The Orville or Star Trek: Discovery?

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Star Trek: Discovery vs the “New” space adventure series The Orville

So, which is it to be? Seth MacFarlane’s sci-fi parody, The Orville, or CBS All Access’s new flagship series, the latest iteration of the 50 year old franchise, Star Trek: Discovery?

Well, honestly, there’s no comparison. The clear winner here is Star Trek: Discovery which pulled well ahead with it’s third episode, taking the series in a completely unexpected direction and confounding critic’s predictions. It is traveling the inroads that have been made for televised science fiction by series like Ronald D. Moore’s Battlestar Galactica reboot and currently with The Expanse.

Star Trek is reinterpreting itself to fit in with the modern television landscape. It’s a series that has been designed with the binge-watching audience in mind. It also doesn’t feel the need to slow down and explain everything.

The Orville, on the other hands is firmly planted in the same territory that was mined by Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation decades ago. The stories are heavy handed and moralistic, but with a lighter than ice cream tone. It is meant to be a parody but it only seems to remember that occasionally when it tries to inject some lame joke in the middle of the drama. And the jokes are lame. Seriously.

The funniest moment of a recent episode was probably one of the subtlest bits of comedy the show has ever attempted. Bortus, an alien crew member, stops and stares at his partner who is eating Rocky Road ice cream and watching The Sound of Music because he is depressed and has chosen a human cure for depression. That one silent moment was the high point of humor for a series that has relied on crude jokes and cultural and racial stereotypes for much of its comedy.

Discovery, on the other hand, seems to have its feet firmly in the stirrups. Once the viewer realizes that the entire season is one whole story arc (and in this day and age of Netflix and other streaming services, that realization shouldn’t be difficult) then the first two episodes, what would, in iterations past be presented as the “pilot” episode, was, in fact, merely the cold open of a much larger story. To judge the series, as many have done, based on the first two would have been akin to giving up on one of the other series episodes based solely upon the pre-credit teaser.

The other aspect of The Orville that has been remarked on by others, most notably by Steve Barnes, author of Twelve Days, and co-author of Dream Park and The Legacy of Heorot, is it’s tendency to cast actors of color as aliens, while the human cast remains mostly white. Of the main cast only Penny Johnson (Cassidy Yates from Deep Space Nine) as the ship’s doctor is not portrayed in a culturally stereotypical way. I have commented elsewhere that The Orville is Star Trek for white viewers who are uncomfortable with too much cultural diversity.

Discovery, on the other hand, embraces diversity right out of the gate with the main character being Michael Burnham, a woman of color (played by Sonequa Martin Green) as first officer to Captain Georgiou, an Asian woman (played by Michelle Yeoh)

Though that relationship does not continue throughout the series, the diversity in cast members is laudable in comparison with the half-hearted attempt at it by The Orville.

The Orville has further added to its unoriginal provenance in its fourth episode which posits a generation ship that situation that mirrors Harlan Ellison’s The Starlost so closely that I wouldn’t be surprised if Harlan were to launch a lawsuit against Fox in the coming days. That episode more closely resembled The Starlost than James Cameron’s The Terminator resembled Ellison’s Outer Limits episode “Soldier”, but we all know how that turned out.

I’m not going to draw this out any longer. For my money, Star Trek: Discovery is the superior show. It is traveling down new roads and, I am confident, it will blaze some roads of its own before the current story arc has finished unspooling.

The Orville, meanwhile, seems destined to boldly go where much better shows have gone before.

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Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn

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Hey, I’m back with another Netflix movie review!

I don’t play video games. I’m not a gamer. So what I know about HALO can be summed up as such:

It’s a video game. It features a character called Master Chief.

That’s it. That’s all I know.

So, here I am watching a movie called Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn and it begins with a bunch of cadets getting their hair sheared off (somewhat reminiscent of the opening scene of Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, one of my favorite films of all time) and then these cadets start talking to someone off camera like it’s  some sort of documentary,

Okay. I think I know what this is.

Then it switches to an older guy (whom I recognize as Canadian Actor Ty Olsson, who played Lt. Aaron Kelly on Battlestar Galactica) who is listening to a distress call from a ship. The ship has 1 survivor in cryo-suspension, some alien thing is trying to take over and this cgi fairy thing materializes and…

Okay, the film’s lost me. I don’t know what’s going on.

Then suddenly we’re back with the cadets and the story picks up with cadet Thomas Lasky who really doesn’t know if he wants to go to war or not. Seems his older brother was a good soldier but he died on a mission and he’s real bummed about it and he never sees his mother anymore because she’s too important.

So Lasky and his fellow cadets are in training and their squad has the lowest score because Lasky can’t stop being an arrogant prick long enough to follow orders. Plus he’s suffering from some blisters and burns and other health problems which his earnest doctor can’t seem to figure out. Lasky soldiers on, though, which is ironic considering he doesn’t seem to want to be a soldier.

If this hadn’t had HALO in the title I would have given up on this film. The young cadets were good actors and the film looked fairly impressive. I liked the cadet uniforms. I liked the way they used Simon Fraser University as a backdrop (If you saw the original Battlestar Galactica pilot you’d probably recognize it). But I didn’t like any of the characters.

So there’s this subplot about one of the characters trying to un-encrypt a top secret video of a combat mission that hints that there is “something else” out there that the soldiers are fighting. Just as soon as they discover that fact the training school is suddenly under attack.

Now the movie gets exciting with these giant aliens attacking the school and real soldiers dropping in to defend them. So now it’s a horror movie where the cadets squad is trapped in the school without any weapons trying to hide from the scary monsters who can become invisible. Okay. Now I know what kind of movie this is.

But wait! Just before an alien kills one of the cadets who shows up but Master Chief! Master Chief will save the day!

Now it’s a chase movie where Master Chief and five… oh, wait, make that four… scared cadets have to run the gauntlet of scary aliens to make it to the rendezvous point.

Whoops! Make that three cadets.

Okay. This movie is a mess. It’s boring and confusing in turns. Maybe if you play the game, or know more about the HALO universe this film would make sense. Apparently it was originally a web series. Maybe seeing it in episodes would have made more sense, but as a whole movie like this… well, it`s no Full Metal Jacket, let me tell you. It`s no Starship Troopers, either

If you are a fan of HALO this might be a good film. If you are a fan of military SF, this film is a bit of a mess.

I can`t recommend it, but if you are curious, it`s currently playing on Netflix.