‘The Orville‘ is a show that I was pretty excited to watch. Upon hearing about the idea of the series, I was immediately hooked just by it’s concept alone. A show that parodies, but one that also pays homage to other science fiction canon of the past? Count me in. Throw in a large serving of Seth McFarlane‘s comedic style, and you have a recipe for either complete success or utter disaster, depending on your view of McFarlane’s body of work. Personally, I’ve never really had a problem with McFarlane’s style of comedy itself – I actually think it’s very clever – It’s the fact that he tends to repeat himself more than he should. Luckily, ‘The Orville‘ is not only his first live action show and first role as a leading man, so it provides the writer/director/producer with some fresh material to work with on many levels, as it is intended as a cross between ‘Family Guy‘, ‘Star Trek‘ and ‘Galaxy Quest‘ (which is incidentally getting it’s own TV reboot soon). The pilot itself was directed by Jon Favreau, and it’s really his guiding hand that the pilot episode for ‘The Orville‘ shine.
The premise of the ‘The Orville‘ is relatively straightforward. Set some 400 years into the future, Captain Ed Mercer (McFarlane) is given one last chance to achieve his dream of becoming captain of a spacecraft, the titular U.S.S. Orville (ECV-197) – a mid-level exploration starship. The only problem is that in taking the position, Mercer learns that his ex-wife, Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki), is being assigned as first officer to the Orville. Mercer reluctantly accepts, and the duo are joined by your usual gang of ragtag crew members aboard the ship.
The interesting thing with a show like ‘The Orville’ is that it makes a point to flip character archetypes on their heads. At the same time, McFarlane’s signature brand of comedy, combined with the cheeky tone, make for a really fun episode. Mcfarlane, who conceived the idea and wanted the show to harken back to more “Aspirational” Science Fiction of the past. ‘The Orville‘ is a fairly endearing watch, and part of it’s success is the fact that it knows what it wants to be. In other words, It completely nails the tone. Even though it’s the first episode, ‘The Orville‘ takes it’s time to set up these characters that pay off in interesting and rewarding ways by the end of the episode, and surely down the line. The mixture of comedy, drama and most importantly, heart all compliment each other nicely in the pilot, making for an enjoyable watch.
The show isn’t without it’s problems, however. Despite the fact that it is a fun watch, there are a few overarching issues that I suspect will become problematic as the show goes on. While the characters are fairly well defined enough for the pilot to work, their interactions tend to fall a bit flat most of the time. This is especially true in several key scenes setting up the relationships between the crew members, as well as key scenes between Kelly and Ed. Something that bugged me about the show after watching it was how bland the look of it felt. It’s basically a generic blend of everything that’s come before without adding anything new to the mix, visually speaking. It’s pretty much a look we’ve seen many times before, and while this helps from a nostalgic perspective, it is sure to grow old at some point or another down the line.
Perhaps my biggest issue with the show is that it isn’t very challenging thematically. If there’s one problem that’s plagued most of McFarlane’s work, it’s that he’s always had trouble presenting a clear theme. Sure, he can deliver great jokes and moments, but what ‘The Orville’ is truly lacking is a solid theme to work itself around. The original ‘Star Trek‘ series managed to entertain and sometimes be funny (but mostly serious), but it always made you think. There’s not one moment when watching the pilot that the creators seemed to give this much thought. The cynical part of me wants to think that McFarlane was so busy relishing in the fact that he was even making the project that he forgot to say something with it.
‘The Orville‘ does indeed harken back to more “aspirational” science fiction of the past, but it never really adds anything new – at least in the pilot episode. While the pilot does an admirable job of skirting around most of these issues, it’s really Favreau that makes the difference here. And as a fan of science fiction stories in general, it’s nice to see something that’s lighter in tone and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Despite these now minor flaws, ‘The Orville‘ is still worth watching – at least for now.