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Lower Decks Aims To Be More Than Just Comic Relief

Article Updated To Include New Release Date

By Silek Thu 14 May, 2020 2:50 PM - Last Updated: Mon 06 Jul, 2020 9:07 PM
On October 25, 2018, CBS All Access officially ordered two seasons of the new Star Trek animated series, Lower Decks. Shortly after signing a 5 year deal with All Access to expand the Star Trek universe beyond Discovery, Alex Kurtzman and Aaron Baiers of Kurtzman's production company Secret Hideout brought Mike McMahan, the head writer of the animated series Rick and Morty, to the production, reportedly won over by McMahan's pitch following "the people who put the yellow cartridge in the food replicator so a banana can come out the other end."

In early 2019, Kurtzman stated the series would not be "Rick and Morty in the world of Star Trek" but instead would have its own tone, and "skew slightly more adult".

Secret Hideout's Heather Kadin told expectant fans in January 2020 that the first season would be ready by May 2020, and it's release date would be scheduled to facilitate the release of the other Star Trek series being made for CBS All Access. By the end of March, work on it was taking place remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic, forcing the staff to work from home.

When asked if the pandemic would result in any delays to it's release McMahan stated "Animation is kind of uniquely suited for this moment. We didn't shut down production. Safely recording the cast was really our biggest challenge because we don't want them leaving their houses. So getting remote setups and stuff was something we had to solve, but it seems like we have." He also added that the writing of season two had already begun.

It has been argued back and forth for years as to whether or not the 1973 animated series was in fact canonical, and the same has been speculated about this new animated series. Star Trek: The Animated Series gave us our introduction to Captain Robert April as the Captain of the Enterprise preceding Captain Pike in the episode 'The Counter-Clock Incident' and had been debated if this was in fact, canon. attachment.php?attachmentid=13247&d=1589467737&stc=1In Discovery Season One, this seems to have been laid to rest with Saru reading Captain April's name off a list of famed Starfleet Captains, as well as Captain Pike's service record showing he was April's First Officer in Season Two. Additionally, in The Animated Series episode 'The Slaver Weapon' the Kzinti were introduced. In Star Trek: Picard episode 7, 'Nepenthe', Riker mentions them by name.

This would all serve to further reinforce the fact that the 1973, Star Trek: The Animated Series is without a doubt canon, and McMahan has gone out of his way to iterate that 'Lower Decks' is official Star Trek canon also, and holds a solid place in the Star Trek timeline.

It may be easy to mistake this given the fact that 'Lower Decks' will have a more light-hearted tone, and center on the 'background' supporting crew. Although the show will focus on what might be considered the B-plot of a normal Star Trek entry, it will take place while a full fledged A-Plot episode plays out of the viewers focus on the bridge with the characters we have grown accustomed to seeing episodes centered around. While we are following the junior grade officers carrying on in their duties, the bridge crew and the normally 'main' characters will be dealing with fully scripted triple A level plots as we are used to seeing.

Within Lower Decks, there is a proper in-canon Star Trek show,” McMahan explained. “It takes place during the TNG era. It’s on a ship that feels like it’s always existed there and the bridge crew is dealing with big, never-before-seen Starfleet Star Trek-type stories. So every episode has a thing like that happening in it. And then, on top of that, we’ve attachment.php?attachmentid=13246&d=1589467737&stc=1got A stories and B stories that are emotionally driven from the point of view of the lower deckers on the ships. So it was an area of storytelling that people had covered every once in a while on Star Trek, but never built a show around. It was important to me that if you know everything about Star Trek and you watch this show then it fits into canon and doesn’t break Star Trek. In fact, it grows it. And if you know nothing about Star Trek, then all of the canon in Lower Decks feels like mythological, broad understandable sci-fi stuff.

McMahan went on to explain that writing Lower Decks was just as difficult as any show in the Star Trek Universe.

"We have all the problems that a regular Star Trek show would have, which is don't do any episodes that they've already done across the series in the movies. And on top of that, you don't want to do a separate episode that happens to accidentally be similar to a Stargate Atlantis episode or to a Farscape episode. So we've got all of that, trying to make sure that what we're doing is new and interesting and fits in the canon. But then also, you know, the comedic emotional stories. There's [no character] who's dumb on Lower Decks, and there's nobody who's mean."

McMahan brought together a group of writers with different levels of interest in Star Trek to balance the different elements he envisioned the series would showcase. The series writers include Chris Kula, Ann Kim, Ben Rodgers, Davis Wright, and M Willis.

One of the first things McMahan did when assembling the writers was to screen The Next Generation episode 'Lower Decks' (Season 7 Episode 15) to give the writers a sense of the point of view this series would have. This TNG episode revolved around four Junior Officersattachment.php?attachmentid=13245&d=1589467737&stc=1 on the Enterprise and how each of them perceived the main characters of the series. It had a few light moments, but isn't considered one of the more humorous episodes.

McMahan was inspired by these more 'social' stories and felt that animation would be the perfect medium to include humor and this mixture of tones. He explained that the series' humor would not be about "punching down on Trek" and was more focused on telling Star Trek stories where the characters happen to be funny, and he then added that the series would feature jokes and references specifically for fans of the franchise that newcomers likely would not understand but hopefully would still find funny.

The series creates a new class of ship, the California Class U.S.S. Cerritos, and McMahan has stated they would be the ones to serve the function of “Second Contact". After Starfleet has made First Contact with a new planet or lifeform and invited it to join the United Federation of Planets, these support ships would arrive to make Second Contact and to find "all the good places to eat [and set up] the communications stuff". He suggested that these support ships have been present throughout the franchise, but just "haven’t been important enough to have screen time yet"

Along with making it known that Lower Decks has it's place among the canon of Star Trek, McMahan also stressed that it existed on a very specific point on the Trek timeline. Specifically the year 2380, putting it one year after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis, and about 5 years before the Syth's attack on Mars in the Picard timeline.

McMahan has said, “This is a version of the Federation in which Voyager has returned from the Delta Quadrant. Making it a sequel to The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and the film Star Trek: Nemesis. It also makes it a prequel to Picard.

While I personally have always been happy to get more Trek in whatever form it may come in, knowing this new series is considered by the creators to be as big a part of the Star Trek story as any other, makes me as excited as ever to see it.

*** Update ***

The 10-episode first season of Lower Decks is expected to premiere on August 6, 2020, on CBS All Access in the United States.

EDITED BY Three of Seven -
Tue 19 May, 2020 5:04 PM
Thank you for the article, I had never heard of this show before and it does sound interesting. It seems to be following the trend on several TV channels here that chronicle the jobs that never made it to the screen before. An example of this is both "Highway Through Hell" and "Heavy Rescue: 401" that follow tow truck operators and the things they do in a day.
Tue 19 May, 2020 6:02 PM
They should look at the success of other animated shows that tackled mature themes like both Avatar series, Adventure Time, Stephen Universe (to a lesser extent), My Little Pony FiM and others. Just because your target audience is a young demographic doesn't mean that the content has to be dumbed down for kids.

Hell, right out of the gate in season 1, My Little Pony tackled mental illness (Party of One), Racism (Bridle Gossip), and Peer Pressure and Stress (Suited for Sucess)

I really hope CBS doesn't go the dumb down route. One of the things I like about the latest Trek is their willingness to take risks, and they should take some with this new series.
Wed 20 May, 2020 2:01 PM
Until recently I really did think it was just gonna be a kind of a throw away comedy piece to bolster CBS's Trek content, which was fine. Finding out how they planned on treating it with the respect that fans do, made it all the better for me. I think Trek is at it's best when it mixes humor into the mix.