A few months ago I saw the first trailer to Star Trek Discovery. Like most Trekkies I immediately asked why Mass Effect had gotten into my Star Trek. I needed something else, something hopeful, inspiring, and maybe just a little bit cheesy.
Then along came The Orville.
SPOILERS FOR EPISODE ONE BELOW!The Orville is a Seth Macfarlane creation about a down on his luck Captain and the adventures he and his crew go through 400 years into the future. During the first episode Seth MacFarlane’s character Captain Ed Mercer gets his ship, the exploratory vessel U.S.S Orville, and is sent on his first mission. He soon finds out that the only First Officer available his ex-wife Kelly Grayson (Played by the ever fantastic Adrianne Palicki) whom he had caught cheating on him a year earlier. He continues on his mission, coming into conflict with the alien Krill who have plans to steal a device he was sent to retrieve. It is a very simple sci-fi plot but one that feels coated in the warm embrace of nostalgia rather than an overdone trope.
The influence of Star Trek on this show is huge. Clearly MacFarlane grew up watching it and he has made a show similar in theme. The fact that many longtime Star Trek creators, writers and hangers-on are also involved has clearly rubbed off. Jonathon Frakes directed an episode later in the season and Brent Spiner stars in one. The world in The Orville is wonderfully futuristic and a sense of joy and optimism permeate every scene. In an age of grim dark TV shows and gritty remakes of everything, the uncaring hope this show offers as to what the future can be is perhaps my favorite thing about it.
The CastIn a turn that surprised me the weakest actor in the entire show is probably Seth MacFarlane himself. Not that he is bad . He manages to be quite good despite some scenes where he feels a little too wooden and unemotional. His biggest flaw is merely having to share the screen with so many better actors. A good flaw to have in any TV show. That said Seth MacFarlane is absolutely at his best when he can run jokes off of other actors. The best scenes so far have been any Adrianne Palicki and he have shared.
As for the rest of the cast they are all fantastic and make the world the show introduces feel real. Adrianne Palicki one of my personal favorite actors shines in all of her scenes.
Halston Sage, who plays Alara Kitan an alien who grew up in high gravity and as such is extremely strong, is another great actor. Like many character so far she hasn’t had much more than an introduction and a few brief scenes but already I look forward to seeing more from a 5’4 alien with super strength.
The Helmsman of The Orville Gordan Malloy, played by Scott Grimes, is a comic relief character and also Captain Mercer’s best friend. He is introduced early on and is a standout character throughout the episode. A character that in many other shows could be annoying is played well by Scott Grimes and nearly every word out of his mouth made me laugh.
The main cast rounds out with Penny Johnson Jerald as Doctor Claire Finn usually I am not a fan of Jerald’s acting but I think the role of the ships doctor really suits her. Peter Macon plays an alien from a single sex species named Lieutenant Commander Bortus, this character intrigues me and I look forward to what they might do with the concept of a male only race. J. Lee plays John LaMarr the Navigator whose defining trait is his humor. I liked him for the first episode but with so many comedy relief characters I worry if one or more won’t end up being overlooked throughout the season. The final member of the main crew is Isaac, played by Mark Jackson, he is an artificial being from a planet where all organic life is considered inferior. Isaac played very little role in the first episode which i was disappointed in because he was introduced to be a racist (space racist or spacist if you will) and I was looking forward to seeing what he does, and says, in the show.
Set Design, Effects etc…
The design of all the sets is good if erring on the cheap side. Personally I like how the show looks like it was made on a decent, but tight, budget. This could just be the nostalgia but I do enjoy seeing unconvincing special effects that all the actors react to as one hundred percent serious it adds a degree of camp not seen anymore. I am not sure if this was done on purpose, to mirror the older shows it homages, or as simply a budgetary restraint. Either way I liked it. Not every show needs to look like a J.J. Abrams movie.
I understand the lack of effects may bother some people who are used to seeing lasers jump like a disco ball but I would encourage you to keep watching as the character development and the dialogue is worth it alone.
Another high point of the set design are the aliens. Seth MacFarlane has added dozens of new and varied creatures into his show and all of them look distinct and memorable. They also never fall into the trap of looking like a person in a wig. My personal favorite was the blob monster in the hallway on the ship, and the Krill who look as evil as their name sounds.
A quick note on the humor of the show. Like many I went in expecting it to be nonstop laughs like Family Guy or American Dad and wondered if this would kill the pacing of the show. Much to my surprise the show plays it surprisingly straight and despite their being many jokes it never felt like it was forced in. That said the humor style is similar to Seth MacFarlane’s other works and some people may be turned off by that.
To give a star rating to The Orville feels wrong. It is clearly a show with a specific audience in mind and anyone outside of that audience probably won’t enjoy it. You would only need to look at most of the online reviews to see that most reviewers found it rather bland and boring. So to be fair to the creator and to myself I am going to give it two separate ratings. Keep in mind I love all of these shows but I think it is only fair to give two ratings.
For fans of the Star Trek, Firefly, the original Battlestar Galactica and similar nostalgia heavy Sci-Fi this show is a must watch 10/10. Even if you don’t like the humor you will have fun with its simple yet effective plot and picking out all the new and interesting alien species.
For fans of newer, sleeker Sci-Fi like Abrams Star Trek, Remake Battlestar Galactica and The Expanse I don’t think you will enjoy this as much. It is a deliberately cheesy show and hasn’t got the special effects you would want in a show. It is also a show that relies heavily on nostalgia for older TV programs. for people in this category I would give the show a 6/10. Still a good show and some might enjoy it for the Family Guy type humor it has but not a show geared towards the dark gritty side of life.
On a personal level The Orville has become one of my favorite new shows after just the first episode and it wasn’t the effects, it wasn’t the acting or the story that made me fall in love, it was the heart. This show is not grim and depressing. It is a cheerful look at the future, a future we all want to see come to pass. Sometimes that is all I want from Sci-Fi.
The Orville airs Thursdays on FOX 8/9c. To keep you Geek Motivated throughout the week, follow us on Twitter (@GEEKMOTIVATION)
Written By: Daniel D. Fitzpatrick.
Feel free to follow me on Twitter (@BeardedNomad51) where I post about politics, comics, TV series and video games.