The Discovery vs The Orville

Star Trek: Discovery (CBS All Access US/Netflix UK)
The Orville (Fox US/coming soon to Fox UK)

I had long loved Star Trek in all its forms. As I was growing up, the original series was playing on BBC-1 in prime time (7.20pm on Mondays) and we watched it as a family. In my teens, I paid a friend with Sky to tape episodes of The Next Generation for me. Then I bought Deep Space Nine on sell-through VHS. I got Sky myself partially in order to watch Voyager.


By the time Enterprise launched, however, I had fallen a bit out of love with the series. I’d managed to miss a few episodes of Deep Space Nine and found catching up on the complicated arc to be difficult. Voyager slowly descended into a soap opera IN SPACE.

The later TNG movies left me cold. Enterprise did nothing for me. That was that, I thought, end of the love affair. We had drifted apart.

When Enterprise finished leaving no Star Trek for the first time since the late 1980s, I shrugged. Then came the reboot movies. I didn’t watch them.

Still, that’s not to say the love had turned to hate. I found myself looking forward to the new series Discovery… and then waiting as it became trapped in development hell.

But here it is. Three episodes in and… it’s okay. I’m not in love, but I’m not shouting hate at the creators on Twitter. It’s okay.

The series started badly. The first 20 minutes of the first episode were very badly written and the cast had no chemistry, which didn’t help them to read out the atrocious lines. But that’s the nature of pilots: the exposition required for the new audience almost always fights with the characterisation of the new crew. For the first 20 minutes, the exposition won.

Things then bucked up, with some great special effects and some amazing action scenes. There were still flashbacks, trying to explain how the lead character was a human Vulcan, and they dragged a bit. But the rest was more than just watchable.

There were niggles. Of course there were. Why is this series set between Enterprise and the original series yet showing technology, attitudes and uniforms that clearly place it after Voyager? Why not set it in, say 2470, a hundred years after the most recent televisual events? Why change Klingon appearances and back story so radically if you want to fit it in that tight and much fan-speculated slot between the prequel and the original?

But maybe that’s just me wanting things to be a bit tidier. The two-parter opening establishes some good characters that I can imagine will become firm favourites… oh. Then it kills most of them and takes the lead character away from the ship, accused of mutiny (which is correct) and of causing a war with the Klingons (which is most certainly wrong).

Episode 3 thus becomes a second pilot, introducing a whole new crew and a whole new ship and, thanks to a flash-forward, a whole new Federation now deeply ensconced in the war the lead character apparently caused. She also now caused the massacre in the second episode, the one she mutinied in order to stop that happened while she was in the brig.

A second pilot and a retcon, all in the third episode? It works, but only just. Which, so far, means that it scores “okay” again.

What Discovery is sorely lacking is humour. All series of Star Trek, and the movies, have had elements of sitcom to them. Some episodes were purely sitcom, and this sits well within the genre. It’s what makes Star Trek different. Discovery lacks laughs. It is all Very Serious Business.

Also lacking laughs, and this is far worse, is The Orville, the multi-talented Seth MacFarlane’s latest venture for Fox. Promoted as being a comedy about Star Trek, it turns out to be Star Trek with comedy. But Star Trek has always had comedy, so this is just Star Trek with fart gags.


That said, if this was Star Trek, it would be an excellent Star Trek. The characters are broadly drawn, which was always true of the ‘real’ series. The first four episodes deal with social issues – and some really, really hard social issues – that Star Trek should have dealt with but shied away from to its shame.

The budget is clearly smaller than that for Discovery – the CGI backgrounds don’t bear too much scrutiny – but this has forced the producers to be more clever with what they have. Discovery‘s special effects are gorgeous, but that has led to the director spending a bit too long showing us how wonderful they are at the expense of the story.

But The Orville‘s main flaw is that it doesn’t know what it wants to be. Is it Star Trek with comedy or a comedy about Star Trek? Either would work, but the latter would be funnier. After four episodes, it is still drifting between the two, often settling for the Star Trek with comedy, which is just Star Trek, albeit a more crude version.

This is probably intentional – MacFarlane would clearly like The Orville to be a long-runner, and a simple parody of Star Trek would soon run out of steam. Therefore the series has to stand on its own merits as a science fiction show in order to survive.

All of this means that, again, it rates as “okay”. Both series are… okay. Of course, I’d want more than that: either or both series being brilliant would be great as a viewer; either or both series being unalloyed rubbish would be great as a reviewer. But neither are. They’re just… okay.

I’ll stick with them. There’s enough there to make me happy to wait a week to see the next episodes of both. They’re not appointment television, but the non-linear nature of Discovery‘s distribution means that’s not a problem for them. It might be a harder ask for viewers of The Orville when it reaches the linear Fox UK, but we’ll see.

Until then, I’d recommend you try both series out. They’re okay.


Queerer than folk

Eighteen years ago tonight, Channel Four played the first episode of a new 8-part drama series, written by “children’s television writer” (as he was often called in the press) Russell T Davies: Queer as Folk.

The show was a warts-and-all deconstruction of gay life in the late 1990s. It didn’t hold back on the many alien elements of how gay life could be: drugs, an unequal age of consent meaning that the age of consent concept itself was ignored, blackmail, forced coming out, casual sex, loneliness, even bad gay parenting. The world presented in each episode was not a perfect one by any means, and wasn’t the one you’d choose to portray homosexuality in a good light.

But something about the brutal honesty of the show and how the characters remained likeable whilst being flawed struck a chord with an audience that I suspect even Channel Four didn’t think they’d reach: ordinary straight people.

The day after the first episode aired, I went into work buzzing from the programme but knowing I had nobody to talk to about it: I wasn’t out at work and the people I worked with were definitely not the type to be watching such filth.

Everybody watched it. It was the talk of the office for days. Everybody loved it. The straights speculated on the bits they didn’t understand, and before I knew it I was out and being asked to fill in the details (what did he mean “they didn’t tell you about that one”? and suddenly you’re explaining rimming to a 60 year old lady in a cozy cardigan).

Queer as Folk seemed to be a turning point. Casual homophobia at work dried up immediately, as even the most beery men switched from making gay jokes to saying “yeah, just like Stuart in Queer as Folk!” instead. Suddenly, and unexpectedly, gay life was normal real life. It was fine.

After 8 weeks of QaF, society itself seemed to shift. Before long, the unequal age of consent was equalised, the Tory Section 28 that banned discussion of homosexuality was abolished, gays on TV became normal, and we were on our way to Civil Partnerships and eventually equal marriage.

And I put all of this progress down to the after effects of Queer as Folk, and credit Russell T Davies with sparking much of this heady progress. Thanks, Russell. And happy birthday, Stuart, Vince and Nathan.

Both seasons of Queer as Folk are available on Channel Four’s All4 on-demand service, together with Russell T Davies’s later gay dramas for the network, Cucumber and Banana.

Don’t Let’s Be Beastly To The Nazis

A head-scratching part of the recent terrifying rise of the far right into positions of influence in western democracies has been accompanied by various people on the left loudly saying that (a) we have enabled the far right by making them into comedy figures, and (b) we should engage with Nazis rather than punching the fuckers in the face.

To deal with the second point first: famously-punched Nazi scum Richard Spencer, who was punched while in the middle of a live primetime unchallenged interview with Australian national broadcaster the ABC, and later again whilst being give free, unchallenged access to the masses by television, says he is now too frightened to leave his house to give interviews.

I can’t for the life of me think of a downside to this. A man who preaches hate for people of colour, Jews, LGBT+, anybody who isn’t him, who advocates – indeed, argues strongly for – concentration camps and the mass gassing and cremation of people who aren’t him, is now too scared to appear on TV.

Good. About fucking time.

As for “enabling” the Nazi scum by taking the piss of them: the people who complain about this are an unholy alliance of those who dealt with bullies at school by hiding from them and now never speak up ever…

…and those on the ‘left’ who have drifted so far to the left that they’ve come round and met themselves at the other side and are happy and content in the midst of fascists (you know who you are, Laurie).

The Second World War, you remember, the last time fascism was a powerful force in the world, featured just the same type of people wringing their hands and calling for us to be nice to the Nazis. We were nice to them. And then a war that enveloped the entire world and only ended with the use of nuclear weapons happened.

And during that war, we – the not-fascists – continued to make jokes about our foes, even as they dropped tonnes of bombs on our heads.

And it drove them mad. All the counter-propaganda in world produced nothing like the hilarity in the Home Front and the extreme anger in the Axis as the type of satirical and comedy songs we sang to ourselves and broadcast at them.

For instance, this from Florrie Desmond, laughing at Mussolini:

Or this from Spike Jones in the United States suggesting that farting in Hitler’s direction would annoy him (the song annoyed the people in charge of his jamming equipment, and also the remaining appeasers on the board of the FCC at least):

And Arthur Askey had a thing or two to say about Rudolf Hess suddenly making a run for it in 1941:

On that basis… keep taking the piss of the Nazis, it drives them mad. And keep punching the fuckers, just because.

Twitter: home of the clueless

Twitter has a problem with Nazis spouting pro-genocidal bullshit and targeting people of colour, LGBT+ and women with doxxing and all manner of disgusting abuse.

If you report it, Twitter, as “the free speech wing of the Free Speech Party”, tells you there’s nothing wrong.

But if you, as an ordinary human being, reply back with a swear… you get punished.

Slow. Hand. Clap.


Fear not

Popular wisdom has it that, once the Nazis had come to power in Germany, they were kept there by the fear of the population.

Indeed, this is what the German population repeatedly said after the end of the war that crushed their country: we were scared, there was nothing we could do, it wasn’t our fault.

And it helped us all to believe that. What would we have done if we had been invaded, or if Oswald Mosley had come to power? We’d’ve done nothing, because we would’ve been too scared to act, fearful of the torture and concentration camps awaiting any dissent.

But it’s not true. Or, at least, it’s true only of a minority of the German population under Nazism, because for a large majority, the broadly conservative (with a small ‘c’), politically disinterested, get up, work, come home, go to bed, play a little football on the weekend, ordinary people, for them, Nazism provided very many benefits.

For a start, no matter how “low down” on the social scale you were, suddenly whole sections of the population were firmly placed below you. A humble street sweeper, a toiling factory worker, the dustman, the waiter, the people the rest of us barely notice and treat like nothing because to us they are nothing, those people got a promotion. Because now they could punch down in a way that was never possible before. They could hate Jews and Roma and ‘The Other’, because they were below them now. And everyone, so long as they weren’t a victim, benefitted.

Then, after years of a terrible economy that did nobody any good, Nazism used pump-priming methods to flood the economy with easy money. This is a handy short-term policy that has worked on other stagnant economies since, but it only works briefly before causing hyperinflation and mass unemployment. But if you underpin pump-priming with slave labour from the camps and from unpaid foreign workers and eventually by invading other countries and slaving their economy to yours, you can keep this going for over a decade. And everyone, so long as they weren’t a victim, benefitted.

The systematic murdering of the terminally ill, the mentally handicapped, the geriatric and the disabled reduced most of the costs of healthcare by removing cases that are always a drain on hospital and GP finances, meaning lower prices for everyone else and reduced waiting lists. And everyone, so long as they weren’t a victim, benefitted.

Massive investment in infrastructure is a tried and tested way out of recession that always works, although governments are reluctant to incur the debt this causes. But if you can draft the unemployed into building the infrastructure for free (or for the cost of their social security), then the price dramatically reduces. If some of the infrastructure – railways, ‘resettlement camps’ – is then used to kill the ‘subhuman’ population, allowing the state to plunder their gold teeth, watches and bank accounts, the debt isn’t run up. And if it is, pump-priming destroys it anyway. And everyone, so long as they weren’t a victim, benefitted.

The people were taught that their nation was the best in the world, none better, it’s the best, everyone says so. Everybody else is lesser. So when Austria, the Czechs and Poland fell under the jackboot, it was only natural that the lands and properties should be confiscated. The slum dwellers in Germany could be given decent housing in Poland, the Poles themselves sent off to be destroyed or worked to death. That in turn allowed the slums to be removed, meaning that the richer housing was in a better area. Society could be more neatly segregated, so for people would mix only with similar people. Social cohesion removed much of the need for politics. People didn’t feel they needed to vote, so didn’t miss it. And everyone, so long as they weren’t a victim, benefitted.

As Michael Rosen has pointed out, fascism doesn’t arrive in jackboots and uniforms. It arrives as your friend, and, at first, you welcome it. It benefits you. And, as Martin Niemöller pointed out, by the time you notice that fascism is not doing you any good at all, it’s too late.

What can we do? Nothing while we believe that it’s fear that drives people to accommodate themselves to Nazism. We need to stop believing this terrible, 70-year-old trope. And we need to act. When we see someone spouting Nazi garbage – often in hidden forms – call them out on it. Call them liars. Don’t give them a chance to plant their seeds: salt the earth.

And, if you should get the chance, always punch a Nazi.

Nobody knows the rubbish I’ve seen

What did the voters mean by choosing the LibDems over the “independent” candidate in Richmond? What did they mean when the chose the “independent” candidate, then a Conservative, in 2015? What did they mean when a plurality, rather than a majority, of just 49.7% of them chose the Conservative over the LibDems in 2010? What did they mean when even less of them – 46.7% – chose a LibDem in 2005?

Surely there was some meaning to these votes?

Well, yes, there undoubtedly was. But what the meaning was, we don’t know and we can’t know and no amount of columnists and editorials and Tweets and blog posts and polls and what have you can ever tell us – or anyone.

Because First Past The Post voting is too blunt a method of deciding anything. Everyone walks away saying that their point has been proven. The voters walk away disaffected.

Stick your poppy up your…

My dad joined the RAF when he was 14 as a Boy Apprentice. He won several medals for his work as a flight engineer – as a Chief Tech and Flight Sgt – and was the last recipient of the old British Empire Medal (BEM), since brought back. The RAF admitted that they caused his Multiple Sclerosis and he retired on a full-pay pension. When he died, the RAF admitted responsibility and my mum is accorded full honours as a War Widow and gets a pension from the state accordingly.
He never wore a poppy.
Not once.
He was registered with RAF Command as a conscientious objector when it came to wearing the poppy and was excused doing so, even when leading his men on the parade ground for November 11 services.
Back then, the poppy’s centre read “HAIG FUND”. Douglas Haig was a mass murderer according to my dad. He could not – EVER – wear something that had a mass murder’s name on it. He felt he might as well have had a swastika or an effigy of Stalin on his lapel. And the RAF respected this.
And, yes, both my parents were members of the British Legion (which does a lot for veterans and is against the politicisation of the poppy as it is simply a flag to note that you’ve donated and should not be bothered by street collectors again), RAFA, SSAFA and the RAF Benevolent Fund… they gave what little money we had to support others with even less.
And my dad never wore a poppy.
Come and have a go at me if you think you’re hard enough.