From Emmy Award-winning executive producer and creator Seth MacFarlane (FAMILY GUY, “Ted,” “Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey”), THE ORVILLE is a live-action, one-hour space adventure series set 400 years in the future that follows The Orville, a mid-level exploratory spaceship. Its crew, both human and alien, face the wonders and dangers of outer space, while also dealing with the familiar, often humorous problems of everyday life.
Originally described as a Star Trek spoof, something along the lines of Galaxy Quest, The Orville starts off quirky and funny, and then immediately loses sight of this as it tries to be serious after creating a premise of satire.
Visually, the show is excellent. Everything you see looks great, from set design, to individual species, to scenes in space.
It seems like every episode there is another easily recognizable star appearing on the show. The list includes Charlize Theron, Rob Lowe, Liam Neeson, Brian George, and Robert Picardo. The episodes also enjoy great guest directors including Jon Favreau (Iron Man) and Jonathan Frakes (Star Trek: First Contact).
Every human crew member has an encyclopedic knowledge of early 21st century pop-culture. This is so frequent and out of place that is jarring to my senses every-time it happens. This is 400 years in the future, and yet every human makes jokes referencing our modern society. Reality TV shows are even given to a race of advanced beings in order to resolve a crisis.
On the flip side, not a single human crew member knows a anything about any other alien race, not even the ones that are members of the Union. The pilot episode is fine, you expect a little exposition to get the ball rolling. But every episode after that hammers into you that these humans know nothing about the other species they work side by side with. In one episode Commander Grayson says something about attending an alien species class (or something to that affect) at the academy. This is obviously a class she failed. Her marriage was ruined on what might have been simply a lack of knowledge of a commonly known alien.
We’ve Seen It Before
Episode 7 “Majority Rule” they arrive at a planet which is completely driven by social media status. Sound familiar? That is probably because it basically the same society we see in Black Mirror Season 3 Episode 1 “Nosedive”.
Would you believe the black helmsman gets promoted to chief engineer spoiler? Is The Orville a parody of The Next Generation, or a retelling of it? This doesn’t bode well for our female head of security.
Just Waiting Around
In nearly every episode, we meet up the crew sitting dead in space. For being an exploratory ship, they aren’t doing much exploring. Most of the time they are just sitting a drift, hoping something or someone will show up for them to investigate. Why aren’t they ever going anywhere?
What Is It?
The show simply cannot decide if it is a satire on Star Trek or a show which wants to address real world issues. Episode 1 is a comedy, with a lighthearted attitude and jokes throughout. Then immediately starting with episode 2, is about character and social issues, with random (and sometimes terrible) comedy thrown in, almost as an afterthought. Serious topics include:
- Young officers learning the burden of command (“Command Performance”, “New Dimensions”)
- Transgender issues (“About a Girl”)
- Cultural contamination (“If the Stars Should Appear”, “Majority Rule”, “Mad Idolatry”)
The Crew Are Idiots
If you are on a clandestine mission to learn more about an incredibly hostile and mysterious race, is it a good idea to constantly be making cultural jokes to them they don’t understand, constantly raising eyebrows about your supposed back story?
If you are on a clandestine mission to learn about the fate of two scientists studying a primitive culture, is it a good idea to make a public spectacle of yourself in the middle of a crowded area with a statue?
Cultural contamination is a no-no, unless there are kids involved, and then I guess anything goes. Whether that is creating an entire religion around yourself by healing a girl, or leaving a ship full of Krill children alive to grow up and hate the Union even more, or saving a generation ship from burning up in a sun (that time is okay in my mind). I’m not sure if the show is pro-cultural contamination or not.
We get it, your Commander Data soundalike robot Isaac doesn’t understand 21st century pop-culture references. But your audience does, so can you please stop explaining everything we already know to him? Will that “joke” still be funny in five years, or do your constant pop-culture references give your show a shelf-life of a week?
Before the show aired, I heard a lot of buzz from various people about it. “It is the Star Trek show Star Trek fans have wanted and deserved.” After a few episodes hit the screen, those comments disappeared. The show isn’t great, it doesn’t capture the same feeling one would get from watching Galaxy Quest. I’ve never been much of fan of Family Guy, because a lot of the time the humor of that show doesn’t do anything for me. The Orville is similar, they have the occasional clever joke, or funny running gag, but most of it falls flat (except Yaphit, who is not even tolerable when he isn’t trying to be funny). This probably has a lot to do with Seth MacFarlane’s humor style. If you are a fan, then you might love every moment of The Orville.
Assuming there is a season two (one never knows with Fox) maybe they will be able to do some self-reflection and decide if they are scifi drama with some lightheartedness, or a comedy set in space. Unless they can make a clear decision, I don’t think we’ll see much more from the crew of The Orville.