How ‘The Orville’ and ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Are Doing Trek Differently

Lauren Gallaway
TV Star Trek
TV Star Trek

The long-awaited series Star Trek: Discovery premiered on Sunday, signaling that the television space drought was finally over. Star Trek: Discovery isn’t the only show competing for a space in the heart of sci-fi fans. The Orville also premiered this Fall on FOX. So far, audiences have seen two episodes of Discovery and three of The Orville — so what’s the verdict? Is one show “more like” Star Trek, and one less? Let’s explore how they’re different, how they’re similar, and how both shows could be exactly what Trek fans need right now.

These Are the Voyages of Ships

The U.S.S. Discovery, commission of Captain Gabriel Lorca.

The first way that The Orville and Star Trek: Discovery are similar is in their name. Both shows are named after their ships. The Orville is captained by Seth MacFarlane’s character, Ed Mercer, and the U.S.S. Discovery is captained by Jason Isaac‘s character Gabriel Lorca. Both ships are part of a federation or union and are on missions in deep space. Each ship has a crew that includes a first officer, a tactical officer, a communications officer, an engineer, and a doctor. In this way, both shows harken back to Star Trek: The Original Series, The Next Generation, Voyager, and Enterpriseall shows centered around ships. The only show in Star Trek‘s television history that wasn’t about a ship was Deep Space Nine. DS9 took place on a space station and showcased the life of a busy space station on the edge of two distinct galactic quadrants.

Number One Director

Star Trek Jonathan Frakes
Commander William T. Riker, as played by Jonathan Frakes.

Both of these shows are also supported by former Star Trek alumni Jonathan Frakes, who played Commander William Riker on Star Trek: The Next Generation for seven seasons and four feature films. As if proof that he’s not playing favorites, Frakes will be directing episodes of both The Orville and Star Trek: Discovery this season. Frakes’ first directing gig was on Star Trek: TNG for a powerful Season 3 episode titled “The Offspring.” He then directed two feature films in the TNG franchise, Star Trek: First Contact and Star Trek: Insurrection. Since his days on Star Trek: TNG Frakes has executive produced shows like Roswell and directed episodes of Leverage, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Librarians and countless more.

War and Peace

(Video spoilers for Star Trek: Discovery)

Here’s where the shows begin to divide: the mission of The Discovery and The Orville are not the same. While the mission of their federations and unions may be one of exploration, the first two episodes of Star Trek: Discovery clearly showed us that this is what the Federation looks like at war. Lives were lost, ships were destroyed, and that flash-forward trailer showed Captain Lorca and First Officer Burnham in an all-out war against the Klingons.

Not so for The Orville. The Orville is able to travel the galaxy freely, as a mid-level ship of exploration. In the first three episodes of The Orville, we’ve seen the zoos of Calivon, we’ve seen a court trial on Moclan, and we’ve seen union headquarters on Earth.

Episodic vs. Serialized

The Orville
Captain Mercer and Commander Grayson, on 'The Orville.'

Another way The Orville and Star Trek: Discovery differ is in how they are telling their stories. Much like Star Trek: The Original Series and The Next Generation, The Orville is telling stories in an episodic format: one episode equals one story. Discovery is telling a serialized drama, where the story unfolds over multiple episodes. It’s possible that Discovery will take their entire first season — if not their entire series — to tell the story of the battle between the Klingons and the Federation.

Best of Both Worlds

Captain Georgiou, First Officer Burnham and Lt. Saru on the bridge of the U.S.S. Shenzhou.

Another realm of creative differences stem from the production teams who work on The Orville and Star Trek: Discovery shows. Star Trek: Discovery is helmed by Alex Kurtzman. Kurtzman has been a collaborator of J.J. Abrams for over 15 years. Kurtzman co-wrote both of Abrams’ feature films Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness. He currently serves as an executive producer on Star Trek: Discovery and his influence can be seen in every frame. Discovery looks more cinematic, it feels more cinematic — it looks like it fits exactly into the Abrams/Kurtzman films. Those films were about war, they were about conflicts with the Klingons, they were not about a well-functioning crew like The Next Generation, and neither is Discovery.

The Orville is executive produced by Star Trek alum: Brannon Braga. If Gene Roddenberry is the father of all Star Trek, Braga would be one of Roddenberry’s legacy sons. Braga started working on Star Trek: TNG as an intern back in 1990. He wrote some of the best Star Trek episodes of all time, including the incredible series finale “All Good Things…” He then went on to executive produce both Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise. His strength is writing and directing episodic television that centers around a moral theme. This was most recently explored in The Orville episode “About a Girl.” The episode featured a debate around the gender reassignment of a Moclan girl born on the ship. Her parents favored reassigning her to become male, while the crew of The Orville did not. This is Braga’s strength and it clearly came across in this episode.

So, which show is “more like” Star Trek? I would venture to say they both are. While The Orville is giving us the “adventure of the week in space” (while also exploring moral and ethical dilemmas) that Star Trek fans love and crave so much, Discovery is giving us the “cinematic adventure in space” that we love from the films. What show should Trek fans be watching? Why not have the best of both worlds and watch The Orville AND Star Trek: Discovery?

The Orville airs on FOX Thursdays at 9/8C, while Star Trek: Discovery airs on CBS All Access Sundays at 8:30E/5:30P.

Lauren Gallaway
TV editor at FANDOM. Creator of The Marvel Report. Journalist, Comic-Con reporter, Podcaster.
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