Good evening sports fans, and get ready for an exciting challenge…The ultimate sci-fi showdown: the Boldly Going Bruiser vs the Wisecracking Wanderer; the Parody vs the Legacy, the Battle Beyond the Stars…wait, that’s the wrong franchise…
A lot of folks are making comparisons between the two big sci-fi entries premiering this fall: Star Trek Discovery (CBS) and The Orville (FOX). So, let’s take a moment and run the stats on these two.
The Orville looks amazing. Spectacular. And any other adjective used to title a Spiderman comic book. This is from Seth McFarlane, a guy who got his Start writing for such iconic cartoon network shows such as Dexter’s Lab and Johnny Bravo, probably most well-known for his phenomenal talent across all aspects of production on the long-running Fox cartoon Family Guy. He also made a helluva western comedy (A Million Ways to Die in the West) and somehow managed to make Mark Wahlberg funny TWICE (the Ted movies). He’s also a born geek, as evidenced by the Star Wars parodies he cranked out for the Family Guy specials, and the fact that he actually Starred in a couple of episodes of Star Trek’s Enterprise. In short, he knows comedy, he knows sci-fi, and so his comedy sci-fi show is going to be a most excellent adventure. (Wait, that’s the wrong franchise too…)
And in the other corner, wearing the blue uniforms…Star Trek Discovery. Bryan Fuller, Nicholas Meyer, Alex Kurtzman, Rod Roddenberry (I heard he is some distant relative of some guy involved with creating the original Star Trek….) a creative team pulling from just about every iteration of Star Trek there has been, coupled with a cast of top-notch talent that includes Doug Jones, Michelle Yeoh, Jason Isaacs, Sonequa Martin-Green….this is the show that carries on the Legacy that is Star Trek, boldly going where no one has gone before in the final frontier, pushing our knowledge of what’s out there to new limits in order to better understand and examine what is going on right here….it has a shot…it could be somebody… it could be a contender (OK, now that isn’t even the right genre…)
so folks are saying this is the ultimate ‘vs. showdown….but you shouldn’t listen to those folks, because they are just sulking for various reasons, and most of the reactions are just a mindless knee-jerk response because they aren’t paying attention.
See, Orville really isn’t a Star Trek Parody.
Orville is also not “Galaxy Quest: the series”. (Galaxy Quest WAS a Star Trek parody, but its parody status was a secondary thing: primarily it was about dragging actors kicking and screaming through the fourth wall…it is a “Three Amigos”, a “Tropic Thunder”, a “My Name is Bruce”….even, dare I say it, a “Last Action Hero”.)
Orville is a SCI-FI COMEDY. Yes, it is going to poke fun at the tropes and clichés that riddle science fiction in all its various forms over the years, and since Star Trek had plenty of those clichés in its beginning–and Star Trek introduced a lot of new and unique content that became so iconic, they became a standard trope and cliché of the genre—then obviously the science fiction elements from Star Trek can be found here. But it isn’t making fun of them, it’s using them as the material to tell a great joke…or a whole series of jokes…jokes that need to be made, that fit the genre.
Orville is ‘M*A*S*H* in Space’. (Or maybe a TV version of “Schlock Mercenary”, possibly one of the best sci-fi webcomics out there right now…)
But there are people out there who HATE Discovery. They haven’t seen it yet, but they hate it, so they make these vapid comments like ‘this is the Star Trek fans want, not Discovery,’ and various comparisons are already being drawn up. The Orville is not trying to challenge Star Trek or compete with it, but Star Trek fans love a good war….they need conflict and destruction and discord. So, without wanting to square off, these two contenders are locked in a cage match.
Who will win in the fight the fans want? Who will be destroyed? Some will be offended by The Orville, because Star Trek is, as the kids say these days, ‘srs bsns.’ There aren’t supposed to be jokes in Star Trek; it is meant to be dry, intellectual fare meant only for the most elite of the upper crust, not intended to be common entertainment and to make a mockery of Star Trek is just wrong. Others are offended by Discovery and want to see it torn down because of various superficial reasons regarding looks and visual effects and all sorts of shallow reasons that have nothing to do with substance.
IF the decision were up to the fans, both shows are doomed. Orville is going to have the quick-witted, dry sarcasm that McFarlane is famous for, but isn’t going to be as crude as his other comedies… in space, no one can hear you fart. (still, in the wrong genre, I know, but still…)
it highlights the smartest parts of McFarlane’s humorous style, and it is likely to go over many people’s heads (as evidenced by how many folks have already misidentified the comedy style at work.) it’s also going to have a lot of fans watching it not because they enjoy it, but because they really hate CBS’s product. So there’s a pretty good chance it will miss the mark…or rather, it will hit the mark squarely while everyone is looking the wrong direction.
Discovery has to overcome the ire of the fans as well. Far too many people are determined to tear it down, to say it ‘isn’t real Star Trek’ or that it is the ‘wrong’ kind of story…and those folks will do their best to dominate the internet and give this show as many bad reviews as they can before it even comes out.
Aside from just the fan base, these shows have to overcome the Networks. Orville is on FOX, and just ask Firefly or Almost Human how THAT usually works out…the production value for Orville is top-notch—which also means ‘really expensive’—so it may not be profitable enough to get a second season. And there is also a chance it gets canned to make room for Fox’s new show ‘who wants to be a reality show host?’
Discovery is blazing a new trail for Star Trek, as they try to shake things up and make this the first Star Trek series to go directly to streaming. (If you’ll recall, when TNG tried to go direct to syndication, many thought it was a gamble that would seal the death of Star Trek…will the gamble pay off this time? Enterprise was meant to be a prequel, but it ran into some troubles and fizzled out. Discovery now tries to do the same thing…has it learned from the mistakes of ENT, or it is doomed to the same fate?
Sometime last year, Suits from CBS said that various international distribution deals and pre-sales had made sure that DSC was already profitable, and not a frame had been shot. Will the subscriptions for CBS All Access that this show brings in be enough to sweeten the deal and make a second season look good, or will the numbers fall short of established streaming services like Netflix’s original programs, and DSC will be written off as a failure that profited, but not quite enough?
So, here is what I think will happen: Orville will be a phenomenal comedy, and get only one season because what Fox does to their shows makes what George RR Martin does to his characters look nice.
Discovery will get its second season, but the second story arc will push things too far and go in some screwy direction, and the Star Trek fans will see to it the series fails.
That’s how it could happen. But How about this?
Orville and Discovery aren’t really competing against each other, but they instead end up complimenting each other. The world right now is an angry and fight kind of place. So much divisive rhetoric, so much arguing and doom and gloom and irrational hate….the world NEEDS the lessons of Star Trek. But the hate is so bad, the ‘us vs them mentality’ so thick right now, that folks can’t learn those lessons until they lighten up. Enter the Orville: Seth McFarlane will teach us how to laugh again, giving us three solid seasons. Eventually, Fox decides to wrap up the animation domination of Sundays and do something new…Orville gets moved to Sunday for a new sci-fi lineup which will include the return of Firefly.
Meanwhile, Discovery Season one ends up getting rave reviews because the knee-jerk fan reactions lowered expectations, and the finished product ends up vastly exceeding expectations, and a few folks Star saying silly things like ‘this is the best Trek ever’. Now that we can laugh again, thanks to Orville, we’ll see more of ourselves in the crew of Discovery, and see how we can make ourselves better than we are, in the finest tradition of Star Trek. It wraps up the funky Klingon storyline in season one (They are some kind of ancient Klingon cult…that’s the rumour we are going with, right?) and season two decides to do some time travel, give the fans some of that post-25th-century action they were wanting. Season two declines because time travel fanservice tends to go badly, but the season finale is a two-parter that brings back Enterprise and has the crew of Discovery undo THAT god-awful finale, saving Tripp Tucker from an ignoble and abrupt death. Fans are thrilled by this, and overlook how bad other time travel elements in season two were, and look forward to season three, which goes for a deep-range exploration of the Beta Quadrant. CBS All Access bumps up the Trek content on their site, adding a ‘captain pike animated series that is (loosely) tied to Discovery, and possibly another animated series; The Adventures of Marauder Moe. ‘Gary Seven’, a contemporary action/thriller show, debuts on the network, revamped to deal with modern-day characters that are going to pave the way to the future: Lt Green of the US army, hunting down ‘alien threats’, and a mysterious corporation working on the future of genetic engineering. Discovery ends up running for a total of five seasons, then a year later gets a brief six-hour miniseries follow-up that concludes with the Battle of Rigel VII, and an appearance by Captain Pike.
These shows don’t need to survive each other, but they do need to survive in a harsh and ever-changing landscape. I’d love to see them both make it…and I really hope Star Trek fans go back to classic Vs fights (let’s all make fun of the Han Solo movie!) and quit picking new fights.
» Pictures CBS, FOX