Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Subspace Review: The Orville Episode 1 - "Old Wounds"

The Orville is going into it's furth week on air and I finally have a chance to sit down and consider just what we are getting.

Also of note, this week continues the shows move from Sunday to Thursdays. And I can't hate the change as that last week my DVRing of the show left we with only the first 10 minutes of the show. (Luckily it is available via streaming with some cable services and it is on Hulu and iTunes. So check it out if you haven't yet.

This opening episode, as with all pilots, is given the duty to establish the premise of the series, introduce the characters, and then start events moving. It is a simple story, but there's a reason since The Next Generation all Trek pilots are 2 hours longs. This first episode chose to work with just one hour. So it gets us into space, meeting an alien threat, and using some tech tech and quick thinking to save the day. It's a quick run jaunt. I'm sorry so people felt jilted by the episode, apparently.

It's the age we live in. We all eagerly await the Chance. We all eagerly await to chance to be hyped and find that next Binge Series or Put Bacon In It Trend. The chance to be affronted, to be offended, to be insulted that it's remake or re-imagining or another of a genre or dares have a given style. We wait for enough Internet Avatars to get weirdly pissed about a show or movie.

Trek was lucky up to Enterprise in how nascent social media was. Even for that show it was limited, mostly BBS threads. But, going back to TNG, I can only imagine the experience online is Twitter had been around when that show started. It would have been savage, brutal, and cruel. Suffice to say, I'm just tired of riding these damn hate trains.

So let's get to know the show!

The premise.

The Orville is a series that borrows heavily from Star Trek, which isn't a bad idea seeing as that's a 50 years old ongoing interest. The show takes place 400 years in the future in an utopian period of a flourishing Earth that is part of a grand galactic union of worlds and peoples.

At the same time, with it's humor, crass moments, human foibles, and New York setting in the first episode, I also flash to Futurama. It's weird to me how I've seen so few reference the similarity. If you hear about a scifi series with a comedic bent, you should have Futurama come to mind, especially with how heavily it borrowed from Star Trek itself.

 The Planetary Union seems to borrow heavily from the United Federation of Planets, and also Futurama's DOOP, and some from Galaxy Quest's....whatever. A lot of inspiration.

And while it's comedic at turns, the show is clearly meant to be an actual scifi series, with Star Trek tones. It's scifi with comedy moments. It's not about mocking scifi, it's not about spending 30 minutes to set up a fart joke. It's not trying to parody Star Trek and joke about what Trek has been.

Will the humor be used "properly"? How well it will balance over the season is yet to be seen. You may enjoy the mix, or not. It will be a matter of personal taste. So when someone states the humor doesn't work, that is only one opinion. I liked this episodes humor, overall. Some was rough for me, some over stayed, but on the whole it all fit well with what they are trying to accomplish.

If you want to watch it to be offended by something MacFarlane is making, I'm sure you'll find something.

Personally, I have gotten quite tired with the humor on Seth MacFarlane's other shows, like Family Guy and American Dad. The humor has gotten more and more painful and negative. So I was wary when this show was announced.

But, as said, the humorous vein in this show is, as yet, not gearing to be those shows. It's crass in it's own way. So it's a matter of whether you are turned off by jokes that are on par with Futurama.

The show centers on a mid-level explorer craft, Orville. It's crew is a skilled group that you'd expect to find. But in the spirit of the show this is, they all have their flaws, faults, and personalities.

The ship is a beautiful design, and is actually some model work. So it is shot  in studio for many of it's space jaunts. It's a pleasure to see a little of the old style of scifi model work.

The ship is a beautiful sleek ship that has features you can just get enamored with from tip to tail. A great look.

Part of the shows intended humor comes from the crews forthright reactions and between dramatic moments commentary. Beyond their foibles they are people out on insane adventures, and you sometimes need to comment and not just stoically stare at the viewscreen.

The crew is eclectic. We get to know some of them in this episode, but the episode is set on defining the leads, and setting up the overall universe. Future episodes should further define the rest of the main cast.

The helmsman, Gordon Malloy, is a hot head. He likes to drink, break rules, and challenge authority, but is completely loyal to a captain that is his old friend. He was benched from starship duty due to his attitude and the damage he's caused. This is another chance he's being given by a friend to get his career back on track.

The navigator, John LaMarr, is not as clearly defined. He seems low key for now, but an earnest team player.

"...and I woke up here, in the middle of another scifi series."
The ship's doctor, Claire Finn, is a skilled and respected medical officer. The cream of the crop. But she likes challenges, and seeks crews and commander officers that she can help and advise.

Security is being headed up by a young officer, Alara Kitan , who is new to the job, but eager to prove her skills. She comes from a species that lives in a high gravity environment. This leads her to be extremely strong and able to leap moderately sized buildings in a single bound.

The science officer, Isaac, is an exchange officer from a highly advanced AI society. They see all organic life as inferior. But they have agreed to joining a crew to study other species. It's a brilliant being, but also an arrogant one. Oh, and a racists one. It acts like that classic idea of the outsider on the ship. An observer of the human condition. Instead of coming in wonder (like Data), it knows it is super smart and thinks it's around inferiority.

The second officer, Bortus, is a serious and capable officer. He is humorless, but diligent. His species is all male, and we'll have to see where that goes as the series progresses.

"Hey. Guys. HAL's doing that thing again."

 The first officer, Kelly Grayson, is the captain's ex-wife. A skilled officer who proves to be a big fan of the captain, despite their differences. She is a quick thinker and professional officer.

Their relationship seems to have deteriorated as he became very singularly focused on getting his first command, and she looked elsewhere for companionship. We may learn more about what happen between them, but it isn't hard to imagine that while focused on one goal (starship command), Captain Mercer let another one (his family) slide. To get a command you have to put in hours (simulations, classes, meetings, study, possibly mentoring and teaching junior officers). Theirs a reason they always joked about Kirk being married to his ship. You have to dedicate a lot to get ahead.

Trouble is, did he get his life balance wrong? Or did she not explain herself problems well enough? Or did they both make mistakes? I assume we'll be seeing them come to terms with their issues, and hopefully move forward with their lives. And I have to feel they want to play with the idea of a crew being a family, and the heads of the family are semi-dysfunctional.

Lastly, we have the captain, Ed Mercer. He is capable officer who is a good leader. He's not there to be a bumbling idiot. His sense of humor isn't great, but anyone else remember the number of bad jokes Kirk used to tell?

A lot of people have complained about how he jokes and asks questions about his crew's species. But all of this seems like the character's defense mechanism. When he's nervous or confused or panicked, he makes a joke (usually a bad one). It feels like a builtin defect. Also, someone of this is the classic excuse for exposition.

It's weird to see people who were okay with corny jokes in Star Trek get up in arms and dumb jokes here. Some people look for offense.

Once the episode starts the crew is off an simple mission, deliver supplies to the preimere science research operation in the Union. Mercer is eager to get going, but finds out that his new First Officer is his ex-wife. He wants to refuse, but it is made clear that he's in a shaky enough position already to start refusing qualified officers.

So Grayson comes aboard, saying she volunteered to serve with him so that she could help him out. This puts Mercer in the position where he is going to have to start dealing directly with the aftermath of their relationship. Seeing as the divorce saw his career free fall, it is something he will need to come to terms with.

At the research site they see the amazing work being done. It's an array of scientific wonder. This includes a device that is used to rapidly age a banana. Mercer and Grayson start joking about the "banana ray". But Alara is quick to note that the device could be good to wipe out militaries or worlds.

The head of the facility agrees and explains that is why he called for supplies, he was afraid they were going to be attacked by a force interested in the tech. And then they are surprised by a spy, who ends of killing one scientist and contacts a nearby ship to come for the device.

A Krell warship arrives and threatens the Orville. And landing craft from it race to the planet.

The team take out the spy and race to get the device off the planet and on to the Orville. They fight their way through the Krell raiding party. Up on the ship Malloy is given lee to "hug the donkey" which is to pester the Krell ship by flying extremely close to it's hull, which also means it is near impossible for the Krell to shoot them.

It makes for a fun space battle.

The crew on the ground make it to the shuttle and race back to the ship. But they get surprised by a Krell that sneaks aboard. Luckily, they all are seatbelted in, so emergency stop proves too much for the attacker.

The Orville is doing it's best to evade the Krell attacks, but finally the hits take their toll and their FTL engines are severely damaged

The team racing back to the ship end up behind the debris. Trying to fly through it, they end up getting damaged, and lose control of the ship.

Bortus has Malloy align the Orville so that the shuttle will fly straight into the ship. Malloy is nervous to try that dangerous a trick, but does his best, and pulls it off.

But it is too late for the Orville. Deflectors are down (And to the people complaining, that is a valid term a protective field. Come on.). And the Krell threaten to destroy the ship if the aging device isn't turned over to them.

Luckily Grayson has a cunning plan. They realign how the device fires and add a seed they picked up at the science lab. A special red wood seed that can grow and sustain it self in any environment without water for 100's of years.

They send the device over and wait for the Krell to test it. Which they do. I have no idea what to think you that moment isn't awesome to watch.

With the Krell dealt with they call the Union for aid and the Orville is taken back to dock for repairs. While there Mercer and Grayson talk and agree that she belongs on the ship, and that Mercer wants her to stay and help.

And we also learn that Grayson is actually the reason Mercer got the command. She pulled strings and got him his shot, to help  and watch out for him. Though she doesn't want him to know.

(When I first watched this episode I had thought we'd learn their was some intrigue. Like she was on a secret mission, or she faked the affair as part of an ops. But that would be adding in a layer of subterfuge to the show that it doesn't seem to need. Everything seems to be on the surface to peruse and consider.)

As scifi pilots go, it is good. It doesn't drag, but with one hour they had an odd balance to the story and the introductions. But introductions are done now, and story will be stepping up as we go through the rest of the season.

So let's take the Orville out and see what we can find.

No comments: