Mike McMahan is flying high with “Star Trek: Lower Decks.” The popular animated “Trek” comedy-adventure recently wrapped its second season, paving the way for an extras-laden “Star Trek: Lower Decks — Season 2″ Blu-ray and DVD collection that arrives on July 12, 2022, from Paramount+, CBS Home Entertainment, and Paramount Home Entertainment. Additionally, show creator and executive producer McMahan told Heavy during an exclusive interview earlier this month that season three is in post-production and that he and the show’s writing staff are busy writing scripts for season four.
The two-disk “Lower Decks — Season Two” collection, according to a press release distributed to the media, includes all 10 episodes of the show’s sophomore season along with an hour of bonus content that encompasses two featurettes (“A Sound Foundation” and “Lower Decktionary: Season Two”), Easter eggs, animatics, and audio commentaries with such cast and crew as Tawny Newsome, Jack Quaid, Paul Scheer, Garrick Bernard, Jonathan Frakes, Gabrielle Ruiz, and Kathryn Lyn.
“Star Trek: Lower Decks” follows the adventures of the U.S.S. Cerritos and her crew of good-natured misfits, which include Mariner (Newsome), Boimler (Quaid), and Tendi (Noel Wells). They answer to Captain Carol Freeman (Dawnn Lewis) and Commander Jack Ransom (Jerry O’Connell). Complicating matters, Captain Freeman is Mariner’s mother. McMahan, during an extensive interview with Heavy, also discussed his favorite moments from season two, addressed the decision to end the season on a surprisingly serious and dark note, and revealed the Easter egg that his animators snuck past him.
A Chicago Bar That McMahan and Tawny Newsome Love Made it into ‘Lower Decks’
Overall, how pleased were you with season two?
Oh, I just love Season 2. We’d gotten season one out the door. We’d learned a lot about the show and the characters. We were able to plan and have more fun. You can tell, hopefully, by watching season two that we were off to the races. We understood the show, what we wanted to say, what games we could play, and we had a blast. It comes through.
What featurettes on the Blu-ray are you most excited for fans to see?
There are a couple of audio commentaries that we recorded over Zoom. There’s one with Jonathan Frakes, where he’s so funny. We love working with him, but we had to bleep a couple of things he said because he spoiled for other “Star Trek” shows he was working on. I’ve never been on an audio commentary before where you’ve had to bleep somebody out for that stuff, which speaks to how vibrant the ecosystem is with “Star Trek” right now. I also love people seeing the animatics. We have an amazing art team, and seeing how they do what they do – where it starts – it’s a blast.
Some creators don’t love to show the guy behind the curtain. Some fans don’t like to see the Wizard of Oz. What are your thoughts on that? Or is it okay, after a season is over?
After the season is over, if you love it, I love digging in and learning as much as you can about the thought process – how stuff came together. When you’re watching it the first time, that’s when you want to be immersed in the show and let the magic happen. “Lower Decks” is made to be rewatched, and if you’ve seen all of the episodes multiple times, this is a way to get an even closer connection to a thing you already like.
Let’s talk about the end of season two. Some of it was pretty sad and dark. What went into the decision to go that route for such a funny show?
Part of it is that modern animation can be more complex than just silly jokes all the time. When you’re silly all the time, it makes the emotional stuff ring a little bit more true. Also, I’m a silly guy. But I experienced sadness, loss, and darkness in my life. It’s one of those things where the fun is funnier and the sad is sadder when you have both. Playing with the audience’s expectations of when you’re gonna get it and when you’re not is part of the game of creating a show these days. Along with that, “Star Trek” has always given us both of those things. Even though “Lower Decks” is a faster, more animated — for lack of a better phrase — expression of “Star Trek,” we do try to give you the things that you love. That sometimes means that the characters we like have to experience stuff maybe they don’t like.
McMahan Will Be in San Diego to Support ‘Lower Decks’ & His Other Show, ‘Solar Opposites,’ at Comic-Con
Seasons three and four are a go. Where will the story pick up for season three? Where are we heading?
Season three starts right where season two left off. Captain Freeman has been arrested. The Pakled planet has experienced this huge trauma, and you’re gonna see through the eyes of our Lower Deckers what it’s like to know that your captain has been taken away. Not only their captain, but Mariner’s mom. We start season three with a bang, and then, in true “Star Trek” fashion, once that’s resolved, the characters have all changed a little bit. You’ll see them going on different paths, which are funny, and it will take them on new adventures. I’m so excited. We’re writing season four right now, and I’ve been doing post on season three. I love this show. It’s fun, funny, and truly “Star Trek.”
In terms of Mariner heading into season three is she more worried about her captain or her mom?
If you asked her, she would say she’s not worried about anything. In some ways, she can’t separate the two. The feeling that somebody might have for their captain is what she has for her mom. She respects her. She loves her. It’s like she lost both at once.
How often have your animators gotten something past you, in terms of Easter eggs, that even you didn’t catch?
Oh, all the time. I challenge them to do it. Then I’ll catch it, and I love it. We are like kids who snuck into a candy store after hours. We’re trying to get as much fun stuff in there. The artists are such great visual designers, but they’ll sneak something in too. You should always keep your eyes peeled when you’re watching “Lower Decks” because you might catch something on the third watch and realize, “Wait a minute. I never thought to look in that corner,” and they snuck another thing in there.
The background artists sneak in so much stuff. I challenge them. There are some scenes that are built for them to surprise me. In an animatic, I’m not seeing it in there, but I do when color hits and I’ve approved the designs. Some of the photos in the background of the bar scene in season two, when you’re halfway through the season, they snuck some super-deep-cut stuff into there. There’s a closet in season one, where they hid a notable “TOS” Easter egg. I don’t want to give away too much but… the thing is, I’ve seen these episodes hundreds of times before they make it to air. It’s one of those things where they’re not doing it to catch me. They’re doing it to delight me. I get delighted and then we keep moving on. You know what I mean? I don’t think anything’s made it to air without me having noticed it, but I would love that to happen. I would love to be surprised as much as the audience is.
The Show’s Animators Snuck an Easter Egg Past McMahan
I’d pay big bucks to have one of your animators read this article and say, “Uh, Mike… Guess what? You didn’t see…”
OK, so one thing that made it that I had never noticed was Nomad. They snuck Nomad into the pilot, and I hadn’t realized that. In the closet, in the first scene of the first episode. I was just so focused on Mariner, Boimler, and the acting that I never was like, “Wait a minute, what did they put into this closet?” I’m pretty up to speed on everything else.
Wait, is that the closet spoiler you didn’t want to give away? Or is that a different closet?
Yeah, I gave it away.
It’s so old, it’s not a spoiler anymore. You mentioned that “Lower Decks” is “truly ‘Star Trek.'” What season-two episode would you say is the most purely “Star Trek”?
I love Episode 209, “wej Duj.” That’s an incredible episode in its own right. You could put that episode anywhere you wanted in any “Star Trek” season. The format of it and the fun would play anywhere. You get to spend a bunch of time on a Vulcan ship and a Klingon ship. What’s interesting to me is it’s Vulcans talking to Vulcans. It’s Klingons talking to Klingons. You’re not seeing them through the lens of humans. It still feels like “Star Trek.” It feels exciting. It’s not like when Riker gets posted on a Klingon ship and you’re seeing things through his perspective. We treated this like it’s a classic episode of “Star Trek.” It’s near and dear to my heart. Everything came together on that… the writing, acting, animation, and ship designs. We’re focusing on the Lower Decks crews of those other ships. There couldn’t be a more “Star Trek” or “Lower Decks” episode. We got a Hugo nomination for that! I’m a huge fan of the Hugo Awards. I’ve read almost every Hugo winner. Now I’m like, “Do I go back and read all the nominees?” Seeing that… the episode is very special to me.
And there’s a cool story connected to the episode “wej Duj”/”Three Ships.” Please share it…
I love “Three Ships.” I love the arc of Mariner and Boimler having unresolved stuff from season one. They get to that episode in the middle of the season, episode five, where they’re searching for that party room and we end up having them come to an understanding/rekindle their friendship, because friendships are so important in “Star Trek.” I love the friendship. Having them end up at that bar and rekindling their friendship was so important to me. I love Tawny and Jack. They nailed that scene, and that bar was based on my favorite dive bar in Chicago… the Old Town Ale House, which Tawny used to haunt as well when she was in Second City. We used to both work in Second City, her on stage and me basically arranging chairs. When we went to Chicago (for the Star Trek: Mission Chicago event), Tawny, Jack, and I all went to that bar and recreated that scene. We hung out and had some beers.
The “Star Trek: Lower Decks — Season 2” Blu-ray is available for pre-order on Amazon.com.