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Eavesdropping on Geeks: 'Star Trek: Discovery' vs 'The Orville'

by Thom 'Starky' Stark, Lenny Tuberose, 'Tricky' Rick Moen, Destino

2017-10-19 09:40:36

If you broke into Pigdog's top sekrit headquarters, spying on their mysterious mix of weird science and old-skool geekiness, you'd overhear this conversation:

El Destino: So it anyone actually watching Star Trek: Discovery? Or maybe a better question is, have you gone to the trouble of registering for CBS's super-sekrit premium site to watch more than just that first free episode? Or did you just stream it on your favorite pirate site?

Splicer: The first two episodes left me pretty cold. The third episode gave me hope I hadn't had before.

Thom 'Starky' Stark: We're four episodes in - and, like V'ger and Deep Throat 9, Discovery takes itself WAY too seriously.

El Destino: I finally watched the first episode last night. It looks expensive. Best-looking Klingons ever! (And people whizzing through space with a jetpack...) Er, but ol' man Destino says he misses William Shatner. That epic playfulness, camaraderie, hope... Maybe I just wish this new crew liked each other more.

Thom 'Starky' Stark: The actual new crew - which you don't meet until episode 3 - is worse. And the captain is a straight-up asshole.

It's just Berman, all the way down ...

Lenny Tuberose:: Has anyone given The Orville a watch? I assumed it was going to be all fart jokes but it seems like they are shooting for genuine science fiction.

'Tricky' Rick Moen: The Orville is weirdly wonderful. Basically, it's Next-Gen with the serial numbers filed off, and a mild ongoing dose of rollicking McFarlane humour. The most recent-but-one had a guest appearance by Charlize Theron, who was really good (though you kept wanting her to do the Atomic Blonde apocalyptic-fight thing). You keep thinking the show ought to make up its mind whether it wants to be comedy or drama, and eventually realise "Well, OK, I _guess_ it can be both at the same time."

Who knew that TNG fanfic would work in the 2010s? It's a sincere and loving tribute to/pastiche of the Picard show, plus fairly mild ribald humour and lots of pop-culture jokes. One online commenter said "ST:TNG with an Office overlay." They also lift from TOS, as in the recent ep that was a straight-out copy of the TOS episode "For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky".

Jonathan Frakes and Brannon Braga are involved in making it, and so its seems like Old Home Week for Next-Gen people.

Lenny Tuberose:: That's sort of how I feel about it too. It's clearly lovingly derived from the Star Trek sensibility, but instead of coming off as hacky it's kind of endearing. (It leaves the impression that McFarlane is a genuine Star Trek fan and The Orville is more an homage than a ripoff). The episode about the baby sex change thing was actually rock solid sciene fiction writing -- messy complex issue and no happy ending. It's clearly not the wacky parody I expected, but there is enough humor that it doesn't seem to take itself too seriously.

Thom 'Starky' Stark: We've watched every episode but the most recent one - and it's in the queue for this weekend.

The critics uniformly panned it for not knowing what it wants to be when it grows up. I can't say they're entirely wrong about that, but the record shows that Seth MacFarlane's shows usually take a season or so to find their groove. That was certainly true of Family Guy, and equally true of American Dad. So I expect The Orville to steadily improve as it goes along.

In the meantime, despite the jokeyness that pretty much goes with the MacFarlane territory, The Orville as it stands isn't half bad. The standing jokes ("Open this pickle jar for me.") work, the plots, for the most part, also work (the Moculan baby gender reassignment episode notwithstanding), and the sets, costumes, and effects are all industry-standard grade for a 21st century TV science fiction series. The casting works (Norm Macdonald as Yaphit, the gelatinous cube, is hilarious) and the characters are distinct and well-realized.

Feeling left out, and wanting to get back to talking about Star Trek, El Destino brought the conversation to an abrupt halt by blurting out:
El Destino: Hey, did you know William Shatner and Adam West finally reunited in cartoon Batman heaven?

This concludes today's episode of Eavesdropping on Geeks.

Over.  End of Story.  Go home now.

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