Battle of The Orville TV Series
Previous Parts in Theme-Conflict Integration are:
Now in Part 4, let's look at how to use the theoretical (thematic or philosophical) ideas sketched in Part 3 where we looked at how humans develop to maturity, what part fiction plays in that process, and how the attention of humans focuses on different "conflicts" as the Human grows to maturity.
To each epoch of an individual human's life belongs a specific bundle of thematic concepts. The fiction writer, in choosing how to present a story (not what story to tell, but how to structure and present the story), builds into the presentation structure an appeal to a specific age group.
The older we get, the more different age-related conflicts we understand and appreciate. That appreciation of childhood and teen-hood conflicts re-ignites in a human raising children. We come to once again see the world with a child-like (not child-ish) sense of wonder. Everything is new again.
Aliens who don't "raise" or nurture their own children might turn out very differently. By studying humans (and your target readership), you can design Aliens who engage and challenge the age group (or maturity stage) of your target readership.
So keep in mind that the point of this blog is to create "Aliens" who have something to "say" (theme) to humans (your readers) who are living through a "stage" of life (conflict).
We have a wonder-inspiring example of how to write for modern Teens in the TV Series, The Orville.
I suspect the people who dislike The Orville had heard it was a Star Trek inspired show and expected it to appeal to those who are now two generations away from ST:ToS.
The Orville seems to me to be designed to appeal to bright 7 year olds, or well educated 12 year olds. It might seem a little "thin" to 19 year olds.
The Conflicts are about external threats which do not derive from the spiritual and psychological issues of the main characters -- or they put the main characters (Bridge and Engineering crew) into a predicament that would make a teen squirm.
Many of these squirm-worthy predicaments are taken right out of psychological textbooks on Teens. Most involve some ignominy or loss of dignity.
Seeing adults lose dignity absolutely thrills 7 year olds.
A mature human attains a level of dignity which can't be reduced by external situations because it arises from within, but that kind of dignity is imperceptible and utterly alien to Teens. They've never experienced it, so it does not exist. Hence bathroom humor, or the embarrassment of being thrown into a physical embrace and being seen by others who take it as sexual.
Sex is absolutely the most embarrassing thing to a Teen.
If it still embarrasses you at 30 or 40, you know there's a Child Within You who has not attained maturity. Likewise bathroom humor is funny only to the immature. Just because you've survived a few decades, don't think you are completely mature.
One vital ingredient in Romance is that Child Within who relishes new experiences, and everything (even dull routine) seems new and exciting. Romance happens at any age, and always taps into that level of the virgin, the beginner, the First Time Experience.
At any age, we can recaptitulate our Teens.
It is astonishing when it happens. "I'm a kid again!"
As noted in Part 3, the Teens are the epoch of mastering social interactions, learning how to meet people, how to explain who you are and why you are important to the stranger.
Identity is a discovery of the Teen years.
A Teen held back from enlarging a circle of associations will still be "Finding Himself" in his twenties.
Or perhaps never "find himself" and know his own Identity -- usually, if that happens, then getting married plunges a guy into a new level of maturity. Possibly that won't happen until the first child is born. In many cases, your children are you Identity.
If you were your parent's Identity, you will carry a different Conflict and Agenda through life.
So, examining The Orville for clues to the Target Audience, we see (as with ST:ToS) a wild mixture of purely adult ingredients (offhand references to Literature, or old movies, 20th century emblems older people would be familiar with) and plot-sequences designed specifically for today's Teens.
In one episode, The Orville came to a planet where everyone looked human (but had no connection to Earth) and the entire look-and-feel of a city street, or food shops, and laws and customs where exact clones of 20th Century Earth (North America specifically).
However, for today's Teens these similarities are invisible - they weren't there; they don't know except from old movies. It was an Alien World to one Target audience (the 7-15 year olds) and A Big Rollicking Ripoff to their parents.
On this non-Human 20th Century Earth planet, people wore triangular badges, with one triangle up the other pointing down. Up meant "like" and down meant "dislike" -- to register a "like" or "dislike" people would touch your badge, and a central computer tallied your score (yes, Facebook). Individuals who collected too much disapproval were put on trial, forced to explain themselves publically (remember Teen Embarrassment and Thirst For Approval). If the public voted them down, they could be subject to a mind-correction.
THEME: there's something wrong with you if you aren't popular, and that something must be corrected or it is a threat to everyone. Popularity = Truth
The Orville is designed to be a comedy, and pulls it off without being condescending or crass. The airing of the triangles episode coincided with some publicity money going into trying to convince parents that screen time is unhealthy.
The Ripped From The Headlines element in this THEME is a commentary, a statement, that "It's Wrong To Seek Popular Approval."
The Headlines were all about how it is up to parents to keep phones from kids because the ONLY USE FOR A PHONE that a kid will have is to SEEK APPROVAL.
In other words, the seeking of approval is so WRONG a thing for kids to do that were it not for access to Facebook via phone, kids would not seek approval.
The satire element of depicting an entire civilization (of presumably adult people) based on amassing popularity is the kind of "exaggeration" you learn to do when studying comedic writing.
The second to the last episode in the First Season of The Orville is also aimed at 7 year olds with a sprinkling of material that would prompt adults to watch with their children.
You know this is a 7 year-old's episode because it is all about "What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up."
Here, The Captain learns he only got the job of Captaining The Orville because his ex-wife used her connections to push him ahead for the job.
At first he reacts with resentment, and then tumbling self-confidence. That's how a 10 year old might react, not the mature man he's supposed to be. After some scenes, and a test-of-courage and ability to call the shots, he apologizes for not simply saying Thank You instead of picking a quarrel with his Ex (who is his First Officer).
Children love watching adults behave as children.
The episode is thematically tight, very well written, but painfully childish and thin at the conceptual core. The Theme is born out in the B-Story of the helmsman who is discovered (as a result of playing a practical joke on the green blob character) to have a keen intelligence and an exemplary academic achievement in Engineering.
In a 7 year old's world, it seems plausible that the Captain and First Officer would both have neglected to read the Service Records of those assigned to their ship.
In a 40-year old's world, neglecting duty like that evokes pure contempt, and then disbelief that this Character is actually a Captain. An Ensign would have done better.
The issue was who would replace the Chief Engineer -- this helmsman has the knowledge, but no evidence he is Command material. He also showed no ambition.
At the end, there's a scene (this is tight writing) -- one single scene where the Captain has passed the test he set for himself, to prove himself to himself, and is sitting beside the helmsman, asking point blank why he never showed people how smart he is.
Remember, the connecting tissue of this Theme-bundle is "What do you want to be when you grow up?" And the CONFLICT: "Do I dare be me?"
The Captain had ambition, but loses self confidence.
The Helmsman repressed his ambition because where he grew up, popular approval was withdrawn if you were smarter than everyone else. Intelligence is cause for disapproval.
The Teen years, as I noted in Part 3, are all about forming associations, finding where you fit in by finding yourself, creating an Identity to show others.
The Captain's and the Helmsman's career choices and bids for external approval connect these two episodes thematically.
These are adults serving in High Risk professions, at or near the top of their career tracks, with the emotional maturity of 7 year olds and the self-knowledge of maybe a 15 year old.
In reality, such people would not be in charge of anything, least of all a well armed ship.
But to get the thematic points across to children, the writer has used what Save The Cat! terms "On The Nose Dialogue." It is especially noticeable in the scene where the Captain asks the Helmsman point blank why he hides his intelligence, and the answer is point blank. That brief exchange neatly states the Theme (gorgeous writing craft), but both utterances are "On The Nose" -- saying what you mean in so many words (not good writing).
How to avoid on-the-nose dialog is another topic, but in brief it is done with show-don't-tell, inference, and symbolism, as well as Theme-Plot Integration. You bait the audience into figuring it out for themselves - you don't tell them.
In summation, The Orville is a good laugh wrapped in a sardonic depiction of childish (not child-like) adults. It says to all our current 10 year olds that they don't have to grow up in order to "be successful."
The acting may lag a bit, but much of the TV writing is brilliant, well worth studying because it is "thin" enough, transparent enough, that beginning writers can see the gears (if you've read the SAVE THE CAT! series). The overall production and appearance is award quality as it uses the cheap, flat look as a feature not a bug.
If these characters mature in Second Season to emerge as actual adults, this could be a landmark Series leading another generation to study and invent space travel and colonization.
Note the production was created and written by the same person who acts the Starring Role: Seth MacFarlane is the brilliant, adult, genius behind this Kids-R-Us series.
Overall, the first season is a love letter to Star Trek by an infatuated teen. As a Romance writer, always remember Teens are your core readership and Teens have more disposable income than their parents do as well as a more pronounced tendency toward impulse buying.