The Orville Works as both Sci-fi and Comedy

Seth MacFarlane’s new sci-fi comedy “The Orville” has been described as either an homage or a spoof of Star Trek. However he insists it’s really its own show and although it draws heavily on Star Trek genre it should be considered on its own merits. Having seen the opening episode I think all of the above is true. It is part spoof, part parody, part homage and a legitimate sci-fi adventure in and of itself.

If we set aside the issues of Star Trek connections and just judge it on its own merits as a sci-fi adventure and a comedy I think after one episode I have to say it works on both levels. It really is a decent sci-fi adventure show with a reasonably credible sci-fi plot. It also made me laugh really hard several times even if it is at times over-the-top silly.

MacFarlane plays Capt. Ed Mercer who in the opening of the show finds his wife in bed with a blue skinned alien. We fast-forward one year to find him down on his luck and depressed over the failure of his marriage. However Adm. Halsey played by guest star Victor Garber tells him he’s being given command of a mid-level exploratory shape called the Orville. Apparently there are 3000 ships in the fleet and they are little shorthanded for captains so despite the fact that he’s been a basic screwup over the past year they are giving him a shot at redemption despite his recent troubles.

Unfortunately his dream assignment turns into a nightmare when he finds out that his first officer is going to be his ex-wife Kelly Grayson played by Adrianne Palicki.

His best friend Gordon Malloy played by ER veteran Scott Grimes is going to be his new helmsman who is supposedly the proverbial “best pilot in a galaxy” but is also a ne’er-do-well alcoholic. We are also introduced into a variety of other alien crewmembers such as his petite female security chief Alara Kitan played by Halston Sage whose size hides the fact that she grew up on a planet with much heavier gravity and so exhibits superhuman strength. We also have a Worf-like character named Bortus played by Peter Macon who you might recognize as Dominique’s police officer father from Shameless.

One surprise bit of casting is Penny Johnson Jerald as the ship’s medical officer Dr. Claire Finn. You will remember her as Capt. Gates from the detective/romance show Castle. It’s a little bit hard to imagine her in a comedy but the character she’s playing seems to be very straightlaced so it might work after all. She does however have some genre credit because she played Kasidy Yates on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

As a sci-fi show the opening plot was actually not too bad. Their first mission is a resupply mission the scientific colony but when they arrive they find out that they aren’t really there to resupply but are to guard a new piece of technology that can speed up time. While it has peaceful uses such as making crops grow quicker it can also be used as a weapon by making your enemy age 100 years in a few seconds. The alien enemy race the Krill are after technology. There is an outer space battle and a ground attack that provides lots of action.

The show also works as a comedy mostly by humanizing the crew in ways that traditional Star Trek type shows do not. For example 2 crewmembers meet in a hallway and one of them asks “Do you have a minute we can talk?” And the other replies “I only have a minute… I’m on my way to pee.” It calls to mind the strange fact that after decades worth of Star Trek we’ve never had anyone talk about taking a leak. In another scene the navigator asked the captain if it’s okay for to keep a drink and his console. The captain agrees as long as he keeps his under the desk and doesn’t spill it on anything. Later in the middle of a tense moment we see the navigator sucking on a Slurpie.

The humor isn’t really so much jokes or funny situations as it is breaking your expectations of what a space adventure is like. In another scene the captain needs to stall the attacking alien while they try to repair the ship and so he engages in a debate with his ex-wife/first officer over there marital problems and they asked the alien commander’s advice. It’s all pretty silly but for some reason it works.

Despite what I’ve said about this not being a Star Trek spoof there are plenty of Star Trek influences everywhere. The design of the bridge echoes features of Star Trek: The Next Generation as does the orchestral soundtrack. On the other hand it breaks some Star Trek conventions such as one-shot that shows an extremely long hallway that had to be done with some sort of optical effects. Traditional Star Trek and other sci-fi spaceship based adventures rely on short corridors or curved corridors to minimize the size of the set. So in some ways is not so much what is similar to Star Trek that makes this show interesting. It’s the ways in which it is different. But you have to be a fan of the original to see and appreciate the differences.

They have ordered 13 episodes and I don’t know if there options to extend it to a full season if it’s a hit or if it’s intended from the beginning to be a limited series. Time will tell whether or not the silliness gets to be too silly and whether or not the hard-core sci-fi aspects continue to hold up episode after episode. For now I’m giving it a rating of “I really like it”. I recommend you check it out for yourself. It might provide an alternative to the upcoming Star Trek: Discovery which will only be available through the streaming subscription service CBS All Access. The first episode of The Orville is available on demand. Episode 2 is next Sunday and then it moved to its regular timeslot on Thursday nights beginning September 21.

America Horror Story: Cult Capitalizes On Political Fear

Normally I only bother to review new series however American Horror Story is an anthology series that reboots itself every season with totally new characters and new situations. It even takes place in different time periods. So in many respects it is a new show each season.

This particular installment for season 7 begins with election night 2016 when Trump was elected president. Considering that as a liberal and Hillary supporter I thought that evening was terrifying enough, I wanted to see what the team from AHS was going to do to capitalize on an already scary situation.

The first three or four seasons of the show I thought were really well done but in recent years I’ve been disappointed. Season 5 titled AHS: Hotel took a very long time to get going. They seemed to go for the shock value of lots of blood and gore for the first three or four episodes before they really got into the character development. Eventually the characters began to reveal themselves with the memorable performances but the overall plot I thought fell very flat.

Last season premiered with great secrecy and hype not revealing the subtitle “My Roanoke Nightmare” until the premier. There were promises that this season was going to tie together all previous seasons. With a few minor exceptions that were references to previous season characters I thought that aspect fell flat. The structure of last season was based on a reality documentary series that recounted the events in a haunted house. The second half of the season was in the form of another reality documentary revisiting the haunted house and re-examining the events from the first half of the season. Overall it was sort of a gimmick season that in some ways was a commentary on fandom of shows like AHS. I sort of liked the gimmick even though it was very gimmicky .

This season is titled AHS: Cult however it’s not really clear yet what the cult aspects of the show will be. Although we do get one very bloody scene near the beginning of the episode, fortunately we do dive right into character development which is where AHS has always been strongest. The opening scenes are of different families witnessing the election results and reacting to them in different ways. On one end of the political spectrum we have Kai Anderson played by AHS veteran Evan Peters. He becomes hysterically giddy with joy over Trump’s election. Throughout the show he reveals himself as an anarchist who sees the election as validation of his radical views. In one scene he goes before the local Town Council to speak against a proposal to allocate police overtime to guard a local Jewish Community Center. He goes into a diatribe about how people love fear and how the Jewish people in particular craved being persecuted. He suggests we allocate no additional resources to their protection because they love to live in fear.

On the other end of the political spectrum we have Ally Mayfair-Richards and her family. She is portrayed by AHS veteran Sarah Paulson. She and her lesbian partner Ivy played by Allison Pill have a 10-year-old son. Ally also becomes hysterical over the election results but out of total abject fear of what it means for her as a lesbian. We later learn however that she also is a deeply disturbed person who is haunted by crippling phobias of clowns, objects with holes in them, and either irrational fears. We learned that the only way she was able to overcome these phobias was through the stable relationship with her partner Ivy. But now that the political climate seems to threaten their way of life, her entire life becomes unhinged. She begins hallucinating that she is being taunted by clowns. But then again is it really hallucination or is it real?

One of the interesting things about this season at least through the first episode is that we have seen nothing that requires a supernatural explanation. The psychotic evil of Evan Peters is all too real. And Ally’s psychosis does not require any supernatural basis. I seriously doubt that the show will avoid dipping into the supernatural considering how heavily it has relied on those themes in the previous six seasons. But I think this would be a much more interesting season if they made it more reality-based. I’ve got my fingers crossed but I’m not holding my breath.

Overall I like the fact that they’ve gone into interesting character development right off the bat and I’m very optimistic this will be an interesting and enjoyable season. For now I’m giving it a very strong rating of “I’m Watching It

Bates out Roberts in at AHS; Killjoy lives but Dark Matter dies; Letterman and Shonda move to Netflix; and more

This is going to be a difficult installment to put together because a major computer malfunction caused me to have to reinstall all of my software. For the most part my data was kept intact except when it uninstalled Feed Demon which is my RSS newsreader, it also destroyed all of the previously captured headlines. So I had to go back to my main entertainment website and do it the old-fashioned way and just browse through the articles page by page.

The new fall season kicks off tomorrow with the premier of American Horror Story on FX. Here is a calendar of other premier dates courtesy of TV line.

Fall Premier Calendar from TV Line

In other news I went to see “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” in 3D. I can’t really figure out why it was such a box office flop. It was every bit as visually standing as the previews implied. Lots of really cool looking aliens, state-of-the-art effects, big space battles. Parts of it were a little bit cheesy but you don’t go to one of those kind of movies for a deep plot or Oscar worthy acting. Probably the acting was the only really bad part of the movie. My tradition is to see a film on the second weekend in order to avoid crowds but my friends were unable to take me that weekend so we went the third weekend. By that time it was only showing in two theaters here in Indianapolis and there were very few showings available in 3D. I suppose my biggest disappointment is since it was a box office flap we will not be seeing any sequels.

I also was able to see Dunkirk in IMAX at the Indiana State Museum downtown IMAX screen. See my review in a separate blog post here

In the Links below read

Three new programs to appear on CBS All Access subscription streaming service

Spoilers from Michael Ausiello dated August 2

Spoilers from Inside Line dated August 9

Postmortem interview with producers of Orphan Black about series finale. Two articles.

Interview with “Inside the Actors Studio” host James Lipton about his most memorable moments of the show

Spoilers from Michael Ausiello dated August 23

Also of interest but not linked below…

RIP actor and Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Sam Shepard age 73 of ALS

Former Y&R soap opera star Hartley Sawyer will guest star on The Flash as “Elongated Man”.

Kathy Bates will not be in the next season of American Horror Story. You can however see her on the Netflix comedy series “Disjointed” about a woman who runs a legal marijuana dispensary.

Marlee Matlin will join the cast of Quantico playing a former undercover FBI agent who lost her hearing by being too close to a bomb blast.

Carol Burnett will have an unscripted show where she interviews kids on Netflix in 2018

We now know how they are going to explain the exit of Kevin James wife Donna on “Kevin Can Wait”. They’re going to kill her off!

Allison Williams will costar with Benedict Cumberbatch in his upcoming Showtime limited series named “Patrick Melrose”

Emma Roberts is returning to American Horror Story next season

Audra McDonald is joining the cast of The Good Fight for season 2. She had previously guest starred in The Good Wife.

ABC announced the upcoming season 9 on sitcom “The Middle” will be its last premiering October 9.

CW will have a four show superhero crossover event November 27/28 beginning with Supergirl followed by Arrow on the 27th in concluding with The Flash and legends of tomorrow on the 28th. No plot details available yet.

The reboot of “Will and Grace” will completely the previous series finale in which all four main cast members broke up and went their separate ways. The new revival act like that never happened. The revival has already been renewed for another season even though this one has not yet premiered.

The spinoff from sitcom “black-ish” which will follow the college exploits of their own list daughter has been renamed from “college-ish” to “grown-ish”. It will premiere on the Freeform network formerly known as ABC family network.

The “Divergent” film series is likely to be continued as a TV series for Starz Network.

Sylvester Stallone will play himself in upcoming episodes of This Is Us as Kevin’s war movie costar.

NBC says Celebrity Apprentice will not be returning to the network anytime soon. Last season’s version with Arnold Schwarzenegger had terrible ratings much to Donald Trump’s delight.

NBC is considering a reboot of Miami Vice

There is going to be a book and movie about New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to be titled “12”

There will be a “The Dark Tower” TV series based on the current film and Stephen King novel series.

Bruce Willis will star in a remake of the vigilante film “Death Wish”. The original starred Charles Bronson.

RIP British actor Robert Hardy who was 91. He appeared in Harry Potter movies, “All Creatures Great and Small” and portrayed Winston Churchill in a miniseries.

Netflix has renewed “Anne With an E” for season 2 based on the Anne of Green Gables stories.

“Annihilation” a sequel to “Ex Machina” will hit theaters in February 2018

Rapper Suge Knight have been arraigned for threatening F. Gary Gray the director of “Straight Outta Compton” in a dispute over the film.

ESPN8 was a fictional channel from the comedy film Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story. However on August 8 ESPN will temporarily transform ESPNU into ESPN8 to play along with the joke.

ABC has canceled its plans for a show “The Little Mermaid Live”

USA Network announced season 3 Mr. Robot will premiere October 11

“This Is Us” has lost one of its 11 Emmy nominations. A nomination for contemporary costumes has been rescinded because too much of the episode in question takes place in flashback and therefore was knocked “contemporary” time period.

RIP Haruo Nakajima who was the actor side the original Godzilla suit. Aged 88 died of pneumonia.

David Letterman is going to do a new interview show with a single guest for Netflix sometime next year.

RIP Glen Campbell aged 81. The singer had been battling Alzheimer’s for many years.

Netflix has renewed “GLOW” comedy series about women’s wrestling for season 2.

Brooke Shields will have a recurring role in the upcoming season of Law & Order: SVU.

Tom Cruise suffered a broken ankle during a stunt on a set of Mission Impossible 6

Producer Shonda Rhimes has signed a deal with Netflix and is leaving her current agreement with ABC Studios

A female stunt driver has died during an accident on the set of Deadpool 2

This summer has been the smallest movie gross sales in 25 years. Strangely no major new movies are being released this Labor Day weekend.

Daniel Craig has confirmed he will be James Bond at least one more time.

This season 7 finale of USA series “Suits” will be a backdoor pilot to a spinoff staring Gina Torres a.k.a. Jessica Pearson. The new series will not be a legal drama that will focus on Chicago politics.

According to Forbes magazine Emma Stone was the highest-paid actress in 2017 followed by Jennifer Aniston and Jennifer Lawrence.

RIP actor Sonny Landham who played the Native American tracker in the 1987 film Creditor. He was 76 and had congestive heart failure.

Donald Trump will not attend this year’s Kennedy Center Honors. This was actually a classy move. The reason given was they wanted to avoid a distraction for the honorees. Some recipients have already said they will not attend a ceremony at the White House afterwards.

Adam Nimoy son of Leonard Nimoy is engaged to Terry Farrell who played Lieut. Dax on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

RIP comedian and social activist Dick Gregory age 84.

RIP comedian, filmmaker Jerry Lewis 91. Loved his work. Disliked him personally.

Netflix viewership dropped 10% during the solar eclipse.

Morgan Freeman will receive the SAG lifetime achievement award next year

EPIX channel has renewed “Get Shorty” for season 2

Amazon has renewed critically acclaimed “Transparent” for season 5

RIP actor Jay Thomas known for his roles on Cheers and Murphy Brown as well as frequent appearances on David Letterman. He was 69.

Ryan gosling will host the season premiere of SNL September 20 with Jay-Z as musical guest

Bill Nye the Science Guy is suing Disney for $37 million over profits from his series

RIP director Tobe Hooper famous for Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Age 74

RIP actor Richard Anderson known for playing Oscar Goldman on “$6 Million Man” he was 91

HBO announced there will be a “True Detective” season 3

RIP comedian Shelley Berman known as a sitdown comic rather than a standup comic. Age 92. Very funny old school comedian. I was a fan.

Syfy Channel has renewed “Killjoys” for 2 final seasons but has canceled “Dark Matter” and I’m disappointed it’s gone.

RIP Walter Becker founding member of Steely Dan age 67

Three new programs to premiere on CBS All Access subscription streaming service

Spoilers from Michael Ausiello dated August 2

Matt’s Inside Line: Scoop on Arrow, Grey’s, Once, Lethal Weapon, Supergirl, The Night Shift, NCIS and More

‘Orphan Black’ Co-Creator Talks Series Finale, Movie Reunion & #Clone Club

Orphan Black EPs Talk ‘Quieter’ Series Finale, Helena’s Birth Scene, [Spoiler]’s Unhappy Ending and Movie Hopes

‘Inside The Actors Studio’ Host James Lipton On His Most Memorable Moments During The Show’s Two Decade-Plus Run

Ask Ausiello: Spoilers on The Flash, Grey’s Anatomy, This Is Us, Scandal, Supernatural, Lucifer, Chi Fire and More