don’t feel like that’s Star Trek, personally. I know some people disagree with it, but I think it’s funny and it’s part of the character of the show. And then on Solar Opposites, it’s funny to me that they’re foul-mouthed aliens, and I would never want to bleep them, because that’s part of the charm.
Every show is different, but both of these are super important to me, and they’re different expressions about what I love about TV and what I have fun watching on TV, just on totally different ends of the spectrum.
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RK: In season one, Rutherford references Indicontrols and Sativents. Can replicators also make marijuana edibles? If so, does he partake?
MM: Wow, I don’t know what you’re talking about! There’s a lot of crazy sci-fi that they spout on Star Trek, some real Treknobabble… Now, I will say that hopefully, just like how there’s synthehol in the bar, one would hope that there was some sort of syntheherb that you might be able to enjoy, that you could kick out of your high right when it’s time to get to work.
I don’t think we’ve seen any of our Lower Deckers be into it, but if you had to look for somebody who was always hitting that instead of the bottle, I would say probably DELTA SHIFT!
RK: DELTA SHIFT!
MM: The evil versions of our guys who work while our guys are sleeping. I feel like it would be more believable that those guys were into the syntheweed.
RK: What’s next for T’Lyn?
MM: I’m so excited to write more stuff for T’Lyn. She only gets a little bit in season three, but it’s partially because we were writing season three when you were watching season two, so that episode hadn’t fully come in yet, and I wanted to make sure it was as good as I thought it would be before I started tipping the scales a little bit and seeing a lot more of T’Lyn.
But, I love T’Lyn, and I can’t wait to see more of her.
RK: Where did the Vulcan artifacts in the background on the Sh’Vhal come from?
MM: We took a ton from Star Trek: Enterprise because I love the Vulcans on Enterprise. But also, TOS (Editor’s Note: “Those Old Scientists”) has a lot of Vulcans, and the movies have a lot of Vulcans for sure, especially any time we’re searching for Spock or doing that kind of stuff. We took from all of it!
You can find Vulcan Easter eggs from all eras – especially Enterprise – in “wej Duj.” It’s like we have every Star Trek’s prop department. We try to utilize everything because it’s fun! It’s like Where’s Waldo, at this point. All we’re trying to do is make it feel textured and like it’s the thing we all love. We’re not trying to make a headache for everybody who blogs about Star Trek.
It’s weird there wasn’t an episode that fully took place among Vulcans, with only Vulcans, so I think we were the first ones to do that, and there were enough hints and looks into that culture in this time period that it gave us stuff to work with.
RK: Can you tell me anything about Star Trek: Lower Decks comics?
MM: We are still in talks about it. I know that everybody’s open to it. It’s something I would really like to do. I love comic books, so I just want them to feel as vibrant and fun as the show, so before we dive into it, we have to have the perfect team and concept.
What I love about this stuff is you watch the show, and then between seasons, you get a new story that builds out the world even more. So that would be my favorite way to do it. But we’re still going slow because we’ve only aired two seasons. Hopefully, hopefully, hopefully, we’ll get to do something awesome. But there’s nothing to tell until it actually happens. But if people want it, yell for it! That would help.
I was on Rick and Morty when they started making the comics, and that was always a blast because it was like, “Oh, look, here’s a whole different take on Rick and Morty.” I love that stuff. I used to read Bongo Comics growing up…
And the artist on Star Trek: The Next Generation Warped was Jason Ho, a cover artist for Bongo Comics.
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RK: How did writing a non-canon Star Trek (Warped) compare with writing canonical Star Trek?
MM: I mean, it’s insane. I couldn’t believe when I sold the pitch for Warped to Simon & Schuster because I desperately wanted to write Star Trek, and that felt like the closest I could ever get.
I think there’s a lot of funny stuff in Warped, especially in the trivia and the goofs, but the headline for me on that is, if you love Lower Decks, you can trace a line from the TNG Season 8 Tweets, to the Warped book, to me working Rick and Morty and Solar Opposites, and then to Lower Decks. You can see the evolution of a concept in a really clear way.
RK: Can you tell us about the Black Mountain?
MM: Listen, there’s two things you hope you don’t see when you die because you want to rest in peace. If you see that Black Mountain… If you see that Koala… It means there’s work to be done. It means something’s going down. Now, I don’t want to get too into it – it would freak you out! We try to tell a lot of people about this stuff, you know? But… That Koala and that Black Mountain. That’s trouble.
You know what’s funny about that Black Mountain, everything I’ve ever written on, every show I’ve ever written on when a character is either dead or dying or being brought back to life, they reference the Black Mountain. It’s like my Stephen King‘s Dark Tower.
RK: Will Star Trek: Lower Decks ever deal with time travel, and if so, could Ransom handle meeting Number One?
MM: Lower Decks will handle time travel, probably more than once.
And I would love Ransom to meet Number One, I think they’d get along. They might even fall in love and get married, and have twins, and live in Los Angeles, and be full of energy, and – be two of the nicest people I’ve ever met! I might be confusing them with the actors…
RK: Are there any major references that you’ve been surprised have been largely overlooked?
MM: You know, people were so wound up about that self-pleasuring Gumato I didn’t hear a lot of “Private Little War” conversation, which, you know. I guess that’s okay. I guess that’s my fault.
I think the fandom really knows their Star Trek… I forget that there’s fan-favorite and then there’s McMahan favorites like; I think “Samaritan Snare” is a fascinating episode, so bringing the Pakleds back didn’t feel random to me; it felt like, “Of course I should do that.”
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I guess maybe Peanut Hamper in season one – I saw some people not knowing what an EXOCOMP was, and I love EXOCOMPs. Bringing an EXOCOMP back, I think, surprised a lot of people, and that’s what I love about Lower Decks is I get to take Lower Decks-level characters, like, one-off, episodic characters, and try to breathe a little bit more life into them.
RK: Is there anything you’d like to add?
MM: I love making Lower Decks; I love talking about it. I was really excited to get to talk to you. We’re shipping animatics for season three right now, so you should be seeing it around the same time next year as last year… Although now that there’s been a pandemic, nothing is for certain.
I think season three just rules. I would say, don’t try to predict what you’re gonna see, because we really try and surprise you!
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