The Orville— first impressions

Orville 2When it debuted, there was a good bit of publicity about the science fiction comedy, The Orville, starring (and produced by) Seth McFarlane. And there are not a lot of shows to compare it to, so I understand why writers had some problems describing it.

Visually, this television show looks much like a feature film, such as the rebooted Star Trek, although it relies on CGI a bit more than an upscale effort like The Force Awakens, and the special effects don’t take center stage in as many scenesThe score, in particular, reminds Trek savvy viewers of the first Star Trek feature film, and certain scenes in the pilot also pay homage to that film. Other Trek elements include the use of shuttle craft to get back and forth from ship to ship (no transporters, however) and FTL travel is accomplished via a “quantum” drive rather than Trek’s warp drive. The uniforms are almost cartoon versions of military uniforms, but the color codes for different divisions again looks a bit like Trek.

The first half of the pilot strives very hard to set the comedic tone of the series, and that almost kept me from finishing it. Such lines as “Can I have a soda on the bridge?” or “Can I wear shorts to work?” from bridge officers are supposed to be funny, but these arbitrary requests seem out of place. Once the crew encounters some baddies and come together to accomplice some goals, the drama and the comedy mesh a bit better. My favorite space faring comedy is still Galaxy Quest, but it never took itself seriously, which The Orville seems to want to do, at least occasionally.

I’ve not seen all of the available episodes, but I will probably take another look, as hubby and I have only one episode left of Dark Matter, which is the best television space opera we’ve seen in quite a while. As for quality, my initial impression is that The Orville has a bigger budget, but the recently cancelled Dark Matter has a far better premise and better acting. A quick check over at Rotten Tomatoes gives DM a 79% fresh rating, but TO only gets 19%. Ouch! There are more episodes of The Orville to come, so we’ll have to wait and see if it gets any better.

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Dark Matter— review and commentary

Dark Matter from FBFor the most part, the SyFy channel has seemed more like the “Horror channel” to me. So many of their original works seemed to rely either on horror or even fantasy that I seldom watched it, back when we were cable subscribers. However, the series Dark Matter: Season 1 [Blu-ray] (which I’ve been binge watching lately) is certainly an exception to that. Here is a series which blends elements of hard and soft science fiction writing, plus some really good acting and nifty special effects, into an entertaining and occasionally thought provoking original science fiction series.

The initial premise is a fabulous launching point: Six people wake up from stasis pods on a ship, and none of them remembers their respective pasts. Action ensues almost immediately, as the ship’s android viciously attacks. Once the android is sorted out, then this motley crew sets about sorting out who they are and what the mission of this ship might be. All of the cast members do a good job with their parts, but Melissa O’Neil is particularly watchable as her “Two” character quickly becomes the center of this strong ensemble.

Each episode helps unravel the mysteries, while bringing in new characters and situations. As the series unfolds, most of the characters learn of unsavory bits in their past lives, which affects how they interact with each other and the characters they meet as they travel though space. Hard science fiction elements (the science part) include the technology of stasis, of artificial intelligence, faster than light space travel, and genetic engineering. Softer science fiction elements (the emotional and social aspects of technology) include how the characters react to their collective amnesia, how they interact with other cultures, the ethics of certain criminal activities, and how the politics of their time and space play out.

Among the players of this futuristic universe are large corporations, mostly depicted as being at war with each other. Government is largely a pawn of the corporations. Science fiction grand master Robert A. Heinlein played with similar themes in his novel, Friday, which also dealt with genetic engineering and the ethical dilemmas which accompany it. Science fiction requires good writing, as “fiction” is part of the term, and the writers of Dark Matter seldom disappoint. If there is a weakness, some of the space travel effects are a bit cheesy compared to modern movie making, but hey, it is a television show!

Science fiction is mythology for modern man. (I’d love to take credit for that, but I got the idea from reading about science fiction and mythology, including The Hero with a Thousand Faces (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell)  There is much to like in the series Dark Matter, which is on currently on the SyFy channel, as well as via streaming services and on DVD. I highly recommend it.