Last year, I gave the sci-fi television series The Orville a lot of crap for an episode that poached, lock stock and barrel, from a 1970’s sci-fi drama called The Starlost. Heck, I almost expected Harlan Ellison – the sci-fi writer who created The Starlost – to sue my own blog out of existence for even TALKING about the similarities between the two episodes.
That being said, The Orville has started to grow on me, getting past that early series faux pas to the point where I actually make it part of my Thursday night TV watching (along with The Big Bang Theory, The Good Place, Star Trek Discovery and Law and Order: Special Victims Unit). Thankfully there’s my Apple TV so that I can time-shift a few things…
So after watching a decent Star Trek Discovery episode, I figured I’d flip over and catch the latest episode of The Orville.
And right off the bat … the series begins with what appears to be a “time capsule” episode, where the crew of the 25th century space ship have uncovered relics from a 2015 time capsule – which, according to the TV show, was dug up north of Albany.
Well, that got my attention.
Do they mean Albany, New York? Albany, Georgia? Albany, Western Australia?
Partway through the episode, one of the characters – pilot Gordon Molloy – gets one of the time capsule relics, an iPhone, to work. On the iPhone is a video of the phone’s previous owner – a girl named Laura (played by Leighton Meester) who announces herself as living in Saratoga Springs, New York.
Okay, now I want to see how this plays out.
Somehow, Gordon uses his spaceship’s technology to integrate the iPhone’s contents into a virtual hologram, and begins to communicate directly with the girl in the holographic simulator. She says that she works in retail at Macy’s (which would make sense, there’s a Macy’s in Colonie Center). And then she says that her passion is music – which would also make sense, since Saratoga Springs is the home of Caffe Lena.
Then she asks if Gordon would like to see her perform in a cafe on Dunhill.
Dunhill? Dunhill Street? Dunhill Avenue? Dunhill Road?
And after a through search to confirm I didn’t miss anything … nope. No Dunhill thoroughfare anywhere in Saratoga County, let alone Saratoga Springs. Damn it.
Well, then again, there was that time that Laura – pardon me, Leighton Meester – was in the club … hanging out with her friends on a starship – and by “starship,” I mean Cobra Starship …
Well, by the next scene, Laura is playing at a coffee house as part of a folk trio. Looks sorta like Caffe Lena, but it could be any generic coffee house. Maybe it’s the generic coffee house on Dunhill. So close.
A little later on in the episode, Laura gives Gordon her cell phone number. And, like all television telephone numbers, it has a “555”in the middle. But it also has an “838” as the area code.
Wait. 838 is the overlay area code when Albany’s original area code – 518 – ran out of numbers. But that took place in 2017 … which would have been two years AFTER Laura’s phone was put in the time capsule. So close…
Meanwhile, these interactions between Gordon and Laura are taking place in the starship’s holodeck. And if I’m going to give The Orville credit for some of the stuff in this episode, I’m also going to give them grief for borrowing liberally from a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode in which Lt Geordi LaForge communicates with a holographic representation of a physicist to solve an issue with the Enterprise.
In the end, though, the story developed into that old sci-fi trope of “sci-fi character falling into an emotional connection with historic / inanimate object from the past.” Not only has it been done on Star Trek: The Next Generation, it’s also appeared in The Twilight Zone as “A Message from Charity,” in which a fever connects a contemporary teenager with a girl from Puritan times.
And I’m not even going to go into the B-plot of this episode, in which two of the characters suddenly get hyper-addicted to 21st-century cigarettes.
As for the references to Albany and to Saratoga Springs … it’s a nice call-back, I do appreciate it, but in the episode it seemed more like just a random callout than anything. Not one reference to maybe going to the horse track. Or talk of visiting the Adirondacks.
But I guess when a sci-fi TV show tries that hard to travel back in time … sometimes, instead of bringing out a new plotline … it instead brings back tried and true plotlines from better TV shows that had better success with those concepts.
And it’s probably the reason why I watched Star Trek Discovery first last night, even though both Star Trek Discovery and The Orville air new episodes almost at the same time on Thursday nights.
Again … good thing I have a time-shifting Apple TV handy. 😀