In October of 2018, CBS All Access made a two-season, straight-to-series order for Star Trek: Lower Decks, a half-hour animated comedy from Mike McMahan of Rick and Morty fame. But that was it. Nothing else was revealed. This year’s panel at San Diego Comic-Con filled in some of the blanks. Specifically, this will not be an animated series similar to the show from the early 1970s. However, it won’t be Rick and Morty in Space either.
Probably the best reference as to what we can expect from McMahan might be the Short Treks episode The Escape Artist. The tone and approach of that comical story about Harry Mudd might be what we can expect to receive in the series.
Lower Decks is an animated series focusing on “the support crew serving on one of Starfleet’s least important ships.” The spirit of the show is a love letter to the TNG era. Show creator McMahan is a huge fan of TNG.
We met the voice cast and saw some stills of the character designs. No animation was shown. Four ensigns, voiced by Tawny Newsome, Jack Quaid, Noël Wells and Eugene Cordero, are the stars of the show. The characters are:
Tawny Newsome voices Ensign Beckett Mariner. Newsome described Ensign Mariner at SDCC as a “weirdo rock and roll party queen,” saying she’s good at all things Starfleet and should be further along in the ranks than she is.
Jack Quaid is Ensign Brad Boimler. Quaid was also on the panel at SDCC and said his character Ensign Boimler is very by the books and has aspirations of becoming a captain. He has book smarts, but isn’t so great with practically applying his knowledge.
Noël Wells plays the green-skinned Ensign Tendi. Tendi will be experiencing her first day on the job in the Lower Decks pilot episode. She’s a huge fan of Starfleet and works in the medical bay. “There’s no gross alien illness that she’s not just absolutely thrilled to be dealing with,” said McMahan.
Eugene Cordero will voice Ensign Rutherford. Rutherford works in engineering and has a fresh cyborg implant on his head. “Like Geordi LaForge, he’s amazing at engineering stuff, but unlike Georgi La Forge, he does not solve the problems by the end of every episode,” McMahan said.
Those crew members are the main characters of the show, but another crew, the Bridge crew, doesn’t know that. Captain Carol Freeman (voiced by Dawnn Lewis), Commander Jack Ransom (Jerry O’Connell), Lieutenant Shaxs (Fred Tatasciore), and Doctor T’ Ana (Gillian Vigman), think they are the main characters of the show. But they’re aren’t.
The starship featured in the series is a new class of ship known as a California class. It’s named the U.S.S. Cerritos. McMahan described the Cerritos as “a not important ship in Starfleet” during the SDCC panel. “Cerritos” is the Spanish word for “little hills,” so it’s not as majestic of a starship name as Enterprise, Voyager or Discovery.
Lower Decks is designed to fit nicely into established Star Trek timeline. Set in 2380, one year after Star Trek: Nemesis, none of the events of the animated series will impact on canon. The characters are the irrelevant members of an unimportant ship in an insignificant portion of space.
McMahan added a few more details at his appearance in Las Vegas. He said: “…the specialty of the Cerritos is second contact. That’s their gig. It’s super important! You show up to [a new alien planet for] first contact, super important, really dangerous. You don’t want to set off any wars. You don’t want to ruin anybody’s lives. Second contact, you’re showing up to the planet, you’re finding all the good places to eat, you’re setting up the communication stuff.”
Star Trek: Lower Decks will be produced by CBS Eye Animation Productions, CBS Television Studios’ new animation arm, along with Alex Kurtzman’s Secret Hideout and Roddenberry Entertainment. Kurtzman and Heather Kadin will executive produce along with Roddenberry Entertainment’s Rod Roddenberry and Trevor Roth and veteran animation executive Katie Krentz. McMahan will also executive produce in addition to writing. Aaron Baiers, who brought McMahan to the project, will serve as a co-executive producer. The two seasons will consist of ten episodes each and premiere sometime in 2020 on CBS All Access.