A Tale of Two Starships

9 Jan
Orville Bridge

THE ORVILLE: L-R: Penny Johnson Jerald, Mark Jackson, Seth MacFarlane, Peter Macon, Scott Grimes, Adrianne Palicki, J. Lee and Halston Sage in THE ORVILLE premiering this fall on FOX. ©2017 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Noah Schutz/FOX

I generally enjoy Seth MacFarlane’s work. Ever since Family Guy began nearly 20 years ago I’ve consistently enjoyed it along with the other animated series and films he’s produced since. However I do understand that to be a fan of these shows, you have to accept his brand of humor and occasionally heavy-handed political commentary. MacFarlane isn’t afraid to make fun of any subject with every tool available to him from subtle and clever humor that might slip past the viewer unnoticed to low brow toilet humor.  As a result, these laughs can be very hit and miss and that was what worried me when I heard that he was developing an episodic science fiction series inspired by the classic Star Trek shows.

But I decided that if Red Dwarf can pull it off, who knows what a new voice in Sci-Fi might be able to come up with?

Hitting very few speed bumps in its first season, The Orville is a visual treat, using both CG effects blended with fantastic model work, the world is clean and colorful. It’s a dramatic contrast to Discovery’s dark blues and distracting lens flares. the creative team does an amazing job replicating the familiar feel of Star Trek while building an original world full of its own aliens and technologies, and this is in part due to the passion MacFarlane has for Star Trek as well as the talent  behind the scenes being full of veterans from 80’s and 90’s Trek. With a pilot directed by Jon Favreau, best known for helping kick off the incredibly successful Marvel Cinematic Universe with Iron Man in 2008, and episodes directed by Star Trek actor/directors Jonathan Frakes and Robert Duncan McNeill. Executive Producer Brannon Braga was extremely involved in Star Trek throughout the 80’s through the 2000’s. He was executive producer and writer of several Trek series, and even co-creating Star Trek: Enterprise.

Orville Crew

THE ORVILLE: The crew of The Orville in THE ORVILLE premiering on FOX. ©2017 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: FOX

The crew includes characters such Captain Ed Mercer (MacFarlane) who is getting over a difficult divorce and isn’t sure if he truly earned his position. The second in command, Commander Kelly Grayson who IS the captain’s ex-wife whose infidelity is what caused the divorce. Lt. Yaphit, an engineer who is a gelatinous, shape-shifting blob that constantly and aggressively hits on the ship’s doctor. No one on this ship would fit in with the more professional atmosphere of Starfleet, but the environment presented on The Orville allows for a more relaxed, relatable crew, and the writing takes advantage to create its own identity.

The Orville has been delivering fantastic scenarios such as one involving a generational starship that’s been in flight for so long that the inhabitants no longer realize or believe that they are even in space, leaving the Orville crew with the job of convincing the population of the truth in time to prevent the ship from falling into a star.

In “The Krill,” there is an attempt to infiltrate a warship from a hostile alien species. The objective is to gather information on their religion in the hopes of finding common diplomatic ground. In the end, Captain Mercer has to make the difficult choice to severely damage chances of peace when he has to kill the crew of the Krill ship in order to save a human colony world from a devastating superweapon.

Following in classic Star Trek’s footprints, The Orville hit the ground running with social commentary, offering obvious topics presented in science fiction terms. An early episode depicts a single-gendered species of males where any child born a female is expected to be subjected to corrective surgery to change the child to the socially accepted male gender. Several viewpoints and opinions are offered, but just like in real life, such issues are never going to be easily resolved.

Another episode, “Majority Rule,”  looks at how our society is slowly becoming fixated on the idea that information must be true if enough people are ‘liking’ it on the internet. The episode shows us an alien world where the rule of law is based on upvotes and likes, rather than objective facts and education. Where being “downvoted” too many times will literally get a person arrested and lobotomized so they will no longer upset the general public anymore. It’s ridiculous to see this type of mentality taken off the internet and presented as a real-world concept, but at the same time, it shows how dangerous such behavior could be to our own society.

The show has already had several very recognizable guest stars throughout the series. Liam Neeson shows up in one episode as an alien leader who became erroneously remembered as a god by his people. Charlize Theron plays an antique dealer from the future who travels back in time to steal merchandise in mint condition. Fan-favourite, Robert Picardo even makes an appearance as the father of The Orville’s chief of security.

As enjoyable as The Orville is, there are some issues to deal with as it moves forward. Several cast members simply don’t have much chemistry with each other. Character interactions often devolve into what one might expect from the average modern sitcom rather than a serious science fiction series. Seth Macfarlane’s performance of Captain Mercer is very uneven, bouncing between confident and dignified to childish and unfunny within the same scene. Some of this could be intentional, and some of it could be the simple fact that this IS the first season of a new show and everyone is settling into their new roles. The potential is there for this program to be truly great, and I hope the show lasts long enough to find its way.

Orville

Being a science fiction series on Fox hasn’t traditionally ensured a long run, but with the recent acquisition by Disney, the future of The Orville is completely unpredictable at this point.

If you enjoyed the style of storytelling that could be found in Star Trek: The Next Generation, you would be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t give The Orville a chance. It just might surprise you. Both Star Trek: Discovery and The Orville have been renewed for a second season. Let’s hope that things only get better for both series because this could be the beginning of a big comeback of quality science fiction on television.

P.S. So is Discovery really trying to tell us “We Trying to Stay Alive” by Wyclef Jean is still a party song in 200 years? Is it still a party song even now?

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