Who Did it Better?
This year two new sci-fi series came out, Star Trek Discovery and The Orville. These two shows are both sci-fi tv series; one is an action-packed story, while the other is a comedy. And lately, the only thing that people can talk about when it comes to these two is which one is better; a moot point. Which begs the question, what is the better argument? Instead of comparing two separate shows to each other to see what we like better, we should instead be asking do any of these shows follow along with what Gene Roddenberry, the man who created the original Star Trek, had envisioned with his show. Roddenberry had a very particular vision in mind that many people, including myself, wish would come true.
The Vision that Started it All
First, let’s define what his vision is! Despite the constant dangers that Captain James Kirk and the Enterprise encountered, there was always a silver lining to be found. This helped to create a very positive and uplifting glimpse into the future. I think his entire point was to show an example of what humanity was capable of. This is very evident in the Federation of Planets, a fictional United Nations alike government. In this future, there is hardly any internal strife, hunger, hardships, and poverty.
What was also evident was that despite there being a conflict with the other races like the Klingons, they would always try to resolve their differences peacefully. The Federation’s dream is and always will be to unite the galaxy together or at the very least to make friends and be of equal standing with each other. It’s a beautiful notion is it not? A reality where the one continuous mission is “to seek out new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”
Now that we have described what Roddenberry had envisioned for his show, let’s now see how these two new shows, Discovery and Orville, follow or stray away from this vision.
Star Trek Discovery
First up we have Star Trek Discovery. The series starts off with the main protagonist Michael Burnham aboard the USS Shenzhou and serves as its First Officer to Captain Phillippa Geogiou. The series eventually makes its way to the USS Discovery where we meet her crew and its captain Gabriel Lorca.
One of the things I think it does very well visually shows us what a clean and efficient future looks like. New Star Trek series have always made this universe feel like we’re watching the future, and while for some the new uniforms and the upgraded technology may trouble some, I enjoy it. However, there are quite a few key differences between this Star Trek and the original series. It feels like it separates itself is that the show is too dark and grim, which is very different from any of the other Star Trek series.
As an example following the protagonist Michael Burnham during her actions at the Battle of the Binary Stars with the Klingon Empire, which is the start of an all-out war with the Klingons. She commits mutiny in order to take command of the ship so that she can attack the Klingon vessel first before they could be fired upon. This act of treason was borne out of her Vulcan training of pure logic and her human emotions. Starfleet also has strict directives to not engage first. This put her entire crew and ship in danger. She and the rest of the crew end up losing both their captain and ship. This was all presented in episode 1 and the situation is already dark and gruesome. The reason I don’t like it is that for me Star Trek was always about exploring humanity at its peak.
The Orville a comical parody of the Star Trek franchise makes an attempt to bring up many sensitive issues such as gender equality, animal cruelty, etc. from a funny and comedic point of view. It goes boldly goes where no man has gone before technologically. Though what I find it does well, other than giving it puns and cheesy one-liners, is show a very wide range of cooperation and tries settling differences through discussion.
People may cry Social Justice Warrior with the show, but it very closely follows the Star Trek formalities of trying to find a third option to deal with a problem; always keeping in mind that the future will not always be this bleak. In my mind, it does a great job in making sure that anyone can enjoy the show, not just the sci-fi fans or the traditional Trekie. Another important factor is that I don’t feel despair, or at least the characters don’t, helping to keep the mood light. This, however, is the biggest gripe I have about the show, at times it feels it doesn’t address things deep enough, like the creator of the show, Seth Macfarlane, only wants to touch on sensitive topics, but not give a definitive answer to questions.
In one episode the show delves into gender equality issues. One of the officers Lt. Commander Bortus comes from a race of all males. They have no females in their world and the reason is that whenever a female baby is born, they perform a sex change surgery. Naturally, the commander and his mate gives birth to a female and instantly requests to do the sex change.
Naturally, the crew of the Orville take offense to this and says that it’s wrong to force someone, who can’t make their own decisions, to change their sex. While the other side argues that they do it because society is all male and that life as a female would be extremely difficult, that and they think women are inferior beings. They also argue that it’s a part of their custom and ways to do the sex change and outsiders don’t have a right to say their culture is wrong. A lot of arguments are drawn out on both sides but in the end, it is decided that the sex change will happen and the commander ends the show by saying no matter if it is a he or a she, the child will still be loved.
This episode touches on a lot of sensitive topics and brings a lot of arguments that are used today, however at the end of it all, no answer was given as to who was right and who was wrong.
Two Sides of the Same Coin
Currently, I think The Orville is more similar to the original Star Trek than Discovery. I’d like to think of watching Orville as sitting at home comfortably on the couch feeling content inside. However, watching Discovery feels like a roller coaster where there are draw-dropping action and plot twists; it’s new and exciting and you don’t know what to expect. Each show has their own plot devices and tackle situations differently and honor the memory of Gene Roddenberry differently, like two sides of the same coin.