The Orville Vs. Star Trek: Discovery, Part One

The biggest rivalry going on right now on TV is between Star Trek: Discovery and The Orville. Technically, that is not entirely accurate since Star Trek: Discovery is only available on the CBS All-Access streaming service while The Orville is broadcast on the Fox network. Still the competition between the two and the fandom generated, especially with The Orville, is quite fierce.

What is fueling the intense rivalry among fans is how similar both shows are to each other, at least when comparing The Orville to general Star Trek, not necessarily Star Trek: Discovery. In fact, The Orville perfectly captures the look and feel of Star Trek circa the 1990s. Meanwhile Star Trek: Discovery has a decidedly different tone than past Trek shows, which has proven to be controversial among fans.

With distinct differences and similarities, it’s an interesting exercise to compare both shows.

The Orville: Bawdry Expectations

When it debuted in 2017, The Orville was one of those programs that suddenly appeared in everyone’s radar. It was first marketed as a flat-out comedy that promised to spoof Star Trek and other sci-fi programs and films and their tropes. But viewers quickly learned that was not the case with The Orville. This could be why the show did not appeal to critics who were expecting bawdry, outrageous comedy in the vein of Family Guy. After all, this show’s creator and star is Seth MacFarlane, the creator of Family Guy.

Unlike its early trailers, The Orville’s humor is much gentler and dryer. Although at times it tries to be edgy with its comedy and it doesn’t always work. In fact, at times its attempts at humor feels forced and ill-timed, which throws off the tone of some scenes. Honestly, The Orville cannot be considered a comedy and it doesn’t really spoof Star Trek. Coming off more as an homage, the program’s smart scripts examines relevant social issues and sci-fi concepts like a classic Star Trek show. It’s why the show has resonated with fans yearning for traditional Star Trek and are disappointed by Star Trek: Discovery and the recent films. But it also turned off those tuning in to expect the next Family Guy or at least something along the lines of Galaxy Quest.

While MacFarlane is famous for delivering raunchy and over-the-top humor with Family Guy and his film Ted, many didn’t realize that he is a big Star Trek fan. In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter in 2011, he confessed that his dream was to pitch a Star Trek TV show. In the interview when the subject of Star Trek came up, Seth MacFarlane said, “But I’d love to see that franchise revived for television in the way that it was in the 1990s: very thoughtful, smartly written stories that transcend the science fiction audience.” Well, he clearly has his chance to do a Star Trek show with The Orville.

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Make It So! Jean-Luc Picard Returns To Star Trek!

make it so

Star Trek fans were pleasantly surprised and excited when the news came out that Sir Patrick Stewart will reprise his role of the legendary Jean-Luc Picard in a new Star Trek series.

The announcement came during a Star Trek convention held in Las Vegas this weekend. Stewart appeared on stage and made the official announcement along with showrunner Alex Kurtzman, who was one of the execs behind Star Trek: Discovery and the the J.J. Abrams rebooted Trek films.

As fans roared with approval over the news, Stewart gave few details about the new show, which will stream on the CBS All Access service. One thing he did point out is Picard will be at a different point in his life, meaning he won’t necessarily be a Starfleet captain. This is quite exciting to learn because it demonstrates that the new Star Trek show won’t be a retread of the familiar Trek trope: a starship and its crew exploring space.  So, it won’t be a new version of Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) where Captain Picard commands the Enterprise and runs about discovering new worlds and new civilizations. If the show will not be about a Captain Jean-Luc Picard then it can mean that the character will have a new role, a different post-Starfleet career.

Picard may very well be an ambassador and the show could be more political in nature a la Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and this is very fascinating. The world of Star Trek has always entranced fans who were introduced to different alien cultures such as the Klingons and the Romulans. Some of the best episodes of the various shows were about exploring the uniqueness of the alien races and the political intrigue such as the succession of order in the Klingon Empire in “Redemption” or the birth of the Federation in “United”. It is easy to see an older PIcard running around the galaxy trying to forge alliances or hold a fragile peace. Hopefully he won’t be doing it onboard a new version of the Enterprise visiting the same old places. Let’s have new ships and worlds, it’s a large galaxy, after all.

old man picard

If he is not an ambassador, then the other logical career choice is that of a Starfleet admiral. He could follow a similar role as an ambassador with the same political intrigue, but with a more military angle as he brokers peace or wages war from a flagship or Starbase, though it is likely that Picard won’t be a warmongering type.

Of course, being that Patrick Stewart is nearly 20 years older since his last appearance as Picard in Star Trek: Nemesis, it stands to reason that his character will be older, too. And so will be the Prime Star Trek universe. We will learn about new developments in the Prime universe, which is something that many fans have ached for ever since the last TNG film in 2002. This also alleviates the concerns that many fans had about the original Star Trek universe. Ever since the rebooted films came along with Star Trek: Discovery, the impression has been given that the original universe was wiped out from existence. This notion came from a plot point in the first Abrams Star Trek film where Romulans time traveled and altered history. Despite the proclamations from characters and behind-the-scenes people that the alteration did not erase the original timeline, there was an uneasy feeling among many that this was not the case. Now, we can rest easy knowing that the original timeline is alive and well in the new series.

Will this also mean that we may see other characters from the Prime universe? Older versions of Riker, Crusher, Worf and even those from other shows such as Kira, Seven of Nine or the Doctor can appear in the new Star Trek show. Sure it may be too fanboyish, but it will be fun as hell to watch.

The return of Jean-Luc PIcad is certainly welcome news and demonstrates that Star Trek is alive and well. No reboots, no remakes, no reimaginings, but a logical continuation of the original Star Trek timeline. What is open for debate is how good will the new Star Trek show be, but we’ll have to wait and see when it streams, hopefully by 2020. However, no matter what happens with the new show, it will be a thrill to hear the great Sir Patrick Stewart utter at some point, “Make it so!”

Lewis T. Grove

Star Trek: Discovery – A First Season Review

Ordinarily, when reviewing TV shows, I would watch 4 to 6 episodes to get a good feel for the program. With Star Trek: Discovery, I decided to wait until it concluded its first season before doing a review because I honestly could not decide how I felt about it. This latest Star Trek spinoff has been the most difficult to form an opinion about. It has many commendable features, yet there are so many aspects about it that misfires so badly, that we have to wonder if the creators behind this spinoff understand Star Trek at all. Major spoilers will follow.

Star Trek: Discovery takes place in the 2250s, which makes it a prequel to the original Star Trek. Then again it does not feel like a prequel but more like a remake. Naturally, it does not recreate the mood and production of the original because it would have been laughed off and this is part of the reason why it is so controversial with fans. Overall, this show has to be accepted as a remake rather than a reboot because there are many attempts to stick to canon and some elements established in the original Prime timeline, such as numerous Easter eggs, references and sound effects. On the other hand, they’re not always consistent with sticking to canon, which can be irritating. But once you put aside these feelings about this latest Star Trek spinoff, it becomes easier to watch.

Star Trek: Discovery is updated to today’s standards in terms of special effects, set design and writing. The entire show is beautifully executed and each episode feels more like a feature-length film than a TV show. While this is welcome, at times the creators went too far in reimagining Gene Roddenberry’s futuristic universe. A case in point is the unnecessary re-do of the Klingons, the show’s main enemy race. The poor actors portraying the Klingons seem to be drowning under all the heavy makeup and wardrobe and we have to wonder why the showrunners thought this was an improvement over the perfected Klingon look seen in the other spinoffs and films. Be that as it may, the subtle updating of other alien races like the Andorians and the Tellarites are executed well.

The Star Trek spinoff follows the story of Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), a former first officer who mutinied against her captain and was jailed. Her actions helped spark a war between the Klingons and the United Federation of Planets and most of the first season is devoted to this storyline and her redemption. Burnham is freed by the captain of the U.S.S. Discovery, Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs), and enlists her to his crew for some ulterior motive. He assigns her to aid the ship’s science officer Lt. Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and find a way to utilize an experimental spore drive being tested on the Discovery to win the war against the Klingons. Eventually this results in Stamets using himself as a conduit for the spore drive, which allows the ship to instantaneously travel anywhere.Even though Burnham is the main protagonist, Lorca has emerged as the most fascinating character thanks in part to Isaacs’ exemplary acting and the way he is written. Lorca was introduced as a mysterious, and unusually brutal commander who was obsessed with winning the war. He was not above tossing aside ethics to get the job done, and pushing people beyond their limit, yet he was a capable commander. But in the second half of the season, the Discovery wound up in the Mirror Universe where humans are evil and it was revealed that Lorca himself came from this reality. This confirmed many suspicions that fans had but in the end, this development was a disservice to Lorca who became a moustache-twirling villain and unremarkable. Hopefully, some way can be found to return some version of Lorca in the second season.Therein lies the fault and strength of Star Trek: Discovery and this is typical of its conflicting nature. Some characters are compelling and well developed like First Officer Saru (Doug Jones), a lanky and fastidious alien, Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman), a bubbly young cadet, and Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif), a Starfleet officer who is actually a Klingon that was surgically altered into a human in order to infiltrate Starfleet. While others are interesting background bridge crewmembers  that  the show largely ignores. I’m not even sure what their names are, I just know them as the cyborg lady, or the woman with the metal implant on her skull. They barely have any dialogue and are begging to be examined more closely.

The stories themselves are also just as uneven. Some episodes are genuine classics and belong up there with the great Star Trek episodes. These include “The Wolf Inside”, “Despite Yourself” (two fantastic Mirror Universe tales), “Lethe”, “Choose Your Pain”, and “Into the Forest I Go”. As great as those were, Star Trek: Discovery is also weighed down with some downright clunkers that are poorly plotted and clumsily executed. One example is the first episode that aired for free on CBS, “The Vulcan Hello”, which needed to be great to entice people to subscribe to the CBS All Access app that streamed the rest of the episodes. Unfortunately, the season also ended on a less-than-thrilling note with a two-episode storyline that ended the war too quickly and unsatisfactory. However, the final shot of the last episode “Will You Take My Hand?” brought a thrill when a sparkling and graceful Enterprise appeared on the screen.Despite these faults, I have to admit that I genuinely enjoy Star Trek: Discovery. As far as first season Star Trek shows go, this is the best one since the original Star Trek. Unlike some other Star Trek spinoffs that first started out, this show is rarely dull and takes some genuine risks, even if they do not pay off. Of course, the criticism is valid that unlike its predecessors there isn’t any exploring done. This is something that is a vital essence of Star Trek, but it does push the envelope, chiefly with its characters and focus. The captain is not the main hero but a broken and disgraced former officer. Many of the characters are out to prove themselves and most of them do, which is why they are so easy to watch and root for.Another thing to note is that putting aside all the action and eye-popping visuals (seeing the Discovery spin its saucer while it goes into spore drive never gets dull), certain elemental truths about Star Trek are still there. We just have to recognize them: accepting diversity, seeking diplomatic solutions, and bettering yourself. As Alexander Courage’s iconic theme played during the end credits of the season finale, I found myself eagerly waiting to see more from Star Trek: Discovery, and for that reason the show is a success.

José Soto

 

 

The Negativity Towards Modern Star Trek & Star Wars

The two big live-action sci-fi franchises, Star Trek and Star Wars, are undergoing a bit of an identity crisis. Or rather the crisis is about how their fans are reacting to the latest incarnations of both franchises.

The properties are several decades old by now and although so much of what made them popular still resonates with people, they have to remain fresh. In other words, Star Trek and Star Wars have to keep up with the times. This meant that the recent incarnations are distinctly different from the original versions, which has sharply divided fandom.

Star Trek Into Darkness

Star Trek returned to home screens with Star Trek: Discovery, a show that is in many ways a radical departure from the 1960s TV show. The lead is not a white male captain, but a black female science officer who committed mutiny. That’s not all. Star Trek: Discovery features an openly homosexual couple, a starship captain with questionable morals, and a much darker tone where adult language and violence are commonplace.

The premise of Star Trek is about a starship exploring new worlds and meeting new races. There is very little of that in Star Trek: Discovery as it takes place during a war with the alien species, the Klingons. This was something that Star Trek’s original creator, Gene Roddenberry, would not approve. He presented a futuristic show about an enlightened humanity.

While Star Trek: Discovery explores issues like its predecessor, the characters, not the guest aliens, are the ones undergoing their own ethical crisis. An early subplot of the show dealt with the morality of the ship’s crew forcibly using an alien creature as a means of propulsion. This brought up the problem of animal abuse and later the characters’ ethics were heightened when it was revealed that the creature was sentient. The captain’s justification for the abuse was that he was trying to win a war. Another main character is actually a Klingon disguised as a human, who suffers from PTSD and is grappling over his sanity. Then the main character, Michael Burnham, committed treasonous acts that ignited a war with the Klingons and agonizes over her past. These characters are not exactly clear cut heroes.

The Ambiguous Star Wars

The new Star Wars trilogy films have featured women as the lead characters, as well as non-whites. Unlike the original films that concentrated on a young, white male savior, the new films have strong women who are the central characters.

The films are also more ambiguous than the original ones with their simplistic good vs. evil plotlines. For example, in the latest film, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the issues of war profiteering, class inequality, and animal abuse were brought up. The film’s villain had a more ambivalent nature as Kylo Ren was genuinely conflicted about embracing his dark nature. Actually, his descent into evil was more interesting than the film’s other one-dimensional foes, who were little more than cackling caricatures.

One of the heroes featured in Star Wars: The Last Jedi was Luke Skywalker, the main protagonist from the earlier films. In this film, he was a fallen man, full of defeat and bore little resemblance to the optimistic savior of the original trilogy. This arc gave Luke more dimension and provided a vehicle to explore his spiritual reawakening and redemption.  In the film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the main characters were also spiritually murky as they carried out dubious actions in the spirit of winning the war. For example, one of the leads, Cassian Andor, cold bloodedly murdered an accomplice in order to escape the bad guys. The overall tone of that film was harsher as it dealt with the brutality and ambiguity of war.

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Quentin Tarantino’s F!*#@ing Star Trek

One entertainment news item that came out of left field lately has been about a new Star Trek movie. What was unusual about the news is that famed director and writer Quentin Tarantino pitched an idea for a new Star Trek film and might direct it. Today, Deadline reported that Tarantino will be heavily involved and part of his deal with Paramount Pictures and J.J. Abrams, who runs the movie series, is that the film be rated R. The shocker is that the film studio and Abrams agreed to this.

OK this is really out there for Star Trek and reflects the state of the franchise. This development will certainly upset fans clamoring for a return to traditional Star Trek. Already, many of these purists are up in arms over the radical departure taken by Star Trek: Discovery such as featuring a black, female lead, a potentially evil starship captain, and an openly gay couple. There was a mini-meltdown in the Internet over one episode where F-bombs were dropped in one scene. As shocking as it was to hear on Star Trek, it certainly was an attention grabber. Now imagine countless F-bombs and other types of swearing from the stars of a new Star Trek film.

Aside from foul language, an R-rated Star Trek film will revel in violence and possibly sex or nudity. All this is fine for most of us who can handle it, but is this the right direction for Star Trek? The franchise is noted for pushing the envelope but by exploring themes and making observations about our current society. And Star Trek: Discovery has been pushing the envelope in showcasing more adult fare such as the cursing, brief nudity and it is violent. It’s no wonder that the show is behind the pay premium wall of the CBS All Access streaming service. Actually there are stronger reasons for this, namely wanting to milk Star Trek fans, but that is for another post.

But why go this route? The answer is that Star Trek has to experiment and try new things. The franchise has been showing its age lately and something needed to be done to shake things up. Of course, this runs the risk of alienating die-hard Trek fans, but it seems as if there are not enough of them to support the franchise. As proof of this notion, Paramount will point to the disappointing box office of Star Trek Beyond. That film, which was the best of the rebooted films, was more of a traditional Star Trek, but it did not have legs. Meanwhile, Star Trek: Discovery has created some buzz with its edgier stories even though the series, as a whole, wildly deviates from the Star Trek formula.

Already, the news of Quentin Tarantino’s involvement is generating a lot of needed attention for Star Trek and that has the potential to pay off. Tarantino is a top-tier director, who is often nominated for Oscars, plus, he is a big Star Trek fan, unlike J.J. Abrams. On top of that, the frontrunner to write the film’s script is Mark L. Smith, who penned the acclaimed film The Revenant. These are reasons to be optimistic. Other genre films have recently gone into the R-rated club to great success like Logan or Deadpool. So perhaps fans are ready for an edgier Star Trek.

But there is also cause for concern. Zack Snyder and others at Warner Bros. tried presenting a darker and edgier DC Cinematic Universe but that did not work out well for those films. Many fans outright rejected the gritter takes on Superman and others, while the latest effort, Justice League, has not turned out to be the blockbuster. Many critics complained about how dark and dreary the films were since they are used to bright colors and lighter themes from superhero films. This same problem could befall an R-rated Star Trek film.

No matter what, a Star Trek film by Quentin Tarantino will be controversial and bold and it will alienate many fans much worse than the Abrams reboots have done. However, they could be better received. Just remember that Tarantino is an avowed fan, so as Seth MacFarlane does with The Orville, he may show the proper reverence and respect to the material. At this point, the franchise (and Paramount) has to take a chance and boldly go where no Star Trek has gone before.

Lewis T. Grove