I’ve managed to get in three episodes each of Star Trek: Discovery and The Orville and I’m ready to talk about them. It’s taken some effort to sort out what I want to say, and to untangle the weight of expectation from what I’m actually seeing.
Discovery: This one’s frustrating. I like the characters, I like the look. The writing is just about terrible. First off, it should have started with the third episode. The first two are pure, unmitigated prologue. That last scene of the second episode, Burnham’s tribunal, I actually had a sinking feeling, because it was so clear that this is where the story starts, and if the previous hours felt stilted and wheel-spinny, well, that’s why.
Here’s an example of just how frustrating the writing is: we’re on the bridge during a standoff with the Klingons, the situation is very tense, things could start blowing up any minute — and Burnham has to go leave to make a phone call. Like for real. And the call is to Sarek to ask him how the Vulcans successfully made contact with the Klingons. And I’m immediately like, “Wait, aren’t the Vulcans part of the Federation? Why would this be secret information that she has to pry out of him? Wouldn’t the Vulcans, who are all about peace and knowledge, just tell everyone how to make contact with the Klingons?” Well, no, because this is a show that has to keep secrets in order to make the plot work. So Burnham runs back to the bridge to start acting like a crazy person, at which point the captain calls her off the bridge for another meeting. During this supposedly tense standoff. This makes no sense.
And let’s talk about the Klingons. Or as I call them, McGuffin Klingons. I’m not even going to touch on the re-design or how they look or talk or anything. Because they’re really just there to make the plot go. They make no sense otherwise. In fact, they spend most of these two episodes standing around explaining their motivation to each other because it makes no sense as anything other than “Well, Federation’s gotta fight somebody, I guess there’s a prophecy about it or something?”
The whole thing should have started with the third episode. Actual mystery, actual interesting things happening, and a redemption arc right out of the gate. And it could have just flown right past all that stuff that makes no sense.
The Orville: Or Star Trek with dick jokes. And I’m not really a fan of dick jokes, so there’s that, but mad props to Seth MacFarlane for getting Fox to fund his Star Trek LARP. I like the secondary characters a whole lot. The two leads drive me bananas, and I’m really over the thing where the goofy male main character gets the beautiful woman to defer to him and apologize to him etc.
Seriously though, that third episode straight-up could have been a Star Trek episode, which was always incredibly heavy handed when it tackled gender issues. Turnabout Intruder anyone?
Mostly, I just find it really odd. It’s a throwback. It’s nostalgia. And it’s goofy. It’s not terrible but it’s also not lighting any fires for me.
I will probably continue watching these for at least a couple more episodes. But I probably won’t enjoy them terribly much.
Here’s the thing, in conclusion: in the age of peak television, “tolerable” doesn’t cut it anymore. When I have shows like Legion and Mr. Robot and The Expanse to watch, I don’t have to put up with “Well, it’s okay.” I have a lot of brand loyalty to Star Trek. But these shows try my patience.