ReelReviews #113: The Orville, Ep. 1: “Old Wounds”

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SEPTEMBER 10, 2017: The Orville (pilot episode)

 

“The wait is over”.   Those words, spoken by Eric Bana’s Nero character in the 2009 Star Trek reboot, seem to resonate far more eight years later.  At long last, Star Trek is returning to television after a twelve year hiatus.  But the kicker now is that another television show has already beaten them to the punch to win over Star Trek fans before the “official” Star Trek has released a single episode.  That unofficial rival is Seth MacFarlane’s The Orville, which made its debut on Fox after Sunday night football.

 

I actually hesitated before blogging a full review, trying to avoid spoilers for those who haven’t seen the episode yet, and feeling that a review that appears on 9/11 might be a pretty bad time to talk about a comedy show. Still, a slew of negative reviews about Orville from ‘professional critics’ (e.g. people paid to write stuff like this) have convinced me that “the wait is over” and the time to discuss the show is now.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed the pilot episode of Orville.  Is it a bit crass at times? Yes. Do some of the jokes fall completely flat? Yes. Do I wish Seth MacFarlane had cast someone besides himself to play the lead? Yes.  Still, the bottom line is the show has tremendous potential and it successfully accomplished its goal of engaging me as a viewer and making me eager to tune in next week to see what they are planning for the future.

 

There weren’t any “laugh at loud” moments in the pilot, but I hardly expect a single television episode to create the definitive humorous event of our era during its first attempt.  There were plenty of scenes that make me chuckle and put a smile on my face, and – perhaps more important – the show piqued my interest and presented a fun and engaging sci-fi adventure, even though it was saddled with the problem bogging down most pilots – having to spend half of its one hour running time introducing us to the characters and the world they inhabit before the story can get rolling.

 

Overall, you could say that “Old Wounds”, the show’s first episode, was fun but uneven, and gives us a nice glimpse of what is to come even though the series hasn’t found its footing yet.  The same can be said of the two pilots of the best known Star Trek series:  “Where No Man Has Gone Before” (1966) from the original Star Trek, and “Encounter at Farpoint” from Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987). If “fun but uneven and yet to show full potential” is damning for Orville, then the show is in good company, seeing how it seeks to emulate Star Trek.

 

Talking to other Star Trek fans online, the vast majority of those who viewed the episode were glad they did so, and reported that they also thoroughly enjoyed it. I spotted only two “meh” responses from fellow Star Trek fans, and the reason both of them gave for not liking the episode was – and here is an exact quote: “it seemed they were making fun of Star Trek, so I stopped watching it”.  Gee, you think? To me, this is along the lines of tuning into Young Frankenstein and saying “Hmmm. It appeared to me they were poking fun at old 30s Universal horror movies. That irritated me. Turned it off.”

 

There was little doubt before I tuned into this show that Orville would attempt to emulate TNG era Star Trek in attempt to be a homage/parody of it. Indeed, they not only got the “look” of TNG down, but also many of the characters (Bortus, for example is a very “Worf” like character), but also the music and action beats and so on. Even some typical “Star Trek” style scenes played out, like the famous “beauty pass” where a shuttlecraft drives around the starship giving the audience an idea of its size and scope – a scene first made famous in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

 

Still, critics of Orville have repeatedly argued that people rooting for Orville on the internet are only doing so because they are blinded by nostalgia and looking for a duplicate of the old Star Trek they are “used to”. While Orville does capture a lot of that spirit (again, much of it as intentional parody, for example, there was a fun send-up of the “holodeck training programs” in TNG), it is more than just a trip down memory lane. “Old Wounds” had a nice original sci-fi story in its own right, and it certainly doesn’t try to capture late 80s/early 90s television effects or anything really cheesy like that.  It is a 2017 television show taking bits and pieces of what audiences liked best about 90s era Star Trek, and putting a clever new spin on them.

 

Orville will also be episodic TV with each episode being its own “stand alone” story.  That’s certainly good news for me, as it’s the format that TOS and TNG used, and it would work best for this show, as an episode that “picked up” right where this one left off and continued the storyline about the age acceleration device in the pilot would probably get old quickly.  It is clear the writers intend to carry on several character threads into future episodes – the main being the unique circumstance of a divorced husband and wife being forced to work together as the Captain and First Officer of the vessel.  Whether that will give the show additional gravitas and make it evolve over several years, or whether it will quickly become an irritating unfunny “comedy routine” in future episodes will depend entirely on the skill of the writers and actors as the show continues.  As it stands, this setup did have a really good payoff in the final scene of the pilot, and one that I will not reveal to readers since the episode is brand new.

 

Orville is off to a decent start. Had Orville disappointed me and turned out to be another “A Million Ways to Die in the West” (Seth MacFarlane’s obnoxious, vulgar, and painfully unfunny “western” spoof that had only one good scene — and perhaps a catchy and mildly amusing theme song), I would be the first to express my disappointment, and pray the show gives me something better the next time around. I will simply say at this point that the critics mercilessly bashing Orville from day one are simply wrong.  Orville is worth a watch and hopefully the show will grow and last a while. The real test will come when we find out what the “official” Star Trek has to show us.  I have been saying for months that Orville looks like it will be much exciting and fun for Trek fans than Star Trek Discovery will be. Nothing I saw in Orville’s first episode has swayed me from that stance.

 

 

*** out of ****

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REELTHOUGHTS: The “New” Aspects of Star Trek Discovery Are Not-So-New

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Is Star Trek: Discovery really a “new” concept?

 

How much of the “new” stuff we’re getting on the upcoming Star Trek: Discovery TV series is actually “new” to the Star Trek universe and has never been done before?

 

For the past several months, there’s finally been some information leaked out to create “buzz” about the long awaited (and long delayed) new Star Trek spinoff, Star Trek: Discovery.

 

I haven’t been shy of revealing that I’m very pessimistic about the upcoming show.  That being said, I am not 100% negative about the series, nor will I simply dismiss and refuse to watch it, and I hope to be proven wrong and that Discovery is far better than I ever dreamed possible. But for the meantime, I am “cautious pessimistic” that the show won’t work out, and I’m not able to envision a scenario where it does.

 

One of the most annoying aspects for me is that all the “buzz” they’ve put out there to “hype” the show just isn’t very interesting and gives me little to be excited about, which is really bad news since this is the first Star Trek series in twelve years and fans should be waiting on baited breathe for it. A major problem is at least three of the announcements about supposedly “new” areas of the Star Trek universe that the series will explore are NOT “new”, and have been done before on Star Trek countless times.

 

This week, one of the latest promo pieces on Discovery (you can see the original article here) gushed over 15 “new” things we’d get on Discovery that had never been done on Star Trek before. So how much of it is actually “new”? I analyzed each one and here’s a point by point breakdown of what we’re actually getting:

 

>> 15. A Lead Character Who’s Not Captain <<

Unfortunately for the Discovery writers and mainstream media hyping this, the Captain hasn’t been the “lead” character since the original series. Starting with TNG in 1987, all the Star Trek shows since that time have had ensemble casts where the captain has equal time with the rest of the cast. Please read up on Trek history. Furthermore, if the intent of the show is to make the First Officer the cool new saavy character that gets the major focus, that is a step backwards to TNG’s first season.

 

>> 14. A Serial Storyline <<

This was done before in DS9 (the whole “Dominion War” arc) AND in Enterprise (season 3 being an entirely serialized story about the Xindi attack on earth). I’m not a fan of either storyline, nor modern television’s trend to force you to watch 5,435 episodes in chronological through 8 seasons before you can make any sense of the plot.

 

>> 13. It Follows Two Starships! <<

What from what I hear, the USS Shenzhou will likely be an important part of the storyline only in the pilot (which again, has been done before. See the Maquis crew in Voyager’s pilot)

 

<< 12. Redesigned Klingons <<

They’ve been redesigned numerous times before. This latest version looks awful, the much derided JJ Abrams Klingons in Star Trek Into Darkness weren’t even as bad.

 

 

<< 11. Main Character Deaths <<

Tasha Yar, Jadzia Dax, and Kes would be interested to learn about this “new” aspect of Star Trek.

 

<< 10. Lots Of Celebrity Cameos <<

Again, this “new” aspect has been common place since Star Trek debuted in 1966. Heck, it’s been common since Gary Lockwood and Sally Kellerman appeared in the pilot for TOS.

 

>> 9. A High Budget, Cinematic Look <<

Well, I suppose that would be “new” for television. But we’ve gotten plenty of it from the JJ movies.

 

<< 8. A New Period In Trek History <<

Ummm, no. We’ve seen “10 years before Kirk” on Star Trek numerous times before. And it looks nothing like The Discovery trailer. Try watching The Cage.

 

<< 7. New Starship Design <<

Nope, again. The Discovery design is based on a rejected redesign of the U.S.S. Enterprise for a purposed Star Trek: Planet of the Titans TV movie in 1972. It was rejected because fans didn’t like it.

 

<< 6. More Graphic Action And Bad Language <<

Hmmm. Okay. I’ll give you one. That’s mostly “new” to Star Trek on television. Not an improvement, but “new”.

 

>> 5. A Crew That’s More Diverse Than Ever <<

Star Trek crews have always been “diverse”, that’s one of the trademarks of the franchise. It used to be organic instead of forced, however.

 

<< 4. The Roddenberry Rule Is No More <<

Roddenberry never had a “rule” that there would be “no conflict” between crew members. Just watch Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which Roddenberry had TOTAL CREATIVE CONTROL OVER, and let me know if there’s any “conflict” between Decker and Kirk.

 

>> 3. New Look Federation Uniforms <<

Okay, I’ll give you a second one. That is indeed “new”. It shouldn’t be, since a show set “10 years before Kirk” should have the crew wearing The Cage era uniforms, but if they want to ignore canon to be “new”, so be it.

 

<< 2. No Time Travel Stories <<

I doubt there will never be a time travel story during Discovery’s entire run (though I suppose its certainly possible if the series only lasts a single season), but if so, okay, that’s “new”. A big creative step backward that limits story potential, but “new”.

 

>> 1. Streaming Service Release <<

Not “new”. All the previous Star Trek series have been available via online internet streaming (Netflix, Hulu, etc.) at one time or another. It’s just the greedy Fereagi’s at CBS are trying to force us to pay for a new service to get this latest one. Ain’t happening.

 

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Total count: 3 things that are actually “new” but NOT good for the franchise, and 12 things that have been done on Star Trek numerous times before but are being marketed as “new” anyway.

 

As I’m still #TeamOrville all the way. It’s possible Seth MacFarlene could screw that up with too much potty humor, but at least it looks fun and interesting. And unlike Discovery, it actually has “new” things that ARE new – AND that look like they’d be good for the show. For example, Orville will introduce the ship’s first gelatinous-based crew member. Discovery could learn a thing or two from that.