In the interests of full disclosure, I admit that I am both a Trekkie and a Questerian. My idol, Bones McCoy, was an inspiration not only for becoming a doctor, but for signing up with the US Navy for over a decade many years ago. I dutifully watched every Star Trek series, movie, reboot, and cartoon; and must admit that, though every follow up to TOS had some good points, none achieved the magic of my adolescent affection until Galaxy Quest arrived 30 years later. Alas, with the passing of the great Alan Rickman, Galaxy Quest 2 is not to be. So, instead, we have Star Trek Discovery and the Orville.
The pilot of Discovery left me in the cold…space, and it remains in my queue to binge watch after I wrap up Liar and Chance. The Orville however, which has sadly garnered a place on a few negative review lists; IMHO, soars. Overlooking the paean to middle school humor required in comedy today, the Orville is a heartfelt and, dare I say, optimistic view of adventures in space; resisting the current fashion of dark sets and even darker stories. The Orville brightens the final frontier, and enlists and engages us in traveling with its so very human characters (yes, aliens and androids included) in its very warm and inviting universe. Time travel has become a target today for “rotten tomatoes”, but the Orville has managed to create a time machine that allows us 2010 decade moderns of all ages to relive some of the enchantment of the science fiction and fantasy of TOS years ago.
Like the TOS Enterprise crew, the characters on the Orville come across as real people, eschewing technobabble and embracing battlefield humor. As we fly through the local and global dangers of our environment on our shaky spherical vehicle, we need our John Olivers, Jon Stewarts, Jimmys, Baldwins, McKinnons, and Colberts, and their oases of humor to get us out of bed so we can fight the “good fight” (season 2 coming up on CBS All Access, with ST Discovery). There are, alas, many battles ahead for us on Planet Earth, and dystopic science fiction is hardly an inspiration to seize, or even face, the day. Envisioning a future of war, poverty, discrimination, pestilence, starvation, torture, etc. makes us feel...that there is no hope for us to evolve in the next centuries. To do so, we have to identify a vision worth aiming for, to make our progress progressive.
And, we have to season our mission with playfulness to motivate and “energize” us as we launch our efforts to better our world. Much science fiction is nested in a somber universe, where lighthearted banter is seen as heresy. One of my favorite books as a youngster was Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat series, which, along with the brilliant tomes of Isaac Asimov (on whom I based a character in my “Zygan Emprise” trilogy), offered a buffet of wit and whimsy amidst the necessary plot twists and turns of space opera. Shiloh, Spud, and the “lost boys” in the Zygan Emprise’s “Renegades” and “Redemption” similarly use jesting in the intergalactic M.A.S.H. of their adventures. The Orville has been panned for not being pure pastiche or satire, but it has successfully managed a realistic balance between humor and dramatic thrills that resonates of the much-missed TOS.
And, the Orville has managed to succeed in another TOS strength area, bringing modern-day issues to the fore and advocating through education and inquest, framing perspectives in an “alien” landscape that allows viewers to examine their own positions and biases with less defensiveness and inflexibility. In this era, during which we have all been Machiavellianly divided into our “corners”, the Orville helps us revisit “alien” cultures and mentors us in reaching out to and learning about the “others” on our own ship or planet. Finally, the Orville even tops TOS in one arena. TOS was “riding high” on the wave of American exceptionalism in the 1960s. Its message of peace and brother/sister/nonbinaryhood had a patronizing whiff of “Truth, Justice, and the American Way”, the Prime Directive notwithstanding. The Orville has a much more humble approach to its outreach, and is an evolved approach to meeting and greeting “others” that many of our leaders on a broad political spectrum would be wise to emulate.
The Orville has become very popular among fans of TOS and other optimistic Trek and sci-fi series, with the added bonus that it’s a fun “voyage” to boot—and re-boot. If you haven’t had a chance to enjoy the camaraderie of this very human inter-species starship, turn it on, tune in, and drop in, for an hour of the light—I mean, delight.
Yolanda Reid Chassiakos, MD, is a physician-writer, member of the Writers Guild of America West, co author of Dead Air and Devil Wind as Linda Reid, and author of The Zygan Emprise as YS Pascal.