The Orville, episode 7, Nosedive

Oh, sorry, Nosedive is actually the title of the black mirror episode the writers were copying inspired by.

On this week’s episode of The Orville, the crew goes to a planet which, through paralell evolution, is somehow exactly like 21st century Earth, except a bit different. Okay… that is a bit silly… well, a LOT silly, but I’ll go along with it. The over-abundance of knowledge and care that these characters have for 21st century north america (not 20th or 22nd or any of the other surrounding centuries or other areas and cultures, just 21st century western world…) is possibly only irritating to me… but, what the hey, it’s a comedy show.

The crew stop by this planet searching for some missing anthropologists who have blended in to the society in order to observe it. The society, we quickly  find, is exactly like the dark future of that one black mirror episode, and everything is ruled by social media. This one is a bit more intense, in that there are no laws or anything, other than voting. It is a complete democracy. So, not only was this a riff on ‘social justice’ but on democracies imperfections.

The ideas were interesting, but the execution left me a bit confused. Even though the anthropologists have been learning about this society for years, supposedly, the crew goes down and tries to fit in without even 5 minutes of research. They don’t have their badges that literally everyone wears, they don’t understand money, they don’t understand how anything on the planet works–which, I get it, is a narrative function so the writers can easily explain to the viewer how things work through the character’s ignorance–but it’s dumb, REALLY dumb, for a science ship who’s one job is to explore new worlds, to have no idea what they are blissfully floating down into.

So, because of this lack of research (and common sense, or any kind of awareness that they are in a place that is not their home) John Lamar humps a statue of a respected founder, someone films it, puts it on the internet, and people start downvoting him.

Only problem is, when you reach 10  million downvotes, you are ‘corrected’ ie, lobotomized.

So, John has to go on an ‘apology tour’ to try to get people to stop downvoting him. He is a complete ass though, and can not even pretend to care about anything that is going on, and just gets mad at the situation. (also earlier got mad because the guy who’s trying to help him won’t explain what things like an ‘apology tour’ are… imagine someone asking “What is a crime? What’s jail?” Of course you’d think they are insane…)

Anyway, at the last minute the crew on the Orville manipulates the ‘main feed’ with videos of John playing with dogs and doing other nice things, and he doesn’t get enough votes to be killed.

At the end of the episode, we see the character from Black Mirror planet, who helped the crew save John, back in her own house watching the Main Feed where the latest person of interest is being interviewed. She reaches for the downvote button, but then instead turns off the tv… Okay.

So, it seems the message here is… don’t be a part of social media? I was expecting her to instead hit the upvote button, as a way to end the cycle of negativity and harassment of people who did something as simple as not getting up for a pregnant woman they didn’t see standing behind them on the bus. But, no, the message is ‘social media bad.’ Or possibly ‘voting bad.’

I think the real message we should take away from this episode, is that blundering into a society you have no idea about and expecting everyone to accommodate your ignorance with out consequence when you start pissing on people’s beliefs, traditions, and way of life is the actual bad thing here.

At least a thought provoking episode though!

The Orville, Episode 6

And we’re mostly back on track! This week, the crew of the Orville have an exciting (and mercifully short) space battle with the Krill, and find themselves with an intact Krill shuttle-craft. The decide to use it, and some kind of holograph disguise thingy, to infiltrate a Krill ship and find out what makes them tick, specifically, their religion.

Seth is slipping back into his ‘reference humor’ a bit this episode. After making it aboard the Krill ship, Captain Mercer can’t think of a Krill sounding name and introducing them as Chris and Devon. Got a good laugh from me. But later, when they find the Krill temple, and that the Krill god is called Avis, its repeated car insurance jokes for the rest of the episode, because Avis is also a car rental/insurance company in North America, Earth, four hundred years in the past. Half the people watching probably don’t know that. But a space pilot 400 years in the future sure does. Okay.

But, then we get treated with the Krill form of ‘worship’ which involves stabbing a severed human head with a ceremonial knife over and over. Just when this show starts to get too goofy, they throw something dark or serious at you…

Turns out the Krill have a fancy new bomb on board and are going to blow up a defenseless farming planet with it. Ed and Gordon have a plan to stop them, but it will kill every Krill on the ship… and there are a bunch of Krill children aboard. What do they do? Can they kill alien children in order to save hundreds of thousands of human lives?

Well, they don’t  have to because they find away to kill everyone but the children, and save the farming planet, and save the one Krill woman that they talked to, and get back to the Orville safe and sound with nothing lost by anyone. Okay.

Yes, it’s a light comedy show, but when you set up the Hard Decision, it’s a bit of let down when they don’t actually have to make the decision.

Looking forward to next week!

The Orville, episode 5, Catcalling in space!

So far this is the first episode of the series that was a bit of a letdown for me. I guess even in the far future of space travel, its just fine and normal to comment on the appearance of every woman you come across, even right when she’s about to die.

The Orville receives a distress call, and finds a mining ship stranded on a comet about to crash into a star. The Captain, Priah, is blond and sure is pretty and all the characters make sure to comment awkwardly and creepily on exactly how pretty she is, in every scene she is in.

With Priah safely aboard, Captain Mercer finds they are from the same place on Earth, and gets to like her and shows her around the ship, where she is ogled and catcalled by everyone she encounters. In the 25th century. What progress.

Kelly is suspicious of Priah, and thinks something is up. Mercer thinks Kelly is just jealous of him hanging around with SUCH A HOT BABE and they have arguments about it. Even after Priah saves their ship from destruction, Kelly still doesn’t trust her.

Meanwhile, Gordon tries to teach Isaac what a practical joke is, by sticking Mr. Potato Head pieces all over his head to give him a face. I raised an eyebrow that anyone would know what a Mr. Potato Head was four hundred years from now, but okay.

Isaac retaliates with his own practical joke: amputating Gordon’s leg while he sleeps. This got a big laugh out of me, and that he hid the leg somewhere was even funnier. The call back later when the leg comes crashing down from the ceiling in the middle of a conversation is great EXCEPT why cant anyone pay attention to obvious details?? The leg that fell down was a full leg all the way up to the hip, and Gordon’s leg was only amputated at the knee. It is just so lazy not to use the right kind of leg in your own damn show that you presumably wrote and were aware of.

Later we find that, of course, Kelly is right, and Priah is actually from the future, and is a dealer in rare artifacts from the past. Priah plans to take their ship (which should have been destroyed, and them all dead) to the future to sell to a collector. This wont mess up any timeline, because the ship should have been destroyed.

This is a really neat idea, and this comedy show constantly has more interesting sci fi concepts than Star Trek Discovery and their universal mushroom (I’m serious.)

On a final annoying note, the Orville shoots a missile at the wormhole Priah has been using to go to and from the past, and this somehow makes it collapse and it collapsing somehow makes Priah disappear and it is implied she is erased from everyone’s memory too? Very dumb and annoying way to end an episode.

Overall, though, still enjoying this show a lot!

The Peregrine by J.A. Baker

Turns out the version I purchased of  The Peregrine also contains another writing, ‘Hills of Summer’, so I was much nearer to the end than I thought in my previous post. I’m now finished, and it ends just as it began, with prose of the highest order.

This is the kind of book that can only really be appreciated by someone who is a writer, or someone who reads a LOT, or someone who is a fanatic about nature. Fortunately for me, I am 2.5 of those, so I enjoyed it immensely.

There is barely a plot, so be forewarned. This is, on the surface, a series of journal entries written by someone who is watching hawks(peregrines). Every few days, a journal entry of what he saw that day, focusing on the hawks.

But there is a sort of arc to it. Each entry, the writer gets more and more obsessed with the hawks, and starts to imagine that they are accepting him as one of their own. He writes increasing asides about how humans suck (in prettier words) and the hawks are glorious and amazing. The end of the book is a clear end and is great when you look at the whole thing in context.

But, for someone looking for an actual story with plot and tension and conflict and enemies and goodguys, you’re not going to get that.

What you will get is prose that is so delicious and rich and new and perfect that you’ll be highlighting every other line. And you’ll get birds and nature up to your eyes and beyond, you’ll get imagery so lush you’ll drown in it in the most wonderful way.

If you’re a writer, you’ll appreciate the skill. If you’re a reader of many things you’ll appreciate the newness (maybe) and if you love nature, it will make you feel like you’re out in it.

Give it a shot!

A slow burning fuse

I’m still reading  The Peregrine , and it is taking me a while. It is such beautiful writing but with no conflict, it is easy to set it down. But I always come back eventually, for the beautiful writing. It’s like an expensive box of rare chocolate, you have one now and then and savor it, instead of wolfing it all down in one sitting.

But now, about 30% through the novel, it is starting to grab me with interesting things. Things other than descriptions of nature. It took a long time to get there, but I don’t think it would have been possible without all the buildup and setting of the tone and scene. And it is amazing, once it starts…

Now I’m getting the ‘what will happen’ urge to go back to it. Now I know something strange is going on, and I wonder what the conclusion will be. But I really don’t think it could have been done if it just started out that way.

Some things require patience and build up and preparation… sadly, things most people don’t have time for in entertainment anymore. If something isn’t exploding on page one, we put the book down.

I found myself imagining how a movie of this would be. Just shots of birds and animals, and a man walking through nature, watching, and his reactions to it and slow change in personality… no dialogue, no running around shooting or crying or fighting or arguing. Just shots of hawks killing wood-pigeons, and the man staring weirdly at the picked clean bones.

I’d watch it… but it would never be made.

 

The Orville, episode 1

I had zero interest in seeing this show back when the trailer first came out. Though I used to enjoy Family Guy, Seth MacFarlane’s brand of humor (farts, falling down, and mentioning things you’ve heard of before) is just not my thing anymore. But during my constant complaining about Star Trek: Discovery, I keep getting told to watch The Orville. What is going on? Why should any Trek fan want to watch a bunch of idiots making poop jokes and mocking one of my favorite pastimes?

Well, because it doesn’t do that at all.

Yes, there is some goofy humor, but it isn’t gross or stupid or mean, and actually made me laugh a few times. And more importantly, it is spread VERY thin, and gets thinner as the show goes on. It doesn’t do the supremely annoying thing where every dramatic beat has to be punctuated by a joke to break the tension.

Aside from the humor, the other thing I was worried about was the ‘ex wife as first officer’ scenario. I was ready to be sighing continuously at the constant bickering and cruel backstabbing I’d have to endure. But again, it didn’t happen. There is one big argument, and a few little quips, but they are apologetic, they want to work together, they are decent human beings. What a goddamned relief.

More importantly, the show captures that sense of excitement and exploration that is severely lacking in Discovery. You know, the actual discovering. When the captain first undocks the Orville and they fly off to adventure, I almost shed a tear. It’s just the thing I’ve been wanting since I saw the final episode of TNG all those years ago.

MacFarlane must be a Trek fan, because the love is shining through. It’s almost as if the humor is just a trick to get people to pay attention, and then all this interesting sci fi stuff happens.

I’m already looking forward to watching the rest of these episodes far more than I’m looking forward to the next Discovery episode. Because for Discovery, I already know they’ll just be blowing up more Klingons.  But for the Orville I’m wondering, where will they go next?

Exploring

Writing a story based in a city I’ve never been in is interesting, and fun. I wonder how writers did it before the age of the internet. I can drop down into the streets and virtually walk them to get a feel for the city. I can look up bars and restaurants and read reviews and see pictures. Some even have virtual tours.

I have a feeling writers of the past had to be much more social than I do. They probably had to seek out people who’d been there and have conversations with them, pull out details, encourage descriptions of smells and sounds and ambiance.

Sounds like a lot of trouble!