Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down. Antz and A Bug’s Life. 30 Rock and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Sometimes 2 movies or TV shows with the same premise are released at the same time. Some people say that it’s the result of the zeitgeist. I believe that they are usually a coincidence since there is so much media. Either way, it’s the perfect setup for a head-to-head comparison, and unless you traveled through the wormhole to a desolate planet (or maybe just aren’t a trekkie), then you should know that we are witnessing the greatest TV show fight of all: The Orville or Star Trek: Discovery?
Seth MacFarlane, the creator and voice of every character on Family Guy, created The Orville as a Star Trek homage. Although it is not officially in the Star Trek universe, it is entirely derivative of Star Trek and will feel familiar. MacFarlane plays the Captain of the Starship Orville with his ex-wife, played by Adrianne Palicki, as the first officer. An ensemble cast fills out the rest of the crew, and each week, they go to a different planet for a different adventure. There are also plenty of jokes along the way.
Star Trek: Discovery stars Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham, a human raised by Vulcans and is set a decade before the original Star Trek series with Captain Kirk. The story takes place in the middle of a big fight with the Klingons and primarily follows Burnham’s contribution in the war.
In my opinion, The Orville feels more like Star Trek: The Next Generation with Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard, whereas Star Trek: Discovery feels more like the newer movies (known to fans as the Kelvin Timeline) with Chris Pine as Captain Kirk. The Orville is extremely episodic and is about how the crew reacts with bizarre worlds. It is largely light viewing with some social commentary. Star Trek: Discovery is a more intense, fast-paced, action-packed show that follows a long story arc. It focuses on the psyche of a few select characters and is about their journey through the world.
Although some have tried to find consensus in the Trekkie about which show is better, it is unsurprisingly a wash like in any sufficiently diverse community. Since both shows draw on different Star Trek visions, most people seem to like at least one of them, and many (such as myself) are watching both.
But since it’s no fun to take a nuanced perspective and stay in the middle ground, I will offer up my opinion: I like The Orville more.
First, the show feels good. I know I can get off the couch after the episode in a happy mood. I don’t mind intense, gritty shows: like everyone else, I’m watching Game of Thrones. However, I always liked my Star Trek as an optimistic look towards what the future might be. Of course there are tough moral choices, but it’s based on a utopian society. The crew of The Orville isn’t perfect, but they do work harmoniously.
Second, I like the ensemble cast of the entire crew rather than focusing intensely on one or two main characters. I think it’s more honest to real life and a better model for behavior. Team do great things. Great leaders and visionaries typically function within a group of people, and their followers are equally deep and interesting people. I understand why stories typically focus on a single protagonist: it’s much easier to write and follow. However, in real life, we can’t all be the captain of a starship or even the owner of a terrestrial business. That doesn’t diminish individual contributions, and it’s nice when fiction reflects that value as well.
Third, for the haters, the older Star Trek shows weren’t actually that good, and The Orville isn’t so extreme. It seems like a joke that MacFarlane (the captain) and Palicki (the first officer) are a divorced couple, but in TNG, Commander Riker and Counselor Troi used to be a couple, and they amusingly sit on either side of Captain Picard on the bridge. Every other episode has an old flame or family member of some crew member show up, and there is endless (corny) humor about Data, the android, not understanding humans and whatnot. I am currently watching TNG on Netflix and can confidently say that this show isn’t great. However, it isn’t that far from The Orville, and because I still love TNG, I love this show, too.
Still, I’m not complaining about having too much Star Trek. We are watching and enjoying both of them. After having watched Terra Nova, Revolution, and Timeless trying to find good sci-fi on broadcast television, I will enjoy all of the Star Trek that I can for as long as I can.