Who would have thought that a debate involving Star Trek, but not Star Wars would ever be present? This television season there are two series that have its roots in Star Trek lore, though only one is canon.
The Orville is a series on Fox developed by Seth MacFarlane. He’s stated that it’s not a satire or parody, but because of his love of Star Trek that he made the show. Over on the CBS streaming service All Access there is Star Trek: Discovery. It’s the first Star Trek series since Enterprise in 2005.
It’s easy for you to say that Star Trek: Discovery is automatically more Star Trek because it is in the same universe and carries the banner. But, the “which is more Star Trek” debate is about which series carries on the legacy of Gene Roddenberry’s vision of Star Trek. Discovery has made some fans upset. Orville can rub people the wrong way. Which is most like Trek then?
I’ll warn you that the more you go, the more there are some spoilers about the show if you haven’t been watching. If you’re okay with proceeding, here’s my analysis…
Let’s star with something simple. Music. Star Trek has had some great themes. There’s some great underlying scores that accentuate the scenes. Jeff Russo has come up with a great new theme that pays homage to the legacy of Trek music, but with a unique twist to give the show its distinctness. Music in the show does help scenes, and is symphonically great. The Orville’s is not bad, but it reminds me of early 2000’s music for shows. It’s a bit too cheesy for my tastes, though the show is supposed to be campy. Still, I wish that it had a bit more to it. And the theme is not something easily recognized or remembered.
There has been some very memorable effects from starship models to transporting. Star Trek has pushed these types of effects, so it needs a show that reflects it. The Orville has well blended cgi with real effects. But, they are still a little dated and cheap looking. Discovery does have the bigger budget which produces bigger effects. The ship’s special spore transportation has a great effect.
Here’s where it starts to get harder because the shows start to diverge here. The characters on Orville are like us. What I mean is they are like an average person manning a spaceship. There are some exceptions, but for the most part they joke like you would with friends. It’s something that makes them likable. They’ve also been able to have their scenes to shine. Each has their own distinct personalities and quirks. And, we see their character and role on the ship. We can know how they react to situations even with just a few episodes in.
Discovery’s show setting is during a war. Characters are on edge. It also centers around Michael Burnham, where other Trek shows have been an ensemble (though, yes, the captain does tend to get more focus). I have to say that I don’t know much about the crew except for Burnham, Saru, and Captian Lorca, though the most recent episode “Choose Your Pain” let us see Saru more fully. Lorca is not an appealing character or captain to me. He seems very un-Starfleet. I know perhaps this is the tension that is to be built in the show, but it all seems too un-Star Trek to me. We also lose the ensemble nature of the Star Trek legacy with it being mostly about one character. The others suffer from lack of depth as the show goes on.
Orville does a better job at having an ensemble cast with intertwining lives.
Star Trek basically predicted a lot of devices we have now. Our phones now serve as communicators and scanners. iPads are PADDs. We have grown in science to combat a lot of disease. Not all the shows have predicted the future since the original, but it stands to say that they’ve been grounded in that technology can grow and we can see the potential on the show in feasible ways.
Discovery has Star Trek’s heritage of devices, but there are some that seem completely off the wall. The spore drive comes from something hard to understand. Does this fungus exist in space? What is this network thing, and why have we never heard of it in Star Trek before? The technology of the ship also doesn’t seem to fit in the timeline of Trek. Some things look too advanced for having to jump to Original Series in a few years.
The Orville carries on the basic tech of Starfleet with the exception of transporting. And that’s a fine thing since it’s not actually Star Trek. Instead of calling their main speed “warp drive” it’s “quantum drive,” but basically the same principal. There are laser weapons, scanners, and they even make reference to modern day tech. In a recent episode there was the idea of growing limbs that have been severed. I don’t think that’s too far off an idea to have in the future.
I think Orville’s tech is grounded in our reality and we can see some advances that are possible. Discovery’s is too out of the ordinary for me, more fiction than science.
Diversity, Exploring, and the Star Trek Philosophy
I found a quote that is by Gene Roddenberry:
“Star Trek was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms. […] If we cannot learn to actually enjoy those small differences, to take a positive delight in those small differences between our own kind, here on this planet, then we do not deserve to go out into space and meet the diversity that is almost certainly out there.”
I’ve heard of this idea of Trek before. The shows have been about our humanity and even exploring that as well as space. It takes issues of our day and sees what it could be like in the future, a different setting. The original series was controversial with attempts to push what was comfortable with things like the civil rights issue of the time. I can remember other series taking cases of our history and bringing them up again so that we don’t forget, but also to examine it under different light.
This is where it just gets hard to decide.
Discovery is exploring a very distinct part of our humanity: what we do in war. We see how characters react in very trying circumstances. We see ourselves in Burnham who has been rejected and dealing with great guilt and shame. There are aspects of our humanity being portrayed in the show. But, Discovery doesn’t seem set on focusing on this for very long, where as Star Trek would center a whole plot around it. We see Burnham struggling, but then jump to a fight with Lorca and a Klingon. There’s too much of an overarching plot to examine our humanity.
In transition to talk about Orville I will say that both have gay crew members. But, if you want to examine which is handling the diversity well, I’d say it’s Orville. That show has explored it in a way that let audiences explore rather than have it exist. Discovery, I’d say, barely acknowledges its character as being openly gay and how it relates to others. It’s nice that it “just exists,” when much of society wants that. But, Orville has been doing it with great class and even letting it be a plot with great results.
Then there’s the aspect of exploring and examining differences in the universe. The Orville is exploring, and finding conflict in alien cultures. It’s trying to get a grasp on how to let the aliens have their cultures, but not let it destroy others. The solutions have surprised me in new ways. It means just when I thought Star Trek covered everything there is more. They also seem to bring up current events and issues without being preachy. There’s no end to an episode where we’re left with “oh, ok. That’s the right answer.” They make the audience think about what they would do.
My Choice for Star Trek
If I were to choose one series to carry on the legacy of Star Trek it would be The Orville. It’s hard to say because it’s not a Star Trek branded show. But, it has such a feel of being that idea of exploring humanity that is what makes Star Trek great in the first place. It wasn’t just a science fiction show at the beginning. That was just the frame to which Gene Roddenberry told tales. The Orville has the makings of that. Discovery is a lot more of a sci-fi action montage.
Now, if that’s something you’re looking for – the action packed ship and foot battles – then it’s great! And I do enjoy the episodes, but it doesn’t sit as well in me as Orville. I eagerly wait for Orville every week because I want to see where they’re going next. Discovery only has, for me, where Burnham is going in rank. It’s exciting. It still adds on to my Trek history fascination. But, I still want the show that carries on the single episode plot of dilemma and character growth. I find this more in Orville. And I’m liking the humor too.
You may think entirely differently, and I think that’s great! My choice is not the definitive one. Like I said about Roddenberry and Star Trek – it’s about the diversity. So, let me know in the comments below what you think of both shows!