'Star Trek: Lower Decks' Creator Mike McMahan Explains How The Show Finds Comedy Without Mocking 'Star Trek'

CBS All Access is making the most out of the final frontier with a handful of original Star Trek shows. Star Trek Discovery kicked off the latest era of the franchise created by Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek: Picard brought back the beloved captain from Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds will spin-off characters from Discovery. But there's one other Star Trek project in the works at the CBS streamer that may be the most original: Star Trek: Lower Decks.

Star Trek: Lower Decks is a new animated series from Rick and Morty writer and Solar Opposites co-creator Mike McMahan that focuses on the members of the lower decks of a starship crew instead of the higher ranking officers on the bridge. Many Star Trek fans have worried about a full-fledged animated comedy within the world of Star Trek turning into a parody of the franchise itself. But when we asked McMahan about how he intends to bring humor to the franchise, it sounds like his head is in the right space (no pun intended), and the series won't use Star Trek or its fans as a punching bag.

I had the opportunity to speak with Mike McMahan about his animated series Solar Opposites on Hulu (read our review here), and our conversation turned to Star Trek: Lower Decks. McMahan had previously said that he hoped to create an animated series that had plenty of laughs but still respected Star Trek canon and didn't belittle the franchise. I asked him how he intended to do that, and he had quite the eloquent and thoughtful response. McMahan started:

"I'm a huge Star Trek fan, and nobody needs a Star Trek comedy that made fun of Star Trek or punched down on Star Trek, nor was I interested in doing that that. I was interested in writing a Star Trek that could be canon, that follows the rules of other Star Trek shows that I loved, and has everything that you love about Star Trek, including the way you tell stories. But I'm a comedy writer. I'm never gonna write a serious Star Trek, so the way that we handled it is it's on a ship that isn't the capital ship. It's not about the bridge crew. It's about the lowest officers on that ship. But when we're breaking stories for the lower decks, every episode also has a proper Star Trek episode that's happening to the bridge crew, and our lower deckers aren't involved in it. However, you can't have a big sci-fi thing happening on a starship and not have it effect them because that's their whole world. So if you're watching Lower Decks, you're getting a full Star Trek episode from the perspective of people who are having their own social and emotional stories and their own sci-fi stories, but they just aren't on the bridge. They don't have the information the bridge is getting, and they don't have the responsibility."

The mere premise of seeing the less exciting stuff the lower decks crew has to deal with while the bridge is having a full-on space adventure is funny in itself. But a lot of comedy will come from the dynamic between the characters at the center of the series. McMahan added:

"A big thing that was important to me was figuring out how do we comedically access these characters. How can these characters be funny and not break Star Trek? You can't have a Morty [from Rick and Morty] in Star Trek. You can't just have a stupid person in Starfleet, otherwise it breaks the aspirational paradigm of what humanity is like in Starfleet. So our leads are foils for each other, but they're very much ingrained in Star Trek."

More specifically, McMahan dived into the two leads of the show and how their clashing will be a source of comedy:

"You have Ensign Beckett Mariner, who is sort of like our Tom Cruise/Maverick, where she's amazing at Starfleet stuff, and she's incredibly knowledgeable, but she just hates following the rules and she bristles at the military structure. She wants to do whatever she wants. She's kind of like Captain Kirk if Kirk wasn't a captain and didn't have the power. Kirk would follow his gut, and she followers her gut.

Then, Ensign Brad Boimler also knows everything about sci-fi stuff, and is also an amazing Starfleet crew member, but he's so by-the-book and so burdened by following the rules that he can't follow his gut. So the comedic friction there is that they both want the same thing, they're both good at this stuff, but emotionally and from a human level, they're completely different about how they do it."

Finally, for anyone concerned that a Star Trek comedy series may be a step in the wrong direction, McMahan also said:

"Star Trek has always had comedy in it. Every series of Star Trek has funny characters, funny episodes, and those always live in the B-stories for the most part. That, to me, is what I love about Star Trek. So it's really taking that aspect of it and letting that shine. I can't wait for you guys to see it, because it's one of my favorite things I've ever made. It feels like it fell out of another dimension in the 90s where they were making a funny Next Generation era show."

Knowing Mike McMahan's nerdy comedy sensibilities combined with everything he said here, I'd say Star Trek: Lower Decks sounds like it's in perfect hands. We won't know for sure until the series arrives on CBS All Access, which is slated to happen sometime later this year. Stay tuned for our full interview with Mike McMahan, coming soon.