April 21, 2024

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Geek TV Review: The Orville

Seth MacFarlane's ambitious sci-fi-fi comedy is off to a rocky start.

Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane has a frequently-stated interest in sci-fi and astronomy.  He’d displayed the latter by producing the newest version of the science series Cosmos and now he gets to show his appreciation for the former with his new series, The Orville.

The immediate influence on MacFarlane’s new series, where he serves as producer and star, is Star Trek: The Next Generation.  This is not a parody of that show, but more of a tribute.  The title starship, the set design, the costuming, even the background music all calls to mind some of the more modern Trek TV incarnations.  Instead of a Federation, there’s a Union.  Instead of Warp Drive, there’s Quantum.  There’s no transporter, but the bridge sure does look a lot like Captain Picard’s Enterprise.

But it’s a comedy, right?  That’s what MacFarlane is known for.  MacFarlane here stars as Ed Mercer, newly installed captain for the Orville, a mid-sized exploratory vessel.  Ed’s career was doing pretty well until the day he came home to find his wife in bed with another man (a blue alien man to be precise).  After an ugly divorce and a lot of on-the-job moping, Ed may finally be ready to assume the command of a ship.  He’s got a crew that’s a mix of humans and aliens, ranging from the superstrong security chief, a bro-tastic buddy at the helm, a serious alien from a race with a single gender at second officer, and an overqualified medical officer.  What’s the problem, and the source for most of the pilot’s humor?  His ex-wife Kelly (Adrianne Palicki) has just been named his first officer.  The two bickering makes up much of the jokes for the first episode.

And therein lies the problem:  the pilot episode, directed by series producer Jon Favreau from a script by MacFarlane, doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be.  The humor isn’t particularly funny, but the more earnest sci-fi isn’t as thrilling as the show that clearly inspired most of this series, coming across more as a mid-level Voyager than a high quality Next Generation.  The gold standard for Star Trek tribute/comedy is still Galaxy Quest, and The Orville doesn’t even come close to that.  MacFarlane clearly loves this material, so it could theoretically get better, but it has a long way to go.  Six out of ten Norm Macdonald-voiced alien blobs.