First Thoughts on the First Episode: the Orville

Writer/Director/Actor/Producer/Singer Seth MacFarlane has had an interesting career.  Twenty years ago his raunchy adult cartoon took to the airwaves and has been cancelled and renewed at least twice.  Other animated offerings have met with varying degrees of success. He’s been successful with films, Ted and Ted 2, and unsuccessful, A Million Ways to Die in the West, has hosted the Oscars, written and performed several albums of jazz standards and Christmas music your grandmother would love, and used his leverage at FOX to bring Cosmos back to the air.  To say that his career has taken some unusual twists and turns would be an understatement.  Now MacFarlane has decided to use his clout and geek heritage to bring classic sci-fi back to network TV, albeit with his signature all over it.  

The Orville opens on a world 400 years in the future and whatever else I, or others, can say about the show it’s hard to argue that MacFarlane obviously loves the aspirational nature of Star Trek which is all over this show.  Orville shows us a version of New York that would fit in nicely on any Trek series.  Another aspect of the show which immediately sets the Trek mood is the music.  It’s full of familiar horns and action elements that, once again, would fit in nicely on any Trek series.  If you’re starting to detect a theme, that MacFarlane has spent millions of FOX’s money to write himself into the most expensive fan flick of all time, then you’d be right.  Orville would fit in with both Trek as well as numerous other sci-fi series of that era such as Babylon 5, Farscape, Stargate, Andromeda, Eureka, and many more.  With a different cast, and a few jokes removed (we’ll get to those in a bit), this show wouldn’t seem out of place on the SyFy today.

The story of the pilot episode is fairly standard sci-fi as well.  It’s the maiden voyage of the USS Orville and we’re introduced to their diverse cast of humans and aliens who are tossed together with varying degrees of time given.  I’m sure as the story continues we’ll get more information but for now I’m left wanting more about several crew members, which is a note in the shows favor.  Our two leads are MacFarlane and Adrianne Palicki (previously best known as Lady Jaye in GI JOE 2 or assassin Ms. Perkins in John WIck) who play a divorced couple brought back together as commanding officer and executive officer respectively who have fairly solid screwball comedy chemistry.  During the course of their first mission the crew is brought closer together as a team and some of the marital conflict is set aside.  Only the first episode has aired, with 13 produced so far, so it’s hard to say whether we have a winner or a dud but I for one have hope.  I thought I’d share a few of my random thoughts from the first episode.

  • If you like MacFarlane then you’re probably going to like the show.  If he’s not your cup of cocoa then I doubt this will change your opinion.
  • Despite what the advertisements would have you believe, there’s really not as much humor as you’d expect.
  • The humor is at times jarring.  While many of the jokes are family friendly a few are a bit too blue for my little ones.  This is somewhat frustrating as 98% of the show would be good for all ages. I’m far from a comedy expert but, if you don’t see a dog in the background “cleaning it’s private parts” and don’t mention it then it’s funny.  When two of the leads make note of it, less so.
  • The crew has chemistry and I hope to see more small character moments.  A TNG like poker game would be welcome.
  • The ship design and general art design are fantastic.
  • The alien effects both practical and computer generated show a lot of love and attention.
  • Long time favorite of mine Victor Garber appears in the pilot as Admiral Halsey, and unfortunately according to IMDB this will be his only appearance.  This makes this longtime Alias fan sad.  I need more Garber on my television.
  • While the tech appears roughly on par with TNG era Star Trek there is no transporter, at least in the first episode.  I like this as it removes the story crutch that the transporter could become.

So, do I think we’ve got a new classic on our hands?  No.  However I hope the show gets at least a full season to find its footing.  There’s a lot of potential and if the show can incorporate more of what makes it original with it’s obvious love of Trek then it just might work.  I’m guessing that the combination of MacFarlane’s power with the network, and as much as it likely cost, FOX will at least want to get 6 aired episodes out of it, with the rest likely to see the light of day on HULU or FOX NOW.

Give it a look and let us know what you think.

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