Man, it took me a minute to hit the Hulu play button for The Orville’s “Majority Rule.” It’s not that I have soured on the show. It’s more, well, there’s a lot going on in pop culture right now. Stranger Things: Season 2 just dropped on Netflix. Arrow is suddenly trying something interesting with its “Diggle is Green Arrow now” plot. The Good Place just did an entire episode about Janet, and it was amazing. I’m still knee deep in time-consuming research for my Halloween trivia articles. Manhunter and Lore continue to beckon on Netflix and Amazon respectively. Horror movie marathons are everywhere. With all of that and more, stopping to check in on Seth MacFarlane’s little Star Trek cosplay show hardly seems like appointment television.

But shut my mouth because “Majority Rule” was a clever, if at times overly obvious bit of sci-fi social commentary. It also happened to lift from the best.

What happens?: While on a covert away mission to an Earth-like planet to locate two missing Union anthropologists, LaMarr inadvertently becomes an enemy of the state after a video of him playfully humping a statue of a national icon goes viral.

Wait. Did you just say “humping a statue”?: Yeeeeaaaahhhh, he was teasing Alara after she claimed to have dumped a boyfriend because she didn’t like how he danced.

What does any of this have to do with Black Mirror?: Huh?

You referenced Black Mirror in the title of this review. Remember?: Oh, right. Right, right, right. So, everyone on this 21st century Earth-like planet is required to wear badges displaying their lifelong total of up (indicated by a green arrow) and down (indicated by a red arrow) votes. Reaching a certain threshold of down votes automatically triggers arrest, incarceration and possibly lobotomy.The cleverness here is the notion of combining a standard Star Trek plot (away team members accidentally runs afoul of local customs, conflict and speeches about ethics ensue) with modern anxieties over the impact of social media on our lives. The derivation, though, is Black Mirror already did the up/down vote commentary, and because Charlie Brooker > Seth MacFarlane they did a far better version of it:

Black Mirror’s “Nosedive”:

Typical MacFarlane. Always ripping off someone. If it’s not The Simpsons, it’s Black Mirror, amiright?: Yeah. Maybe. I dunno. “Majority Rule” actually does something a little different with it, adding the notion of a society which has abandoned a standard legal system in favor of rule by majority opinion (see what the did there?). LaMarr isn’t assigned a lawyer because they don’t even know the meaning of the word “lawyer.” Instead, they have glorified press agents whoguide their clients through apology tours where TV viewers, hosts and live studio audiences get to judge whether the criminal sounds genuinely sincere.

Did “Nosedive” do anything like that?: Not really. On top of that, “Majority Rule” branches out to include an ethical speech (I told you one would ensue) about representative versus absolute democracy, and ends with salvation-via-fake-news.

Salvation by what now?: The crew is forbidden from interceding directly on the planet, leaving the members of the away team to search for answers on their own while Ed and the bridge crew strategize in the Orville. The plan they come up with is, basically, let’s kidnap a twentysomething (Scream: The TV Series‘s Giorgia Whigham) and ask her to explain social media to us. Based on her advice, they flood the planet with fake news about LaMarr (i.e., he was a chunky kid, he’s a military veteran,has a dog named Checkers), which turns the tide of opinion just enough to stave off the lobotomy and allow him to walk free. The episodes ends with LaMarr freed and save back on the Orville, and the girl they revealed themselves to taking the Doctor’s instructions to heart by realizing their society really can do better.

Of course, the show means us. We are the ones who can do better: Better than The Orville? I mean, probably. I keep hearing Star Trek: Discovery is worth watching.

No. You know what I mean. “Majority Rule” clearly ends by pointing its finger squarely back at the audience and shouts, “That’s a bad, society. Bad! Be better!”: When you put it that way, it kind of diminishes what the episode was going for, but, yeah, in a nutshell that’s the whole point of it. As sci-fi allegories go, it was a fairly effective hour of television, Black Mirror similarities and all.

Now, on to Stranger Things.

THE NOTES AND NITPICKS

  1. The Breakfast Show is such a bland, yet entirely perfect title for a morning show. I wonder if in hour two of The Breakfast Show they have female hosts who get increasingly tipsy off mimosas, and in hour three Megyn Kelly does whatever because, shit, they signed her to that big contract.
  2. “With all the different planets in the galaxy you’re bound to have some cases of parallel species development” – Is that a real theory? Or just MacFarlane’s nod toward the number of Star Trek planets which kind of look like Earth slightly rearranged?.
  3. Orville signature pop culture weirdness: A “manwich” reference, “unemployed back-up dancers,” crop-tops, American Idol.
  4. Stunned MacFarlane didn’t make a Blossom joke about Alara’s hat.
  5. Suddenly dying to hear Bortus sing.
  6. So, Kelly was only allowed to accompany LaMarr to provide moral support? Fully expected a mid-episode twist where she jumped in to help during one of his TV appearances and either made it better or far worse somehow.
  7. Imagine living in a society where random people constantly walk up to and poke you in the chest. So much for respecting your personal space. No thank you.
  8. Would have been hilarious if LaMarr’s last second reprieve was nullified by the scientists he insults responding by downvoting him.

What did you think of “Majority Rule”? How did you feel about their first attempt at a “normal human from our present boards the Enterprise and has her mind blown” Star Trek plot? Let me know in the comments.

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Posted by Kelly Konda

Grew up obsessing over movies and TV shows. Worked in a video store. Minored in film at college because my college didn't offer a film major. Worked in academia for a while. Have been freelance writing and running this blog since 2013.

24 Comments

  1. The idea for this episode was genius. The execution was horrible.

    First and foremost was John’s total disregard for his public behavior and absolute disobedience of his First Officer. The idea that anyone on an away team would have zero sense of propriety when visiting an alien culture is absurd. And to be so cavalier even knowing the last two guys are missing and having no idea why is criminal malpractice.

    In fact, that one act and his disobedience should have sent him right back onto the main ship and a period of suspension.

    This is the kind of stuff that gets people killed and since the show isn’t going for straight comedy, this was inexcusable behavior.

    Second was his totally forced burst of laughter when he was told the justice system is based on votes and an apology tour. No one on this show seems capable of acting out believable humor. Not one burst of laughter in the entire series felt like the character actually thought something was funny.

    Third was the fact that the crew landed without any cultural research at all — even knowing the previous crew were missing. As evidenced by the ending, they had clear capability of monitoring and even hacking communications so it would have been trivial to study the culture before heading into potential danger. Heck, if they’d taken a few hours to scan through the media feeds, they’d have seen their missing men on TV. In fact, the computer could likely have scanned a few years worth of feeds and provided summaries — or at least flagged any mention of the missing guys names. It was such a stupid oversight that I almost wanted John to get “corrected”.

    Fourth, the idea that John had no talents whatsoever was lame — as well as the ineptness of his PR guy. He only mentions the idea of a talent 10 seconds before air time? Even if you assume everyone knows the rules, a PR guy would do much more to prep his client.

    Finally, the “climax” where John is just one vote away from getting “corrected” was stupid. While it was clearly a send-up of all the shows where the bomb’s timer gets stopped with just one second to go, it was so clumsily done, the humor was lost and there was never any tension built.

    Finally(2), John’s final act of beligerance was not only silly but for all he knew was something that could get him shot or sent back to the chair. And calling out that he’s a space man was, again, just stupid. Not funny. Just stupid.

    His grinding on the statue and his space man outburst suggest he has no business being on the bridge of a star ship — no matter how good he is.

    The idea of studying what life would be like if everything was decided by social media Likes or Downvotes should have been fascinating. #FAIL.

    I would like to have seen a bit of a down vote shoving match between SOMEONE — either with one of the crew or just two natives. One guy pokes the other

    Also, the show could have actually had a fair discussion about pure democracy vs a representative government. It would have been interesting to hear more than 10 seconds of sincere arguments FOR a pure democracy and fair counterpoint. The episode about changing a baby’s gender covered both sides of the arguments quite well. This episode gave a nod and a wink to the argument.

    Reply

    1. “First and foremost was John’s total disregard for his public behavior and absolute disobedience of his First Officer. The idea that anyone on an away team would have zero sense of propriety when visiting an alien culture is absurd. And to be so cavalier even knowing the last two guys are missing and having no idea why is criminal malpractice.”

      Agred, but to be fair it’s pretty consistent with what we’ve seen from this crew so far.

      “Third was the fact that the crew landed without any cultural research at all — even knowing the previous crew were missing. As evidenced by the ending, they had clear capability of monitoring and even hacking communications so it would have been trivial to study the culture before heading into potential danger. Heck, if they’d taken a few hours to scan through the media feeds, they’d have seen their missing men on TV. In fact, the computer could likely have scanned a few years worth of feeds and provided summaries — or at least flagged any mention of the missing guys names. It was such a stupid oversight that I almost wanted John to get “corrected.”

      What you are describing is really the Roger Ebert idiot plot. It’s the idea that the plot we are presented has a logical solution which would invalidate the whole story and thus requires our characters to act like idiots. To be fair, if I recall the episode did have a throwaway line exposition line about having not received communication from the planet in some time, and if the anthropologists went in like that there must have been something keeping them from fully understanding the society. Maybe they could monitor the social media feed but not totally understand that what they were reading was really the society’s version of codified law. I dunno. It’s probably just the idiot plot thing.

      “Also, the show could have actually had a fair discussion about pure democracy vs a representative government. It would have been interesting to hear more than 10 seconds of sincere arguments FOR a pure democracy and fair counterpoint. The episode about changing a baby’s gender covered both sides of the arguments quite well. This episode gave a nod and a wink to the argument.”

      It’s arguable they would have been better served with maybe doing this story as a two-parter, to give the secondary argument about representative versus pure democracy more time to stretch out.

      “Second was his totally forced burst of laughter when he was told the justice system is based on votes and an apology tour. No one on this show seems capable of acting out believable humor. Not one burst of laughter in the entire series felt like the character actually thought something was funny.”

      They seemed to be working in a slight racial element to John’s instant rejection of their justice system and assumption of their corruption. Which is fine. However, laughing in the face of his punishers was stretching things. Even if he didn’t recognize their authority over him, he’s still a Union officer who just royally screwed up. You’d think even if he couldn’t sincerely apologize to the society he’d insulted he could at least take it seriously for Kelly’s sake, for his commanding officer’s sake.

      Reply

    2. Looks like I didn’t finish one of my thoughts, above…

      I would like to have seen a bit of a down vote shoving match between SOMEONE — either with one of the crew or just two natives. One guy pokes the other and they go back and forth down voting each other. Maybe that’s even considered a brawl in their society and they get arrested for it.

      The idea of poking some to vote is awfully impractical. I mean what’s to stop someone from just blocking the voter; pushing his hand out of the way. Or just backing and turning away from the poke?

      Reply

      1. “The idea of poking some to vote is awfully impractical. I mean what’s to stop someone from just blocking the voter; pushing his hand out of the way. Or just backing and turning away from the poke?”

        I thought that too, but went with it because I appreciated the general idea and assumed it was a decision born out of budgetary necessity. Black Mirror had a movie-sized budget for its episode, and used a brilliant interface to visualize a future in which our social media feeds are accessible and capable of instant interaction through occular implants. Orville had to make those buttons because it was presumably cheaper to pull off, or, if not cheaper, than at least more practical considering the smaller production window they’re working with than Black Mirror.

        “One guy pokes the other and they go back and forth down voting each other. Maybe that’s even considered a brawl in their society and they get arrested for it.”

        I want to see a Part 2 where they return to this society, and that little germ of revolution they planted in the girl has thrown everything out of whack, leading to increasingly large number of confrontations like the one you described.

        Or, more likely, that girl will act more independently and start receiving more downvotes until she’s shunned and unable to drink at or let alone work at that coffee shop anymore.

      2. They could have kept the badges. But the badges are INDICATORS, not voting pads. Everyone votes on their PDAs.

  2. You seemed to like this episode far more than I did. I like the series, as a whole, but I thought this ep was the worst of them, to date.

    Reply

  3. –? Kelly was only allowed to accompany LaMarr to provide moral support? Fully expected a mid-episode twist where she jumped in to help during one of his TV appearances and either made it better or far worse somehow.

    Yeah, that was totally wasted. I did think she’d be invited to join him on the talk shows and come up with some way to make him sympathetic.

    Reply

  4. Prior to this episode, John came across as competent and quite likable. He was none of those things in this episode.

    Reply

  5. Seth seems to have a penchant for spoofing tropes with so much sincerity that you can’t tell it’s being spoofed. Like in this episode where the first guy the away team meets happens to sell black market voting badges. And, it seemed to me that his price was ridiculously pedestrian.

    That was clearly a send up of those kinds of coincidences happening all the time on Star Trek and other sci fi shows, but these seem to always be executed as an in-in-inside joke.

    Reply

    1. “That was clearly a send up of those kinds of coincidences happening all the time on Star Trek and other sci fi shows, but these seem to always be executed as an in-in-inside joke.”

      In this case, I don’t think it was meant as a spoof, but I agree MacFarlane’s spoofing can sometimes be hard to spot, at least whether or not it’s something being done intentionally.

      Reply

      1. If it wasn’t a spoof then it was another silly plot device. Got a guy just handing out black market voting pads? How big a market for these is there? Why so cheap? And why would he trust these strangers and risk getting arrested if it was a sting?

      2. At the very least, I expected a joke where they would initially give him too much or too little money since currency is a foreign concept to them.

      3. Yeah, that was another super big annoyance for me. They knew enough to have counterfeit money created but didn’t bother to understand how it’s used? They just hand a bunch of it to the team and the team has no idea what it’s even for?

        Be the same as having them go skydiving or wing suit jumping without any training or even without explaining the concept of what they’re about to do.

      4. :Yeah, that was another super big annoyance for me. They knew enough to have counterfeit money created but didn’t bother to understand how it’s used? They just hand a bunch of it to the team and the team has no idea what it’s even for?:

        They might have backed off making the obvious joke about them not knowing how much money to give simply because Star Trek IV went to that well repeatedly. Then again, I doubt “it might seem too derivative” would genuinely stop The Orville from doing anything.

  6. –> ” The Good Place just did an entire episode about Janet, and it was amazing. ” SO GOOD, right? This is a brilliant show.

    Reply

    1. And now they have Jason Mantzoukas in the cast, which is either a good or bad thing depending on your exposure to his humor in The League, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The House, Big Mouth, How Did this Get Made? podcast. For me, it’s a very good thing.

      Really, though, anything with Janet is always fascinating and hilarious, and what I’m loving about this show is how much it leaves us not knowing what to expect week to week. It can somehow be a very different kind of show with an entirely different plot structure or character focus from one week to the next, yet also maintain that signature Good Place tone. After last night’s episode, I jumped on netflix to maybe re-watch a season 1 episode in the background while I worked, and I quickly realized I only liked season 1; I love season 2 and its increasingly bold story and character choices.

      Reply

      1. As Janet becomes more humanish, I guess they needed someone to replace her quirkiness. John’s as good a choice as any. Nobody pulls off crazy like he does. I love Brooklyn Nine Nine, though I didn’t love John’s addition, he did what he did really well.

  7. –> “I keep hearing Star Trek: Discovery is worth watching.”

    When Discovery is not butchering the portrayal of Klingons, it’s fantastic. I’m really loving it.

    Reply

    1. Sometime soon I’m going to sign up for the CBS All Access trial, binge all the eps and write about it. Maybe sometime between Halloween and Thor: Ragnarok. Not sure yet.

      Reply

  8. In summary, it was impossible for me to take this episode seriously because there’s no way they should have been in this situation in the first place. The incompetence that got them in that mess should have kept them from every qualifying to be there in the first place. So, I was completely unable to let go and just enjoy the story.

    And it was impossible to enjoy the story as comedy because… well because it wasn’t funny.

    Reply

    1. “So, I was completely unable to let go and just enjoy the story.”

      That’s the problem with the idiot plot. It asks you to either be as stupid as the characters or at least highly forgiving of them. I went with it because I don’t expect much more from The Orville, but also because I liked the central idea enough I was curious to see what they would do with it to make it more than just a blatant-Black Mirror rip-off.

      Reply

      1. The problem is, as you’ve pointed out in other reviews, that The Orville doesn’t know if the crew is brilliant or idiots. And every time we see the idiot side, it makes it impossible to accept the brilliant side. And vice versa.

      2. “And every time we see the idiot side, it makes it impossible to accept the brilliant side. And vice versa.”

        With those bunch of numbkulls are also out there seeking new life and civilization we’re all doomed, or at least challenged to properly know what to make of this show and its characters.

  9. There are so many shows that have pulled off the balance between humor and action and seriousness better than The Orville that it makes me mad Seth isn’t doing a better job of it. It’s got so much potential.

    I was just thinking about the 60s show, Get Smart.

    This was a spoof of James Bond and they somehow made Max work with a combination of dimwittedness, great fighting and shooting skills and the occassional brilliant idea. But the way they were able to pull it off was by never trying to pretend to be a real James Bond story. It was always a spoof with a good balance of believable action and silly hijinx.

    I really do think Seth’s problem, here, is that the show is bipolar.

    Reply

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