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When we last left the Lower Deckers on the U.S.S. Cerritos, their captain had been wrongly arrested for blowing up the Packled planet and the crew was involuntarily sent on leave. It was certainly a cliffhanger, and the Season 3 premiere of Paramount+'s Star Trek: Lower Decks picks up right where Season 2 left off.
SYFY WIRE talked with show creator Mike McMahan about what fans can expect for everyone’s favorite Lower Deckers in the upcoming season, as well as that Lower Decks-Strange New Worlds crossover coming in Season 2 of SNW.
Read on for that discussion, though be warned! There are some mild spoilers for Season 3’s first episode.
While we've spent time with the Lower Deckers for two seasons and we know their personalities and a bit about their backgrounds, we get to learn a lot more about them in Season 3. When you were developing the season, did you have those arcs baked in from the get-go or did they evolve as the episodes did?
It was kind of both. We started the season and I knew there was some stuff I wanted to do incrementally, and there was some stuff I wanted to find while writing it with the other writers. But the lighthouse in the darkness was that I know that I want Lower Decks to feel like you could check out any episode, and it feels like Lower Decks — so you can't have these drastic character changes season to season. You want the show to still feel like the show, you want the characters to still feel like the characters, but I did want to do the same thing you see in The Next Generation where across the seven seasons, characters grow and change.
I knew I wanted to explain more about Rutherford's implant this season, and I knew that I wanted to move Mariner forward in some way. Everybody has something new to deal with this season — Boimler gaining this confidence and Tendi having this new science position and starting her down this track of realizing what her dreams are — I wanted to incrementally move everybody forward, but not so much so that it felt like a series ender.
One thing you see in the first episode as well as the trailer is the Lower Deckers in civilian clothes. I just got a kick out there outfits, especially Boimler’s sweater vest. What was the brainstorming like to figure out what their civilian outfits would look like?
I love civilian outfits in Star Trek — they're so fascinating to see what was the ‘90s vision of a future version of a power suit. It's almost like Epcot or Tomorrowland, to put a Disney spin on it. That ‘70s vision of the future, that retro-futurism, we're hitting that with the 90s now.
We wanted thematically for this first episode to feel like a movie but also feel like a celebration of every time Star Trek went to Earth and we got to see futuristic costumes. You saw a lot in Deep Space Nine and we cherry-picked our favorite outfits for each person. My favorite is Rutherford’s — he's got that sort of Jake Sisko-like non-symmetrical purple sweater. And obviously, Mariner looks super cool, and when you see the Bridge Crew they all look really cool, they all look awesome.
Without getting into spoilers too much, there’s an episode in Season 3 that centers around a character we've seen before but who isn't a major character. That approach seems to be a trend of the show — there will be an episode where you're dedicating a lot of time to a character that's not part of the core cast and stretching the Lower Decks universe. When you’re planning a season, do you always want to have at least one episode where we go out of the normal realm of the Lower Deckers?
I mean, I do this in Solar Opposites, too. I'm like, "I want an episode late in the season to be really surprising." And sometimes it's a big movie episode or it’s like “wej Duj” where we're totally changing the format of the show.
And this season, I just wanted to spend more time with that character. And because we're a streamer, we get to break the formula a little bit. It's hard to do those episodes on linear — if you're just dropping it on a network, that might be someone’s first episode. When you log into Paramount+, you can see every episode of Lower Decks and that's just going to be one of them. So it gives us that freedom.
And then even more conceptually, Lower Decks is inspired by the original “Lower Decks” episode on TNG, and that was a departure from the main cast. So we’re keeping that creative inspiration of doing our own Lower Decks show — if we have a show that expands on that, how can we also expand on the idea that you never know what the episodes are going to focus on?
Do you think that is something you're going to continue, in terms of having episodes like that in Season 4 and beyond?
It’s easy to say that you should never be absolutely sure you know what's coming in Lower Decks. We always want the show to be a delight. But in Season 4 [which is currently in the writing stage], it’s like, “How can we surprise you guys even more while keeping the show that everybody loves?" The episode I just wrote for Season 4, or that I did a pass on last night, is another one of those, “Oh, this feels like it always should have existed. But it's a total surprise that we did it.” And that's, I think, the pocket that we want to be in.
I also think that you don't want to ever have the audience feel like they are being f***ed with or lied to. We ended on a cliffhanger last season and we resolved it pretty quickly in the first episode of Season 3. I wasn't interested in doing a season-long, heavily serialized plot about that. But I did want to resolve it in a fun, Lower Decks kind of way because the Lower Deckers don't get to do season-long arcs very often. So hopefully the audience doesn't feel betrayed by that because I wanted to give them a cool movie-feeling episode and then undercut it in a very like, “Welcome back to Lower Decks, we've got we've got other fish to fry when it comes to our main characters.”
I was in Hall H for your Comic-Con panel, where there was the news about the crossover in Season 2 with Strange New Worlds. We know that Tawny Newsome's Mariner and Jack Quaid’s Boimler will make an appearance and that the episode is going to be a mix of animation and live action. Could you expand on how the mix of animation and live-action will work and, also, will other Lower Decks characters, say Jack Ransom, meet Strange New Worlds characters like Number One? [Jerry O’Connell and Rebecca Romijn, who play Ransom and Number One respectively, are married in real life.]
I don't want to give away too much, especially because it's not my show. I mean, it's definitely a collaboration between me and the Strange New World guys, and they're huge fans of Lower Decks. While they were making their first season, I even got to like pitch jokes and punch up a couple of their scripts, so if there's some Lower Decks-seeming jokes in there, that might be my fault, or their fault for letting me play in their world.
For the animated portions of the crossover, I helped direct, I helped give notes to the board artists, and they're using our character designs and all sorts of stuff. And then for the live-action portion, just seeing Mariner and Boimler in the world of Strange New Worlds just weirdly works perfectly in a very fun way, especially seeing Tawny and Jack together. I don't want to tell you more details about it because it's going to be so fun to see it happen.
Obviously, Lower Decks and Strange New Worlds each have their own vibe — is it fair to say that some of the Lower Decks vibe shows up on Pike’s Enterprise?
I would say that it's a really good merger of tone — the Lower Deckers bring their tone and the Strange New Worlders bring their tone. It’s like chocolate and peanut butter or peanut butter and jelly. It’s like, “Oh, I like these two things.” And when they come together, you like it, but it feels like a whole new thing.
But it still feels so Star Trek — with the story they wanted to tell and how it looks and all the characters in it — it’s so undeniably Star Trek. But it's also like a charm offensive — it’s so charming and you just want to spend time with these characters. It's just like comfort food and it makes me want to hang out in that episode, like I’m hanging out in a bar with my best friends.
Season 3 of Star Trek: Lower Decks premieres on Paramount+ on Aug. 25 with new episodes dropping weekly. This interview has been lighted edited and condensed for clarity.