Two months ago I wrote a review for the pilot episode of the new Fox show The Orville. I gave it a 6 out of 10, and that’s an “F” on the letter grade scale.
Since then, I’ve willingly watched every episode.
And here’s the thing…I have no idea why exactly I’ve seen every episode thus far. I may be inclined to inch my review up from a 6 to maybe a 7 at this point. Part of the reason why I gave it the grade that I did was, well, I assumed it was meant to be a comedy given the presence of Seth MacFarlane as the star, producer, and the writer of most of the episodes we’ve seen thus far.
I’ve since learned MacFarlane was trying to make something else, a more traditional sci-fi show with the occasional bits of comedy. The comedy is still MacFarlane’s brand of comedy, and I’ve mostly long since grown tired of that stuff. As for the sci-fi, it seems more like MacFarlane is making the episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation he was never allowed to make. There are allegorical episodes where the show explores modern day issues, such as the effect social media has on public opinion, or the occasional bit of wonder like an episode where the crew of the eponymous shjp discover a giant vessel floating through space that contains an entire ecosphere of a race that had no idea they were on a spaceship until the Orville‘s crew opened the roof to the stars. The aesthetics of the show, from the wardrobe to the set design to the background music, sounds heavily like the sort of stuff that would have come from a post-Gene Roddenberry Star Trek series. MacFarlane probably would be making a Star Trek series if someone gave him the chance. Instead, he made The Orville instead as something of a discount knock-off.
It likewise doesn’t help that the central conflict between MacFarlane’s Captain Ed Mercer and Adrianne Palicki’s First Officer Kelly Grayson is a bit played out. The two are a divorced couple, one where the marriage fell apart when Ed came home to find Kelly in bed with a blue alien man. Palicki is fine, but I’m not much sold on MacFarlane as an actor one way or the other. That this particular part of the show resurfaces rather frequently doesn’t help. Heck, the most recent episode had that blue alien man (Rob Lowe under heavy make-up) come back and make things even weirder. Cringe comedy done well, like say anything Larry David does, can be quite funny. I don’t think it works on The Orville. I’m not even sure that’s the sort of comedy the show is going for.
That still doesn’t explain why I’m still tuning in. Heck, when Arrow came back, I started watching that again and then just watched The Orville off Hulu the next day. Why?
Here’s what I can say in the show’s favor: I really like a good chunk of the supporting cast. The two human smartasses at the ship’s helm are interchangeable and ultimately forgettable, but the aliens are a bit different. Lt. Commander Bortus (Peter Macon) and the artificial lifeform Issac (Mark Jackson) seem more like stock characters, with Bortus something of a cross between Spock and Worf and Issac a Data with a superiority complex, but I like all three of those characters so I don’t mind so much. Security Officer Lt. Alara Kitan makes for some nice visual bits as she’s the smallest member of the main cast but also possesses superhuman strength (and actress Halston Sage is rather easy on the eye…there, I said it.)
The best may be veteran actress Penny Johnson Jerald as Dr. Claire Finn, a notable human character on a show where I prefer the aliens. She sells every line, whether its serious or silly, and of the main cast may have the most developed character thus far. Dr. Finn got a spotlight episode of her own last week, and it may be the best episode the series has produced thus far.
So, as far as characters go, the ones that are the least MacFarlanesque are the ones I like the most. The two frat boys at the control panel and MacFarlane’s captain provide the least amount of interest. And I’d be lying if I didn’t say a recent episode that opened with a karaoke bit that almost had the stoic Bortus singing “My Heart Will Go On” didn’t tickle my funny bone a little.
Likewise, The Orville managed to get some help from the show it is blatantly cribbing from. Both Jonathan Frakes and longtime Star Trek producer Brannon Braga have directed episodes of the series. Frakes handled one involving a time traveling thief (played by Charlize Theron!), while Braga has directed a couple including the Dr. Finn spotlight episode.
But none of this explains why I am still watching the show. I think I like it a bit more than I did at the start, but I hardly love it. There are better sci-fi shows on right now, and I strongly suspect if I were willing to pay for CBS’ streaming service, I would much prefer Star Trek: Discovery. But somehow, I am still watching The Orville. Maybe it’s just the familiarity of the show. It looks so much like Star Trek and I generally enjoy Star Trek.
All I know for certain is I am not the only one still watching. Fox has already renewed the show for a second season.
Then again, maybe I could just do a Star Trek rewatch.