On Friday, July 23rd, 2021 at 10:00 AM Pacific Time, the Paramount+ animation panel went live on YouTube.
Star Trek: Prodigy on Paramount+
— Jerry O'Connell (@MrJerryOC) July 22, 2021
First up was Star Trek: Prodigy, which will be released for streaming on Paramount+ and later aired on Nickelodeon. The show follows a crew of young aliens who discover an abandoned Starfleet vessel and take control of it for themselves.
“It’s not so much a kid’s show, but we’re calling it a kids’ series, Star Trek: Prodigy,” said O’Connell, who plays the infuriatingly competent Commander Jack Ransom on Star Trek: Lower Decks. “It’s the first Star Trek series aimed at younger audiences,” O’Connell explained before welcoming executive producers Kevin Hageman and Dan Hageman, director and co-excuitve producer Ben Hibon, and cast members Brett Gray (Dal), Ella Purnell (Gwyn), Angus Imrie (Zero), Rylee Alazraqui (Rok-Tahk), Dee Bradley Baker (Murf), Jason Mantzoukas (Jankom Pog), and the one and only Kate Mulgrew as the hologram Captain Janeway.
Kevin noted that is the first Trek series to feature a perspective that is entirely outside of Starfleet (with the essential help of the Janeway hologram, noted Mulgrew).
And that’s when O’Connell brought up Lower Decks, much to the bemusement of the panelists.
“With all due respect to Lower Decks,” replied Mulgrew. “We are called Prodigy. Are you catching it? Are you getting the idea?” O’Connell was forced to respect the Captain’s wishes, but he noted that he still outranked Mantzoukas.
“The ambition of the show is that kids should watch it with their parents, and vice versa,” said Hibon, noting that it was designed with lovers of animation in mind. Hibon also confirmed that Prodigy is indeed Trek canon.
“Children are very astute,” said Mulgrew. “You’ve grasped an essential component of the childlike imagination, which is an extraordinary perception. They need to be grounded while taking flight at the same time, and this you have achieved.”
O’Connell asked the panelist to expand on what went into making a show that was geared towards younger viewers but meant to be appreciated by a larger audience.
“You just tell a good story from a place of heart,” said Dan. “We never really view it from a place of, ‘it’s for kids,’ it’s really for everybody.”
Gray, who plays Dal, spoke about how excited he was to take part in the series, especially since his character gets to interact with all the different moving pieces of the show. Gray said that Dal gets an opportunity to understand who he is and how he fits in with the larger universe, along with an understanding of the other characters.
Mulgrew then remarked that Gray was something of a vocal magician, capable of creating all kinds of weird verbal noises.
Purnell plays Gwyn, a mysterious Vau N’Akat who starts the series more personally closed-off from her fellow crewmembers. Purnell revealed that the character deals with internal conflict, finding herself independently of the expectations of her father.
Purnell said there was a lot of pressure coming into a property that was already so popular, and that she conducted personal research in order to prepare for the role, including working with the official Star Trek Klingon language translator (she’s part of the CBS Trek staff).
O’Connell asked Alazraqui about what it was like to play Rok-Tahk, a character whose appearance seems at odds with Alazraqui’s adorable voice. Like Alazraqui, Rok-Tahk is an animal lover, and Alazraqui said that she simply pictured herself as the character when performing the role.
Kevin said that there was some pressure to hire an adult actor as Rok-Tahk, but one they realized the dynamic Alazraqui could bring to the role, they couldn’t imagine anyone else playing the part.
And that’s when O’Connell was interrupted by the crew of the Enterprise! Rebecca Romijn (Number One) and Ethan Peck (Spock) from Strange New Worlds beamed in to O’Connell’s viewscreen. O’Connell pointed out that compared to Janeway, the two Starfleet officers were basically Lower Decks!
Next, O’Connell turned his attention to Mantzoukas, who said it was a blast to play a Tellurite because of their deeply contradictory nature. The engineer of the ship, he’s often overly frustrated at the state of the vessel.
Imrie explained that Zero was a Medusan, a genderless, noncorporeal alien that was first introduced by TOS (Those Old Scientists). Zero stays in the containment suit because they would drive anyone who looked upon them mad. Imrie said that playing them was a great experience because they grow over the course of the season, learning to relate with their corporeal crewmembers.
Baker is playing Murf, a sentient blob that is something of a sidekick to Rok-Tahk. Baker revealed that you will not understand what Murf is saying at first, but as the series progresses, understanding will blossom. Then, he performed some Murf noises (which I will not attempt to transcribe – skip to 22:30 to check them out).
Mulgrew described the Janeway hologram as Janeway at her best.
“She is the essential Captain Janeway,” Mulgrew explained.
The cast then shared their personal histories and love for Trek, with Baker placing an emphasis on the collaboration and cooperation thematically foregrounded by the franchise. Mulgrew emphasized that she believed that young audiences today would be hungry for the optimism and inclusiveness that have always been intrinsic to Trek.
Finally, they premiered the teaser trailer for Prodigy, which included a glimpse of the NX-76884 U.S.S. Protostar.
Star Trek: Lower Decks
But what’s going on over on the U.S.S. Cerritos? The crew of the California-Class vessel returns in the second season of Lower Decks on August 12th, 2021. O’Connell (Ransom) was joined by series creator, showrunner, and executive producer Mike McMahan and cast members Tandy Newsome (Ensign Beckett Mariner), Jack Quaid (Ensign Bradward Boimler), and Eugene Cordero (Ensign Samathan Rutherford, creator of Badgey).
O’Connell noted the absence of Noel Wells (Ensign D’Vana Tendi), but she did appear in a separate prerecorded message.
That’s when Newsome took control of the panel, asking O’Connell why it took him so long to beam in – but then Newsome felt bad when O’Connell revealed that it was because of his bad leg.
McMahan spoke about the reaction to the first season of Lower Decks, which aired last autumn, making jokes about the fact that no one was outside during the pandemic. Newsome, Cordero, and Quaid said that they felt that the fandom online had been an entertaining, engaging, and welcoming space for each of them.
McMahan went on to say his favorite scenes of the series take place in between the big moments, as with the scene in the Cerritos bar after the climax of the first season finale.
Next, Cordero shared what it is like to represent the Sci-Fi trifecta: Star Trek (at the apex), the Marvel Cinematic Universe (where he played Casey, a Variant conscripted by the TVA), and Star Wars: The Mandalorian (appearing in the fourth episode of the second season). When McMahan asked who Cordero would play in the DCCU, Cordero replied “Clayface” without hesitation.
McMahan pointed out that Michael Waldron, who wrote Loki, previously worked with McMahan on Rick & Morty, and that the writer’s rooms for Loki and Lower Decks had both begun work on the same day – an awesome coincidence! Now when do we get validation for all our Badgey/Miss Minutes shipping?
However, McMahan suggested Cordero could play either “Batman” or “The Flash,” before pointing out that both O’Connell and Quaid have both played (or are about to play) Superman.
Next, Newsome revealed that we’ll be seeing Mariner and Captain Freeman (Dawnn Lewis) working together in the second season… but how will Mariner, who defines herself by her rebelliousness, deal with that?
O’Connell also asked Newsome about the Pod Directive, the podcast she cohosts with Paul F. Tompkins (Dr. Migleemo), with McMahan emphasizing how enlightening the conversations have been.
McMahan went on to sayy you can expect a good mix of “serious Trek” and “silly Trek” in the sophomore season of Lower Decks, including the Cerritos being put through some “real rigmarole.”
“If you love Star Trek, you’re gonna have 10 new Star Trek episodes that you don’t see coming, no matter how hard you try to extrapolate what we did,” said McMahan.
However, there were some hints at what’s to come: new uniforms, the return of the Pakleds (who follow a similar trajectory as the Klingons on TOS or the Romulans on TNG), and more Titan action.
Plus, we got a glimpse of the official Lower Decks season two trailer:
Among a lot of other very exciting revelations is the first glimpse of the new Cerritos security officer, a Tamarian named Lieutenant Kayshon (Carl Tart), the much-anticipated return of Lt. Jet (Marcus Henderson) and Dr. Migleemo, Jeffery Combs returns to Trek (again) as an evil computer, and what seems to be a guest appearance by Voyager’s Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill). McMahan promised that there were more guest stars in the sophomore season that were yet to be revealed!
Additional Animated Shows on Paramount+
In addition to Star Trek: Prodigy and Star Trek: Lower Decks, the Paramount+ animation panel also covered the shows The Harper House and Tooning Out the News.
First up was The Harper House panel, which follows the white Harper family as they move into a new, diverse neighborhood, following the challenges that arise as they attempt to integrate alongside the residents who already live there.
The Harper House panel was moderated by TV Guide’s Damian Holbrook, and featured panelists Brad Neely, the showrunner, executive producer Katie Krentz and supervising director Brian Sheesley, along with cast members Rhea Seehorn (Debbie Harper), Jason Lee (Freddie Harper), Ryan Flynn (Todd Harper), and, although she was not present at the panel, rounding out the core cast is She-Hulk herself, Tatiana Maslany (Ollie Harper).
After those panelists got a chance to speak about their character dynamics for a few minutes, the Bradleys were introduced: Gary Anthony Williams (Gbenge Bradley), Nyima Funk (Katrina Bradley), and Gabby Sidibe (Shauna Bradley). Funk said that she loved her character because of the sarcasm, and Sidibe noted that she enjoyed playing with code switching while recording her lines.
Then, we met the Dangs: Lance Krall (JimJoe Dang) and Vyvy Nguyen (Gwen Dang), the latter of whom suggested that while the characters may begin as antagonists for the Harpers, their relationship may chance over the course of the season. Nguyen said she was especially excited to see some Vietnamese representation in animation.
“Ultimately, the POV is with the Harpers, who are a white family in this town,” said Neely. “And we wanted to make fun of white people like myself, and how they can screw up when it comes to race and class and gender.”
Flynn (who was speaking from a beach… almost like in-person SDCC) said that his character goes through something of an identity crisis over the course of the season. And the panel wrapped up with a trailer for the show:
Then, the panel concluded with a Stephen Colbert Presents Tooning Out the News special report on Comic-Con (which did include both a parody title called Star Trek: The Last Contact with William Shatner and a joke about the whale from Star Trek IV).
Paramount+: Peak Animation
Are you going to be checking out these four animated shows on Paramount+? Let The Beat know what you’re thinking, either here in the comment section or over on social media @comicsbeat!