How Star Trek: Lower Decks Animators Sneak Easter Eggs Into The Show

At its heart, "Star Trek" is a workplace drama. 

While we may become attached to the characters and their relationships, or enjoy the little hits of philosophy taken from the miniature morality plays in "Trek," at the end of the day, its the ship or station — and its complex operational machinations — that bring us back. A good captain can be seen as not just a military commander, but a good manager overseeing a team of employees. Some managers are serious but open-minded (Picard), some are temperamental and forthright (Sisko), some are a wee bit authoritarian (Janeway), and some are "good ol' boys" who break rules but still get raises (Kirk). To date, most Trek shows have been about the highest-ranked senior staff on a ship or a station, serving as the hard-working commanders at the front lines of all major crises. In the background, however, we constantly see lower-ranked officers bustling about, taking care of ineffable smaller tasks to ensure the ship or station is running well. 

Trekkies have likely looked at those characters and wondered what their lives are like. After all, we, as human TV viewers in the 21st century, don't have the knowhow to be Starfleet captains, but we do have the gumption and the wherewithal to take care of the smaller tasks on a Federation starship, right? Surely we could hack it as ensigns. Those background characters may not live the extravagant lives of a captain, but they still get to be part of the adventure. Or maybe they just have crappy jobs, sleep in a corridor, and are never made privy to the larger missions at hand. 

"Star Trek: Lower Decks" is about those people. It understands that Trek is a workplace drama, and that sometimes — indeed, often — going to work kind of sucks. It's a show for Trekkies who pay attention to background characters and background details, and who mentally catalogue and memorize the structure of and practical schematics of "Star Trek." For as crass as the show can occasionally be (this is a show that once featured a masturbating mugato), it's clearly written and animated by people who know Trek and know it well. Indeed, animators on the show love to pepper in cute winks and references to previous "Star Trek" shows as a little bonus for Trekkies and obsessives. 

As explained in an interview with Trek Core, show creator Mike McMahan (co-creator of "Rick and Morty") pins many of those bonuses on the animators.

No Real-World Locations

"Sometimes," McMahan said, "They'll slip in something that's so esoteric..." 

McMahan explained that the Easter eggs in "Lower Decks" are very rarely calculated: 

"Well, look — we don't ever go into an episode being like, 'We're going to make the Internet's job hard this week, and put in extra Easter eggs!' Occasionally, we'll be talking to the artists, and suggest that we visit a location in an episode where there's a bevy of potentially referential stuff in the background — like when you go to a diner and they have lots of accumulated stuff on the walls — and we did that a couple of times this season.

So the number of Easter eggs probably shot through the roof, just because of a couple locations and others that I don't want to give away. No spoilers! Like, I love the lists of stuff people find, because my artists surprise me sometimes, too! They'll sneak stuff in there."

Because "Star Trek" has been around since 1966, and — as of this writing — has 11 different shows and 13 feature films in its pocket (with several more shows about to debut on Paramount+), there are certainly plenty of adventures, characters, aliens, ships, timelines, and colossal negative space wedgies to draw from. As such, "Lower Decks" has something of a mandate — or at least a clarifying principle — to avoid real-world settings and set all their stories in established "Trek" lore. As such, animators have a wonderful opportunity to spray paint the backgrounds with as many references as their hearts desire. McMahan elaborates: 

"Look, we're an animated show that has to feel like Star Trek. So there's never a reference, really, to real-world locations — they only reference stuff from the universe! So sometimes they'll put in a reference to something that I will miss completely until we get to like color [review, an element of post-production] or something, where I'm looking at things frame-by-frame.

I tell them, 'Oh, you sneaky guys!' They made the decision because it felt like it was part of the 'Trek' world — and as soon as you see it and understand why it's there, it's like 'Yes! One hundred percent!' But the reason that I really like that is because when we're writing and making these episodes, we want you watch it multiple times."

A Comforting Bowl of Plomeek Soup

McMahan also understands that TV can function both as a conduit for stirring drama and as background noise. McMahan hopes that "Lower Decks" will function for Trekkies of both inclinations. The background gags are for the people who want to lean in and pay attention, but McMahan understands that many Trekkies also enjoyed playing well-worn VHS cassettes of Trek reruns as comfort food. 

"I think there's a certain generation, now, that want to be able to look at their phones, or make pasta or whatever, and not be leaning into their TV. They grew up with TV as background noise — but we're on Paramount+, and if you're going to watch our show, you have to choose to watch it.

'Lower Decks' is for people who put on 'Next Generation' or 'Voyager' or any of them as comfort viewing. Even on 'Rick and Morty,' every group of artists I worked with — all of the animators — they're always running 'TNG' and 'Voyager' and other 'Star Trek' in the background because there's like a million episodes."

For McMahan and company, "Star Trek" is like the jazz so beloved by Thomas Riker's brother. It's something used to enhance the mood in a room, to alter the ambiance, and push writers and animators in a more Trekward direction. "Lower Decks" is their own jazz riff on "Trek;" a diminished seventh of the original "Trek" melody. 

A diminished Seventh of Nine, perhaps? Yuk yuk.

No! Not the agony booth!