For the second year, San Diego Comic-Con had to pivot to online panels, and Star Trek Universe beamed in on an animated wavelength, presenting two panels, both moderated by Jerry O’Connell.
The first to hit the YouTube Channel was the creative team and cast behind Star Trek: Prodigy, the first Star Trek series to target young viewers as well as adults.
The show was created through a joint effort by CBS Studios’ Eye Animation Productions, CBS Studios’ new animation arm; Nickelodeon Animation Studio; Secret Hideout; and Roddenberry Entertainment.
On the panel were Executive Producers, Kevin and Dan Hageman; Director and Co-Executive 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), and Kate Mulgrew, reprising her role as Katherine Janeway (although now a training hologram).
Creator Kevin Hageman opened things up with a great description of how he and Dan wanted something new to add to the Star Trek Universe.
“This is the very first Star Trek series that’s going to actually be through the eyes of characters who are outside of Starfleet. I think that really makes this show stand out from all the others.”
Mulgrew pointed out that Hologram Janeway is very helpful as a Starfleet program, and Dan quickly agreed.
“They probably wouldn’t last one day without the help of Hologram Janeway.”
The joy of Comic-Con panels has always been the chance to witness the banter between the cast and production team members. Inside jokes, anecdotes about productions, even deeply personal connections have a way of spilling out to the delight of fans.
O’Connell, being a member of the Star Trek: Lower Decks cast, couldn’t help slipping in a few mentions of his show which was quickly shouted down by his panel.
One assumes this was the whole reason he was chosen for the job.
But, to be fair, he was very good at directing the conversation back to the topic at hand (while handling the trash talk in a good-natured manner.)
He asked the director, Ben Hibon, about the rich and cinematic look of Star Trek: Prodigy, a huge departure from both Star Trek: Lower Decks and Star Trek: The Animated Series.
Hibon is effusive about the creation process.
“The thing that felt incredibly exciting about this is that Prodigy has the ambition to tell this story from a kid’s perspective and focus on this entry point for a brand new generation of Trek fans.
“It owns that visual, that aesthetic, you know. It was never designed just for kids. It’s designed for lovers of animation, for lovers of sci-fi.
“The ambition of the show is that kids should watch it with their parents and vice versa. We wanted to really make sure that it has that kind of visual impact.
“And also because Prodigy is canon, we want this series and this story to fit within that incredibly rich universe that comes before and after.
Dan added his personal take on the show’s aim.
“Early on, we knew that people were gonna look at our show as the little brother or little sister of the Star Trek Universe. We wanted to be that little brother or little sister that smacks the bigger sibling and says, ‘Don’t underestimate us.’ “
Hibon made a great observation that Trek has a science behind it with rules that must be recognized and Kate Mulgrew was eager to point out the appeal of that to young viewers.
“Children are very astute. 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.”
Hibon added, “We have to create foundations that are believable and that we can all kind of understand. We can understand the rules and, once we have these rules, we can just break them to elevate the story.”
Looking to target younger viewers is really about gathering a “full” audience, according to Dan and it’s not about writing “for kids” per se.
“You just tell a good story from a place of heart. People who we can relate to. We never really view it as being for kids. It’s for everybody.
“When you go from a perspective of characters who don’t know Starfleet, all of a sudden you’re talking to kids, you’re also talking to people who have been curious about Star Trek but are afraid to jump into Star Trek. It’s a great entry point.”
Brett Gray, as the central character, Dal, was excited about the interplay between his character and the rest of the cast.
“[The show has] these really incredible arcs and these really incredible characters and I feel very lucky because I get to come in contact with all of them and have my own interaction with everyone, learn about each character as each episode goes.
“One thing I love about playing Dal is I get to understand myself and who I am and my place in this universe along with all the other characters.”
At this point, Mulgrew asked Gray about his vocal skills, putting him on the spot by asking him to demonstrate. Citing possible spoilers, he declined.
Kevin jumped in to describe the joy of discovering Gray for the role of Dal.
“When Brett came in, he just blew us away. You just had this energy and you have this infectious, invite-able voice and personality.
Gray added his personal memory of his audition.
“I also walked into the audition barefoot by complete accident. I got there way too early.
I was in the lobby of Nickelodeon and I kicked my shoes off and just started reading all the scripts because they were sitting on the table and totally forgot that I was at an audition. And they called me in and I completely walked in without my shoes on.”
O’Connell invited Purnell to describe her character, Gwyn, an individual with a mysterious aura about her.
“Gwyn is a Vau N’Akat. She starts quite closed off and I think that’s where the mystery comes from. She’s very much under the thumb of her father and she has her own sort of ideals and beliefs but she’s very conflicted.
“There’s two sides that she’s fighting with constantly. Throughout the season, she gets to be a kid and she gets to find herself. Learns to let loose a little and enjoy herself. I think the real Gwyn gets to comes out.
Purnell admitted that joining the Star Trek Universe was somewhat overwhelming. “There’s a lot of pressure coming into something that is so loved and popular.”
Young Rilee Alazraqui was next up.
“It’s really fun playing Rok-Tahk because people think it’s this big rock monster but really it’s just this cute little eight-year-old. I get to just be myself. When I’m recording, I just act myself. She’s an animal-loving, cute little rock monster.”
According to Dan, it was very much an intentional choice to counter the visual of a rock monster with an eight-year-old’s voice.
“What’s a rock monster that hasn’t been done? For Dal, if there’s one person to befriend on this alien mining planet, just from looks alone, it would be the giant rock monster.”
Kevin chimed in that they had to push to cast Rilee. “There was pressure to hire an adult to play a child but we wanted a real kid. The assumption was the Brikar would be the security officer but she’s a kid who hates to fight. She loves science.”
At this point, something that never happens accidentally at a live Comic-Con event happened. The door behind O’Connell opened and his wife, Rebecca Romijn (Number One on the forthcoming Star Trek: Strange New Worlds), and Ethan Peck (Spock, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds) walked in.
The interruption flustered him and he misspoke in introducing them to his panel, referring to Kate Mulgrew as Vice-Lieutenant Janeway, an error for which he was absolutely flamed.
And at length.
Getting back on track, O’Connell asked Jason Mantzoukas to provide some insight on his character, the Tellurite, Jankom Pog.
“Jankom Pog is inherently contradictory. He’s deeply argumentative, deeply aggressive. He’s a very confrontational character. An absolute blast to play as a full of bluff and bluster kind of character.
“He’s the engineer. He’s the mechanic. He’s always trying to fix what’s wrong. Always trying to make things work and not always successful.”
When O’Connell moved onto Angus Imrie, who portrays the character, Zero, he flubbed again when he referred to Zero as a robot. (Although, looking at the graphic, I totally understood how he made that assumption.)
“Zero isn’t a robot. Zero is a Medusan. They are a genderless, non-corporeal entity. A light source, essentially. And they are in a containment suit because if anyone ever saw them, they would go mad.
“They are not very good at social conventions. They can read other people’s minds and tend to blurt out exactly what everyone else is thinking, creating completely incoherent social situations.
“Part of the joy of playing them is that they learn. They learn how to understand other people’s emotions, other characters’ emotions rather, and grow with them.
“It’s been a hoot trying to find a voice for a character that doesn’t have a body. That has been part of the great journey of it.”
The next cast member to discuss character was Dee Bradley Baker, a veteran voice actor with literally HUNDREDS of credits to his name.
“Whenever Hollywood thinks to cast a spineless blob, they often think of me for some reason.
“Murf is this sentient blob that’s kind of like Rok-Tahk’s familiar or lieutenant or sidekick or something?
“It understands what’s going on but you don’t always understand what Murf is saying. I think that is going to evolve as the series evolves.”
Since Murf’s language is pretty much unintelligible, there was no fear of spoilers if Baker demonstrated his speech. So he did. And it was like if whales, Wookies, Porgs, and a fart had a linguistic baby.
(The Murf demo is only about 20 seconds of the above video, btw)
Saving the Star Trek royalty for last, O’Connell (while still apologizing for the rank mistake) petitioned Mulgrew, aka Vice-Admiral Janeway, to discuss her holographic self.
“She’s devastatingly beautiful. She’s Janeway at her best. She’s there to help this motley crew get this defunct ship working, and she does.
“She is the essential Captain Janeway. She’s full of warmth. She’s going to help these kids. She’s determined to help them get off this very, very dangerous and dark planet and into a much better place. A different galaxy.
“So she brings to bear on this task, all of her skills. Most of them are deeply human. She’s funny, she’s alive, she cares, she can be strict. She can be strong. She can be powerful, but mostly she’s driven to help them succeed.”
Joining the Star Trek Universe is an amazing experience for many of the cast members.
Mantzoukas grew up watching reruns of Star Trek: The Original Series every afternoon and connects deeply with becoming a part of that canon.
Baker also watched Star Trek as a little kid.
“It holds a special place in my heart. The reason is the optimism that it presents that we can work together. It’s the original inclusive television series. It was so revolutionary at the time.
“That’s part of the brilliance of how this show is configured is that they’ve once again assembled a really appealing ensemble of disparate characters and creatures that are able to work together.
“That, to me, is the hope and the appeal, that there is a bright future ahead. There’s adventure, there’s fun, but that we can work it out so we can go there together. It’s great to be aboard a show that’s about that.”
With twenty-five-plus years of life in the Star Trek Universe, Mulgrew was expansive about the possibilities Star Trek: Prodigy presents.
“What could be better than possibly handing this to the next generation?
“To a demographic that heretofore has not known anything about Star Trek. The beauty of it. The philosophy of it. The depth of it. The hope and the promise of it.
“And if there’s any age group that’s going to take this thing and embrace it with a whole-heartedness not seen before it’s the young kids. They’re going to get it in a way that older people might not get entirely.
To conclude the panel — after O’Connell was done groveling about the Vice-Lieutenant thing — the Hagemans were happy to present the very first teaser trailer/trailer that teases of Star Trek: Prodigy.
Star Trek: Prodigy will premiere in the fall on Paramount+.
Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.