The Orville Could Be Special if it Ever Gets Off the Ground

first_imgStay on target It’s cool to like Star Trek again. Three fun but disposable reboot movies got people clamoring for a proper Trek TV series, and it looks like we’re getting one at the end of the month. We also got The Orville, a sci-fi comedy from Family Guy-creator Seth MacFarlane that does a decent impression of Trek. MacFarlane’s reverence for the source material is all over the series premiere. It might be the most earnest, and positive show he’s ever done. It’s also his most serious. Though the script is filled with jokes, the hour-long show almost comes across as more of a drama. It’s a genre MacFarlane doesn’t have a ton of experience with, and it shows.MacFarlane plays Ed Mercer, a cocky officer in the Planetary Union. He’s given command of a vessel, even though the admiral, played by Victor Garber, is hesitant to trust him with one. In the year since he caught his (now ex) wife cheating on him, he’s been slipping up at work, coming in hungover and generally doing a poor job. We’re quickly introduced to his crew, and the ship sets off for adventure. On the way, he picks up his first officer who, it turns out, is his ex-wife, Kelly Grayson. The 1970s-style sitcom dynamic isn’t quite as funny as MacFarlane wants it to be. They go back and forth between bickering and bantering with each other so fast it’s hard to tell what kind of relationship the show wants them to have. They’ll joke around about a demonstration involving a banana when he belittled her about their marriage seconds ago. Then, as soon as the next cut happens, it’s back to petty sniping.Seth MacFarlane and Adrianne Palicki (Cr: Michael Becker/FOX)Thankfully, there wasn’t as much of that as the trailers for the show made it appear. In fact, there weren’t nearly as many jokes as you’d expect going into this series. It’s not that none of the jokes were funny. There were a couple that fell flat, but I’ll admit the show got a few chuckles out of me. It’s just that The Orville is still figuring out what balance it wants to strike between comedy and earnest sci-fi. It’s not an easy problem to solve. You need to fully commit to both sides of the equation no matter which you lean on more. Galaxy Quest, for example, leans much harder into comedy than it does sci-fi, but it commits to the sci-fi once it gets there. By the time you reach the ending, it’s basically a Star Trek movie, and a really good one at that. By comparison, this year’s reboot of The Tick goes all-in on creating a self-serious superhero show and finds the comedy in that. The Orville doesn’t fully commit to its sci-fi premise or comedy. The result is a competent, muddled, kinda-funny-but-who-cares premiere.At its best, The Orville feels exactly like a classic Star Trek: The Next Generation episode. It’s obvious MacFarlane spent a lot of time watching the series. It’s even paced like old Trek, with musical stings accompanying surprise attacks and deaths right before a commercial break. The Device that serves as the pilot’s MacGuffin is a time ray. It creates a small temporal distortion field rapidly accelerating time for everything in it. The device’s creator wants to use it to grow crops in an instant, putting an end to starvation overnight. The Orville certainly shares its optimistic view of humanity’s future. Of course, the device could also be used as a weapon, as we see when one of the bad guys pushes a woman under it. That rapid-aging effect is exactly the kind of futuristic death that would have scared the crap out of young me catching an early-90s TNG episode.THE ORVILLE: L-R: Seth MacFarlane, Adrianne Palicki, Halston Sage, Penny Johnson Jerald, guest star Brian George and guest star Christine Corpuz (Cr: FOX)As you’d expect, there’s an evil alien species called The Krill, who want the device, and they’re willing to destroy the Orville to get it. What follows is a standard evil alien Star Trek plot with some pretty exciting visuals for what I’m guessing was a modest budget. The part where the helmsman avoids enemy fire by “hugging the donkey” looked cool and made for an especially tense sequence where he had to catch the captain’s pod in mid-flight. I guess they haven’t figured out Beaming in this version of the future. They even solve the problem in a way that feels both quintessentially Kirk and MacFarlane. They give the Krill commander the device, but with a genetically modified redwood seed attached. When the aliens try it out, the tree grows to full size, destroying the ship. Then, the crew makes a boner joke, because it’s still Seth MacFarlane.The characters, though not nearly sketched out enough in the premiere, are all interesting enough at first glance that you can imagine a great show around them. Alara is only 23 years old, but has been made security officer because of her species’ super strength. Gordon Malloy is the helmsman, and Captain Mercer’s best friend. In his spare time, he programs games for the holodeck. Yes, there will almost certainly be holodeck episodes on The Orville. Can’t wait to see what MacFarlane has in mind for those. Lt. Commander Bortus comes from an all-male species and is the show’s resident no-nonsense/emotionless alien. Dr. Claire Finn is the ship’s multi-talented medical officer who is so good at her job she makes the captain feel insecure. Navigator John Lamar Jokes around with Scott. The two have good chemistry together, so they should add a fun, lighthearted dynamic to the show’s most serious moments. Finally, there’s Isaac, an android who thinks all biological life-forms are inferior. The show went to great lengths to introduce him as a “crazy racist,” but immediately drops the idea, making him just another crew member. As the series goes on, the characters will probably become more fleshed-out, but it was pretty disappointing to see them all introduced only for the pilot to do almost nothing with them.Peter Macon and Chad Coleman (Cr: Michael Becker/FOX)They’re going to need to be a bigger part of future episodes if The Orville is going to improve. The arguing parents dynamic between Ed and Kelly is going to get old fast, and watching all these different characters bounce off each other will save it. As it is now, there are a couple of good jokes in here, mostly revolving around the fact that Ed is outclassed by pretty much everyone under him. “I loosened it for you” after Alara knocks down a steel door is an old joke, but it’s still a funny one. On the sci-fi side, it’s been just long enough since we had any kind of Star Trek-like thing on TV that I’m willing to stick with The Orville and see where it goes. It’s cribbing from TNG so heavily it might as well be a remake, but there are definitely worse shows to crib from. It just needs to figure out what kind of show it wants to be. If it’s a comedy, it needs to be a lot funnier. If it’s a sci-fi adventure, it needs to do more than rehash old TNG plots. As of now, it’s… fine. And fine gets boring real fast.Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey. How Designers Achieved the Sci-Fi Sound Magic of ‘The Orville’The Orville Brings a Much Better Trailer to SDCC last_img

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