After having seen six episodes of both Star Trek: Discovery and The Orville, I am truly baffled and very positively surprised. Baffled at how, with a budget of millions, the people who made Discovery could not come up with a single interesting character or plot, but instead basically just made The Expanse with Klingons, taking every single thing that is unique, positive, and enjoyable about Star Trek and tossing it out the window. And positively surprised, because, out of the corner I would least have expected it – the filthy, cobwebbed one with the rancid yogurt, in which Seth MacFarlane used to reside for me – comes this gem of a show that takes everything fun, positive, and enjoyable from Trek and runs with it.
It is – as nearly everyone here has pointed out – the spiritual successor of TNG, although I would actually put it somewhere between TOS and TNG. It has a bit of the “cowboy” feeling people seem to like so much about TOS while including at least some of the elements that made TNG so brilliant – people actually trying to overcome petty human concerns by looking at the bigger picture and solving problems through compassion and dialogue rather than by inventing the next, bigger gun (yes, I know Trek did that too, but big guns are fine occasionally).
Now this is still by and large a comedy, so in order for that to function, you can’t have straight TNG-like characters. But apart from occasionally overshooting the target a bit, the balance of comedy and seriousness is handled excellently – something I would not have thought possible for a Trek-like sci-fi show, let alone from MacFarlane.
You will recognize the plot elements, you’ll recognize character traits. After hundreds of stories of drama and intrigue among the stars, what story hasn’t Trek told? Again, the idea, as far as I can see, was not to create something entirely new (which, ironically, it is, though), but to take those elements that made Trek great and combine them with enough comedy to provide a breath of fresh air. And provide it does. In fact, the comedy allows the writers to approach topics in a way that would actually not have been possible for Trek playing it straight. Without spoiling, I will here point to the Episode “About a girl”, which actually touches on subjects that weren’t very prominent at the time TNG ran and is therefore quite unique in itself.
I’m not really going to touch on the scientific aspects of the show except to say that, even with scientific advisors, Trek has obviously always taken huge liberties with established science at times, while at others making the science and (at them time) new discoveries a central point of the story. Naturally, scientific accuracy is going to suffer a bit in a comedy. But let me just point to “Discovery” and say (farcially): subspace mushroom network.
I don’t know how long they can make the concept work, but if they keep coming up with episodes like #3, #4 and #6, they deserve to have the kind of money thrown at them that “Discovery” now squanders on a tired old war story, forgettable characters, and making everything dark and shaky. But even with its limited budget, the visuals are more than adequate (maybe barring the Ikea furniture), proving once more that you only need so much resources to tell great stories.
Finally, one more thing. THE MUSIC. This show has hands down the best music of any official or unofficial Star Trek show (including the new movies, but of course always excepting Jerry Goldsmith). But considering you have Bruce Broughton doing the theme, and John Debney and Joel McNeely scoring episodes, that shouldn’t be a big surprise.
Simply put, this show saves Star Trek for me and blows any contemporary Trek movie or show out of the water – with ease.
Worth the watch, and something to be proud of
It’s hard to describe the all of the influences and reactions to this new science fiction attempt. First I should say it’s worth watching, and probably worth buying. Please forgive the Star Trek comparison I see this as a good way to explain The Orville to a larger audience.
I’m not thrilled with the casting. The sardonic humor is a classic from a lot of science fiction movies many may not remember so well. So far as comparisons to Star Trek they are justified but lets be clear about why: Rather than rip Star Trek off which I consider going to far I say it simply appeals to true Trek fans. Star Trek as a pioneer set the stage for earth based alliance science fiction shows. While not as polished or established as a Star Trek series, The Orville actually replaces them completely by reviving true science fiction.
Before any Trek fans get wild or excited I’ll explain what I mean here. Gene Roddenberry had a vision for a Utopian space faring human race. We weren’t always perfect but in the vision in spite of personal conflicts we as a human race sought to expand our knowledge, and improve the universe. He was shown the door during TNG because they wanted more conflict, more drama! Enterprise although a good show went even further into the bad side of the federation and justifying wrong acts. The new movies seemed to throw away the Trek history as we know it and obliterate all we loved in the name of a newer more violent and meaningless generation.
With his very sardonic sense of humor blended in the give the situation conflict and drama Seth MacFarlane seems to have revolted against that trend and went back to what many science fiction fans truly want. Hope for a better society in the future. We still have the same personal issues, conflicts, and a bit of violence here and there, but the concept is meant to inspire the good in people (or so it seems). Rather than rip off Star Trek Mr MacFarlane seems to have brought back to life a vision Roddenberry showed us that the networks and movie makers threw in the trash. The Orville is a singular brilliant example of the concepts that made classic science fiction fans even after at least two shows (ST and BSG) were they themselves rebooted in ways that trashed their original concepts.
The Orville has it’s rough moments, it makes fun of it’s own crew, and it has conflict to keep things interesting. It’s actually truer to the science fiction genre than the new ST or BSG was (No offense against any of them they were well made, they just deviated from the genre class and original concepts). In an industry that has been putting a science fiction mask on pure action and hijacking franchises to appeal to a “in your face giving you the bird intense audience” The Orville is actually something to be proud of. Even without the big budget graphics it’s enough to make the true science fiction fans actually wake up and say “Hey wait, isn’t this what science fiction was before everything was hijacked?”. I’m not saying it’s all that, I’m simply saying it’s good solid science fiction without all of the drama gimmicks and network manipulation.
It’s amazing that with so many details that don’t thrill me, I’m more thrilled to watch it than a tragic reboot with a pretty cast used to lure people into paying outrageous fees.