Monday, October 30, 2017

Discovery vs. Orville - which trek to take

This television season has brought us two new series. They are very different.

I came late to Star Trek fandom, but when I arrived, I arrived big time. I would say the first inkling of my fandom came with Star Trek: The Motion Picture (the Enterprise cutaway poster hung on my wall for years), but it didn't reach full force until we moved and I had daily reruns of the original series. I also found conventions. I was always big on the tech side and the story side. My first ever completed story was Star Trek related and I lived for plans, blueprints, and technical manuals.

When they announced Star Trek: The Next Generation, I was excited. New stories in series format. I was not disappointed. The series got better and better until they split the writing team to start Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Babylon 5 also started at about the same time. It is really telling that I could ignore some of the lower production values of Babylon 5 in favor of its superior writing. Also telling were how many classic Star Trek writers who wandered over to that series. I finally gave up on Deep Space Nine and Voyager when Trials and Tibbleations aired. I found it sad that the best episode of Deep Space Nine was one that revisited a classic story. They had fallen that far. Even the movies made about that time were lacking. I liked them, but they did not sing like some of the original cast movies. And I still remember Patrick Stewart praising the series finale and being more cautious about commenting on Generations.

So we come to 2017. Star Trek is 51, The Next Generation is 30. Babylon 5 is 24. New on TV is Star Trek Discovery and The Orville. Being a fan of Star Trek for more than 35 years, and being a writer myself, I am aware of what made Star Trek great. Some give sole claim to Gene Roddenberry, but without NBC's input, his creation would not have been nearly so successful. They were right, they public wanted action. The turned down his original pilot, The Cage, and when he made the first movie, he again returned to that format and while it was a hit in its day, that film pales next to the others. Don't get me wrong, I think it is a great film and the story is far better than many in the original series or even the later series, but it fails to capture both aspects of what is Star Trek.

The good movies manage to capture both. Gene wanted a Utopian future where we had gotten past money, bigotry, petty squabbles, etc. NBC wanted action adventure. Put them together and you have success. Gene's vision alone is too cerebral. NBC's vision is just your average science fiction. When J.J. Abrams came in to do the new Star Trek movies, he got the cast right and then failed three times on the writing. All three of those movies are NBC's vision only. Nothing of Gene's vision can be found. When you look at Star Trek Discovery, that is what you find. And the worst part is they claim to have returned to the original timeline while at the same time rewriting things like they were doing a reboot. On the other hand, The Orville is a reboot that manages to capture both Gene's vision and NBC's action adventure to create the closest thing to Star Trek in years. And it manages to do it with some humor thrown in.

So if you are a fan of Star Trek as Gene Roddenberry, Gene Coon, Robert Justman, Nicholas Meyer, or Rick Berman made it, then you need to watch The Orville. If you like the J.J. Abrams films, watch Star Trek Discovery. Discovery is good science fiction and a nice reboot of Trek in an action adventure sense, but The Orville is the trek you are looking for, hitting deep issues and currently relevant questions in the way Star Trek should.