So, in September there is a new Sci Fi show coming out named The Orville, and it provides us with an intriguing look into what is going on with the legacy of Star Trek.
Successful and/or notorious producer Seth MacFarlane is producing and starring in The Orville as a ship captain. This is going to be a comedy show about a Star Trek-esque exploration vessel in the 24th century, named the USS Orville, and it has a Star Trek-esque crew with a first officer, a sort-of Klingon, a walking robot and so on. It is not just a parody of Star Trek, like Galaxy Quest, but for Seth MacFarlane it is a direct comment on the current status of Star Trek itself. In interviews, he says that Star Trek stopped doing what they were doing 15 years ago, and he misses that, and The Orville is his way to bring that feeling back. And indeed, the show looks like a The Next Generation fan’s wet dream. This is all about nostalgia.
At the same time, there is a new Star Trek series coming out named Star Trek: Discovery, also in September at the same time as The Orville. This makes the two shows competitors in a very blatant way. Discovery attracted its own share of criticism from the fanbase, because many of the choices made do not sit right with many fans. Discovery tries to go for the lens-flare look of the recent J.J. Abrams movies and its trailer makes it look like an action movie. In any case, far removed from what Star Trek used to be. Also, it is once again a prequel series set before the age of Kirk and Spock, which let many long-term fans down. Smaller annoyances are a reimagining of the Klingons, although The Next Generation did the same thing in the 90s.
The Star Trek fanbase now seems to be split over these two “reimaginings” of Star Trek. Orville threads keep popping up on the Star Trek reddit and a discussion is going on whether they should be removed. For brand-loyalists, it seems painful that The Orville looks like a better produced show than Discovery. The Orville looks more familiar, it looks like more money has been thrown at it, it attracts all the public attention and even attracts old Star Trek writers like Brannon Braga, who worked on The Next Generation and Voyager. Jon Favreau will direct the pilot. MacFarlane seems to do his utmost to make this a success. The only thing different is that it has MacFarlane’s brand of humor, which I personally am not a fan of. Discovery, meanwhile, is left floundering as a show even before it starts.
The search for a reimagining of Star Trek has been going on ever since the end of the 90s. After the success of Star Trek: The Next Generation, two other shows followed up in the same vein, Deep Space Nine and Voyager. The series Voyager was narratively weak, and when the same producers added a fourth new series named Enterprise, that one lasted only four seasons. Enterprise too tried to reimagine Star Trek by making it topical about terrorism and then about reaching back to the original show of the 60s, but they were reaching and it never got popular. The movies also grinded to a halt with some bad instalments. It seemed like the imaginative juice had run out. Star Trek was wrung dry, and we needed some years to recuperate.
Then, in 2009, J.J. Abrams rebooted Star Trek, and this really lead the genie out of the bottle, since his new films were not set in the same continuous universe as all the previous material. He created a flashy, action-packed variation that, again, divided the fanbase. The show Discovery now seems to try to ride the success of Abrams’ films, and The Orville is again a reaction to that. The fanbase is now fragmenting in all directions. I suspect that many fans actually want the story to continue from where it stopped with Voyager, but both the new shows are about banking on nostalgia and about attracting new fans.
Looking at what happened these past few years, we can see that an exciting transition is taking place. The concept of Star Trek as it exists in popular culture is detaching itself from the actual Star Trek universe that was established by the original series and the series of the 90s. Directors are chasing the elusive feelings they have for the old shows in their new products, just like the new Star Wars movies are doing. Television itself has been reinvented this last decade and Star Trek follows suit.