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Taking a Closer look at Orville

Truth in advertising - I have a complicated relationship with Seth MacFarlane's Sci-Fi show, The Orville. 

There are times in which I really enjoy it. Though, honestly most of the time when I watch it, I'm distracted. I can't help remembering when the specific show I'm watching was a Star Trek episode. 

It happens a lot. Now don't get me wrong, Seth clearly knows his Star Trek, and it shows.

And that's the problem. 

Most of the time I can't shake the knowledge that what I'm watching is Seth's very thinly veiled attempt at producing and starring in an “official” Star Trek series of his own. Something he tried to do before having to retreat, reset, and recreate his own slightly different show. 

The Orville then is perhaps the ultimate Star Trek fan Film. VIACOMCBS allows fans to play in the Star Trek universe for 15 minutes at a time but, as a professional venture - The Orville had to create its universe from whole cloth. The issue is that they clearly bought that fabric from the same store.

A store with a lot of the same employees. 

Both in front of the camera and behind Seth has loaded his production with people who worked during 18 years of incessant Star Trek productions overseen by Rick Berman (an era of Star Trek television that fits between 1987 and 2005). And I think this is the origin of my complex feelings about The Orville. That era of Trek became in many ways a prisoner of its own success. 

Star Trek was experiencing a silver age in which multiple shows within the same era were watched by millions every week in syndication. Seth MacFarlane was one of those viewers (so was I), and while he wanted more of THAT particular flavor of Star Trek, I had enough and was ready for Star Trek to evolve into something fresh.

As a fan of Star Trek from early childhood, I had seen it evolve in new and exciting ways every few years. 

My first exposure was to The Original Series, and I loved it. A few years later it became an animated show. Cartoons presented an imaginary world (Galaxy?) no longer limited by physical limits of production.

A few years after that - Star Trek became a Motion Picture, and then a series of movies that brought a sophistication of story, budget, and production undreamt of in the 1960s. 

Star Trek: The Next Generation arrived a few years later. TNG and its trailblazing entry into direct syndication gave Star Trek a long-term home on terrestrial television allowing for character growth unimagined by Gene Roddenberry two decades earlier. 

But, that long-term home meant a slow gradual halt to the forward evolution Star Trek had always enjoyed. 

At first TNG and DS9, et al gave us truly new worlds in the final frontier. But, over time those new worlds devolved into regurgitated plots, and petty intrigues. 

"The forehead of the week" became shorthand for what new alien conflict we could look forward to in this grind of episodic purgatory. Even I, who loves Star Trek in a manner some deem "unhealthy," was bored. 

Oh I still watched, but without much enthusiasm.

Seth's show is so nostalgic for that brand of Star Trek that it parrots it almost perfectly. And with good reason. 

Its producers, and others working on The Orville spent much of their lives learning their craft on the shows produced during that era of Star Trek.

 Many of these folks are very old friends of ours and the work they do tirelessly day in and day out on that show is phenomenal. My problem stems from the fact that I had just grown so very tired of that particular brand of Trek.

When Star Trek (2009) came out, I was delighted! 

Oh, there were a few things I wished they had done differently, but it shook the cobwebs off the whole enterprise (ahem). I couldn't get enough. 

And apparently neither could anyone else. I don't know how many fans out there know this, but let me drop an awesome bit of inside info. Star Trek '09 acted like a gateway drug of sorts into the franchise for millions of new fans. People who vaguely remembered watching one of the shows with their family suddenly wanted more and sought it out. In the first few years after Star Trek '09's release - sales jumped for all of the series available on DVD, and streaming (then in its infancy) numbers showed a ravenous desire for more Star Trek from these newborn fans.

It took a few years to bring Star Trek back to the small screen. 

And while a new era of the franchise was being developed, Seth MacFarlane was busy bringing his pastiche of Trek to FOX. He aimed to resurrect his favorite era of Trek to the screen, and I think he succeeded! More than that, he absolutely succeeded...much to my chagrin and boredom. 

That's not to say that it's a bad show, quite the contrary. It's well written and well produced, with fantastic's just not for me. 

The Orville is a look into our future that feels like it's constantly looking back.

 Always comparing itself to a very specific era of Star Trek, and that’s an era that I grew past.     

Don't misunderstand me, I love the TOS and TNG era of Star Trek (and we all adore the fond, funny nostalgia of that time displayed by Star Trek: Lower Decks), but nostalgia is one thing.

Wanting new adventures that grow beyond where the franchise has gone before is something else. I didn't want something borrowed from a time in my rear view mirror. 

I needed something new. 

Something Star Trek. 

Something that simply “feels” like old Star Trek isn’t enough for me. 

That’s not how Star Trek trained me to be from an early age to now. I expect Star Trek to evolve and to pull me —sometimes against my will—into new places. That’s what my lifetime of Trek love has taught me. 

There are some out there that say “Star Trek must be this one thing, and if I don’t get it, then it’s not Star Trek.” 

That’s sad, I don’t understand it, and it feels antithetical to the way Star Trek taught us to look at the universe around us. 

In a way I think The Orville provides a home of sorts to disenfranchised refugees from the Star Trek franchise. People who dislike the “new”, have found a nostalgic home of sorts in The Planetary Union, and that’s great!

But if I’m going to spend time with a ship based ongoing space adventure, Star Trek will be somewhere in its name. 


John Cooley May 17, 2021 3 tags (show)