Prior to this year, Star Trek had been absent from the small screen since Star Trek: Enterprise was cancelled in 2005.
Yet surprisingly, we now we have not one, but two shows trying to continue the Star Trek legacy. And what’s even more surprising is that the better of the two isn’t the one that actually is Star Trek.
The owners of the franchise want you to focus on the computer-graphics heavy Star Trek: Discovery
CBS is hoping you don’t notice that. They’re pinning all of their hopes on Star Trek: Discovery, which is the flagship of the CBS All Access platform, a monthly paid subscription service which will be the sole home of Starfleet for the foreseeable future.
CBS offered the first taste of Discovery for free on broadcast TV in the hopes of hooking you into coughing up cash to get your Trek fix.
Yet on first viewing, it appears that “Star Trek: Discovery” may not prove sufficiently addictive to merit pay-per-view status. Set 10 years before the original Star Trek series, it has the look and feel of a show light years removed from the world of the original Enterprise.
Much of that is due to advances in TV-making technology since the first Trek was on the air, but it’s difficult to pretend that these stories are somehow taking place in the same universe where William Shatner was overacting with hammy aplomb.
These Star Trek Klingons look nothing like the Klingons of old
The most glaring inconsistency is in the depiction of the Klingons, who look nothing like the antagonists of the original show – and bear only a passing resemblance to the Klingons of the films and sequel series.
It’s also tedious to hear them speak lengthy soliloquies in their Native Klingon tongue with ubiquitous, serif-fonted subtitles that are exhausting to read. You start to wonder why they can’t just speak English like everyone else in the universe.
That’s not to say that Star Trek Discovery is a bad show, necessarily – it’s just that it doesn’t really feel like Star Trek. So if you want to watch something that seems more Trekkish, you may want to check out “The Orville,” a new sci-fi series from Family Guy creator Seth Macfarlane.
Although The Orville has been panned by critics, Star Trek audiences love its spirit
“The Orville” has been panned by critics, but the disconnect between official reviewers and public opinion is massive. Over at Rotten Tomatoes, “The Orville” has only a 20 percent “fresh” rating, while it boasts a 90 percent approval from the audience.
Why the disparity? It may have something to do with how “The Orville” was marketed. Previews suggested it was a silly Trek parody in line with Macfarlane’s other comedies. And while it is considerably goofier than any Trek series, “The Orville” plays it straight, for the most part.
Yes, there are jokes, but there are also well-written scripts that address thorny social issues the way the Shatner series did. A particular standout was the episode where members of an all-male alien race tries to decide what to do when a baby is born female. This is the kind of stuff Trek used to do, and which the CGI-heavy “Star Trek: Discovery” is probably going to ignore.
Macfarlane is on record as saying that he wanted to make a Star Trek series, and “The Orville” seems to be his attempt to do precisely that. Indeed, its aping of Star Trek’s format and plot conventions is so blatant that one wonders how it will avoid a copyright lawsuit from Gene Roddenberry’s estate.
But legal issues aside, “The Orville” feels like Star Trek in a way that “Star Trek: Discovery” does not. And, even better, you don’t have to pay anything to watch it.
(Publicity photo by CBS of Klingon from Star Trek: Discovery.)