The Orville season 1

My summary for The Orville is: subverts expectations.

The thing to understand about The Orville is it is straight-up Star Trek, specifically Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG), with Seth MacFarlane’s sense of humour layered on top.

Every element of TNG is here: starship, bridge, colour-coded uniforms, Captain, Executive Officer, Security Officer, Doctor, Science Officer, helmsman, navigator, Chief of Engineering, replicators, no money, crew lounge, touch control panels, holodeck… this show is TNG.  A TNG with seat belts and cup holders, and without transporters and synthehol, but nevertheless TNG.

The expectation that is set up, given that this is not actually in the true Star Trek universe, is that this will be a Galaxy Quest type of parody or satire but… it isn’t.  It’s straight up science fiction with all of the Star Trek conventions.  The ship is definitely TNG, some of the missions are a bit more The Original Series (TOS).

There are some nice touches I like, for example the spiral staircase up to the bridge.  Or the Wright Flyer on the Captain’s desk.  Or when Commander Grayson puts a cannabis brownie in her pocket, setting up a Chekhov’s Gun (um, different Chekhov) expectation of it being used and then… it isn’t.

To try to describe the mix of the show is pretty hard.  It is more a kind of science fiction with a sense of absurdity than “comedy-drama”.  In an episode about a two-dimensional universe you first have Seth MacFarlane as Captain Mercer talking sincerely about Flatland, the classic story of two dimensions, and then the Captain and the navigator with tissues stuffed up their noses from the giant nosebleeds they got from being partially flattened.  It’s basically very sincere Star Trek fan fiction, written by MacFarlane.  (In a way it’s similar to Star Wars VII and VIII, which are basically Star Wars fan fiction written by J.J. Abrams.)

The Orville probably works best if you’re very familiar with TNG.  I have seen all of the TNG episodes as they aired and many many times afterwards.  But I can’t count myself exactly as a fan.  Roddenberry did a bold thing, but I think ultimately a failed thing, in making the show not just a future in terms of technology, but a utopia in terms of people.  Everyone in TNG is nice, professional, calm, supportive, rational, sincere, intellectual.  It’s kind of perfect adults, all super-ego, all control, no id.  It’s a kind of remarkable aspiration to put into a show.  But it also makes for a super boring show.  There’s no drama when everyone is super nice.  They drink sometimes in the very calm, very subdued 10 Forward, but even their alcohol is non-alcoholic.  It’s Jacques Cousteau, except on a cruise ship.  They could never even make it seem like the TNG crew were friends, despite very forced attempts to e.g.  put them all together in weekly poker nights.  The cast is super stiff in the early seasons, it gets a bit more relatable in later seasons.

Also, as with TOS, TNG has basically no cultural anchors in the 20th century.  No one watches TV or movies.  It’s basically as if culture ended some time in the 19th century.  (If you want to contrive something, the Third World War probably didn’t help with 20th century cultural preservation.)

The Orville is basically all the future technology and look and structure of Star Trek, but with characters who are all id.  They drink (in fact to rather enthusiastic and frequent excess, as if they were all in first year university).  They swear.  They’re crude.  They have sex.  They’re basically kind of stereotypical American young adults except with adult jobs.  It’s very Seth MacFarlane’s humourverse, in other words.  It is to be honest a lot more relatable than the perfect humans in TNG.  And it very definitely is populated with people who are in our cultural universe.  From Seinfeld to The Sound of Music, it’s all there.  (Even a scene with observations on which fictional characters have Tardis-like houses, which I’ve always wondered whether anyone would ever put together.)  It also has other aspects of MacFarlane’s style, with digressive discussions about elevator music or hobbies.  Sometimes MacFarlane works a bit too hard to insert his sense of humour into scenes unnecessarily, but otherwise I find it mostly works.

Science fiction is often basically present-day people and culture, wrapped in a future technology envelope.  Roddenberry took a remarkable step in trying to populate the Enterprise-D with 24th century people in addition to 24th century technology.  It made it aspirational but really made it difficult to have any kind of relatable drama.  I basically never found that it worked for me.  Every episode would either end up with a conclusion that happened to match exactly late-20th-century liberal ideals, or with Geordi doing some made-up-particles equivalent of magic.  By contrast MacFarlane has basically populated the Enterprise-D with 21st century people, and they make lots of flawed decisions with imperfect conclusions.  For the most part, it makes for a much more relatable show.

I’m not sure how long you can maintain the cognitive dissonance between a serious science fiction show and characters who say things like “let’s get the engines to 97% efficiency so we can finish work early and all get wasted”, but for now I am enjoying the attempt.

 

 

What DS9 I watch, when I can watch any episode

I don’t normally have access to Netflix, but I sometimes visit people who have it.

In general I have always liked DS9 better than TNG, because it is darker and has more complex characters and more believable inter-character dynamics.  But I have to say when I tried to watch the first season again, they definitely didn’t hit their stride early.  A few seasons on though the show started working well.

5×02 The Ship – Wikipedia (spoilers)

This is good except it is odd that the destruction of the ship in orbit isn’t part of their discussions.  It doesn’t really make sense as a standalone episode; you have to know the entire Dominion storyline to understand the various Dominion characters.

5×10 Rapture – Wikipedia (spoilers)

I just like something about the idea of having to choose between visions and living your life.

5×06 Trials and Tribble-ations – Wikipedia (spoilers)

Fluff, but they do a really good job visually of fitting into the original series episode.

The obvious episode to watch would be 4×03 The Visitor, which is probably DS9’s best episode, an analogous episode to TNG 5×25 The Inner Light in that it’s not really a DS9 episode at all.

Previously:
August 6, 2016  What TNG I watch, when I can watch any episode

What TNG I watch, when I can watch any episode

I don’t normally have access to Netflix, but I sometimes visit people who have it.

I started watching Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) when it launched, and over the years I have seen every episode many times, despite not being a particular fan of it.

On reflection (and particularly compared to the reboot Star Trek Beyond movie), TNG does have certain strengths that I will cover in a separate blog post.

After several years of being away from TNG, here’s what I watched, in the order I watched, when I could choose any episode:

3×15 Yesterday’s Enterprise – Wikipedia (spoilers)

This is a combination of “what would TNG have been if it was an action show?” and fixing the rather awkward way that Tasha Yar left.  It works well on both fronts.  (Although TNG messed up its Yaredemption by bringing Denise Crosby back later in an improbable role.)

This episode really works best if you’ve watched at least all of season 1.

7×15 Lower Decks – Wikipedia (spoilers)

This is mostly a way to watch TNG without having the focus on the main characters.

There is a similar Voyager episode, 6×20 Good Shepherd.

4×15 First Contact – Wikipedia (spoilers)

This is a pretty light episode, I watched mainly because I remembered the aliens’ dilemma about what to do about contact.  I had forgotten it has one of TNG’s most awkward scenes, with Bebe Neuwirth as a xenophile nurse.

5×02 Darmok – Wikipedia (spoilers)

As pure science fiction, this is the strongest episode of the series.

It also works well because like many of the show’s best episodes, it’s almost entirely Picard alone off the ship.

5×25 The Inner Light – Wikipedia (spoilers)

This is the most touching episode of the series, but it’s not really TNG at all in any meaningful way, it’s a story that stands alone.

It also works well because like many of the show’s best episodes, it’s almost entirely Picard alone off the ship.

Who are The Time Team?

There are actually several eras of Time Team.  If one was being too-clever-by-half one could say Paleo-Team, Meso-Team, and Neo-Team.

But it’s probably better to say Team 1, Team 2, and Team Everyone Gets Fired.

There are really four different groups that contribute.  In early series, there literally is The Time Team listed in the credits, along with Presenter Tony Robinson, The Geophys Team, and… well, Stewart Ainsworth, who never seems makes it into The Time Team, but is eventually grouped with the rest of the archeologists.

From Episode 1×01 you have the start of Team 1, which shows up more-or-less the same  in the credits from series 1 through series 5 and retains the same people from series 1 to series 12 with the exception of Robin Bush who is gone from the core team after series 4.

Presenter
Tony Robinson

The Time Team
Mick Aston
Carenza Lewis
Phil Harding
Robin Bush
Victor Ambrus

Geophysics Team
John Gater

Royal Commission for Historical Monuments
Stewart Ainsworth

It’s important to understand the Mick Aston is the lead of the show.  He’s actually the very first person from the team you see and hear speaking after Tony Robinson in Episode 1×01.  They do work as a team to make decisions, but Mick is the lead.

You might think there is a kind of pre-success era of Time Team, before the computers and helicopters, but they actually have everything from Episode 1×01 – helicopter, liveried Time Team vehicles, and computer support.

Some of the themes we see later on, such as geophys being set up in opposition with the excavating archaeologists, are not present in early series.  In fact in early series starting with episode 1×01 the excavating archaeologists are quite delighted to see what might lie beneath the ground without having to dig it up.  Victor Ambrus shows up on screen a lot more in early series, but rarely says much, the illustrations usually speaking for him.  And the illustrations are actually a mix of computer and paper from the very beginning – the very first time we see him he’s drawing on a computer screen using a tablet.  His work drives a lot of object reconstruction in early series.

The dynamic of the show also evolves.  From the beginning we see them as a team working and talking and often eating together, but the “time to go to the pub for a drink” tradition at the end of every day doesn’t show up until quite later series.  And of course we see them all age and adapt to changing styles, from big glasses and big beards early on, to the inevitable greying.

Starting in series 6 there is no more “The Time Team” in the credits, but it is still the same people: Mick Aston, Phil Harding, Carenza Lewis.  Stewart Ainsworth (finally) moves above the Geophys Team of John Gater et al. into a grouping with the rest of the archaeologists. Starting in series 5 Victor Ambrus is moved into a separate Illustrations section.

Geophys Jimmy (James Adcock) arrives in series 11.  Carenza Lewis is gone after series 12.  Helen Geake arrives in series 14.  Francis Pryor shows up in series 18.

My apologies to those who show up in the credits from the beginning but I haven’t mentioned – I’m going by screen time as I observe it, not contributions.  Also note this sample is only from the first episode of each series, so it’s not comprehensive.

It’s a bit harder to outline exactly when Team 2 comes together.  There isn’t really a clear dividing line between Team 1 and Team 2.  Gradually over time and usually without fanfare new team members were added as the show got bigger and more complex, drawing more frequently on more experts and more excavators.  Sometimes they show up in the background for a while before getting much screen time.  Two of the main additions in terms of field archaeologists are Matt Williams and Raksha Dave.  The credits however remain pretty much unchanged all the way through the series, until series 19.

Team Everyone Gets Fired happens in series 19 and 20, when core team members Mick Aston, Helen Geake, Stewart Ainsworth and Victor Ambrus disappear from the credits, amongst others.  As I explained in How to watch Time Team, it really isn’t the same show after series 18.

How to watch Time Team

The key to understand with Time Team is that Mick Aston is actually the lead, not Tony Robinson, despite how it may appear.

Up through and including series 18, the show has a fairly standard approach, with Mick planning the dig and Phil Harding gruffly digging things up, while Tony Robinson tries to bring together what is going on for a lay audience.

One of my favourites from series 18 is 18×02 which TVO calls Saxon Death (available until July 30, 2017), but which is actually titled Saxon Death, Saxon Gold.  At the time of this writing TVO’s Time Team pages have a bit of series 17, all of 18 and 19, and series 20 is in the process of rolling out.

Starting with series 19 the show was revamped quite dramatically and made a lot more like the [Era] Farm shows, including Farm presenter Alex Langlands and the introduction of lead-in spoilers (“teaser video”) showing some of the major finds and events that are to come.  There is also a reduced focus on archeologists and analysis and a greater emphasis on re-creation, with different major contributors.

Mick Aston opposed this change, and after hanging on for series 19, in 2012 left the show he had basically originated.  He passed away the year after.

Western Daily PressProfessor Mick Aston: Why I quit Time Team, and the danger of losing touch with our history – February 13, 2012

UPDATE 2016-04-11: Current Archaeology wrote an appreciation of Time Team in December 2012 that provides some history about the show and details about the series 19 changes.  Time Team: the rise and fall of a television phenomenon  ENDUPDATE

So if you want to watch the core of the show as originally imagined, watch series 1-18 and stop.  The show ended after series 20 (March 2013) anyway.  Mick was born in 1946 and Phil was born in 1950, so in any case it was pretty much time for them to retire on top of their game.

It’s a shame they couldn’t have done 20 years with Mick Aston and then wrapped up the show.

UPDATE 2016-08-16: After watching all of Time Team up to and including season 18, you can watch the Time Team Specials up to and including number 46, The Way We Lived (about how houses have changed over the centuries).  After that you are into 2012 Specials, post season 18.  Note that the Specials are kind of all over the map, from new content with the team, to what are basically sales pitches for major sites featuring mainly or only Tony Robinson, to clip shows.

Ancient Rome and Greece on TVO

Videos about ancient Rome or Roman archaeology available to watch online from TVO

There isn’t as much for ancient Greece

Community seasons 5 and 6 – not recommended

SPOILERS

I liked Community seasons 1-3 a lot.  See previous posting How to watch Community.

Season 5

Dan Harmon returned as showrunner to Community in season 5 and was able to, sort of, put it back together, but Pierce is gone and then Troy.  This latter will become critical in season 6.  As a reboot the show is ok, but it just isn’t quite Community.  The show has gone beyond its natural arc.

Not recommended.

Season 6

Season 6 is interesting in a television analysis way, but not in an entertainment way.  Do not watch it.

A show has a certain structural integrity, certain key components that hold it together.  For a show that is explicitly about a group of people, the members of that group are key.  Community could have withstood the loss of one minor group member, as it did with the loss of Pierce.  But in season 6, Pierce, Shirley and Troy are gone and the show simply doesn’t work.  It turns out that Troy is a load-bearing member of the group.  His subtle, fun dynamic with Abed is in many ways the core of the joy of the show.  While Jeff is in theory the main character, Troy-Abed bring a key dynamic that balances the show.

Dan Harmon represents this quite literally in 6×01.  In a profile of Harmon in Wired, we learn

The circles are everywhere, if you know to look for them. They’re on the whiteboards around Dan Harmon’s office, on sheets tacked to his walls, on a notepad on the floor of his car. Each one is hand-drawn and divided into quadrants with scribbled notes and numbers sprouting along the edges. They look like little targets. …

the circle, an algorithm that distills a narrative into eight steps

The circles, in season 6, are frisbees.  When the roof collapses in 6×01, it’s Harmon saying that the show has collapsed without Troy, exacerbated by the loss of Shirley.  Leonard’s crumbling frisbee is the crumbling arc of his life in the show, and the crumbling of the show as a whole.

Without Troy, Harmon is basically in an impossible situation.  Imagery that came to my mind is that it’s like watching someone trying to put together a vase with missing pieces, when both you and they know it’s impossible, or trying to bring back an extinct animal when you have too few fragments of DNA.  The whole season is very angry and self-aware.  It’s like watching Harmon have a mental breakdown.  It’s a sad conclusion to a brilliant beginning.  You can see him speaking through Abed (who is essentially his avatar) in 6×08, and see him speaking through Jeff in the aptly-named finale, 6×13 Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television.  Jeff (who is Harmon’s secondary avatar) is basically phoning in his job (within the show), and throughout the season but particularly in the finale expressing how trapped he feels.  Everyone will leave and there he will be, eternally condemned to live a year at Greendale over and over.  How can you even make it work when the story has gone beyond its arc?  Do you make everyone teachers?  Do you bring back old characters and keep the new ones?  Do you cycle endlessly through variations of the same tropes and character quirks?  …  It’s a kind of showrunner hell that is depicted.  I feel really sorry for Harmon, trying to breathe life into the broken doll of his beloved show.

In any case, for the above reasons, season 6 is very much not recommended.

I imagine it may show up in future university curricula about television writing though.