When I watched the first episode of Fox’s The Orville, I was underwhelmed. I expected more from a show created, written and starring Seth MacFarlane. I anticipated a lot of rip-roaring and laugh out loud jokes on Star Trek’s expense. I didn’t get that in the first episode of the show and I made my thoughts felt in my review of the premier episode. While I wasn’t all that impressed with what I saw then, I did say that there were things that made me want to see where it was going.
Luckily, I did stick around and watched future episodes of the Orville. Because I have to say it’s the best version of Star Trek that Trekkies, Trekkers and sci-fi fans available right now. I can honestly say, without a shred of irony, that the Orville feels more like a new, updated version of Star Trek than the actual “official” version that’s being shown on CBS. That’s not to say that Star Trek: Discovery is a bad show. I actually like both of them. However, when it comes to tone and feels, the Orville is out-Star-Trekking Star Trek: Discovery by a few light years.
One thing I noticed when I watched the Orville’s pilot episode was how much Seth MacFarlane aped Star Trek: The Next Generation’s style almost perfectly. Everything looked clean and the Orville’s bridge and interior closely mimic the way the USS Enterprise-D looked when Captain Jean-Luc Picard was in charge of the ship. The tone of the music and even when the Orville would cut to commercial just clearly paid homage to when The Next Generation was the Star Trek show on TV. Since I love Star Trek: The Next Generation, I can’t help but also love the Orville because of how it reminds me of it. The only thing missing would be the Captain’s Log voiceovers when returning from commercial break!
It also definitely seems like Seth MacFarlane loves the show as well. He’s had The Next Generation’s cast take on various roles in his other shows like Family Guy and American Dad! One of the things that really struck me is how MacFarlane set out to make the Orville give us a future that’s filled with positivity and hope as he grew up watching sci-fi television programs that were like that. Even though he never mentioned it by name in the clip below, you can really tell he was talking about Star Trek. This is probably why the show feels so much like the Star Trek of old.
You may be confused by what I mean by “the Star Trek of old.” What I mean are the Star Trek shows that were actually more about exploration, discovery and just plain, good ol’ sci-fi stories. There could be episodes that focused on action but it didn’t have to focus on that aspect all the time. There could be some really heavy episodes like Tasha Yar’s death in Skin of Evil. There could be episodes that were just silly like The Trouble with Tribbles. They can put out an episode that was more for talking about ethical questions like in The Measure of a Man. Or they can just tell really good sci-fi stories like in Tapestry. The Orville has done episodes like these in the short span it’s been out and, as a Star Trek fan, I really appreciate it.
Also, the Orville is doing something that I really loved about The Next Generation: giving story arcs for each of the crew. This is how I got to know the quirks and ticks of the crew of the USS Enterprise-D and it really worked to make the show much better than even the original Star Trek show with Kirk and Spock. This was the one thing I was hoping for when, in the Orville’s pilot, the cast was introduced as I saw a lot of potential with the crew and how they would be developed in the future and, to the show’s credit, they really make the format work. You can’t help but get a little depressed when Bortus is forced to concede to his daughter’s gender reassignment surgery in About A Girl, let out an “aww” at how the android Isaac learns how to care for a human child in Into The Fold and cheer when Alara overcomes her fear of taking command/responsibility in Command Performance.
All of this is in stark contrast with Star Trek: Discovery. Despite it actually being part of the actual franchise that inspired the Orville, Discovery just doesn’t feel like a Star Trek show. I’m not totally sure CBS and the show’s producers know what “old school” Star Trek fans want and why the franchise has such a dedicated fanbase in the first place. There’s definitely a lot more focus on action in Discovery, which does make sense as the show is set during the start of the first Federation-Klingon War. This is also pretty much in tone of the newer Star Trek films that rebooted the timeline. As such, there’s a lot more focus on fighting and action instead of exploration, diplomacy and discovery (which is weird as the show is called Star Trek: Discovery), which was the backbone of pretty much every Star Trek episode to come before it. It’s like they forgot the theme of exploring strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilizations and boldly going where no one has gone before.
It may sound like I’m hating on Discovery; I’m not. I actually okay with it but it’s just not what I want to see in a Star Trek episodic series. It seems like it was developed with younger audiences in mind or those who loved the adrenaline-filled action sequences in the new Star Trek films. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but it’s just not what I’m looking for. I wanted Star Trek: Discovery to be focused on being a beacon of light where people worked together to build a bright future. I hoped that it would bring out that childlike wonder the previous Star Trek television shows brought out of me. I didn’t get that from Discovery. I got it from the Seth MacFarlane sci-fi show that Fox promoted to be a laugh-out riot that was going to poke fun at the genre. It’s kind of ironic actually that the “fake” version of the show is better at capturing the spirit of what made Star Trek the hit phenomenon it is.
I just heard that the Orville has been renewed for a second season and I’m incredibly happy that it was. The Orville just has so much heart that it does deserve more episodes than the slated 13 its supposed to get this season. The show brings me back to when space felt like the final frontier and I can’t wait to see what other voyages the Orville will take in the future.
What do you think of the Orville? Better yet, which do you think is better: the Orville or Star Trek: Discovery? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below!