Right now on television, there is a brand new show that stands tall on the wings of the Star Trek franchise by engaging in its love of excitement, adventure, fascinating character, intriguing stories, scientific and human exploration, and captivating storytelling. Then, of course, there is also Star Trek: Discovery.
Why yes right now in addition to the first Star Trek show in years, also on TV is a comedy counterpart, The Orville, created by and starring Seth MacFarlane, who if you couldn’t tell from a lot of jokes on Family Guy and American Dad, has a huge infinity for the sci-fi franchise.
The Orville is very much MacFarlane’s Star Trek show, but with some of his trademark humor added in that’s balanced against the dramatic storytelling.
So, of course, I’m gonna take my time and take a look at both shows and see which one is better than the other.
Let’s get right to it! (Note: The first seven episodes of each show were watched for this comparison.)
When it comes down to it, the main difference in talking about Discovery and Orville is their narrative approaches. Sure I could be here all day going on about alien designs, the ships, etc., but the narrative is the key component in looking at both shows.
On Discovery, we have a war brewing between a fully reunited Klingon empire against the Federation a decade before Kirk and crew are set to take off in the Enterprise. The Orville we follow a redemption for Ed Mercer after his life and career fall apart when he discovers his wife cheating on him. He is then given command of The Orville, an exploratory vessel and set out on various diplomatic and exploratory missions, much like in past Star Trek shows themselves.
Discovery to me has the bigger ambition of the two shows and really it already wins on that alone. Discovery sure does have the advantage of actually taking place in the Star Trek mythology itself, but really it’s all about where it goes that is most interesting.
MacFarlane has shown a clear love for Trek in the past and here he really gets to play around with it, but at times it does mostly come off as MacFarlane finally getting to make his The Next Generation spec scripts come to life. That’s not a bad thing, I personally think TNG is the best Trek show (come at me in the comments), but with the originator around the corner, it’s hard not to put these two up against each other. Such as this article.
I say Orville feels a lot like TNG and that is due to a lot of the same archetypes of character from that show being present in the cast here, which once again, not a bad thing. The Orville like any sort of parody/satire of the sort has to not only be funny and poke fun at all the right things within the genre but also really work as its own piece within that genre. Now that’s where things get interesting. The Orville is funny, it has a good laugh or few in every episode, but honestly, I find the Star Trek parts of Orville much better than the comedy itself. The exploratory bits lead to some really cool designs and brand new aliens. That’s one thing at least Orville has up on Discovery as Discovery does stick to a lot of the species it already has, with the exception of Doug Jones’ Saru, a member of the Kelpien who was created just for that show.
Both shows certainly keep the spirit of Trek alive in how it continues to explore our own society today with many ideas and themes being touched on from war, gender identity, hell, Orville even had an episode featuring a social media obsessed population.
Another thing both shows do have in great abundance is an interesting cast. The Orville as said above it like an update on the cast of TNG, though this captain has a full head of hair. Each member of The Orville does have a distinct personality and their own little quirks to make them stand out. MacFarlane makes for a very good lead since he carries himself well as a man trying to correct the wrongs he’s recently made and turn it around to achieve his dream, but I think the performance on the show I like the most is that of Adrianna Palicki as Mercer’s commander and ex-wife. Her drama has certainly been proven on shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but she gets to let her hair down a bit here and do some really good comedy. She and MacFarlane have a nice back and forth that helped set the tone for the show back in the pilot. The rest of the crew is lovely too with Halston Sage’s Arala, Peter Macon as Bortus, and Mark Jackson as Issac. They do get to have their chance to shine in storylines and episodes focused on them when they aren’t exploring every corner of the galaxy, the episode “About A Girl” stands out to me as one of the show’s best episodes.
Discovery itself does have characters that stand out. We have an amazing an amazing lead in Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham. Burnham is a fascinatingly unique lead for the show as its a Trek show that doesn’t have the ship’s captain as the lead and Burnham is a human raised by Vulcans, which certainly gives her a degree of remarkability. Her journey to redemption being a pariah in the Federation has us really invest in her, we feel for her and want to see her succeed. Then there is the aforementioned Saru, who makes for nice little bits of humor here and there, all the while being a more than capable commander and dedicated officer. Stamets is commanding and always pushing his research into new heights, Sylvia is wonderfully awkward, Ash is a damaged soul, and there is Jason Issacs as Discovery captain Gabriel Lorca, who is just a whole lot of fun.
Lorca stands out right away from Star Trek captains we’ve seen before. His injury certainly helps with that, but it’s his voice, the accent Issacs helps draw you into his character and his menagerie gives the character several degrees of separation from the likes of Kirk, Picard, and Sisko. He’s not so much a captain, but more of a general really in how he runs his ship. Lorca certainly understands that he’s in the middle of a war and looks for whatever advantage he’ll take to win it. Issacs has this great presence about him that just makes him stand out.
Honestly, I really do have to say Star Trek: Discovery is the overall better show. Working with a much higher budget than The Orville gives it a huge advantage as it gives Discovery this hugely epic and grand scale to present itself in, but you can’t count out The Orville. A Star Trek comedy that is better in the Trek department than it is the comedy, there’s plenty to be offered from MacFarlane’s love letter to the franchise. It gives a great alternative and throwback to one of the biggest TV institutions ever. The Orville is a good show that I find myself enjoying whenever I watch it, but Discovery is what I really love about TV and the concept of Star Trek itself.
That’s my thoughts on the matter, what do you guys think? Which show do you perfer? Who are your favorite characters from them? Let us know in the comments below!