Mirror Universe

Age of the Geek Column: It's been years since we've had a Star Trek show on television. Now, amazingly enough, we have two.

"Star Trek: Discovery" is about halfway through its initial season, but running alongside it is "The Orville," which isn't an official Star Trek show, but only by a technicality.

"The Orville" is, for all intents and purposes, Seth MacFarland's Star Trek fanfiction brought to life. Everything about the show harkens back to early 90's syndicated sci-fi, from the way it's shot to the episodic storytelling, a rarity in today's TV landscape.

Contrary to what one might expect from the creator of "Family Guy," "The Orville" isn't nearly the parody it was initially marketed as. Sure, there is a much stronger element of humor than one would typically find in the Star Trek franchise, but for the most part "The Orville" plays things straight.

One might criticize "The Orville" for retreading over old ground, and that's a fair point. Essentially recycling episodes of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" for 2017, the show definitely isn't raising the bar for sci-fi television. Rather, it's faithfully recreating what fans loved about the sci-fi shows of years past.

Just with the occasional Norm MacDonald cameo. This puts "The Orville" in stark contrast with the actual new entry in the Star Trek franchise, "Star Trek: Discovery." Where "The Orville" is a new franchise that looks like a Star Trek show, "Star Trek: Discovery" is a Star Trek show that looks like a new franchise.

The show may have the Federation and Klingons, but it doesn't have the optimistic view of the future that Gene Roddenberry envisioned. Set against the backdrop of an interstellar war and free from the content restraints of network television, the crew of the Discovery drink, swear, and occasionally torture living creatures to get their spaceship moving.

The characters don't act like people that have grown up in a post-scarcity utopia, free of prejudice and dedicated to a philosophy of peaceful exploration. They're petty, suspicious, and jaded, qualities that surely make them more relatable to general audiences in 2017, but make them notably different than what we'd expect from people in the fictional year of 2256.

Even visually, "Star Trek: Discovery" is far removed from shows of Star Trek's past. Dutch angles, low lighting, and Hollywood quality production, the show looks spectacular but if you put it side-by-side with another series you'd be forgiven for not realizing they were part of the same franchise.

But isn't that the point? Where "The Orville" plants itself firmly into the familiar trappings of Roddenberry's work, "Star Trek: Discovery" is boldly going where no Trek has gone before. Every new Star Trek show, for better or worse, has pushed the boundaries, but how far removed from Roddenberry's vision can you get before Star Trek stops being Star Trek?

This all brings up an interesting question. Which series is the better Star Trek continuation?

"Star Trek: Discovery" obviously has the legitimate claim to the name, but is there more to Star Trek than the trademarks and copyrights? Outside of the ability to reference other Star Trek shows without being sued, "Star Trek: Discovery" shares little in common with its predecessors. Swap out Klingons for robots and "Star Trek: Discovery" becomes a "Battlestar Galactica" spin-off. Meanwhile, the only thing keeping "The Orville" from being a straight up Star Trek show is that legal inability to do so.

This isn't uncommon in entertainment. Whenever a franchise gets too far removed from its core, something usually comes in to fill the gap. For a few years the best new Sonic the Hedgehog game was "Freedom Planet," an indie game that actually started as a Sonic fan-game before becoming a legitimate franchise of its own.

Ridley Scott has yet to recreate the horror of the original "Alien" movie in any of his recent films, but this year's "Life" made a solid attempt.

Heck, to go full circle, the best Star Wars movie J.J. Abrams has made so far was his 2006 Star Trek reboot.

"The Orville" is certainly more recognizable as Star Trek than "Star Trek: Discovery," but is that something that should be held against the latter show?

There really isn't a good answer. We expect our entertainment franchises to grow, but complain when they change. We want things to be new, but also familiar.

I suppose this is true for most things. An inherent hypocrisy built into human nature.

Maybe "The Orville" will explore this idea. "Star Trek: Discovery" probably won't.

Travis Fischer is a news writer for Mid-America Publishing and is fine with having both shows around.