“The Orville” Season 1 – A Show That Draws Inspiration From the Best Aspects of “Star Trek”

    “The Orville” is a show that only exists because of how much of a fan Seth MacFarlane is of “Star Trek” and Fox knowing just how great the cultural impact of “Star Trek” has been that a show that pulls full inspiration from it (while having it’s own tone and lore) and not get sued. What do I think of the show? I think the humor doesn’t always work but I love the drama and the characters. Seth MacFarlane put a lot of love into this show and it was perfectly cast in regards to the characters and their roles…and I can’t wait to see where the show is taken next.

The story involves Ed Mercer being given the chance to Captain the Planetary Union ship known as the U.S.S. Orville. He soon learns his ex-wife Commander Kelly Grayson will be his First Officer as they must sort out their issues as the new crew faces the drama of one another and the wider Universe the Planetary Union inhabits in the 25th Century. 

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Universe – The Universe is a lot like “Star Trek” but a bit similar to our reality in that rather than the vague spirituality of Trek, everyone in the future is an atheist if they are part of the Planetary Union or any future person. There are countless aliens, most are humanoid (like “Star Trek”) but the Union is strong but not the strongest. The highly religious and zealotesque Krill are and they are a fantastic enemy in the episodes they come up in. Most of the episodes are solving dilemmas though, whether it is finding ancient ships and a civ. on board, interacting with a bronze age people that advances rapidly, or passing into 2D space. Like “Star Trek” this is a universe rich with possibilities.

The Crew of “The Orville” – The crew is overall amazing. I’m giving certain characters special treatment though, because they stood out to me and will mention some other notable things in this summary. The characters are complicated, you have Doctor Claire Finn who is woman who chose single motherhood because she wanted to be a mom and could have kids without needs a spouse or partner, you have Lt. Commander LaMarr who hid his intelligence because in the colony he came from it was looked down upon, but in turn becomes the Chief Engineer on the ship, you have Bortus who fights for the right of his child to choose his own gender in a species that has only males and a few others who I will go into deeper into the review of the show. The least notable is Lt. Gordon Malloy who is comedic and good at being a pilot and that is the extent. He isn’t complicated.

Alara – Alara is one of my favorite characters. She is the security officer on the ship and comes from a planet where her gravity is heavier so her species is stronger than most. We learn they also as a culture look down on military and similar professions as they see it as below their intellect. She went against her parents to join the Planetary Alliance and because of it holds herself to an impossible standard, and we see it when in an episode she faces her worst fears and the worst fears of her crew members and succeeds. It is a powerful episode and reaffirmed why she is one of my favorite characters on the show.

Isaac – Isaac is from a race of artificial non-biological beings who believe themselves to be the most superior life forms in the galaxy. Isaac joined in order to learn about humankind, and is our Data stand in. His arc is him learning how to care for humans and organics beyond just studying them and it is handled really well. I can’t wait to see where his arc goes.

Captain Mercer and Commander Grayson – The main arc that drives the story is the relationship between Captain Mercer and Commander Grayson. They are divorced after Grayson cheated on Mercer with a blue alien. We later learn the alien can make anyone fall in love with him when it is going through mating and that might have been what happened. There are a few false starts and with each friendship grows between them but Grayson cuts it off in the finale when she realizes that their love is causing Mercer to do things he wouldn’t have usually done as a Captain that put him and others at risk so they cut it off. It is touching and the arc is fun.

The Secular Future – The future is won by science and I loved it. This is a future where humanity has myths still but they mostly come from television shows and past knowledge, as far as we know there isn’t supernatural and there is no religion to speak of beyond the Krill or less advanced species and it usually comes up as a problem. Seth MacFarlane wrote this and it shows, and for what its worth as a secular agnostic humanist, I enjoyed this future greatly. Like “Star Trek” it showed a world not defined by religion but by even deeper ideas of self.

Exploring Dilemmas – One of the great things about “Star Trek” that “The Orville” does well is the exploration of moral dilemmas. Be they dilemmas of culture and technology (justice by “likes” and “dislikes”) the agency of a person within in a nation in regards to their family (an all male species forcing a newborn born female to be turned male and her choice being taken away, and this species if a major player in the Planetary Union) why there are rules for first contact (Kelly sets off a religion on a planet that exists orbiting through universes when she heals a little girl with her technology)  and countless other dilemmas where crew-members have to make choices where there isn’t always a clear answer.

Okay: The Humor – The humor is good at times but falls short on others when it has characters like Lt. Gordon going on away missions, when all he does is jokes, or Lt. LaMarr grinding on a statue on an alien society and no one on the crew being briefed on how the culture they were down studying worked as they searched for scientists who had gone missing…The humor made these stories that were largely solidly written otherwise, to go down in quality. Cheap laughs are not the way to go. When the show nails it, it is amazing, but it wasn’t consistent.

The Series Arc / The Episodic Nature of the Show – The show is largely episodic with the only consistent arc being Ed and Kelly working through what their relationship is now. I would have preferred more of an arc with the Krill, they do still a giant Krill warship in the last episode the Krill are in but it doesn’t go anywhere after that. That was missed potential that made the show not really get the great exit it deserved, since it really did have a great entrance. Solidly good show, but not great.

This is a show that if you are a fan of sci. fi., “Star Trek” or Seth MacFarlane, you will probably enjoy. This is easily the best thing he’s ever done by miles and I’m glad the show was renewed for another season. Where he chooses to take the show remains to be seen, as it could remain like TNG and TOS and largely remain episodic with some powerful episodes along the way, or it could go the way of DS9 and later ENT and give us some powerful arcs that payoff on a personal and galactic scale. I’m all for finding a good medium inbetween as well, arc episodes and bottle episodes together. As someone whose missed “Star Trek” since it went off the air and all we had were movies, this and “Discovery” made this Trekkie happy. If you like “Star Trek,” you should at least give this show a chance.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10. Humor often time hurt the drama and lack of an overall arc kept the season from greatness.

 

“Gotham” Season 1 – Establishing the Crazy City, The Moral Grey and Characters

Gotham Season 1

     “Gotham” was a series that I didn’t expect to like. Part of the reason is it does start out slow and the child actors are the weakest part of the series…but once the Gang Drama starts up it gets really fascinating. I grew to care about the different fighting Crime Lords  and wanted to see what they would do to rise and how they would fight one another. This is a show that is a Noir and as someone who has always enjoyed Noir style films the city of “Gotham” is the perfect location to tell a Noir Drama which over time pulled me and from there I grew to care about the series.

    The series was created by Bruno Heller who was also one of the producers along with Danny Cannon, John Stephens and Ben Edlund.

      The story is about Jim Gordon’s (Ben McKenzie) return to London and him facing the corruption of the city with his partner Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) as the drama between the Crime Lords tear the city apart as Gordon tries to establish order and solve the mystery behind the Wayne Murders.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World of Gotham – Gotham is a fascinating world..and as a fan of Batman I really enjoyed this interpretation. What kind of world would it take for Batman to be a good thing? A pretty broken and crazy world and that is the world of Gotham, where the good are few and become corrupted and a new bad will always rise.

Law and Order  – The Law and Order side of Gotham is fascinating and we get to see some of Batman’s rogues and allies here and see what motivates them.

Edward Nygma – Nyma is fascinating as the awkward riddle man who is drawn to one of his coworkers who gets into a lot of abusive relationships. It is from him being the outsider and obsessive that we see him become corrupt when he kills his crushes abusive boyfriend, hides it and from there he breaks. Cory Michael Smith gives a tenderness to the character that isn’t often seen.

Sarah Essen – Sarah Essen is in charge of the Station and we see her advocate for Jim and Bullock, including risking her life when Zsasz comes for Gordon’s head on orders from Falcone. From here we see her walking the very thin line between her job and corruption as she does all she can to help. Zabryna Guevera is good.

Harvey Dent – Harvey is shown to be the driven and idealistic lawyer willing to take the fight to the Mob, until Loeb comes in and cuts out his feat from under him and we learn he will fight but he toes the line because he does have ambition. He doesn’t stop being Gordon’s ally though, even through it all. Nicholas D’Agosto is wonderful.

Leslie Tompkins – Leslie starts out as a Doctor in Arkham, but after her and Gordon hunt down one of the escapies she joins GPD and becomes their doctor as the past was fired for corruption. She is really cool and it’s great seeing Morena Baccerin (Inara from “Firefly”) again.

Harvey Bullock – Harvey is one of my favorite characters on the show. He’s the corrupt cop in so deep with the mob but because he is he knows how to keep peace on the streets and cut deals. It is the idealistic Gordon who changes him as we see him risk for more than himself and put himself out there helping Gordon reform Gotham and the GPD. Donal Logue is fantastic.

The Thugs and Crime Lords – These guys are the best part of the show, not the crazies…but the crime lords who use Gotham as their chessboard. Each of them has such fascinating motivations and it is a joy to see how those unfold.

Victor Zsasz – Zsasz is wonderful in this as the brutal thug and enforcer who has no fear. It is he who breaks Fish’s number 2, Butch and turns him into Falcone’s puppet. He also survives the gang war and upheavel at the end showing that he’s a survivor. He’s also really creepy too as he puts a cut on his body for every hit he does.

Butch – Butch is Fish’s number 2 who is broken by Falcone. He is the guy who turns on his friend because he believes in Fish only to lose it all when Zsasz breaks him and turns him into Penguin’s pet. He tries to rebel against it but fails in the end when Penguin reigns triumphant.

Carmine Falcone – Falcone is  an old world crime boss who keeps all his deals and shows that he can play the long game. When Fish plots rebellion he uses Penguin to reveal her as well as to reveal his rival Sal Maroni. In the end he is done with it all though as he goes into retirement away from it all as the fight is out of him and he’s tired of people and betrayal. Falcone’s primary drive is power and order and when order is lost all he wants is safety where he can keep his own power and order away from the chaos of Gotham.

Sal Maroni – David Zayas is awesome as Sal Maroni. After seeing him play a stupid and kind character in “Dexter” he is amazing as the smooth criminal who plays his cards really well right until the end when his insulting Fish Mooney leads to her head shotting him. His drive is respect and family and we see how his old friendships are what put him at risk, as well as his need for revenge and to be the leader of his world.

Fish Mooney – Jada Pinkett Smith is awesome as Fish Mooney! Her character loses everything at one point when she is in the Dollmaker’s prison, yet we see her insight and lead a prison rebellion, escape and in the she is the one who kills Sal Maroni. My money is on her being alive even though Penguin pushed her into the river in the final fight. Her first name is Fish afterall, and she’s survived more than that. Her character like Penguin is a survivor who is absolutely ruthless against her enemies. Her drive is to protect her own and to rule and from that respect.

Oswald Cobblepot / The Penguin – Robin Lord Taylor is wonderful as this manipulative, rat punk who rises through the ranks betraying Fish, Falcone and Maroni to become the King of Gotham…and in the end he succeeds. He proves in this world ruthlessness and being without morality will get you what you want. Gordon also owes him a favor so he has control over GPD in his own way too, plus Gordon doesn’t kill so there is that. One of his primary motivations is caring for his somewhat insane mother and giving her the illusion that he is an honorable man. He goes full crazy and ruthless when Maroni tells her the truth of who he is.

Main – The main cast who isn’t GPD isn’t as strong at this point and I’ll get into why further on. Alfred, Barbara and Jim Gordon are great though.

Barbara Kean – This show is Barbara breaking as we see her isolated and living with Selina Kyle and Poison Ivy and eventually being chosen and broken by the Ogre turning her into a mad murder stuck in Gotham after she kills her parents and tries to kill Leslie.

Alfred Pennyworth – Sean Pertwee (son of Jon Pertwee the 3rd Doctor from “Doctor Who”) does a great job as Alfred. He’s an ex-marine still bearing the weight of the things he was made to do (one reason he doesn’t believe it in anymore) and it is that guilt that leads to an old friend almost killing him. He is the moral center for Bruce Wayne who is angry and broken and he is the one who supports and trains Bruce as best he can.

Jim Gordon –  Ben McKenzie is actually a pretty good actor. In this we see a man driven by his job and code forced to make compromises for the greater good and from it slowly grow corrupt in his own way while his actions lead to the rise of the Penguin as the new King of Gotham. His story is a tragedy as his ex Barbara goes insane from a serial killer and Loeb does all he can to hurt Gordon so the GPD will not change.

Okay: Selina Kyle – She is just a punk and we don’t know why she does the things she does. She’s a blank slate and it is only the actresses performance that elevates her above a con.

Bruce Wayne – Bruce has the same problem as Selina. He is a blank slate though he does have a little bit more development. He is obsessed and a bit of a savant and may be autistic which lends some depth to Bruce that isn’t often seen or explored in regards to his character. It is that helped me get through the okay performance by the child actor.

Arkham – There is nothing unique about Arkham Asylum. I cared so much more about GPD Headquarters and the Penguin’s and Fish’s Lounge than this place…which is sad is this location is so central to the mythos.

Cons: Poison Ivy – She is just a mean kid from an abusive household. No depth, nothing interesting…a waste.

Commissioner Loeb – He’s a one-dimensional corrupt man trying to protect his insane daughter. Really wanted more from this character as Falcone, Maroni, Fish and Penguin all have more development.

   This is a show I’d recommend for sure! The weakest parts are when there are child actors and the first third of the series isn’t all that strong, but when the betrayals begin happening and Gordon’s desire to reform kicks into full gear the story really takes off. If you like Batman and that universe you will probably like this show. It is a fascinating and twisted Noir that enjoys it’s place in the Batman mythos. I’m looking forward to Season 2 and where the story will go.

Final Score: 8.8 / 10