Greetings, salutations, and recriminations! It has been some time since I posted the last in my irregular series on laws, flaws, and tacos, so I am back today with a brief missive that contain 100% no law-like substance (non-law like substance may possible cause rashes and/or anal leakage).
As my necessary disclaimer- these are my opinions only, and I am not telling you how to think, although, to the extent you think as I do, you will be a heartless bastard with money and a plan to rule the world.
I’ve recently finished two series; the first, Star Trek: Discovery (“Disco”) and the second, The Orville (“Orville”) both being in the news, and in the geek-controversy, for Star Terkkin’ across the universe.
Prior to my opinion on these shows, a little cred needs to be established. Am I the trekkiest Trekker to have Trekked? No. I am firmly a believer in Captain James Tiberius Kirk’s “Get a life” admonition ... this is supposed to be fun. That said, I may have also seen (more than once) ST:TOS, ST:TNG, ST:DS9, ST:VOY, ST:ENT, and ST:TAS, as well as perhaps stumbling across some James Blish adaptations when I was a wee Lokling.
So after watching the two shows, I was entertained by the ongoing war about which was more “Trek” - Disco or Orville? And, in my opinion, the majority of people that are debating this issue aren’t framing the question properly. These are two completely different shows, neither of which is wholly successful or, for that matter, failures. But they raise a related issue when it comes to media (or, perhaps, art)- is it better to aim high and fail, or not to try that hard at all?
Since the end of ST:ENT (Enterprise), there have been no Star Trek television shows. Which is a shame, because the ideas in Star Trek are much better explored in a television series than in a movie. But what does it mean to have a Star Trek television show in this age of premium television? Disco and Orville approach the question in dramatically different fashions; Disco by attempting to re-interpret Star Trek as a “premium” television series, and Orville by retreating to the past glories of ST:TNG, with some additional, Family Guy, humor. So let’s break the two down-
I wanted to love this show. And, at times, I really liked it. But I never loved it. On the plus side, they have some amazing acting performances. They have some great special effects. They try to make a season-long narrative (PREMIUM!). And they get to use official Starr Trek stuff, because they are a real Star Trek show. It was good enough that I’ll watch it next year. ....but ....
There were so many decisions that would take you out of the series. Look, I’m not a stickler for how a show looks in the timeline (they don’t need to make everything look like TOS, with one wrench in engineering), but the appearance of technology, like the spore drive and the “spinning” saucer of Discovery, just kept throwing me out of my suspension of disbelief. They didn’t expand the world, they made it smaller (really, the protagonist is Spock’s never-mentioned pseudo-sister?). And don’t get me started on what they did to the Klingons. The show seemed like it wanted to break from some of Star Trek, yet take comfort in other parts. And the season-long arc (although redeemed, somewhat, and only slightly, by the Mirror universe at the end) was ... just not very good. Not compelling at all.
The thing is- there are great things in this show. There is a lot of ambition - for example, it is clear that the idea of “mirroring” was being played with very early on, and was a continued theme throughout the show. It just never came together in a compelling whole. The show was much better than the worst detractors made it out to be, but it wasn’t nearly as good as it could have been.
The best comment I can think of this show is one shared by a co-viewer, “This show ... it’s not nearly as bad as it should be.” Bingo. It’s ... fine. The presence of various MacFarlane/Family Guy-isms either ranges from terrible (occasional pop culture references ...) to inspired (a bit with a severed leg). But beyond that, it’s ... a loving recreation of ST:TNG, possibly filtered with a bit of Galaxy Quest. You’ve got your Data character, your Worf, your Kirk-esque character, the interplay with the bridge characters, etc. Every week, something happens, and it gets resolved. Nothing is too terrible (except, perhaps, for the prosthetic forehead on the chief of security), and no episode is that great ... at best, you’re like, “Hey, this is like that episode of TNG, except with more Norm McDonald,” and at worst, you’re like, “Hey, there are worse ways to spend an hour.” It’s ... perfectly cromulent. I enjoyed watching it, I’ll watch it next year, but I’m not eagerly waiting to find out what happens to Captain, um, MacFarlane.
So what does it all mean?
Orville is the beneficiary of low expectations (how good could a Seth MacFarlane Star Trek homage be?); while Discovery has been killed by overly high expectations (Fuller was a showrunner! It’s going to be the new franchise!). Neither view, on either show, is fair. I think that the Orville, just going like it is, could be a decent show for a long time. But I don’t see it ever being great. I don’t see the Orville ever having a “Best of Both Worlds” episode. And that’s okay! It’s a great show, for what it is - an insanely budgeted fanfic production of ST:TNG, without the Star Trek rights. I could enjoy many years of Second Officer Bortus being overly serious.
Discovery, on the other hand, could be great. Or it could be a giant failure. It’s too early to tell. Without giving away spoilers, though, the final shot of the final episode, IMO, doesn’t bode well. Nostaliga, as shown in Orville, can be a heckuva thing, but it is also an anchor. Time will tell.
Discovery: 38.6/57 Kodak Carousel slides
Orville: 2/3 of a severed limb.