It is a very good week for TV shows set on spaceships. Not only has the first trailer for Star Trek: Discovery arrived but we also got our first look at The Orville, Seth MacFarlane’s live action Trek-alike comedy. There’s lots to talk about in both, so let’s get straight to it.
Discovery is one of the biggest TV shows this year and the fact Sonequa Martin-Green is front and centre makes us very happy. Not only because she’s great but because this is the first time Trek has had a POC female lead in its 50-year-plus history. If there’s one thing TV desperately needs to do in 2017, it’s to be more diverse. In the same week CBS head Les Moonves made, at best, very ill-advised comments about their staggeringly male, staggeringly white pilot slate, this is a desperately needed breath of fresh air.
Second, that is a gorgeous-looking show. We especially like the colossal EVA suit/armour and what seems to be an unusually turbulent passage through warp. Which, given this is 10 years before the original series, makes a lot of sense. Plus Grim Death Sensing Crewmember is already our favourite character.
Finally, and we have our tinfoil hats on for this one, we’re pretty sure Michelle Yeoh doesn’t make it out of the first few episodes. The fact that commander Michael Burnham, Green’s character, is serving on her vessel (the USS Shenzhou ) as the series opens is the first clue. The second is that face-off with multiple Klingon vessels and the argument she and Baynham seem to be having over rules of engagement. ‘Starfleet doesn’t fire first’ is an immensely powerful line and we think it may be the hill she chooses to die on. More on that, and on why this had to be a show focusing on a Starfleet vessel, tomorrow.
Now the bad news; Klingons and Vulcans. We’re not sold on the Klingon redesign at all. Worse, if we have to sit through another 15 episodes of the clash between logic and emotion we’ll… actually we’ll do that, but only because it’s Star Trek. If there’s a problem this show faces its surely marrying old concepts with a modern viewpoint and making both work. We’re hopeful in both cases and we’re massively excited but Discovery still has a lot of work to do.
And yes we’re still humming the Trek fanfare too.
Landing before that Star Trek reveal was Seth MacFarlane‘s The Orville. Macfarlane has a largely deserved reputation for being very good at one thing; snark. However when he’s on form, he has a gloriously weird streak. Better still, he’s a massive Trek fan and at one point was one of the people bidding for the rights for what would become Discovery.
Two things really work here; the cast and the budget. MacFarlane excels at this kind of ‘painfully aware he’s kind of a shlub’ lead and his deadpan comic timing is a good fit for this kind of subject matter. Better still, he’s surrounded by a brilliant cast. Scott Grimes as Gordon Murray, the ship’s pilot, is one of the most underrated comic actors of his generation. Likewise actual Deep Space 9 alumni Penny Johnson Jerald is a great choice. Nice to see Brian George, a fellow DS9 alumni, in there too.
However, the standout here is Adrienne Palicki. Palicki’s always had great screen presence and her comic timing, honed after a couple of years on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Bobbi and Hunter, taken too soon…) is needlepoint perfect. Just that tiny sequence about the Anti-Banana Ray, where she and Macfarlane are bouncing the scientist between them like cats playing with a toy, is great fun. If the show does more of that, we’re in good shape for a great season.
The other thing that impresses us here is the production values. Not just because the show looks pretty but because that speaks to it already avoiding a major pitfall. It would be so easy to put a series like this together and for it to turn into the Extras episode which took a pop at Doctor Who; laughing at SF tropes from an external perspective. Instead, this clearly takes it’s premise seriously and finds the comedy from the inside out. That’s a really good sign that this won’t be a one-trick pony of a show.
Of course, if it turns into Family Guy In Space we’re in serious trouble, but hey, we’re optimists here at MCM Towers.
The winner? The Orville edges it for our gold-pressed latinum.
Star Trek: Discovery will arrive on Netflix later this year and The Orville will debut on Fox in Autumn. We’ll let you know more as soon as we have specific dates for both.
• New Star Trek Discovery Featurette Offers Sneak Peek At The Sets
• Bryan Fuller Steps Back From Being Star Trek Discovery Showrunner
• Family Guy’s Seth MacFarlane Creating A Live-Action Sci-Fi Comedy Series