Out of all the announcements for future Star Trek shows, one of the most unusual and surprising was Lower Decks; the animated comedy series written by Rock & Morty’s Mike McMahon.
Between San Diego Comic Con and Star Trek Las Vegas, creator Mike McMahon used the stage to tell the world exactly what the show based aboard the California Class USS Cerritos would be about. “The speciality of the Cerritos is Second Contact, that is their gig.” He explained at STLV, “First Contact is super important, really dangerous. You don’t want to set off any wars, you don’t want to ruin any lives. Second contact, you are showing up to the planet, you are finding all the good places to eat, you setting up the communications stuff…”
Expanding more on the concept, McMahon added, “I wanted to explore how after first contact happens and you are starting to join the Federation and you already have warp capability…but, what is happening next? What is Starfleet doing to back up that offer of joining?”
Explaining his direction, McMahon mused about what he enjoyed most when watching Star Trek as a fan. “I was there for the B-stories. You know.” A revelation that was of no surprise to anyone who’s followed his TNG comedy twitter years ago, “Riker is trapped on a planet with his transporter clone, great, I love that. But, Data and Geordi are writing a play and getting into a fight about it? That is what I want.”
Assuring the approach they’re taking to stories, McMahon added that the core of the comedy was social and emotional tales in a sci fi setting, but the main focus would be the crew’s journey below decks. “Every Star Trek is about a family, and our show is also about a family. It is just not the same kind of family you have seen before.”
If anything could describe this era of Star Trek, it’s that the shows are putting ephasis outwith the captains chair. Discovery’s lead characters were a decommissioned mutineer and barely showed any department heads. Picard will be the first Star Trek series where no one in the cast is even a member of Starfleet.
For Lower Decks they’ll be taking the emphasis entirely off the bridge and fully thrown into the Lower Decks setting with a crew that sounds more Red Dwarf that traditional Star Trek protagonists.
The first introduced was Ensign Beckett Mariner; a tough, rule breaking officer who’s career has seen her rise and fall through the ranks numerous times. Tawny Newsome, who’ll voice the role, described her as a ‘weirdo rock and roll party queen; who just wants to have fun and relax. “She is very good at all things Starfleet.” Newsome explained, “She just doesn’t care.”
Joining Newsome in the cast is Jack Quaid, who stars alongside Trek’s Karl Urban in the Boys who’s taking on the role of Mariner’s opposite, Ensign Brad Boimler. “He is very booksmart but constantly getting in his own way. He gets very in his head.” Quaid said of his character, “I always say he would nail the written portion of the driving test with flying colors but once it actually got to him being in the car, it would be a complete and total disaster.”
Third in the line up is Ensign Rutherford, voiced by Eugene Cordero. Rutherford is the engineer of the group with a fancy new cybernetic implant to help his work. Except he doesn’t quite know how to use it. “It’s like when you get a new phone and they got rid of the button.” Explained McMahon, who also made a point of Rutherford being a more down to earth engineer. Comparing him to LaForge of the Enterprise-D, McMahon said he was a good engineer, but “…he does not solve the problems by the end of every episode. Because he is learning and sometimes science is about learning stuff and making mistakes.”
Rounding up the main cast is Ensign Tendi. Tendi, who will be voiced by Noël Wells, will be the audience introduction to the Cerritos as a newly assigned rookie taking her first day in Starfleet. “She was a huge a Starfleet fan, even through Starfleet Academy. So being on the ship, every day just blows her mind.” Describing her like a Star Trek fan being on a starship, McMahon called her a ‘source of joy’, someone who can be on an uneventful mission or have a boring day where nothing cool happens and still just overjoyed to be within that world.
While the show will focus on the crew below decks, doing the dirty work no one else wants to, he did note that there was a senior staff who weren’t the focus of the show; but they act as if they are.
Leading the crew above decks are Captain Freeman voiced by Dawnn Lewis; a strong and capable leader, careful, thoughtful and bound by their ethics. The perfect Starfleet captain, just with a less than perfect mission. By her side is Lieutenant Shaxs voiced by Fred Tatasciore, a chisled Bajoran who’s solutions will include ejecting the warp core at any given opportunity; and Gillian Vigman as chief medical officer Dr T’Ana, a Caitian who McMahon described as a “great doctor, but a very bad cat.”
Bridging the gap between decks is the ships first officer, Commander Jack Ransom who McMahon described as “kind of like Riker if you gave him a little bit of speed and a little less shame.” Ransom will be played by veteran actor, and strangely husband of Discovery’s ‘Number One’ off screen, Jerry O’Connell.
“I don’t think professionally I have had as much fun as being in a recording session with Mike McMahan.” O’Connell said of working on the show, describing the improv he and Jack Quaid were able to do while recording, “Occasionally Jack and I get to record together which is so ridiculous. I don’t think we say most of the words that are on your fine script.”
“Who knows what you will use,” O’Connell continued as he addressed McMahon while moderating the Lower Decks panel at SDCC, “but the freedom to do that is as an actor and an improviser, that is such an amazing gift to be trusted with it.”
Star Trek Lower Decks began recording earlier this year with character art being revealed at San Diego Comic Con. Produced by CBS Eye Animations and Secret Hideout Productions, the show will make it’s debut on CBS All Access in the United States with no partner for international distribution announced as of yet. No launch date has been released, though Alex Kurtzman has estimated that the show should launch sometime in 2021 at the earlist.
This article was first published in SFCQ2 Comms ‘Across the Universe’ edition, released in September 2019 as part of the ‘Boldly Go’ section alongside updates & insight into Picard, Discovery and a whole lot more. Find out more about Comms or Enlist Today for access!