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Tuesday, 19 September 2017

The Orville 1-02: Command Performance (Quick Review)

Episode:2|Writer:Seth MacFarlane|Air Date:17-Sep-2017

Today on Sci-Fi Adventures I've got another super-rushed first draft quick review for you! No screencap recap, just opinions and SPOILERS.

I'm not sure how long I'm going to keep writing about Orville episodes, especially with Discovery joining it soon, but I had to give my two pennies' worth on how the first normal episode turned out. Like the pilot, it's written by Seth MacFarlane, but this time he's got the guy who played Tom Paris on Star Trek: Voyager in to direct!

Robert Duncan McNeill switched to directing a long while back and has worked on series like Enterprise, Supernatural, and especially Chuck, so he's a good choice, but I can't help but think that the producers were going for Star Trek names deliberately to give the series some credibility and lure in the fans. My first clue was that the next three episodes are directed by Brannon Braga (long time Trek writer), James L. Conway (long time Trek director) and Jonathan Frakes (long time Riker).

Okay, it's all spoilers and criticism below this point, so don't go any further unless you've seen the episode already or don't care.

Command Performance is all about Alara in command for the first time, and Ed and Kelly putting on a performance for their audience in the zoo. So the title works at least.

It came as a bit of a surprise to me though that the first story after the pilot is an Alara episode. I mean Seth MacFarlane seems like such a Star Trek: The Next Generation fan that he would've made this a homage to its second episode, The Naked Now, and had everyone acting drunk and out of character. Though I guess that would be trickier with this crew. Plus Alara and Ed do enough drinking for everyone and Bortus gets naked, so I guess it's close enough.

Instead, he did a homage to the original Star Trek pilot, The Cage, and put the captain and first officer in an alien zoo! Except, the twist here is that the two of them make absolutely zero progress towards finding their own way out. I kept waiting for Chekhov's cannabis edible to come into play in an unexpected and hilarious way, but nope. Plus I figured that kid they were stuck with would turn out to be a cranky old asshole with a deep voice that they had to conspire with to escape, but also nope. So Ed and Kelly's B plot was ultimately exclusively about them dealing with the wreckage of their relationship again, which was my least favourite part of the pilot and it's my least favourite part of this too. It seems well-written enough and the actors have decent chemistry when they're not driving each other mad, but personally I just don't care about their problems!

The Orville's main trick has been to use comedy to get away with things that other sci-fi series can't. It can use all the old sci-fi clich├ęs, it can be overly earnest and cheesy, it can rip off the premise of Star Trek entirely, but you can forgive it because it's all part of the joke. But when it puts two characters in a typical apartment and has them argue about their relationship it loses that defence, because now it's competing with sit-coms directly in their own territory and the zoo scenes just didn't have the jokes to pull it off.

It had some real sit-com awkwardness at the start though, with Ed's parents coming on the viewscreen; that scene really worked. In fact, the comedy seemed a lot better integrated into the plot in general, with the episode feeling more like a funny Star Trek episode than an awkward Frankenstein's monster stitched together from a pile of 90s TV DVDs. The pacing is definitely better and I appreciated how it jumped right into the plot this time instead of leaving it until the last 20 minutes.

Fortunately, the main focus is on Alara freaking out over being given command. The pilot gave her two character traits, being really young for the job and being really strong, and this time it's exploring the former. It's kind of strange though to see her trying to do Ed and Kelly's job when we haven't really seen them doing their job yet. We still don't know if Ed's any good as a captain, because Bortus and Alara have both spent longer in that chair giving orders in a crisis than he has! But Alara's definitely won me over, with her entirely natural reactions to all the Star Trek crap she has to deal with. Plus she got the best line in the episode ("Woof"). Though I was a little distracted during her scenes by trying to figure out what they've changed about her makeup since the pilot... turns out that they gave her eyebrows! It really helps.

In the end. she decides to do the Star Trek thing and disobey orders to save her captain, to the cheers of the crew! A lot of Seth MacFarlane fans on this boat I guess. Fortunately, it turns out that if you disobey an order to do something reckless and dangerous, and then somehow actually pull it off, all is ultimately forgiven! I guess living in a utopia full of reasonable, compassionate people has its benefits.

And after this episode I can believe that they're actually living in this world, as we see a lot more of the Orville and her crew. I can't tell which rooms are unique and which are redressed, I saw a lot of beige walls and windows, but the ship feels like more than just the bridge and an office now. Plus I love how seriously the series takes its setting. There's no comedy vending machines or Talkie Toasters here, and the crew actually take their jobs seriously when they're not taking the piss. I love Red Dwarf, but I'm glad The Orville's getting most of its comedy out of putting regular people in an optimistic, shiny, action-adventure Star Trek world. They're a bit too regular at times maybe, I could do with less of the anachronistic references, but I guess that was justified by the ending where they revealed the archive of 400-year-old television they've got on board.

Speaking of Star Trek (again), the series has a full opening titles sequence now and they seem to have swiped it from Star Trek: Voyager while its back was turned! Though I suppose there's only so many ways to show a ship flying past space phenomenon while a heroic theme plays. In fact, they practically had it in the pilot already, as the theme was playing over the ship's launch from space dock... and during half the other space scenes too. Thankfully the theme stays where it belongs this time and the music's less distracting and cheesy in general. It's still just as dramatic though (and cheekily similar to the Star Trek: The Motion Picture soundtrack at times). It puts 90s Trek's offensively bland background music to shame in fact, and Discovery's going to have work hard to recover lost ground.

Overall I liked the episode. It's not great, but it's better than the pilot, and the crew are growing on me. I'm rooting for the show! It has me worried about the next story though, as those critics who universally panned the series before it aired had all seen the first three episodes. Will the next episode be so astoundingly terrible that it ruins everything that came before it?

The Orville will return with About a Girl. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures, it's Deep Space Nine's Cardassians.

Comments are welcome and encouraged!

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