TWelcome to The Prodigal Nerd, a monthly column where I talk about nerd culture from the perspective of someone who just doesn’t have the time to be as involved as I used to be. Today I’m going to reveal something about myself that can sometimes be a source of cantankerousness to nerds of a certain type: on the Star Wars / Star Trek spectrum of nerdy fandom, I fall firmly on the Star Trek side.
It’s not that I don’t like Star Wars; I like it very much. I even like some of the stuff that more die-hard Star Wars fans seem to not like very much. It’s just that I like Star Trek much better. So much so that a few years ago I spent a few months watching through every Star Trek property then in existence. Every episode of every TV series; every movie. (For the record: the “odd-numbered-Trek-movies-suck” trope holds up; TOS is almost unwatchable to someone who grew up with modern TV pacing; TNG is still my favorite, but it’s only by a razor-thin margin over DS9; Voyager is mostly bad, and probably the worst thing to ever happen to Trek; Enterprise had so much potential that was just never realized… Sad.)
The best of Trek is equal parts exciting, poignant, thought-provoking, intellectual, heart-felt, and forward-thinking. To me, having grown up in the late 80s and 90s, those qualities were always epitomized by The Next Generation and Deep Space 9. But now there’s a new Star Trek show on TV that is ticking all of those boxes.
It is called The Orville, and it airs Thursday nights on FOX.
Whaaaat?!? The Seth MacFarlane show?! Isn’t that just live-action Family Guy in space?!
Well, no. Hear me out, though… The Orville is, in fact, the creation of Seth MacFarlane. And whether or not you’re a fan of his better-known properties like Family Guy, you sort of have to appreciate the depth and variety of his career thus far. I mean, he’s done everything from animated shows to the updated Cosmos miniseries to several albums of swing, jazz, and lounge standards. His humor might tend to be of a particular style, but his career pursuits and interests are not.
So it is in fitting with what we know about Seth MacFarlane that he would be interested in Star Trek, and in making a show of that ilk. And boy, is it of that ilk! So far The Orville has managed to hit many of the same notes that The Next Generation did 30 years ago. It is alternately funny, challenging, charming, and inspiring. They have addressed topics ranging from racism to gender identity to divorce, and many others. And they’ve managed to do all this with some of MacFarlane’s humor, but also with a lot of heart and sincerity that he’s not normally known for.
It’s still early in season 2, so there’s still some leg-finding that needs to happen. There has already been one cast shakeup, coincidentally (or maybe not…?) the security officer, a la Lt. Yar leaving The Next Generation early in its run. But if given a chance, I think The Orville can reach some of the same heights as the show that it is clearly modeled after.
As an aside – I’m calling The Orville the best Star Trek show on TV right now, without having seen even a minute of the actual Star Trek show on TV right now, Star Trek: Discovery. And I stand by that, no matter how good Discovery is, for this simple reason – putting a Star Trek show behind a paywall like CBS has done is a travesty. Star Trek exists in a (kind of) utopian future where there is no racism (except when there is), no poverty (except when there is), no war (except when there is), no pollution (except when there is), and no money (unless you’re Ferengi). Of those ideals, the money thing is the most solid one by a clear margin. So for CBS to bring back Star Trek for the first time in 15 years, but make viewers pay $10/month to watch it – that’s terrible. /end_rant
Long story short – if you are a fan of Star Trek, you owe it to yourself to check out The Orville. It’s really good, with the potential to be great.