by Mike Lunsford, editor
What a great time to be a Trekkie! First off, you can re-watch all of the series via Netflix/Hulu! Of course, you can read my reviews of Seasons 1-3 of The Next Generation right here as the pretext to watching. More importantly (drum roll, please)…we have a new Star Trek series! In fact, if squint hard enough, there are 2 new Star Trek series to consume: Star Trek Discovery and The Orville.
You’re probably saying to yourself “uhhh, Mike. Star Trek: Discovery is the only new Star Trek series.” Yeah, okay, The Orville is NOT Star Trek approved…but it’s directed/produced by Brannon Braga of TNG fame. Seth McFarlane, the star and co-producer of the show is a huge Star Trek fan and has said how much he’s wanted to do something like this since he was a kid. It’s Star Trek, specifically Star Trek: The Next Generation. Just like GalaxyQuest is a movie that spoofs the original series/movies so well it might as be canon, The Orville is the TNG equivalent.
Plus, through my astute reviews and commentary, I will show you that The Orville, in many ways, it’s a spiritual successor of Star Trek: The Next Generation. And, because of the subject matter tackled in these shows and their nearly simultaneous release, these shows will be forever linked to each other. Don’t believe me? Read your social media accounts. Look for any post regarding either show. Someone, without prompting, will mention their love/distaste for the other show. I swear to you, it’s unavoidable.
Let’s start with the big fish, the new crown jewel in CBS’s All Access online viewing platform:
Star Trek: Discovery
After the failure that was Star Trek: Enterprise, the execs at Paramount were less than thrilled to do another Star Trek series. Television is a series of ebb and flow. That is why it’s rare to see a series last more than a few seasons; people get tired and want something new. As much as I love the Trek franchises, it was getting stale. The same writers and producers were working on all the series. They needed some new blood.
Just like with the recent rebooted film series, this is exactly what we are seeing with Star Trek: Discovery; fresh ideas and new storytelling styles. A lot of the traditionalist Trek fans are not impressed. They are saying the same things they did about the Abrams’ helmed films, “this is not Star Trek.” I’m a huge Trek fan and I’ve liked the new movies…for the most part. I also like Star Trek: Discovery. I am keeping a very open-minded approach to this more modernistic form of storytelling. Just like Admiral Kirk said to Scotty in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock when Scotty scoffed at the idea of transwarp drive:
Come, come, Mr. Scott. Young minds, fresh ideas. Be tolerant.
Star Trek: Discovery is set in the “prime” timeline, the same place as all the other television series. It takes place 10 years before Kirk commands the Enterprise on that fateful 5 year mission. We meet Captain Phillipa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon) and her first officer Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green, The Walking Dead) as they assist a planet resurrect a well that will help them weather an on-coming 89 year drought. They are rescued from a dust storm by their ship, the U.S.S. Shenzhou and proceed to investigate a damaged interstellar communications relay.
As we come to find out, Michael Burnham is something special. She was the first human to study and succesfully graduate from the Vulcan Science Academy. She is the adopted daughter of Sarek, the famous Vulcan diplomat and father of the future first officer of the Enterprise, Spock.
Upon arrival to the coordinates of the relay, the discover an unidentified object that is covered in ancient markings. After an up close investigation courtesy of a space suit, Commander Burnham is attacked by a Klingon warrior. Burnham attempts to escape but kills the Klingon in the process. What ensues is a Cold War-esque stand off between the Klingons (who were hiding in a cloaked ship) and the U.S.S. Shenzhou. I won’t spoil the rest of the story for you if you haven’t seen it. This is just the beginning of the 2 part premiere of the series and there are some seriously intense moments.
As we progress into future episodes, the series shifts to the U.S.S. Discovery, the titular ship of the series. She is captained by Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs, Harry Potter films). Discovery is a science vessel that has access to some top secret tech. Not only do they possess some mind-boggling technology, the crew is not your average Starfleet collection. The best and brightest minds are on board the discovery, including Michael Burnham. When Burnham questions Lorca about their duties and role in the war with the Klingons, Lorca states, “Don’t worry about Starfleet. They gave me discretion to fight this war however I saw fit.” This is definitely a different approach than we’ve seen in previous Trek franchises and promises to deliver some interesting stories to come.
I thoroughly enjoyed the premiere and the episodes that are available up to this point. It was smart, it felt fresh, yet it still felt like Star Trek. There were little things that I really appreciated as a Trekkie in the 2 part episode. The sound effects are from the original series and Next Generation. This gives it a familiar feel and let’s you know that it is in the same universe. The phasers look nearly identical to the original series as well.
This show looks different than any other Trek series, though. It has the look of a film instead of television show. That has been a common trend with the new direct-to-digital series we’re seeing on Netflix/Hulu etc. It is similar in look to the Kelvin-timeline movies; sleek design for the interiors of the ships, a lot of lens flare, and when there are space battles they don’t pull their punches. In previous series, they would tilt the camera, everyone would go flying and there would be some explosions. In Discovery, ships get obliterated, people get sucked into the vacuum of space and injuries are intense.
It has caught some flack for it’s storytelling, but I am enjoying the way it is done. It is a more modern aesthetic such as the use of flashbacks for exposition. That being said, just like the Trek series of old, there is political and societal commentary interspersed. I have been very happy with the way the Klingons are portrayed as a species and their point of view on the Federation’s desire for inclusiveness. In fact, I love how the Klingons mock the Federation’s “we come in peace” statement. It will be interesting to see the motivation behind their decisions and their point of view during this upcoming war.
In this 2 part series opener, we are introduced to the Klingons. If you’ve read online commentary of the series thus far, you’ve seen that the Klingons have caused a ton of controversy. They look almost unrecognizable from the original series or any of it’s successors. They look similar to the Kelvin timeline movie Klingons but are even further removed. Makeup has evolved a great deal since the mid 60s, even since the early 2000s and it’s not a bad decision to showcase this with some updated prosthetics and visual effects. Plus, to make your adversary look vastly different than humans could be part of the storytelling, but when pressed on this, producers say there is a reason. Let’s be honest for a moment though, anyone who is nostalgic about the “original Klingons” are missing a huge ethical issue. The show essentially had the ‘barbarian’ race that’s brown in skin pigment played by white actors in “brownface.” So before we defend the “old aesthetics,” let’s acknowledge that this has been an ongoing issue that needed to be updated. When TNG used Michael Dorn as Worf and Tony Todd as his brother Kurn, African American actors as a Klingons, it was a step in the right direction. I really just see these new Klingons as an evolution of that.
Now as far as the Klingon ships, I am not sold on their different design. The Federation ships look vaguely familiar to the original series. The Klingon ships of Discovery are completely different. I’ve always liked the design of the battle cruisers and birds of prey. These new ships are not my cup of tea.
Overall, I love Star Trek: Discovery. I will stick with it through it’s entirety. The storytelling is great, the special effects are top notch, the acting is wonderful and I keep wanting more. It’s too new to know for sure how I’ll feel about the entire series, but this far into it, I am very optimistic.
ComicsOnline gives Star Trek: Discovery 4 anti-matter inducers out of 5.
For whatever reason, I didn’t hear about The Orville before hand. Honestly though, how often do you hear about a sitcom months or years in advance like we did with Discovery? At any rate, the show appeared on my radar a few weeks before it’s premiere. I like Seth McFarlane’s brand of humor. Brannon Braga, former writer and producer of Star Trek: The Next Generation is working with McFarlane on this show, too. I am definitely in.
The premise of the show is simple enough. The main character of the series Ed Mercer, an up and coming officer in the Planetary Union (Seth McFarlane, creator Family Guy). He comes home from work and catches his wife Kelly (Adrianne Palicki, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) having an affair with a blue alien. They subsequently divorce and Mercer’s life tailspins, his work life suffering severely. A year after his divorce, he is offered the command of a mid-level ship, the titular Orville. The admiral sites that the only reason he’s getting command now is the prior captain of the Orville is retiring and the fleet is rather large. They’ll take anyone at this point and he needs to prove himself.
As Captain Mercer meets his new crew we come to find out that Mercer’s new first officer on the Orville is his ex-wife Kelly. This causes immediate tension and the two question whether the relationship will work. At first, these seems very 90’s sitcom cliché. “A wacky situation? Oh man!” It’s not as eye-rollingly obnoxious as it seems as the reasoning behind it is actually quite endearing. As the series progresses, the complexity of their relationship is shown, too. It’s not just for cheap laughs.
Just like it’s spiritual predecessor, Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Orville is an ensemble show. McFarlane and Palicki are the obvious leads, but the rest of the crew makes for a solid team. Some of the character archetypes are obvious throwbacks to TNG but that seems to be the point. The show has fun with Star Trek staples such as the holodeck, artificial intelligence trying to understand human nature, and an unproven younger crew member proving their worth. Seth McFarlane is the master of pop-culture humor. He plays the “everyman” part very well. He’s relatable, funny, witty, and a surprisingly adept Starfleet, oh oops, UNION officer. Often times, the show has the feel of people ripped from the 20th century working on a 25th century space faring vessel. This has always been one of McFarlane’s strengths: writing funny, believable dialog that is realistic and natural. Couple this light-hearted sense of humor with the soul of exploration and the love of adventure of Star Trek: The Next Generation and you’ve got The Orville.
Not only is the show funny and enjoyable to watch, it has the same soul of Star Trek. The Orville tackles some serious issues that society faces such as the nature of perspective in war, gender identity issues, and much more. It handles them with the level of care and respect they deserve. Contrary to the stereotypical view of McFarlane produced shows, he is not a dick and fart jokes kind of creator. His use of comedy and drama effectively is impressive and balanced. Some of the “ex-wife” jokes get old, but it’s not old…yet.
Perhaps I’m a “mark” though. I just finished fan-boying over the first 3 seasons of TNG on the pages of ComicsOnline so I may have liked this show no matter what. That being said, I’m enjoying The Orville a great deal. It’s funny, exciting, and thought-provoking.
ComicsOnline gives The Orville 4 McFarlane Trek Fan Fictions out of 5.
You’ll notice that I gave both shows the same score. Neither is better than the other. They’re equally enjoyable but for completely different reasons. As both are less than 10 episodes in, it would be unfair to rate them fully until they have completed their first seasons. Star Trek: Discovery is a fresh take on the franchise. It uses bold new story concepts and is not afraid to push the envelope and try something new. It feels like Star Trek but it’s stepping outside the comfort zone that was the downfall of the Voyager and Enterprise. The Orville is a love letter from Seth McFarlane to Star Trek: The Next Generation. It has the heart and soul of that classic series and has some fun looking at an optimistic future through a comedic lens. It is worthy of comparison to any current or previous Star Trek series.
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