'Star Trek: Lower Decks' takes center stage at NYCC 2023

illustration showing a dozen or so cartoon characters in starfleet uniforms.
Still from "Star Trek: Lower Decks." (Image credit: Paramount)

NEW YORK — If nothing else, the "Star Trek" Universe panel at NYCC 2023 was a treat for fans of the animated comedy "Lower Decks." 

In addition to screening a whole new episode, a full week in advance of its launch on Paramount Plus, fans got to see series creator Mike McMahan talk about where he intends to take the series next, and what "Star Trek" means to him.

Beyond that, however, there wasn't a tremendous amount of new information. The panel, which Space.com attended in person, didn't provide us with any new announcements or trailers, focusing instead on "Lower Decks" and a brand collaboration with hip-hop artist Kid Cudi. For the Trekkies in attendance, it was a good opportunity to watch an episode with like-minded fans and get some good insight from Kid Cudi, as well as McMahan and some of the series' other producers. Those who have been eagerly awaiting new "Star Trek" news, however, will have to keep waiting for now.

Related: 'Star Trek: Lower Decks' drops a wild new Season 4 trailer and official poster (video)

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The 'Star Trek: Lower Decks' crew explores 'Caves'

The highlight of the "Star Trek" Universe panel was probably the screening of "Caves," the eighth episode of "Star Trek: Lower Decks" Season 4. The episode won't officially air on Paramount Plus until next week, but a few hundred fans at NYCC 2023 got to see it early.

The panel's moderator, Josh Horowitz of the Happy Sad Confused podcast, asked those in attendance to not spoil the story for fans who haven't seen the episode yet. All we can say for the moment, then, is that "Caves" follows the "Lower Decks" crew as they explore — contain your shock here — a cave. Complications ensue almost immediately, followed by some sci-fi action, character drama, and offhand comedy. If the audience at NYCC 2023 was any indication, fans who have been following "Lower Decks" thus far will probably like this one as well.

After the screening, McMahan joined Horowitz onstage for some Q&A, along with executive producer Alex Kurtzman, whom Horowitz described as "the man captaining the ship of the 'Star Trek' universe."

Horowitz explained that, during the episode's screening, he couldn't find McMahan and Kurtzman backstage. That's because they had sneaked out to watch it with the rest of the audience and gauge their reaction firsthand. McMahan enjoyed the experience.

"I would love to watch any 'Star Trek' episode with this many fans," he said. He then opened up a bit about what it's like to write "Lower Decks," and how the show fits into the bigger "Trek" universe.

"Lower Decks is based on being in your 20s, early 30s — you're getting your first jobs, you're meeting your best friends you didn't know you were going to meet, having new responsibilities when work is pulling friendships apart. How do friendships survive that moment? … If you lose that shared experience, do you still have friendships, and which friendships last past that?"

The situation should sound familiar to fans who have been following "Lower Decks" Season 4, as the four lead characters have all received promotions and started to pursue separate assignments more often than they used to.

McMahan also talked Moopsy: the diminutive bone-drinking fuzzball from S4, which he described as "watching a meme happen live."

"It takes a year to make 'Lower Decks,'" he said. "We love all this stuff, and we never know what you are all going to love."

(Supposedly, McMahan's instructions to Moopsy's animator were to "Make it look like a kid going to town on a Capri Sun. He nailed it.")

This season, the show also got a new main cast member in the form of T'Lyn, an exchange officer from the Vulcan Expeditionary Group.

"So many of us see ourselves in Vulcans," said McMahan. "They're ostensibly alien, but there are a lot of times in life when you feel like a Vulcan." He also praised voice actress's Gabrielle Ruiz's performance, and likened the character to a Vulcan version of freewheeling lieutenant Becket Mariner.

Toward the end of the Q&A, McMahan got to the heart of the show, when he discussed how writing for "Lower Decks" differs from writing for other sci-fi comedies, such as "Ricky and Morty," which he also worked on.

"You get to be ethical, and you get to be moral, and you get to be friendly," he said. "Comedy goes cynical a lot of the time, and that can be very funny. But there's no place for that in 'Star Trek.' You have to have an optimistic sense of humor. When you're writing it and when you're watching it, it feels like you're hanging out with your friends."

Related: 'Star Trek: Lower Decks' security chief shines in special 'Star Trek: Day of Blood' prequel

Scene from "Star Trek: Lower Decks." (Image credit: Paramount+)

Kid Cudi collaboration

Another major guest at the "Star Trek" Universe was rapper Scott "Kid Cudi" Mescudi, who's worked on three significant media collaborations with "Star Trek." There's a song, a video game tie-in and a whole line of clothing.

First, Kid Cudi recorded "Heaven's Galaxy," which is a song all about the relationship between exploring space and looking inward to find personal truths. He said that the song is, in part, a love letter to his late father, who bonded with him while watching "Star Trek: The Next Generation" decades ago.

The song has appeared in the online shooter "Fortnite," along with a downloadable skin of Kid Cudi in a Starfleet uniform.

Finally, Kid Cudi has helped the Paramount team design a whole line of "Star Trek"-inspired clothing, including a brightly colored varsity jacket with patches of Kirk, Spock, the Vulcan hand sign and the USS Enterprise. Fans attending NYCC can preorder the merch at Booth 2653; fans at home will have to wait a little longer.

"'Star Trek' is something that's so mega," Kid Cudi said. "You say, 'Hey man, it would be so cool to be a part of that,' but it seems so far-fetched … It's been ingrained in me since I was a kid."

Other 'Star Trek' shows

At the end of the panel, Kurtzman gave a brief update on other "Star Trek" projects currently in the works, although the message across the board seems to be "they're moving along."

Fans of "Star Trek: Prodigy" probably know that the show's wayward second season has finally found a home on Netflix. Kurtzman said that's "because you guys brought it back," indicating the audience. "Star Trek belongs to two entities: Gene Roddenberry and the fans."

On the fifth and final season of "Star Trek: Discovery," Kurtzman said that "we have finished it, and it will be airing early next year. It's an incredibly satisfying ending to a show that is so near and dear to my heart. Sonequa Martin-Green [Captain Michael Burnham] gave the performance of her life."

"Star Trek: Strange New Worlds" "was just about to start before the strike," he continued. "We're not back on our feet yet. Everything is getting resettled … But it's definitely in the works."

Similarly, "Star Trek: Starfleet Academy" is "back in the writers' room, and we officially start shooting next year," said Kurtzman. 

Michelle Yeoh went to bat for "Star Trek: Section 31," which is also back on track after the strike. Kurtzman called the "Everything Everywhere All at Once" actress, who plays operative Philippa Georgiou in the "Star Trek" universe, "just the most extraordinary person on every level."

The common denominator among the shows seemed to be that the recently concluded WGA strike and the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike had both complicated matters considerably. But everyone in attendance was firmly on the side of the writers and actors involved.

"We support what they're doing," McMahan said, spurring a round of applause from the fans."They need to be able to get what they're asking for so they can keep working on these amazing shows, but also so they can live their lives."

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Marshall Honorof
Tom's Guide senior editor

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.