The Orville Captures The Traditional Spirit Of Star Trek

When The Orville was first announced, many quickly noticed that the Seth-MacFarlane’s dramedy had strong resemblances to the vaunted Star Trek. If it was not a comedy, it would have been labeled a rip-off and for good reason.

The TV show, which airs on Fox, is about the adventures of Captain Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) and his crew onboard the Orville, an exploratory starship in the 25th century. Like a traditional Star Trek show, each episode to date is a standalone where the crew would visit a strange planet or deal with some science fiction plot. Sounds familiar?

orville crew

Despite the overtly comedic tone of the early trailers, The Orville is not a laugh-out-loud comedy like MacFarlane’s Family Guy. It is very funny at certain moments but it’s more serious than one would think. This is probably why the show received so many negative reviews since the reviewers were probably expecting a yuck-fest. But if one would actually watch the show and put aside any preconceptions then what will be discovered is that The Orville is actually quite fun.

It is clear that Seth MacFarlane is not trying to make fun of Star Trek. It may be surprising to some that he is actually a huge Trek fan. This is why The Orville does not come off as a spoof that makes fun of the source material; it’s surprisingly respectful.

Anyone who misses Star Trek will be pleased to know that the spirit of Star Trek is alive and well with this show. This is not a knock against Star Trek: Discovery, but while the latest Trek incarnation has the burden of trying to be different, The Orville does not have that problem. It is free to capture the essence of Trek and show us why we loved Star Trek in the first place.

Typical episodes have the crew encountering alien cultures and planets where various themes are explored. In one episode, the Orville discovers a giant generational ship where the inhabitants believed they were living in a world. It was up to Mercer and his away team to expose them to the truth (the bothersome Prime Directive is noticeably absent) despite the efforts of the ship’s rulers.

Another episode centered on the plight of the Orville’s second officer Bortus (Peter Macon). He is a gruff Klingon-like alien that is part of a single-gender species. All the members are male but in this episode he and his mate have a baby girl and want to have her sex changed. This decision clashes with the human culture of the Orville crew and leads to ethical questions. While the episode did have jokes, the subject matter was treated dramatically and with respect, and in the end it was thought provoking like a classic Star Trek episode.

What completes the overt resemblance to Star Trek, especially the ‘90s versions, is the look of the show. The costumes, sets, and props look like they could blend in easily with Star Trek in the post-Roddenberry era. The ship has replicators, holodecks and the crew is adorned with communicators and phaser guns that only look slightly different than those seen on Trek. Of course, Star Trek: Discovery has much better effects, but it is comforting to watch the more downscale special effects in The Orville. It feels less pretentious and just a means to tell a story.

orville ship

With all those pluses for Trek fans, The Orville does have its problems. A lot of the attempts at humor falls flat or feels forced. More often than not, the jokes will only bring smiles, but when they land the humor is quite funny. Also, the natural banter between the crew tries too hard at times to sell the notion that they are everyday Joes. Somehow these characters do not seem like a good fit in an actual starship. Helmsman Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes) and navigator John LeMarr (J. Lee) seem too laid back and casual to be believable starship officers. In trying to make them so relatable to viewers the show instead makes their behavior seem unnatural for their setting.

As for Mercer, MacFarlane lacks the gravitas to pull off a commanding presence. Instead Captain Mercer is more of an officer manager type, although he is quite likeable. Making him more sympathetic is his dilemma of his first officer being his ex-wife, Commander Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki). Do not be surprised if the show soon veers into will-they-or-won’t-they shenanigans.

For those who are unable to easily watch Star Trek: Discovery because it’s held behind a streaming wall, The Orville is a perfectly acceptable substitute. After watching it, it is easy to see that The Orville in many respects outdoes Star Trek: Discover in carrying on the tradition of Star Trek.

José Soto

 

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Star Trek: Discovery Launches Trek’s Return To TV

For one night only, Star Trek returned to TV. On CBS, Star Trek: Discovery premiered, but for one episode only. Want to see the rest? Then you have to subscribe to CBS’ streaming service CBS All Acess, which will leave many frustrated, especially with the way the first episode ended.

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Titled “The Vulcan Hello”, the first episode of Star Trek: Discovery introduced viewers to a new slate of characters starting with Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), the first officer of the Federation starship Shenzhou (the starship Discovery does not appear in the first two episodes). As the main character, she is rather mysterious and has an interesting back story that was only partly revealed in the first episode. After her parents were killed by Klingons, the Federation’s arch rivals, Burnham was raised by Sarek (James Frain) in the logic-oriented Vulcan culture. Now a grown woman, Burnham is having trouble balancing her human and Vulcan upbringing. By the way, yes, this is the same Sarek that is Spock’s father.

In the pilot, the Shenzou comes across an ancient-looking artifact on the edge of Federation space and Burnham volunteers to investigate it. Her curiosity quickly escalates a tense situation that brings the Federation to the brink of war. What is worse is that her actions afterwards are what make war more and more likely.On the whole, this was a solid and enjoyable episode. There were many issues with it, but most open-minded fans will be pleased with Star Trek: Discovery. What’s good to great about it? First of all, unlike the J.J. Abrams reboot films (except Star Trek Beyond), this feels like Star Trek, only modernized. There are many references and adherences to Star Trek lore that should satisfy hardcore fans.

Time is taken to explore characters and themes. The driving one in this episode is about how cultural misconceptions can be disastrous. This has been explored in other Treks, but this issue is still relevant given today’s fragile political climate.

The production values and special effects are absolutely stunning and rivals what you see in theaters. Yes, that includes the Star Trek reboot films. Every dollar spent is up there on the screen. The show is just beautifully filmed.

“The Vulcan Hello”, which was directed by David Semel, does a good job of building a sense of unease and tension thanks to liberal usages of Dutch angles and editing. You truly feel that this crew on the Shenzou is out there on their own. This creates a barely concealed uneasy feeling among them and us. The character that best expressed this anxiousness was Lt. Commander Saru (Doug Jones), a lanky and cowardly alien who is the first one to recommend that the Shenzou hightails it out of harm’s way.

Star Trek: Discovery takes place in the original Star Trek universe and is a prequel to the very first show. But being a prequel presents the show with many problems that comes with being a prequel. While the technology is stunning eye candy, it looks more advanced than even the later Star Trek shows so how can this be a prequel to the original Star Trek with its clunky sets and limited technology? This gives critics a good argument that it doesn’t take place in the Prime Universe and is more at home with the Abrams reboots. But that is just nitpicking.

The bigger flaws with Star Trek: Discovery lie with its script and some execution. The dialogue is often stiff and clunky, unlike the show’s new rival, The Orville. Most of the time, when characters speak, their speech comes off as wordy and does not feel natural. This is a problem because it sometimes brings the show’s pace to a grinding halt and it happens whenever the Klingons appear.

psuedo klingon

Scenes with the alien race are probably the biggest stumble for Star Trek: Discovery. All their dialogue is spoken in a clumsy tongue with tiring subtitles. Honestly, they are nothing like the violent and popular Klingons of previous Treks. Even their look is different and downright ugly, and not in a good way. Previous Klingons appeared imposing and hulking with their brow ridges and fur-covered armor. These new Klingons lack hair and wear hideous, bony tunics that Liberace would have loved. They look more like the poorly received Abrams version of Klingons, which were also disappointing. It makes you wonder why producers keep insisting on changing the classic look of the Klingons. They were perfect, why mess with the look?

Issues aside, “The Vulcan Hello” heralds an auspicious beginning for the latest incarnation of Trek. For too long, we waited for new Star Trek and now we have it. But there is a big catch.

In order to keep watching Star Trek: Discovery it will literally cost you since it’s on a streaming service. Outside of North America it is streaming on Netflix, so if you have not subscribed to the service then it is worth doing so to continue watching the adventures of Commander Burnham.

But in the U.S. fans are being forced to subscribe to CBS’ own streaming service. This begs the question, is this show worth a subscription? Sadly, the answer would have to be no. As good as “The Vulcan Hello” was, it did not hit it out of the ballpark. Plus, the cliffhanger ending, which forces viewers to subscribe to find out how the story ends, will infuriate fans. Sure, some will say just spend the six to ten dollars a month. But for just one show? Seeing the commercials for the other programming on CBS All Access is enough to convince me it is not worth the money. Frankly, I have no interest in watching CSI: Insert an American City or Survivor. Not only that but it usually takes three to five episodes of a series for me to decide if it warrants continued watching. One episode simply is not enough to convince me to subscribe to another streaming service. If you are that much of a hardcore Star Trek fan and have to get your fix, then go ahead and subscribe to CBS All Access. I can wait to see the entire show on a later date. After all, I have the other Star Trek show to watch, The Orville, and I do not have to spend extra money to do so.

José Soto

 

Star Trek: The Next Generation Showed It Was Possible To Catch Lightning In A Bottle Twice

As we’re getting ready for the return of Star Trek to TV (or rather Trek’s first foray into original streaming service) with Star Trek: Discovery, it’s a prime time to look back at Star Trek: The Next Generation, which was Star Trek’s first foray in a then-unique syndication format. Devoted fans already know that it’s the 30th anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The series is almost as beloved as the original Star Trek, but many overlook the fact that when it debuted thirty years ago in syndicated televisionit was dismissed automatically. Fans of the original show were understandably skeptical about Star Trek: The Next Generation ever since it was announced. After all, it did not feature Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the other beloved characters and the first promo images looked strange. A bald captain? Klingons are no longer the enemies of the Federation? Why did the new Enterprise look ungainly? What was the deal with those weird one-piece uniforms and lounge chairs on the Enterprise bridge? People wondered what the creator Gene Roddenberry must have been thinking when he developed the new Trek incarnation. Even Leonard Nimoy wondered if the show would succeed. Citing that it was impossible to catch lightning twice in a bottle, Nimoy turned down the offer to develop the show before Roddenberry was approached.

When it finally premiered in September 1987, let’s say that many fans were underwhelmed by what they saw. The first episode “Encounter at Farpoint” was interesting and gave the main characters good introductions. Plus, it introduced the omni-powerful entity Q into Star Trek lore and thanks to John DeLancie’s sardonic line delivery, the character stood out. But more importantly, the main star of the show Patrick Stewart, who played Captain Jean-Luc Picard, made a powerful impression. Sure, he was not the swashbuckling Captain Kirk, but Stewart made his character uniquely different from Kirk while exuding a commanding and thoughtful presence in the show.

Still, Star Trek: The Next Generation was nearly derailed in its wobbly first season. What handicapped the first Star Trek spinoff were poorly written scripts and characters. One of them was especially hated by fans, young Wesley Crusher played by Wil Wheaton. In many episodes he came off as petulant, self-important Gary Sue who was a critical key in many plot lines. Some episodes were incredibly dull and did not go anywhere. The early episodes aped the worst qualities of the original show where the Enterprise crew would visit a planet of the week and solve that planet’s problems. The made-up societies they encountered were just unbelievable and its people reeked of caricatures. The show also had a problem with coming up with interesting villains, aside from Q.

Yet, the show showed promise. As the first season drew to a close, Star Trek: The Next Generation seemed to find its bearings. The characters were better developed with the breakout being Data (Brent Spiner), who emulated the Spock position of being the outsider who questioned humanity. The stories also became more interesting as Star Trek first toyed with the idea of episodes-spanning sub-plots. In this case, a nefarious conspiracy at the heart of Starfleet and the first hints of the Borg, a cybernetic race that would not appear until the second season. It took some risks such as the above-mentioned conspiracy storyline that upset some parents for its violent content. There was also the killing off of a major character in the show (Tasha Yar, played by Denise Crosby), which was a first for Star Trek.

Fans began to come around and eventually embraced the Star Trek spinoff. Although the original show continues to be regarded as the best Star Trek show, it cannot be denied that Star Trek: The Next Generation has achieved its share of greatness through the season. It stood apart from its predecessor for being more thoughtful, for better exploring themes and characters and for its updated special effects.

When Star Trek: The Next Generation was being developed it was supposed to have featured descendants of the original Enterprise crew. Thankfully, the show evolved away from that and went with all-new characters. References to the original show were extremely rare, which allowed the show to develop its own identity. It would have been all too easy to just continue the same formula, but Roddenberry knew that for the new show to succeed it had to follow a different path. That is why we’re celebrating the show thirty years later.

Enterprise D

Now as if to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation, a new Star Trek TV show will debut this month to pick up the baton. However, many fans are highly skeptical and dismissive of the new Star Trek: Discovery. The list of complaints continues growing as more details come to light, and many of them are valid. The core complaint is that the new show does not feel like Star Trek. But think about that, it’s the same gripe leveled at Star Trek: The Next Generation when it first aired. The new show seems like it will take Star Trek in a new direction, just like the first Trek spinoff did. Star Trek: Discovery may not hit a homerun at first, but fans should keep an open mind and show some patience when it premieres. It may find its legs and be as memorable and great as Star Trek: The Next Generation, the first Star Trek spinoff that proved it was possible to catch lightning in a bottle twice.

Lewis T. Grove

 

Star Trek: Discovery Teaser Trailer Beams Aboard

 

First officer michael Burnham

This may be the month of the start of the movie blockbuster season and the 40th anniversary of Star Wars, but today all attention is on TV. Or rather the CBS All Access streaming service. That’s because the first teaser trailer for this fall’s Star Trek: Discovery has been released.

First impressions: The Star Trek: Discovery trailer is actually good. It grabs our attention and makes us want to find out more about its premise. There are some quibbles which will be covered in a bit, but the overall look is impressive though it is a bit too reminiscent of J.J. Abrams’ version of Star Trek and less like the retro look of the original Star Trek. But these days, TV shows have to impress with out-of-this world special effects and production values. So though, we love the rubber alien suits and cardboard sets of the original Star Trek, to make it these days, Trek had to upgrade and even outdo the shows from The Next Generation era. The result is a cinema-quality look to the show.

Speaking of those versions of Star Trek, the start of the trailer calls to mind Star Trek: Enterprise with its announcement that Star Trek: Discovery takes place ten years before the original Star Trek. But thankfully, the Star Trek: Discovery trailer switches gears and introduces us to brave new worlds and beautifully rendered space shots. More importantly we’re introduced to the show’s main character, First Officer Michael Burnham, played by former cast member of The Walking Dead, Sonequa Martin-Green. She looks terrific in her blue Starfleet uniform and she gives the impression that she is a Starfleet officer. Then again by the trailer’s tone we have to wonder if that is her true identity. This trailer gave her a mysterious presence, there were even times when we have to wonder if she has some Vulcan heritage though that’s unlikely.

From the bits and pieces revealed, the Discovery ship itself looks much better than in that cheap-looking teaser released last year. It must be pointed out that the full shot we see of a starship early in the trailer is probably a different ship. The aliens look cool except for the Klingons. Their redesign lacks the fearsome and imposing quality of the original Klingons with their ridged foreheads and body armor. This was a perfect look for the Klingons that was ageless. Why mess with perfection? Hopefully the other alien races won’t be as butchered in their designs.

But nitpicking aside, it is beyond great that Star Trek is back on TV, er, home media where it belongs with episodes to truly explore themes, characters and the infinite worlds and races of Star Trek. Now as to whether or not Star Trek: Discovery will be worth spending extra money on to stream is another question.

Waldermann Rivera

Lead Actress Cast For Star Trek: Discovery

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For most of the year, we Star Trek fans have been teased with the casting of the upcoming Star Trek: Discovery TV show that is premiering next year. We were excited over the casting of Michelle Yeoh, Doug Jones and others who would play diverse characters in the show, but no lead had been cast. That all changed today when word came that after an exhaustive search Sonequa Martin-Green has just been cast to play the lead role Lt. Commander Rainsford in Star Trek’s eagerly awaited return to TV.

Most fans know Martin-Green from the hit TV show The Walking Dead. For those of you out there who don’t she plays the role of Sasha, one of the few survivors of the walker apocalypse. Not to beat up on The Walking Dead, but that show has been in a rut this season with the Negan overkill and the tropes that the characters, including Sasha had been going through.

Obviously, Sonequa Martin-Green’s casting means that Sasha will probably be the next victim of Negan on The Walking Dead. It’s just as well, since her arc had come to a conclusion last season and the men she cared about in her life, her brother, Tyreese, and her new lover Abraham are both dead. In other words, The Walking Dead’s loss is Star Trek: Discovery’s gain.

sasha

Her casting is quite inspired, since it covers many important areas. One, she is the first woman of color to have the lead role in a Star Trek show. The honor of the first non-white goes to Avery Brooks who starred as Captain Ben Sisko in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine back in the 1990s. Ironically enough, like Sisko, Sonequa Martin-Green’s Rainsford won’t begin the show as the captain but as a lieutenant commander. Hopefully as what eventually happened with Sisko, her character will get promoted to captain before too long because she has the look of a Star Trek captain.

But more importantly, as seen in The Walking Dead, Martin-Green has the acting chops to headline a TV show and being that she has experience in a related genre, she will please many fans who only want the best casting options for the beloved Star Trek franchise. Finally, her landing the role cements the notion that Star Trek: Discovery will be populated by a diverse group of people with different backgrounds. This is actually reflective of our society today, despite what some on the fringe-elements may wish for, and this casting proves that Star Trek on the whole is able to keep up with the times.

Seriously, this is an excellent cap to Star Trek’s 50th anniversary as this year draws to a close.

T. Rod Jones