The Orville is a lighthearted homage to the Star Trek Universe

The Orville

As a diehard Star Trek fan and Seth MacFarlane fan, you’d think a show like The Orville would be tailor-made for me. However, I must admit that I approached this new MacFarlane satire about space explorers with a bit of trepidation. As much as I love MacFarlane’s comedic sensibilities in Family Guy and Ted, I was skeptical that he would be able to successfully meld his brand of raunchy and offbeat humor into the world of science fiction. Yet to my great relief, The Orville took some of MacFarlane’s most laudable comedic traits (somewhat random, generally earnest), and downplayed, though not fully removing, some of his more sophomoric. Yes, of course, there are dick jokes (this is a MacFarlane joint, after all), but there is also a surprising amount of heart and optimism that skirts just at the periphery. Enough to make me genuinely excited about the stories that The Orville may tell in the future.

The Orville stars MacFarlane as Captain Ed Mercer, an officer in a vaguely Starfleet-esque organization, who is on the fast track to commanding his own heavy cruiser, until he discovers his wife and fellow officer, Kelly Grayson (Adrienne Palicki), in bed with another man. Fast forward one year, and we find Mercer having spent the past year moping about and generally losing the confidence of his superior officers until he is given one final chance to turn his career around. This reprieve comes in the form of the starship Orville, an exploratory vessel that he is given command of. His crew is filled out with a variety of humans and aliens that do not hew too far from Star Trek tropes, although there are a few twists thrown in here and there. There’s Dr. Claire Finn (Penny Johnson Gerald) as the Orville’s chief medical officer (a nice surprise for fans of Deep Space Nine), Alara Kitan (Halston Sage) an alien chief of security officer who is basically a female version of Worf, and Isaac, the robot science and engineering officer who also just happens to be (groan) extremely racist. And in the big “twist” of the premiere, Mercer’s first officer just happens to be his now ex-wife, Grayson.

MacFarlane is an avowed huge fan of Star Trek, which helps makes the satire skew much softer than his usual targets. The jokes tend to be much tamer and focused on Mercer’s failings, and less on the crew or the setting, which was a welcome relief to me. The story in the pilot was also serviceable if a bit predictable, with an evil alien race that seems to have come right out of Star Trek central casting. Yet ultimately, the show hits its beats well, taking its characters on a fun space adventure, showing us some cool technology, and ultimately using said technology and a twist to save the day. This is a well-worn Star Trek formula and it works well here. There are of course some MacFarlane flourishes that are entirely dependent on whether you find his brand of often random humor funny. Put it this way, if you still laugh when you see Peter Griffin stub his shin and grab it for 30 seconds, then you’ll be right at home here.

But what surprised me the most is the sense that MacFarlane truly wants to build an interesting world around The Orville. This is not Family Guy in space. It’s an honest attempt to create what might be a compelling new space adventure series. And as someone who is always looking for new space adventures on television, I can only say that I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Pilot: 3.5 atoms

Potential: 4.5 atoms

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Brian Chu
Brian Chu 221 posts

Brian Chu is a Staff Writer for Nerd Reactor and aspiring Jeopardy contestant. He thinks Picard is the best captain, Cumberbatch is the best Holmes, Bale is the best Batman, and Tennant is the best Doctor. Follow him @chumeister