Based on the promotional material and my expectations of what constitutes a Seth MacFarlane show, I expected The Orville to be a bit more Galaxy Quest than Star Trek.
Turns out FOX took all the “funny” and “zingy” one-liner parts of the premiere and edited those into a (much repeated) commercial for the show.
It’s almost as if Fox doesn’t quite know what kind of show Seth MacFarlane is giving them.
Which could be because The Orville doesn’t seem to know what kind of show it wants to be either. That’s my big takeaway from the first episode, “Old Wounds.”
A year after walking in on his wife sleeping with a blue-skinned alien, Captain Ed Mercer’s career and life is just beginning to get back on track. Mercer is offered command of starship, something he’s dreamed his entire career. But it’s not necessarily because he’s the most qualified guy for the job so much as the futuristic society, the Union, has a multitude of ships and someone has to sit in the big chair.
Mercer’s command crew includes:
- Lt. Molloy, an old-friend and the ship’s loose cannon navigator
- Security officer Kitan, a woman from a higher gravity planet that gives her increased strength and the ability to leap large distances in a single bound
- Dr. Finn, the ship’s medical officer
- Lt. Lamarr, the ship’s tactical officer who really loves soda
- Bortus, a member of an all male species
- Issac, science officer from an alien race of robot-like people who are all incredibly racist.
Oh, and his ex-wife, Kelly Grayson as his executive officer. This means the two bicker constantly, both in private and in front of the crew, and consistently try to draw various guest players into a seemingly never-ending game of “Who’s Right?” Only one episode into the show and I’m already a bit tired of this thread and its presentation. I’m hoping that this might be toned down a bit as the two start working together again, but given the track record of MacFarlane beating a joke until it’s long since passed the point of being funny anymore (think the Chicken on Family Guy) and I’m not optimistic.
The crew’s first mission is to deliver supplies to a research colony. Only turns out that was a ruse to get the ship there. A scientist has invented a device that speeds up time, which is great for growing crops, but not so great when it can age you to death in a matter of seconds. It’s the weapon side of the device that the alien Krill want. And before you know it, a huge Krill ship has shown up and is making demands.
MacFarlane is an admitted fan of Star Trek and has repeatedly said that part of his inspiration for the show is to give audiences optimistic science-fiction on television. And while certainly sci-fi with an optimistic worldview has been in short supply of late, I can’t help but think that The Orville is little more than MacFarlane making his own fan film or series. It’s only one episode and I’ll certainly give the show time to find its voice and characters. But after one episode, I can’t say I’m necessarily as impressed with the show as I’d hoped to be.
Again, part of this comes from the show not giving me enough about the characters to get invested in. I suppose we’re supposed to root for Mercer and Grayson to get back together or reconcile their differences. But, as I said earlier, my one big hope for these two was that they’d somehow stop bickering like teenagers in front of the command staff. Honestly, I can’t see anyone of any Trek series allowing their personal relationship affect their professional interaction. Not even Tripp and T’Pol on Enterprise when the writers felt it best to make the two as awkward as possible around each other in seasons three and four. (I’ll also argue that at this point, we had enough time to invest in the characters so we knew what motivated them and why they’d act a certain way.)
A lot of the episode feels like MacFarlane setting up things for an eventual punchline (not one “super racist” comment from the species that is) or a plot thread (the coda reveals that Grayson vouched for Mercer to get the command job though not much on the reason why she did it or what her motivation might be).
In between all this, we get a lot of attempts at MacFarlane type humor without many of them necessarily landing. Again, this comes back to my thought that the show hasn’t figured out what it wants to be just yet – homage to Star Trek or a send-up like Galaxy Quest. I’ll also admit that some of the jokes seem a bit too much “of the moment” and really had me questioning if certain pop culture references would survive into the future universe depicted. It’s enough to take me out of the show for a few moments…and that’s not necessarily a good thing.
The other aspect that worries me is wondering if MacFarlane has the acting chops to serve as the dramatic lead for the show. So far, I don’t see it. But he appears to have surrounded himself with some solid actors whose characters could carry the show more than he does. But, we’ll have to wait and see what develops.
For now, I’m willing to give the show a chance and see where it goes. I like it but I’ve got some big reservations.