Friday, November 17, 2017

The Orville--"Firestorm"

     The Orville was renewed for a second season. But with the good news comes some disappointing news. The twelfth episode of the first season is being delayed until next season. There is no official word on why the change will take place, but speculation is the episode hints at the will they/won't they get back together dynamic between Mercer and Grayson. It might have been fine for a one season wonder to feature so an episode, but not one that will go on for at least two seasons. It feels like a weak explanation, but maybe we will find out more details later. The bottom line is there are only two episodes left until—i assume--fall 2018.
    Actually, I have some other disappointing news to deliver. “Firestorm” is highly moody and entertaining for all but the final five minutes. It was dark and scary enough to be a Halloween episode. With a better ending, the episode might contend for my favorite. Alas, even a cameo by the great Robert Picardo could not save the episode from a script that fizzled out at the last act.
     When the ship enters a plasma storm, engineering is severely damaged. Alara is sent down to use her super strength to light debris off a trapped crew member. But when a fire breaks out, Alara freezes in fear. The crewman dies because of her momentary hesitation. Fire turns out to be a phobia of hers from the time she was nearly trapped in one as an infant. She does not have much time to beat herself up over the issue as the crew begin battling their typical fears come to life—killer clowns, giant spiders, bottomless pits, and surgery. Is there, as the crew suspects, an alien life form on board terrorizing them?
     No, that would have been pretty cool. Maybe an alien psychological parasite living off fear or something along those lines. But no. it is actually simulation Alara runs to test her reaction to common phobias. She is never in any real danger beyond the health risks extreme fear might cause. So there are no consequences. The episode might as well have been a dream.
       The cop out is a shame because the episode is great outside of it. The clown is terrifying even for someone like me who is not bothered by them. Giant tarantulas are creatures I would wet my pants to see chasing me, so top marks for that fear being well presented. But then, the whole thing deflates. I would much rather see Alara match wits and defeat an alien who has incapacitated the crew. Then again, 'Firestorm” is the second episode so far in which Alara faced crippling doubts about her command abilities only to triumph in the end. Twice in nine episodes? Perhaps in such a short period of time, another aspect of her character could have been explored instead?
     “Firestorm” is the first episode of The Orville I am awarding a mediocre rating. As I said above, but for a better plot twist, the episode might have been my favorite. But I am disappointing by the ending. It is the first episode to not be written by Seth McFarlane. Hopefully, the lackluster results are not a sign only he is good at writing for the show.
     Rating: ** (out of 5)

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Orville--"Cupid's Dagger"

   With so many episodes immersed in darn elements it was inevitable The Orville would delve into excessive, screwball comedy. I cannot say I was looking forward to it, but I wound up laughing out loud more than I have in any previous episode. Much of it had to be with guest star Rob Lowe reprising his brief role as Darulio, the alien with whom Garyson cheated on mercer. Yes, that was Lowe in the first episode.
     Darulio arrives as the only archeologist who can determine the DNA on an ancient artifact discovered on a disputed planet. Two alien races lay claim. The DNA could identify which race has original rights to it. Darulio's presence would cause enough problems between Mercer and Grayson as is, but to make matters worse, he is secretly in heat. So Mercer and Grayson compete for Darulio's affection like two lovesick teenagers. Meanwhile, Yafit and Finn, who are also affected by Darulio, hook up.
     The two alien races lose patience with the neglect they suffer while the captain and first officer compete for Darulio. They eventually decide to forgo any results of the DNA test and just fight it out with their fleets. To make things right, Darulio uses his pheromones to compel the leaders of both factions fall in love. As the pheromones wear off in a few days, the solution is temporary. But when the DNA test reveals a common ancestor, they must share the planet. Their resolution wound up more peacefully than Yafit and Finn. She did not take the truth of the situation well while still under the influence.
     The resolution was predictable from the moment the pheromone was revealed to be the cause of the infatuation outbreak, but that is okay. The main focus of “Cupid's Dagger” was on the comedy. The episode delivered on laughs. I say that as someone who does not care much for this sort of over the top humor/ Character based comedy is better than situational based, but whatever works at the time. Speaking of character based, Yafit earns some character development. He went from obnoxious comic relief to a sympathetic character. He genuinely does carry a torch for Finn..
     So I enjoyed an episode I had not expected to like based on the previews. Maybe that meant 'Cupid's Dagger' cleared a low bar, but I do not think so. It was a solid outing. Because it was a solid outing, it soothed some fears the show might be feat or famine with me enjoying the science fiction heavy stories while feeling disappointed by the more sitcom styled stories. Maybe not.
     Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Orville--"Into the Fold"

     Good news, Orvillians! The announcement came today The Orville was renewed for a second season. I am not certain of all the details, but I assume the renewal means a full, 22-24 episode season. At least I am hopeful for that many. While some episodes were weaker than others, there has yet to be one I would call bad. Tonight's is no exception. I rank up there with the best for its successful mix of tension, violence, and heart. Now there is a heck of a trifecta.
     “Into the Fold” introduces us to Finn's two young sons, Todd and Marcus. While the Orville is in dry dock for repairs, Finn plays to take them on vacation to an amusement park planet. Malloy bows out unexpectedly of acting as their shuttle pilot, but Isaac fills in. He looks forward to studying human familial relationships. He is in for a bumpy ride. The kids are unruly brats for one, and they contribute to the shuttle crashing after it is drawn through a spatial fold.
     The shuttle is broken in half before the crash. Finn happens to be in the back at the time, so she is separated from the other three. She is also kidnapped and dragged back to an apartment by an alien named Drogen. He holds her captive even after learning she needs to find her children. This is bad for everyone, because there are cannibals out there.
     Finn's captivity and eventual escape are intense plot elements, but the emphasis—not to mention best parts—are Isaac's interaction with Todd and Marcus. While he does not understand humans or think much of them, he adapts quickly to keeping the kids safe and calm while working to send out a distress signal. Their bonding comes with some sweet moments, such as when Isaac learns holding a small child's hand helps him not to be afraid.
     The alien resorted to cannibalism when a biological agent infected their water supply. Naturally, the youngest of Finn's sons becomes infected in order to add a ticking clock to the plot. It was necessary for the sake of drama, but it does feel tacked on at the last minute. Frankly, our heroes falling under siege by the cannibals before the Orville rescues them probably would have been nail biting enough.
     While “Into the Fold” features some cute moments between Isaac and the kids, those are contrasted with a considerable amount of violence. Finn kills Drogen in order to escape, first by stabbing him and then shooting him with his own gun when she cannot over power him even with his knife wound. Some fans are already debating the morality of killing a man who believed he was helping her, but I say it was self-defense. He was holding her prisoner against her will and was not going to let her go. Finn even cuts herself with the knife in a ruse to initiate her escape. The shoot out in the end involved dozens of cannibals swarming the downed shuttle like zombies.
     Contrast the violence yet again with the humor. In the 25th century, Barry Manilow is considered a musical genius. Isaac settles a dispute over a hand held video game between Todd and Marcus by throwing it up in the air and shooting it. He casually refers to the older one as 'the less intelligent” without offense intended. The comic relief comes at just the right intervals in what is otherwise a dark episode.
     The episode is dark, but good. The episodes focusing on a couple characters at a time rather than the entire crew solving a problem are turning out great. From the previews, I was expecting a Finn-centric episode, but it turned out to be Isaac-centric instead. I have no problem with that. Nor, surprisingly, a problem with children playing such prominent roles. Child actors can make or break a story's execution, but these two did a fine job. As did everyone else.
      Rating: *** (out of 5)