Mike McMahan Talks “Star Trek: Lower Decks” at NYCC 2023

It wouldn’t be New York Comic Con without Star Trek, which has been a convention staple for the past several years, since CBS All Access was a thing and the only new material was Discovery. This year, the highlight of the Star Trek Universe panel was undoubtedly Star Trek: Lower Decks, which is currently streaming its fourth season. Creator Mike McMahan joined members of the press for some roundtable interviews to talk about this season and beyond.

You might have seen some changes among the Lower Deckers this season; namely, they’ve been promoted, which means they’re technically no longer on the Lower Decks. There was some concern that this move would affect the overall DNA of the show, but McMahan looks forward to the opportunity that the new set of challenges will provide to the characters. 

There’s very few times I think in life that you don’t feel Lower Decks,” McMahan said. “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.”

He went on to point out that being promoted doesn’t mean somebody stops learning. Most of the main characters in previous (and current!) Trek titles have been captains, and they still have lessons to learn in every episode. “I do want to explore lots of stuff before I’m in charge of a whole crew,” said McMahan. “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. When you’re captain it can’t be about you; it has to be about something bigger.”

As for how Mariner (Tawny Newsome) has reacted to the promotion, McMahan revealed that he has a long-term plan for the character. “I have an internalized backstory for Mariner. I know why she’s been behaving the way she has, and I know what she’s working on, and the ways that it’s expressed has changed and grown and gotten better [over the years]. […] I know exactly where we’re going with that and I love it.”

“We haven’t released the last few episodes of this season,” he said, “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.”

Other characters, like Rutherford, have undergone a bit of a personality overhaul since the series’ inception. McMahan told us that Rutherford was originally supposed to have a very active social life, but by the end of writing the pilot, he was against the idea. “I thought there was some comedy from that. And at the end of the pilot, I was like, ‘No, this feels disgusting.’ This is very not Star Trek. I don’t want to do a dating show in Star Trek.”

The important thing is to be open to trying new things and not be afraid to toss out the playbook and start again from scratch. Very few people, McMahan asserted, like to go into a show where everything is already figured out and there are no surprises. It’s important to have structure, but not be so married to the original plan that you don’t give yourself the chance to explore things you find while you’re writing.

“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 gonna make my job harder by creating something that’s a little different than what we had before.'”

As for T’Lyn, McMahan said that the fun of her character is in her contrast to the other Lower Deckers. Kirk and Spock from the original series were, after all, “the perfect tonal combination for comedy”. And T’Lyn’s humor comes from her deadpan humor and the way she communicates differently from the rest of the characters.

If somebody comes in and says something second level dialogue; like they come in and they say something that isn’t what they want but how they feel. […] But T’Lyn doesn’t use second level dialogue. She only uses first. […] Having somebody 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.”

Boimler, however, is fun because of his mystery. McMahan referred to Boimler as “all of us” and informed us that nothing that we could learn about the character’s past would be as interesting as what he’s experiencing now on the Cerritos.

“It’s funny,” he said, “because like 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.”

McMahan did later admit, “There’s a lot of interesting Boimler stuff in season five, that the DNA of that is directly- you can track that from the [Strange New Worlds crossover] ep.”

McMahan also gave a passionate defense of what most people call “filler” episodes, something that used to be a mainstay of television series in the pre-streaming era, when seasons were twenty-plus episodes. The term is most often used for anime episodes that feature content not included in the manga, but is now more broadly used to refer to episodes where little to no plot happens. This, of course, is really only something that can happen in a show that is serialized rather than episodic. However, so-called “filler” episodes is usually where all of the character development happens. Fans can be pretty split on the topic.

The topic came up after a question about an episode from season four where the Cerritos makes a visit to Ferenginar, the Ferengi home world. McMahan was concerned that people would not like the episode because it isn’t very plot-driven.

Lower Decks is existing to take all of this stuff we know and have seen and read about and thought about and like, fill in the frog DNA of, you know, the Alpha Quadrant a little bit more where you’re like, I always suspected there was something like that. You know, 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.”

As for what Star Trek shows McMahan likes to watch, he admitted that making Trek affects his enjoyment of it, because he can no longer lose himself in the world. Whenever he watches, he can only focus on the production aspects. “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.”


Star Trek: Lower Decks is currently streaming on Paramount+. New episodes air Thursdays.

Stay tuned for more of our coverage from NYCC 2023!

Author: Jamie Sugah

Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.

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