Children of the Sun > TV

The Orville


Two more episodes in the season and it's been a strange experience. I hated this show right out of the gate, seeing the pilot episode as lame and, generally, insulting. The ensemble was scattered and pointless, the jokes were annoying, and I walked away feeling like I'd just been exposed to bad fanfiction.

So I quit for the next three episodes. Then I started hearing stuff like Charlize Theron was going to be a guest star, and Jonathan Frakes was going to direct an episode, and this was the Star Trek show we all deserved.

Then Discovery premiered. Discovery is a disgusting betrayal for any Star Trek fan. Just about everything in Discovery is wrong, awkward, and leaves you feeling disgusting. So I started listening to all the critics raving about how The Orville was embracing the clean, bright ships and family-crew dynamics of 90's sci-fi. How it was an homage -- perhaps even an alternate reality version -- of The Next Generation.

So I started up again with episode 5. The Frakes/Theron episode. And I loved it. I've even gone back and watched episodes 2-4 and...loved them. Only the pilot was a misstep, and that's how some pilots are. So tra-la-la. Not everyone can pull off what Firefly of Nu-BSG did.

The Setting:

The Orville is the TNG Enterprise, and everything that's good and bad about the TNG Enterprise is there. It's bright and cheerful, with the dentist-office bridge and the Ten Forward-style bar. There are holodecks, shuttle bays. Everything about the interior of the Orville is familiar and comfortable. It's like we stepped into a TNG episode, except it benefits from the special effects and design sensibilities of 2017. This was, initially, off-putting. But on my second time tuning it, I was fine. And, now, it's grown on me. I want more! The uniforms are bright and color coded, which is strangely wonderful and makes you realize how hard Star Trek has tried to escape that trope.

The technology:

The latest episode shows us what it looks like to watch someone in the Holodeck. It was awesome and actually rewind-worthy. It answered every holodeck question I've had since 1987! This is just one example of how well they handle the technology. It's straight up TNG -- impervious shuttlecraft (unless the plot demands otherwise), replicators, the holodeck, phasers, turbolifts. In many cases, the jokes in the show rely on our familiarity with all these things, which provides a sort of gigantic in-joke feeling that's loads of fun.

The aliens:

The pilot did a poor job of explaining everyone to us. We don't get the walk-through that TNG (actually quite awkwardly) gave us with the introduction of Worf and Data. But then subsequent episodes focus on the aliens: The Klingon-esque guy, the AI android who's basically Data, and the diminutive security office with superhuman strength. Oh, and a love-struck comic relief ball of slime.  They each are fully fleshed out by episode 8. What's interesting is that the show is intentionally ignoring the audience here. For the crew of the Orville, all of these aliens are familiar. They're longtime members of the Union (the Federation in the Orville universe) and are all well integrated into every aspect of society. So of course you don't get a situation like in TNG where the first officer of the flagship is surprised that the second officer is an android, or that the security chief is a Klingon.  In the Orville universe, aliens are a part of everyday life.

But this doesn't take away from occasional alien-themed episodes, like when they have to intercede on behalf of a rare female babe born to two aliens whose race is all-male. This gives us glimpses into the inner workings of the Union.

The writing:

Rocky in the pilot, it picks up soon after. The jokes are actually kept to a minimum. Besides the pilot, the comedy aspect of the Orville is mainly in the fact that everyone speaks their minds  ("Damage report!" "Ensign Jones spilled soy sauce on his uniform." "He put that in a damage report?" "Yeah." "Man, we need better people.")

There are some overt comedy moments, but they're almost perfectly balanced with drama and action. I think this show was sort of billed wrong as being jokey. Certainly, as the show moves on, the jokes are more relief from actual plotlines. The jokes are also at the expense of the very TNG characters that every TNG meme has joked about for decades.

Many of the storylines are standard sci-fi tropes. Though, to huge credit, they have not done a groundhog day episode. I'm looking at you, Discovery. (Side note: If any modern sci-fi show does do a groundhog day episode, it should be The Orville.)

What's great is that a few episodes this season have been direct rips from TNG. With the crew voicing their feelings and observations without any sort of respect for command or each other, these episodes have felt like a version of "what would you do if you were in that episode of TNG?" Which is awesome.

There's a lot in the Orville that you'll recognize, but it's done with the perfect blend of modern storytelling, nods to the source material, and self-awareness. 

So...I agree with the geekosphere. The Orville is the modern Star Trek series we all wanted.

The finale was subdued and satisfying. All in all, a few stumbles, but a strong and enjoyable season. Let's hope they can survive round two.

Yes! The season two trailer from Comic-Con. This is the Star Trek reboot we actually deserve... I still love the first season.


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