The first season finale of Star Trek: Lower Decks had two surprise Star Trek: The Next Generation returns with Capt. William Riker and Cmdr. Deanna Troi aboard the USS Titan. The episode, "No Small Parts," also use Riker's return to reference the infamous series finale episode of Star Trek: Enterprise, "These Are the Voyages." The episode notoriously had Jonathan Frakes reprise his role as Riker. Riker appeared in a frame story that had him observing the events of Enterprise on the holodeck during the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Pegasus." With Star Trek going off the air in 2005 for the first time since The Next Generation debuted in 1987, those involved in creating the finale meant it to be a love letter to the franchise and fans. Audiences took it another way, feeling like the writers turned the final episode of Enterprise into an extra episode of The Next Generation. Enterprise's fans and cast felt cheated. Almost everyone involved with the episode has publicly expressed regret at taking the finale in that direction.
But Star Trek: Lower Decks showrunner Mike McMahan sees something else in that finale. To him, it means that people in the Star Trek universe watch Star Trek. That opens up the franchise to a wealth of new possibilities that allow for Lower Decks' self-referential humor to exist. He explains this in an interview with Inverse following the finale.
"People in Star Trek watch Star Trek," McMahan says. "So, that was a big deal for me. It was very helpful. If you're in Starfleet, and all this stuff has happened, it would be like if you were in the military now, and you were reading about — or hearing about – [real events] either officially or word of mouth through people who have been on ships, or people catching up. There are so many people on these ships, of course they're going to talk to each other. They're going to take real life events and put those into media. I think what I'm trying to say is there is no one unifying theory of communication. To me, it's more that there's going to be mosaic of communication. There's things that are going to be popularized. There's things in the news. There's things you'll learn at Starfleet academy there's going to be stuff you'll hear rumors about. It's out there and it's going to be known."
The entire first season of Star Trek: Lower Decks is now streaming on CBS All Access.