11 Rounds of The Orville vs. Star Trek: Discovery -- Who Does It Better?

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It was a win-win situation this fall with two brand new but very different sci-fi space adventures.

In this corner, we have The Orville, weighing in as a fly-weight with creator and star Seth MacFarlane's fan-boy enthusiasm of space shows and pop culture. The show was predicted to be a farcical send-up in the style Galaxy Quest with the cheap one-two combo of poop jokes and juvenile pranks.

And in this corner, we have the highly anticipated legacy champion, Star Trek: Discovery, the first of its lineage on TV in over a decade, sporting the banner of diversity and scars of controversy that pushed back its premiere over nine months.

So, taken point-by-point, with which crew would you rather take a journey through the stars? 

1. Captains: Mercer vs. Lorca

Captains: Mercer vs. Lorca
ED MERCER (Orville): First time in command. Best friend at the helm. Ex-wife as First Officer. Looks to Kermit the Frog as a leadership mentor. Spent his time in captivity in a bathrobe, drinking beer.

GABRIEL LORCA (Discovery): Long-established career in command. Blew up his last crew. Complicated relationship with the Admiralty. Spent his time in captivity choosing his pain by taunting his torturer.

BOTTOM LINE: I'd rather have a beer with Mercer after shift but would want Lorca in charge in a crisis.


2. 1st Officers: Saru vs. Grayson

1st Officers: Saru vs. Grayson
SARU (Discovery): Genetically predisposed towards cowardice with a heightened sense of self-preservation. Promoted to First Officer for exemplary conduct at the Battle of the Binary Stars.

KELLY GRAYSON (Orville): Captain Mercer's ex-wife. Arranges for Ed to be promoted to the command of The Orville. A modicum of legal training. Worshipped as a goddess for some length of time on the multi-dimensional planet.

BOTTOM LINE: Saru's ambition is admirable but his insecurities leave him susceptible to influences like the Pahvons. Grayson may not be as highly-educated but is a much better fit as First Officer for her captain.


3. Ships: Planetary Union's Orville vs. Starfleet's Discovery

Ships: Planetary Union's Orville vs. Starfleet's Discovery
ORVILLE: Mid-level exploratory vessel in service for some time to the Planetary Union. Equipped with shuttles, tractor beam, deflectors, plasma torpedoes, and pulse cannons.

DISCOVERY: A brand-new Crossfield-class starship, officially designated a Starfleet science vessel, equipped with highly advanced technology and top-secret experimental spore drive.

BOTTOM LINE: Discovery definitely has the bling-factor but the Orville is probably the ship you want if you're worried about being phased out of existence in some sort of horribly disfiguring and/or fatal Black Alert maneuver.

POINT: DISCOVERY (because who wants safe when you're in frakkin' space?)

4. Science Specialists: Isaac vs. Burnham

Science Specialists: Isaac vs. Burnham
ISAAC (Orville): Representative of the artificial species of the planet Kaylon-1. Joins The Orville for the opportunity to observe human behavior and further relations between Kaylon-1 and the Planetary Union. Tends to save the day in a matter-of-fact sort of way.

MICHAEL BURNHAM (Discovery): Orphaned human raised by Sarek and Amanda alongside Spock on Vulcan. First human to to attend the Vulcan Science Academy. Starfleet's first mutineer after her actions at the Battle of the Binary Stars. Has difficulty reconciling her human nature with her Vulcan training. Gets blamed for a lot of stuff.

BOTTOM LINE: Both are capable of performing heroic acts and both have been programmed to approach decisions from a place of logic. As much as I enjoy Isaac's contributions and learning curve, Burnham's character development is far more unpredictable and interesting.


5. Doctors: Finn vs. Culber

Doctors: Finn vs. Culber
CLAIRE FINN (Orville): Most seasoned member of The Orville with experience in molecular surgery, DNA engineering, and psychiatry. Two sons, Ty and Marcus, live aboard with her. Romantically pursued by Yaphit. Comfortable with firearms.

HUGH CULBER (Discovery): Lieutenant Commander serving as physician to Orville's crew members and consultant on Ripper's well-being. Romantic partners with Lieutenant Stamets and a fan of Kasseelian Opera.

BOTTOM LINE: No disrespect to Dr. Culber for his obvious abilities (and super cuteness!) but Dr. Finn just has him beat on all fronts here.


6. Security Chiefs: Kitan vs. Landry/Tyler

Security Chiefs: Kitan vs. Landry/Tyler
ALARA KITAN (Orville): One of the youngest members of the Orville crew, as a Xelayan, she has super-human strength and has proven herself capable of command in crisis situations.

ELLEN LANDRY (Discovery): Experienced Security Chief, with a strong prejudice against Vulcans, made a poor decision to provoke and take on the captive tardigrade she'd named "Ripper" and ended up dead and replaced by...

ASH TYLER (Discovery): Survivor of the Battle of the Binary Stars, spent seven months as a Klingon prisoner of war, with obvious PTSD effects, appointed by Lorca to Security Chief position almost immediately upon joining the ship.

BOTTOM LINE: Tyler is intriguing but I'd feel safer with Kitan in charge of opening the pickle jars.


7. Chief Engineers: Stamets vs. Newton/LaMarr

Chief Engineers: Stamets vs. Newton/LaMarr
PAUL STAMETS (Discovery): A trained astromycologist whose research into spore-driven propulsion is co-opted by Starfleet for military purposes. Introduces tardigrade DNA into his own body in order to navigate the system. Seems to exist outside the normal timestream now for... reasons

STEVE NEWTON (Orville): Blustery but experienced Chief Engineer who leaves The Orville to help design a new space station and is replaced by...

JOHN LAMARR (Orville): Former helm navigator and the smartest human crew member on board The Orville according to aptitude test scores. Likes his sodas and enjoys socializing in off-hours.

BOTTOM LINE: Yaphit was totally screwed out of a promotion but if I had to pick between these choices as they stand, I'd still stick with The Orville since Stamets is existing more on the theoretical level these days.


8. Redheads: Tilly vs. Malloy

Redheads: Tilly vs. Malloy
SYLVIA TILLY (Discovery): The best theoretical engineer at Starfleet Academy, fast-tracked to the Discovery, with environmental "special needs" and paradoxically awkward social acumen. She's not good with secrets.

GORDON MALLOY (Orville): Best helmsman in the Planetary Union fleet with a spotty record due to an irreverent approach to professionalism. Gave (er... lost) a leg in the attempt to teach Isaac about "pranks"

BOTTOM LINE: They're both equally good at their jobs and both equally capable of saying the most inappropriate thing while doing it.


9. Friendly Aliens: Pahvons vs. Yaphit

Friendly Aliens: Pahvons vs. Yaphit
PAHVONS (Discovery): Peace-seeking inhabitants of the planet Pahvo. Nearly cause their own demise by summoning the Klingons with their crystalline transmitter.

YAPHIT (Orville): Gelantinous engineer desperately seeking the affection of Dr. Finn. Nearly causes his own demise when he inadvertantly affects Dr. Finn with borrowed pheromones and she goes mental.

BOTTOM LINE: A moot point as the Pahvons are not members of the Discovery's crew but I give props to ST:Disco for introducing a non-humanoid, non-traditionally communicative species with absolutely no sense of self-preservation.

POINT: ORVILLE (because Yaphit is actual crew and damn good crew to boot)

10. Recurring Characters: Darulio vs. Mudd

Recurring Characters: Darulio vs. Mudd
DARULIO (Orville): Retepsian forensic archeologist whose previous encounter with Mercer and Grayson caused the end of their marriage when Kelly has an affair with him. When he joins The Orville, Mercer falls hard for him and it comes to light that Retepsian pheromones are basically biochemical roofies transmitted by touch.

MUDD (Discovery): Human con-artist first encountered in the Klingon prison ship, spying on his fellow inmates for the captors. When he infiltrates the Discovery with a time-loop device, he susses out all the secrets of the spore drive before Burnham and company trap and deliver him to his beloved Stella.

BOTTOM LINE: Darulio's pheromones make consent a serious issue but Mudd is just smart enough to be dangerous.


11. Enemies: Krill vs. Klingons

Enemies: Krill vs. Klingons
KRILL (Orville): an aggressive reptilian species with a religiously fanatical society. The homeworld is shrouded in darkness, rendering members of the Krill fatally sensitive to ultra-violet light.

KLINGON (Discovery): a humanoid warrior species aggressively opposing Starfleet interference in their society. Attacks have been both overt and covert since the Battle of the Binary Stars.

BOTTOM LINE: Klingons come with a lot of baggage but the Krill can be killed with a tanning bed.


12. The Final Reckoning: The Orville vs. Discovery

The Final Reckoning: The Orville vs. Discovery
When all the shots are fired and all the crew members accounted for, the clear result in this battle for space supremacy is...


Perhaps not the easily-predicted outcome when the season began but it's not completely unexpected either.

After all, each show has assembled a crew that suits its ship and a ship created for its circumstances. And there's a reason the Emmys don't lump comedies and dramas together. These ships could be their own mirror universe versions of each other. They aren't but they could be.

The Orville's Planetary Union may be in conflict with the Krill but it isn't the primary purpose of Captain Mercer's crew. They are in it for a good time as well as a (hopefully) long time. MacFarlane's homage to Star Trek, both classic and Next Gen, does for space travel what Scrubs did for medical shows or what Brooklyn Nine-Nine does for policing, highlighting the absurdities in the day-to-day of a rather serious profession. While not the juvenile farce people expected, it makes us laugh while managing to sneak in a thought-provoking metaphor here and there.

Meanwhile, Star Trek: Discovery faced the dual challenges of creating something wholly new in the decades-old franchise AND meeting the high expectations said franchise carries with it. A war-time drama with all the questionable decisions and ambiguous morals associated with its kingly context, there's a love for the genre evident in the depth of the production and its ambition to further its frontiers.

With another chapter of Discovery to unfold imminently and Orville's mission continung next season, the scorecard may easily shift in one direction or the other. It'll be exciting to see where the photon chips land.

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