A Tall, Skinny Man in a Monster Suit

doug-jones

Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water is arguably one of the best pictures of the year. It has been nominated for a slew of awards including several for the film’s actors. Noticeably absent from many of these nominations is actor Doug Jones who plays the film’s gil-man.

the-shape-of-water-posterNow, one could argue that Jones did not get nominated for an acting award because he has no spoken lines in the film. However, the film’s star, Sally Hawkins, plays a girl who is mute. She has no spoken lines and yet she has been nominated for several awards including an Oscar nomination for her performance.

So why is it that Jones has not been recognized alongside Hawkins?

Here’s the thing. Doug Jones is a fantastic actor. He has collaborated with del Toro for years, starring in Mimic, as Abe Sapien in Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Golden Army, the Faun and the Pale Man in Pan’s Labyrinth. He has played the Silver Surfer in 2007’s Fantastic Four sequel. He has made countless television appearances including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Strain, Arrow, The Flash, Sons of Anarchy, and Criminal minds. He is currently playing Starfleet Officer Saru in Star Trek: Discovery.

star-trek-discovery-saruThe fact is, he is in demand because of his appearance. At 6′ 4” and painfully thin, he is tailor made for appearing as strange creatures in various genre movies, but as an actor in his own right, he is also superb and very often overlooked. Honestly, if he doesn’t get an acting nomination for his work on Star Trek: Discovery, something is very wrong in Hollywood.

My point is that he has been egregiously overlooked for his performance as the amphibious creature in The Shape of Water. I suppose one could argue that the performance was a hybrid of prosthetics work, CGI and Jones, but come on! He has to convey the creatures emotions and connect with the audience just as much as Sally Hawkins had to without words. He even dances in the picture (and quite well)!

He did that admirably. Still, no Oscar nomination. Where are Doug Jones’ nomination? Where is the recognition for his amazing skills as an actor and not just as a tall skinny man in a monster suit?

The Shape of Water is still in some theaters. Go see it and marvel at Jones’ amazing performance. Or find Star Trek: Discovery on demand and watch his turn as Saru. Whatever you feel about how Star Trek has been served by that series you cannot deny that Doug Jones is one of the best things in it.

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The Orville or Star Trek: Discovery?

STD_Orville

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.