I love Star Trek. More particularly, The Next Generation series as that was my first introduction to that universe. I loved the science fiction elements and the characters and the thought provoking stories the show had. I also love myself some Seth MacFarlaine humor. Most people know him as the brainchild of Family Guy so most fans are more into his really politically incorrect, outlandish, rather sophomoric and dark humor. However, I generally like his other shows, even his other live action shows. Heck, I even liked Dads, the show that everyone hated because I loved how awful the people were on that show!
So, when I heard that Seth MacFarlaine was doing The Orville, which is a rather obvious Star Trek parody, I was incredibly excited. I could only imagine what kind of obnoxious and rather cringeworthy jokes he could instill in the usual serious world of television sci-fi. I will say that I actually enjoyed the pilot episode of The Orville. I did chuckle at the jokes as they had a that weird Seth MacFarlaine flavor to them. I also loved the Star Trek and sci-fi parts of the show. However, these two individual elements just didn’t gel well. I’ll explain a bit more below in this SPOILER FREE review.
The Orville focuses on Captain Ed Mercer (played by Seth MacFarlaine) who is assigned as the captain of the mid-sides exploratory vessel, the USS Orville. Unfortunately, his first officer just so happens to be his ex-wife, XO Kelly Grayson (played by Adrianne Palicki). Even with this weird assignment, Ed still has to try and be professional and work through their issues to conduct missions and boldly go where no man (and woman) has gone before. Okay, that’s pretty much the setup of the show and it’s essentially Star Trek with an ex-wife in it. It’s a really stupid and weird premise and it had a lot of potential for some really off-the-wall and tasteless gags.
The humor is a little tame and dry, especially for a Seth MacFarlaine show. Most of the time, they’re just little quips of snappy dialogue. Some of the lines are quite clever, though, and pretty witty but it’s the complete opposite of the off-the-wall humor MacFarlaine is known for and that could put people off, particularly if you’re only introduction to his style is the Family Guy brand of humor. There aren’t many sight gags or any crazy and crass humor in the pilot episode, which was a disappointment, but I did like most of the jokes.
I was actually more impressed with The Orville’s visuals and “universe building” as it manages to introduce a pretty good facsimile of the Star Trek: The Next Generation’s look and feel. Fans of the show will probably notice a few callbacks such as the eerily similar theme music and set designs. However, The Orville’s attention to detail isn’t limited to those things. Even the way the credits flash on the screen and the way commercial breaks are spaced draws a lot of inspiration from The Next Generation. The only thing missing would be the Captain’s Log voiceovers after returning from commercial break. It’s obvious that MacFarlaine was a huge fan of the show and it definitely shows in The Orville.
For a show that’s supposed to be a kind of parody of Star Trek, it certainly makes a concerted effort to not feel like one. The Orville’s first mission is actually not a silly romp to the outer reaches of space. Instead, it’s quite the opposite as it was filled with an actual crisis that could destroy the universe and some rather okay action scenes with a few jokes thrown in the middle. I wouldn’t be surprised if the writers found an original spec script for The Next Generation and just tweaked it a little bit to fit the the show. In fact, I would say that, during these times, it feels more like a homage to it rather than parodying the genre.
Despite me loving the jokes in general and my being impressed by the actual action and depth of the story, this was one case where the sum of both parts is less than the whole. The Orville’s biggest problem, at least with the pilot, is that the humor and the seriousness never finds that right balance. The show’s tone doesn’t straddle in the middle; it veers to and from each side recklessly and without warning. At times, the show is funny and witty. But, in the blink of an eye, there’s a lot of action. In fact, there were times when the one liners during the action sequences became rather distracting because it’s like they have to remind you that this is supposed to be a comedy and parody of Star Trek. A part of me wishes that it wasn’t in a separate universe from Star Trek because the sci-fi elements work really well. It may have worked if it was the adventures of one of the smaller exploratory vessel of the Federation so you wouldn’t necessarily have the best of the best working on the ship.
The cast of aliens and creatures would definitely fit well within the Star Trek universe. The pilot episode does introduce viewers to the entire crew of the USS Orville and I can definitely see a lot of potential with them, both in the humor and serious sides. There’s the tough Lt. Bortus, whose species only has one gender… and pees only once a year. There’s the extremely young and inexperienced head of security Alara, who is super strong thanks to her planet’s heavy gravity. The ship’s doctor, Dr. Claire Fill is incredibly overqualified to be part of a mid-sided exploratory ship but she’s there because she knows there’s going to be trouble… lots of it. There’s also Isaac, the ship’s science officer who just so happens to be an android… and is racist against all biological life since they’re inferior to them. There’s also Gordon Malloy, hotshot navigator who’s pretty reckless and John LaMarr, the ship’s navigator who… likes soda? The last guy wasn’t really given much time to develop in the pilot.
I hope the show will give them some episodes that focus on them as they do seem rather interesting and the pilot episode never really gives them anything to do as it was primarily concentrating on Captain Ed Mercer and XO Kelly Grayson and their ability to work together. It may be a surprise but MacFarlaine plays Ed Mercer as a straight up competent captain. From the trailers, I was expecting him to be a doofus so I was surprised that he was a decent captain, just not a particularly quick witted one. It’s actually XO Kelly Grayson who seems to be the brains as she’s the one who tends to come up with the ideas on how to solve the problems they encountered. The chemistry between Seth MacFarlaine and Adrianne Palicki didn’t really work for me but I do have confidence that they’ll grow on me as the characters they portray are pretty likeable.
The Orville, in my opinion, wasn’t a bust. It looks like something that’s still trying to find its identity and define what it really wants to be. The pilot didn’t grab me and make it one of my “must watch” shows of 2017. Rather, it made me curious on what direction the show is going to go. Will it be more outlandish in future episodes or will it manage to find that balance where the humor manages to mix well with the seriousness of a regular Star Trek: The Next Generation-like show? I’m actually curious on what they’ll do in the future.
Ultimately, I’m betting Star Trek fans, specifically The Next Generation ones, will get the most mileage from The Orville than most audiences. The Orville doesn’t seem like it’s making fun of Star Trek. Rather, it pays homage to it because you can see the dedication put into making it feel like Star Trek. There are going to definitely be fans that will be left scratching their heads thinking if this was actually a parody because of the weird mixture of humor and seriousness. I think the show does have some potential and Seth MacFarlaine clearly does have a love for Star Trek.
Have you seen the first episode of The Orville? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments section below!