Friday, October 27, 2017

The Orville--"Majority Rule"

     There was no new episode of The Orville last week. I definitely missed my fix. The ratings are holding steady with impressive numbers for a rookie series. It looks like I am not the only one who digs the show. Tonight's episode is further example of why I like it so much. It was thought provoking while not being preachy, with a solid mix of funny and creepy.
     The ship is sent to a planet roughly equivalent to 21st century Earth to search for an undercover anthropological team with whom the Union lost contact a month prior. A four man team goes searching on the planet. LaMarr, while teasing Alara, simulates dry humping a statue and is filmed in the act. The video is uploaded and receives so many down votes, LaMarr is arrested and forced to go on a televised apology tour. If he cannot convince enough his apology is sincere, he will be essentially lobotomized by the removal of bad impulses.
     The plot is a satire of online sites like Facebook and Reddit as well as the growing impression opinion is equal to facts. LaMarr is saved from the lobotomy when Isaac floods the [planet’s version of the internet with rumors LaMarr is the sole support for his 90 year old grandmother, fake photos of him as a cute kid, and a fictitious video of him as a soldier coming home and greeted excitedly by his dog. These are all examples of things that would score a high number of likes on social media. Yet none of it has any bearing on the facts surrounding LaMarr's crime—in as much as it is a crime. Opinion makes fact irrelevant.
     Also note Isaac is a bot spreading fake information on social media in order to influence a vote to go the way our heroes desire.
     “Majority Rule” is a good mix of comedy and horror. It is incredibly difficult to show a character dry humping a statue in one scene, then revealing the horrific effects of a lobotomy on one of the anthropologists our heroes were sent to rescue a few minutes later. (They obliviously fell a foul of popular opinion as well. One was killed trying to escape lobotomy.) The plot is pure Trek at its best in a way we have not seen since the best seasons of TNG. They even threw in Gene Roddenberry's absurd notion every planet will develop along the same lines as Earth but it was made a plausible matter of probabilities.
     Some fans and critics noted the similarities between “Majority Rule” and an episode of the anthology series Black Mirror. I have never seen the show, so I cannot say it taints my views on the episode. If someone familiar with the episode in question thinks 'Majority Rule” is a rip off or homage, they may do so. I cannot offer an argument as to how the two episodes compare. I have heard good things about Black mirror, though. Maybe I will check it out in the near future.
     Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Orville--"Krill"

     “Krill” is a glimpse into the archenemy alien race established in the premiere episode. The krill are religious zealots that believe their aggressive actions towards other races are moral because other races are inferior species with no souls. Upon the establishment of the Krill as violent religious fundamentalists, I was expecting a brutal critique of Christianity and or Islam. Seth McFarlane has been tough on both religions in his other shows. He may still go that route, but I am happy to say the subject was dealt with in a thought-provoking, but not preachy manner.
     The Orville responds to a distress call from a colony under attack by the Krill. The krill ship is cleverly destroyed even though it outgunned the Orville. A Krill shuttle is captured, and the Union orders Mercer and Malloy to use it to go undercover as Krill to copy the Krill bible, the Anhkana. The mission's purpose is to study the religious text with the hope of finding common ground between Krill and humans.
     Mercer and Malloy use holographic technology to appear as Krill. If there is a weak point to the episode, it is the comedic banter in which the two engage in order to pass themselves off. The names Chris and Devon, the 20th century pop culture jokes, and the awkwardness in general threaten to take me out of the main plot. Considering how dark the plot becomes as the episode goes on, I guess McFarlane that laying on goofy humor would balance out the mood. But he went overboard.
     The dark plot elements involve the realization the Krill are about to destroy a human colony of 100,000 people with a mega bomb. Obviously, the mission changes to destroy the bomb. But Mercer discovers the Krill have children on board, he cannot bring himself to destroy the ship. Appreciate his quandary. Mercer just now realizes he has killed who knows how many children on the Krill ships he has destroyed. The kids are not his enemy. But then again, there are probably tens of thousands of human children on the targeted colony.
     Mercer and Malloy surmise since the krill live on a planet of perpetual night, they would be vulnerable to UV rays. They plan to corral the kids into their classroom, destroy its lights, and then blow the other lights to full power. It works. The kids are spared, but all the adults save the teacher are burnt to a crisp like vampires in the son. The mission of peace turns sour as Mercer arranges for the kids' safe return to Krill. He is reminded by the teacher that if the kids were not his enemy before, they are now.
     “Krill" is an interesting episode that establishes some series lore. It was both action oriented and thought-provoking with a surprisingly evenhanded take on religious zealotry. But there were many dark elements, such as a severed human hand stabbed during a religious ceremony and the burning death of the Krill adult crew. A lot of really dumb humor attempted to lighten the mood, but probably went too far considering the moral mercer is grappling with is the mass murder of children versus saving his own people. Heady stuff that needs comic relief, but not sitcom level silliness.   
Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Orville--"Pria"

     The Orville takes its first shot at a time travel episode. It is such a standard concept in science fiction, it is ripe for parody, but difficult to make origin. With a guest star as hot as Charlize Theron, there was a concern she might have been intended as a distraction from plot holes. But I am now thrilled to tell you that is not the case.
     The Orville receives a distress call from Pria, the pilot of a ship being dragged into a collapsing star. When she comes safely on board, Mercer grows infatuated with her. Greyson is suspicious, either because they know nothing about Pria or jealous because Mercer is fond of her. He is not thrilled with her suspicions, especially after Pria miraculously saves them from a dark matter storm.
     Of course, Greyson is right to be suspicious. Pria is actually a criminal from the 29th century who returns to the past, steals unique items, and sells them in the 29th century as antiques. The crew was supposed to die in the dark matter storm. She plans to take them into the future to sell the ship. Mercer manages to take over the device she is using to control the ship through Isaac and escapes into their own time. Once back, Mercer orders the time portal destroyed, causing Pria to fade away.
     In the side story, Malloy teaches Isaac about practical jokes by secretly placing Mr. Potato Head parts on the robot's head. Isaac gets him back by amputating Malloy's left leg while he sleeps. Malloy is angry over Isaac going way too far in retaliation, but eventually decides it was the coolest practical joke he has ever seen. Isaac learns about humor in a far more brutal way then data ever did. It is an amusing segment, especially the visual of Isaac as Mr. Potato Head.
     The high point of “Pria” is the exploration of Mercer's trust issues because of Greyson cheating on him when they were married. He lets his guard down to let Pria in, but she is manipulating him. We feel sympathy for his hurtful anger in the end. The best part is how it is left up to the audience to decide how much of Greyson's actions uncovering the truth about Pria were motivated by duty to the ship and how much were lingering affection for her ex-husband. Considering she beat the living snot out of Pria, the latter seems likelier.
     The special effects are fantastic. “Pria” is the most visually stunning episode so far. From the collapsing star to the dark matter storm and the time portal, it is all epic. The intensive special effects, which promote a larger than life feel, contrasted well with the personal drama which caught the lion's share of attention.
     “Pria” is another solid outing for The Orville. The series is still young, but has yet to air a weak episode in spite of what most of the critics are saying. I can only assume they are expecting something edgy and controversial rather than the fun adventure and good humor the show delivers instead. Whatever the critics' hang ups are, I am enjoying the series.
      Rating: *** (out of 5)