The Orville is a new show that has started this season on FOX. A science fiction show by Seth McFarlane, it is bascially a Star Trek show with the number plates filed off, originally advertised as a Galaxy Quest-esque homage. Turns out it’s actually the real deal.
I’m not really interested in the quality of the show. Some people have loved it, while most seem to not care. Being on FOX, it has already been moved to a different time slot and it’s likely we won’t be seeing the show return for a second season. But while we have the show here, at the same time as a new Star Trek show no less, gives us an odd situation.
While there have been science fiction shows running parallel to Star Trek in the past, the golden age of the late 90s and early 00s comes to mind, The Orville marks the occasion of the first show that takes Star Trek’s “space exploration vanilla” experience and doesn’t do much with it. While the likes of Babylon 5, Farscape, Battlestar Galactica, and so forth, have all always been inspired by Trek, The Orville is simply another space exploration show with an exploration ship, a captain, and a crew all organized by some sort of vague UN-esque organization. And they got away with it. In this age of trigger-happy copyright lawyers they got away with it. And why wouldn’t they? After all, Star Trek doesn’t own the basic concept.
I’m actually quite excited about this, because this means that the Star Trek-style exploration show is now where the cop drama has gone before, or the medical drama. The Orville might mark the beginning of an era of “space procedural” to join the likes of “crime procedural”, “court procedural”, and “medical procedural”. You can simply take the basic template and tell your own story now without having to work within the Star Trek template.
That doesn’t necessarily have to mean though that this means quality will go down the toilet. Star Trek managed that quite well on its own, thank you very much (thank you, thank you, I’ll be here all week). But rather it means that everyone can interpret the concept as they want. For comparison see the differences in style between a C.S. Forester and a Patrick O’Brian. While Hornblower and the Aubrey-Maturin series share the basic premise, they still tell very different stories.
No one would think there can only be one cop show or one medical show, yet for the longest time Star Trek had a monopoly on vanilla space shows. And while diverting from the Star Trek base template has let to great shows like BSG, Babylon 5, Farscape, and many more, the freedom to tell a Trek-esque story without having to work within the confines of the actual intellectual property could be interesting to see on the screen. For instance, the idea of Star Trek TNG but with the captain and first officer as divorcees, some basic swearing and Family Guy humor is already somewhat novel. It’s not great, but if this could eventually lead to the House M.D. or the Castle of the genre, why not?
I know it’s likely this won’t become a thing though. The reason cop and medical dramas are so prolific is precisely because you can make them for cheap. With science fiction that’s not so much a possibility. Yet could this be a chicken and egg situation? The more of these vanilla space shows you make, the cheaper it gets? Regardless, it is interesting to think about the consequences of Seth McFarlane’s fifty million dollar Star Trek LARP.