Published Nov 28, 2022
WARP FIVE: Jason Mantzoukas on the Charm and Importance of Star Trek: Prodigy
The actor shares his insights on playing the teenaged Tellarite, Jankom Pog.
By Christine Dinh
Welcome to Warp Five, StarTrek.com's five question post-mortem with your favorite featured talent from the latest Star Trek episodes.
In the latest episode of Star Trek: Prodigy, "Masquerade," the Protostar crew seeks refuge in the Neutral Zone. Jankom Pog and Zero remain onboard repairing the starship as the rest of the team heads down to Noble Isle to gather necessary parts for the repairs. As they act swiftly, Vice Admiral Janeway and the Romulans attempt to get their hands on the Protostar, unaware of the living weapon aboard.
StarTrek.com had the pleasure of speaking with comedic actor Jason Mantzoukas, who voices Jankom Pog, about all things Star Trek: Prodigy!
On His First Contact and His Relationship Now with Star Trek
For Mantzoukas, he revealed, “[Star Trek] has certainly always been in my life.” He couldn’t even pinpoint the first exposure as the series “was one of those shows that certainly in my youth was always on TV.”
During a time without cable television or streaming, he shared, “I grew up in a house where there were seven channels, and one of them was always playing Star Trek. So that’s what I digested.”
The Original Series was the program Mantzoukas was most familiar with, and some passing familiarity with Star Trek: The Next Generation. As for the actor’s exposure in the present day, he explained, “My fandom has been truly reinvigorated over these past few years with shows like Lower Decks, Strange New Worlds, and our show.”
“These shows have been exciting and inspiring and have prompted me to go back and start watching old stuff to be reminded. The episode where we come into contact with the Borg, I’m like, ‘Oh, I should go back and watch the Borg.’ Stuff like that is really fun and to rediscover things I have echoes of memories of.”
On the Significance of Prodigy’s Existence in Star Trek Canon
In Star Trek: Prodigy, despite the intended audience of young viewers, the intrepid crew of the Protostar still face the likes of the Borg and the Romulan Tal Shiar.
“I love that the stories all take place in a very recognizable Star Trek world,” noted Mantzoukas. “What we’ve never seen before is a group of young people having to engage with these things. It’s not just unique, but really exciting and important.”
“This story is the ups and downs of childhood, of becoming an adult and discovering and formulating who you are for yourself; not just what people tell you who you are,” explained Mantzoukas. “That’s been a very fun journey to bring Jankom Pog on. The writers have done an incredible job, not just with Jankom Pog, with everybody. All these characters are having such radically individualized coming-of-age stories that not only work for them as individuals, but cohesively works for all of them as a crew. That’s pretty incredible.”
On the questions the series poses for the crew, Mantzoukas stated, “This is a story about young people. Like any young people, they’re trying to figure out — Who am I? Where do I come from? Who am I as an individual? And who I am to these other people? They’re not taught how to be a crew or how to do their positions or their role. They have to find that out.”
“Rok-Tahk is first given the job of security officer because she’s a big, imposing figure and then realizes she’s a scientist,” added Mantzoukas. “That’s a journey that’s important to understand and to show that people can find and discover who they are. Not just be told you are this, you are that. Do this, do that. That’s the purview of young people.”
On the Nuance of His Character, Jankom Pog
What does Mantzoukas enjoy about the teenaged character he plays? “He’s a character; as a Tellarite, I love that he gets to be so contrarian,” he explained. “It’s fun, and he frankly provides a lot of opportunity for comedy, which I’m always grateful for always.”
Noting Jankom’s sense of self, Mantozukas proclaimed, “He’ll be the first to tell you [he’s a great engineer]. When Jankom learns that the Tellarite were some of the initial founding members, he then immediately perceives himself as royalty and talks such a big game about how important he is, which just tells you how insignificant he felt, how small he felt. Only to then be told he’s the runt; he’s a runt. That’s what Pog means; he’s crestfallen.”
“There are a lot of stories when I'm watching this or when I'm reading the scripts, not to compare all stories to other stories or anything like that, but to me, this is a fellowship, this crew. This is like Lord of the Rings; a group of people who were forced together and over time are growing not just into a crew, but into a family. In that moment, Jankom Pog realizes that he'll do anything to save his family.”
On the Prodigy Crew’s Journey, Personal and Otherwise
There’s no denying Mantzoukas’ love and respect for Star Trek: Prodigy. “We’re talking about a hard sci-fi adventure show, but we’re also talking about a coming-of-age story for this group of young people who haven’t been through Starfleet; they haven’t been anything. They escaped forced labor, and they’re on a journey not just to boldly go. They’re on a journey of self-discovery.”
“The story that's being told, in many ways, is one of reaching out, trusting, and being willing to love other people, not just yourself,” remarked Mantzoukas. “Keep in mind, this is a group of individuals for whom they spent, up until discovering each other, their entire lives unable to talk to or understand anyone else. When they were in those mines, they couldn't talk to anyone. They were alone completely. The contents of the show are the only time they've been able to communicate and share with other people. That growing relationship, both as a crew, but more importantly as a family, is the heart and soul of this show, which I love.”
On the Remainder of the Season
Commenting on the series’ Emmy nomination for its first season, Mantzoukas reflected, “People are excited about this show, and I think they should be excited for this show. The show’s only going to get richer and more interesting as it goes simply because of the avenues of storytelling that are available to both the continuing Star Trek story and this coming-of-age story for these young people.”
And he can’t wait for viewers to see the remaining episodes, sharing, “This is going to be what people are going to be pretty interested to see and watch as it unfolds. I’m really excited for them to see what happens when our group comes into contact with Starfleet and where it goes from there.”
Lavishing praise on the creative team, Mantzoukas stated, “It’s exciting storytelling coming up; I really can’t compliment and hype the writers enough because they’re doing an incredible job telling wildly compelling stories inside of this space, literally inside of space.”