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Let’s talk about Star Trek February 25, 2019

Posted by sjroby in Star Trek, TV.
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There’s a new TV series. It’s like Star Trek: The Next Generation all over again, a brightly lit show of mostly standalone episodes about the crew of a very comfortable looking ship. The humans, aliens, and artificial life form work together on the nice big bridge, many of them hang out in the nice big lounge after hours, the captain’s got a kind of thing with one of his officers, the security officer is an alien, and hell, the doctor used to be on Deep Space Nine. The main character, of course, is the captain, a white guy. And many people with Star Trek connections work on the show, from writers to directors to guest stars.

And there’s another new TV series, one that doesn’t look a lot like Star Trek of any generation, one that started out pretty damn dark and got darker before the new season lightened up quite a bit, one that is heavily serialized, and has some new elements that seem hard to fit into canon as we thought we knew it. (No, I’m not talking about the third and fourth seasons of Enterprise, though it fits just as well.) The main character isn’t the captain or even a white guy. It doesn’t have too many people who worked on past incarnations of Star Trek, either.

Obviously I’m talking about The Orville and Star Trek: Discovery. I’ve seen a lot, and I mean a lot, of disgruntled Star Trek fans proclaiming that The Orville is the real new Star Trek and Discovery is an abomination. And you know what? They’re wrong.

Star Trek — the original — wasn’t like much of anything else at the time. Star Trek, the animated series, was different from the original in several ways — being an animated half hour show, for one, but it also introduced new regular characters and new technology (life support belts and an early version of the holodeck). Then in 1979 live action Trek returned, but everything looked and felt different — uniforms, the ship, relationships between characters, and holy cow, the Klingons. Then the very next movie changed the look again, with a more military feel and new uniforms, and a new character with some kind of history with Spock, and suddenly Kirk has a son?! And Spock dies?!

1987: a whole new ship, a whole new crew, a whole new look and feel, and some significant changes to what we knew about the Federation and Starfleet. Meanwhile in the movies, suddenly Spock has a half-brother. 1992: a TV show not even set on a ship, but on a starbase, where instead of seeing something new every week, we see a smaller number of things, but in much more detail, and supporting characters evolve and become as important as the regulars. Then Voyager takes us away from the Federation and all that’s familiar and plops us a long, long way from home. And Enterprise is a prequel series that doesn’t look like the original series at all, and suddenly the Vulcans are a lot different, and…

Do you get where I’m going with this?

Every time Star Trek comes back, it’s different. It tries something new. It changes its format. It changes its balance of continuity/arc elements and standalone stories. It brings in new people behind the scenes. Even if it doesn’t quite go as initially planned — Voyager and Enterprise had a tendency to do TNG retread stories too often — they started with the goal of going where no Star Trek series had gone before.

Which brings me to The Orville and Discovery. Discovery is unmistakably going where no Star Trek has gone before in many respects, despite frequent nods to canon, from using characters like Mudd, Pike, Spock, and Sarek to revisiting (previsiting?) the Mirror Universe. The Orville is a retread of TNG, from its look and feel to its supporting characters too obviously drawn from TNG characters to its plotlines to… well, at least the focus on dick jokes was new, if immature. But The Orville is bound and determined to go exactly where Star Trek has already been before. Seth MacFarlane knows and loves Star Trek, but instead of taking the next step into the final frontier, he’s stepping back. He’s making a show in 2019 that looks like 1989. Discovery, on the other hand, is moving forward, making Star Trek that looks and feels like 2019. The Orville is a lot of fun, don’t get me wrong, but it’s like watching TNG reruns with someone cracking jokes. Discovery, on the other hand, has me wanting to see what comes next. The characters matter a lot more to me, and so do the ongoing arc elements.

The real Star Trek is the one with Star Trek in the title. Not just because it’s in the title, but because it’s doing what Star Trek has always done.

(And how cool is it that it’s doing well enough that we know we’re getting several more new Star Trek series?)

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1. [BLOG] Some Wednesday links | A Bit More Detail - February 27, 2019

[…] Roby at The Fifteenth makes the case for Discovery as worthy of being considered Star Trek, not least because it is doing […]


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