“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.

 

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Star Trek: The Animated Series – Season 1, Episode 12 – “The Ambergris Element” – First Contact and Change

Kirk_and_Spock_mutated

     “The Ambergris Episode” was a fun first contact episode that actually worked! Kirk and Spock having gills was not something I expected to work given how “Voyager” handled things in “Threshold” but this one was different as it focused on how complex first contact is that within a culture or people there are differing points of view.

      The episode was directed by Hal Sutherland and written by Margaret Armen.

     The episode involves the exploration of Argo where Kirk and Spock are attacked by a Sur-Snake leading them to be transformed into aquatic species by the younger generation of Aquans. When they attempt to reach the Elders they are left to die on the surface until one of the Council leaves to rescue them and Kirk and Spock seek a cure of their state and find out the history of the Aquans.

The Pros: The Aquans – The Aquans are fascinating! You have the Elders who fear surface dwellers because they were once them and fear the destruction that occurred and the younger generation who wants to change and are the biggest advocate for first contact. Eventually contact with the outside world is made after Kirk and Spock cure their state using Sur-Snake venom and the Elders stay below as the younger generation comes into the new galaxy.

Kirk – Kirk is the one always seeking contact with the natives and even after they are left to die still does diplomacy. This one really shows how driven he is to seeking peaceful solutions, even when wronged.

Spock – Spock is the one who helps them find the cure and shows how rough the reality is as if Kirk and Spock stayed in a tank their roles would be limited in what they could accomplish.

Raising the Fallen Continents – The Enterprise changes it’s phasers and sets them in such a way to raise the continents. It is really cool and shows how they are a force for change (for better and for worse) and help the Aquans become a part of the great galaxy.

Okay: The Sur-Snake – Okay enemy, but looked kind of stupid at times.

The Cons: Execution – The story could have been done better if we could have seen more of the point of view of the younger generation. This lack of perspective was the only thing that brought the episode down besides the main crew not being allowed to do much.

  This was an episode worth checking out, not a favorite but it is solidly good. It explores the complexity of first contact and manages to turn a strange idea into it’s favor while giving a fascinating society in the process!

Final Score: 8.3 / 10

Star Trek: The Animated Series – Season 1, Episode 3 – “One of Our Planets is Missing” – New Life and New Contact

The Cloud

   “One of Our Planets is Missing” is one of the best stories to come out of “Star Trek.” “Star Trek” is all about making contact with new life and new civilizations and the dilemmas sometimes presented by that. This one explores that thoroughly and shows the hope that there is for mankind when we truly seek out every new possibility before destruction of life. Suffice to say, I really enjoyed this episode.

    The episode was directed by Hal Sutherland and written by Marc Daniels.

    The story involves contact with a mysterious cloud that devours all life around it and ends up eating the Enterprise. From here it is up to the crew to stop or kill it before it can reach the furthest Federation world of Alondra, destroying all life there.

The Pros: Captain Kirk – Captain Kirk does all he can to protect the Federation while also exploring all ways to speak to the Cloud. This is partially on prompting of Spock who reminds him that it is against the code of the Federation to end new life…but in the end he finds away, giving Spock until the final minute to convince the creature to turn away from the planet.

Scotty – Scotty shows how resourceful he is when he improves the ship to survive the interior of the cloud. It is a great moment and we see him thinking fast when they are devoured on how to keep them alive and keep them from being digested.

Spock – Spock is the one who makes contact with the Cloud and is able to show it that they are life and should not be destroyed. It is that convinces the creature to return to it’s place of origin. It is powerful conversation and sharing of minds that feels Spock with wonder.

The Cloud – The Cloud does not perceive things that are small until the ship is able to amplify Spock’s mind to communicate with it. Once it sees the Ship and Universe through Spock’s eyes it leaves though since it does not wish to do harm to others, only to survive.

The Dilemma – The dilemma is whether to end something that is possibly a new life form before and if unable to make contact and in turn save the planet or to do everything and try to make contact first. It ends working out and they were lucky the Cloud was a benevolent life form.

This is an episode that showed “Star Trek” at it’s best. Not all life is humanoid or like us, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t capable of thought or feeling or that it is incapable of being made aware of others. It’s a powerful episode that shows the risks and possibilities in first contact with life that is truly alien from us.

Final Score: 10 / 10

Contact (1997): Better Use of Characters But Better Point in the Book

Contact-movie-poster

    We continue Sci. Fi. Movie Week with the before the last film we’ll be covering. That film we’ll be covering is “Contact.” “Contact” is an interesting film to review. I liked it, though the director putting it in Carl Sagan’s honor while presenting a message at the end that contradicted the point the book and Sagan’s work felt like it missed the point. First off, Carl Sagan is one of my favorite people…but wasn’t that good of a fiction writer. Contact the novel was very detached so it was hard to get invested in the interesting things that were happening. The film is very different from that and you care about the main characters…though I think Sagan’s point in the book comes out much stronger versus the film where the message is a bit muddled and not entirely clear in it’s execution.

     The film was directed by Robert Zemeckis who was also one of the producers and written by James V. Hart and Michael Goldenberg. The other producer was Steve Starkey. The story was by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan, which I am glad about as it’s Sagan’s story so at least his core points were able to get through than if he hadn’t been a part of the process.

     The premise of “Contact” is that Ellie (Jodie Foster) is seeking alien life in the Universe but is having to fight for it every step of the way as funding for SETI gets pulled by her boss Drumlin. She finds away around it as she gets funding to use some government radio telescopes and right when she is about to lose it an alien signal is heard and contact made. From here the story unfolds as there is a rush to interpret the message as religious and political factions seek to use it to their gain. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is clear and captures the sense of wonder and personal trials of the characters really well. It reminds me of “Apollo 13.” Don Burgess truly did an amazing job on this film.

Theodore Arroway – David Morse is back and fantastic (really liked his performance in the “Green Mile”) and in this he’s great as Ellie’s father who inspires her to look towards finding life in space and becoming a scientist…and whose death makes it hard for her to be in relationships as she was not able to save him. I wish we’d seen more of his character as he did not get enough screen time.

Palmer Ross – Matthew McConaughey plays Ellie’s love and the other side of the coin in the debate between religion and science. His arguments aren’t great but his coming from a place of emotion and connection (reason he doesn’t support her going on the mission is fear of losing her) are a nice contrast to Ellie’s fear of connecting to people. He is the person who connects to people easily and it’s because of the language and emphasis on religion. He goes from religious to agnostic religious as he trusts Ellie’s experience of meeting the aliens. Ellie’s arc goes in the other direction.

Kent Clark – William Fichtner is good as a blind SETI scientist who is one of Ellie’s major support folks and is the one fighting at the front lines for her for the first half of the movie. He kind of disappears later, which is a shame as he’s a great neurotic scientist who adds character to every scene he’s in.

Ellie Arroway – Jodie Foster is great in this as she’s a character who has trouble connecting to others because of the loss of her father but over the course of making contact with the aliens is able to heal from that and to understand the perspective of faith a little more. She’s an active character and her flashbacks lend to her present as we see how rich her relationship was with her dad.

First Contact – Ellie meets the aliens after the first machine gets destroyed by a religious fanatic, killing the original pilot but a secret base gives her the chance to finally go. The machine creates a wormhole and she talks to an alien who takes the form of her father and tells her that they do this will all species but not all species make it here. It’s a cool scene and the world they are in feels alien and unreal the entire time. The feel of the aliens is very true to the book.

The Cons: The Antagonists – There is a religious fanatic, militaristic government official and Ellie’s boss who are just one dimensional villains. This is where the problem in the book “Contact” really comes out as these simple caricatures only disprove the points they try and make which makes Ellie look good even if she’s acting from a place without evidence. I really didn’t like that. James Woods is even one of the folks but how they were written cannot save this film and it’s one of the biggest reasons I can’t consider this film great or a favorite. They are used to prop up the directors point and because they are unfair antagonists Ellie looks noble in all her actions no matter how stupid said actions may be. Not going to list their names since they don’t function as characters, just plot devices to advance Ellie’s plot and the director’s point.

Who Needs Evidence – At the end after Ellie has visited the aliens, everyone things she was lying because there was only static and the pod just fell through the machine. Rather than seeking evidence to prove what she experienced and prove intelligence in the universe she falls back on the faith argument which completely ruins her point and why she doesn’t believe in God and is an agnostic. This really annoyed me as Sagan was writing from his own perspective of skepticism and agnosticism in his novel and the director completely missed that point. Experience is good and should be valued but that wasn’t the point of Sagan’s book or his shows and work.

     This is a movie worth seeing, and it is a good. The main issues I have though is how the scientific process gets ignored in the end when so much of Jodie’s arc is fighting for that and helping others to recognize that what she found is based in the scientific process. The acting is good though and is the greatest thing that makes it better than the book, where the detachment from the characters really made it hard to care about them. If you want a movie that captures wonder, check it out. The cinematography does a good job at capturing that, even if it does get a bit sidetracked at the end. Glad this movie got made and grateful that it was made in honor of Carl Sagan, one of the greatest scientists who has lived.

Final Score: 8.4 / 10. Solidly good and actors and cinematography elevate a script that has issues in it’s point and execution.