The Orville (2017)
Showrunner: Seth MacFarlane
I’ve not yet started watching ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ but I’ve been in no rush, as my wish to watch a quality sci-fi series this season has been met surprisingly by this show that’s far more than the comedy it was first advertised as.
Given command of a union starship, Captain Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) has to deal with the perils of space exploration and his complex crew, not least first officer Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki) who also happens to be his ex-wife.
The first trailer looked good to me, I don’t mind a bit of MacFarlane comedy. It seemed to be quite close to the tone of ‘Galaxy Quest’ (though MacFarlane has since said it wasn’t inspired by that) and a parody of ‘Star Trek’. It’s so much more than the comedy it was advertised as, hinted at by the hour-long running time and not a typical sitcom’s half-hour. It’s neither parody or spoof, more accurately it’s homage with an augmented sense of humour.
Initially, this looked a lot like it would be a comedic parody of ‘Star Trek’, yet the trailer and prominence of MacFarlane were almost misleading, it’s far more serious than you’d expect and the sci-fi writing is of a surprisingly high quality. There are storylines and themes tackled in this first season that would stand up against the best episodes of ‘Star Trek’ the original series or even ‘The Next Generation’.
There’s also a nice selection of non-human characters, most of which are brought to life with physical effects including suits and prosthetic makeup. It looks infinitely better than trying to do it all with CGI (as I’ll discuss in my review of ‘Justice League’). The main use of CGI is for external shots of the ship and space which look excellent, not blockbuster movie quality but absolutely on par with the best on TV, especially as the design of the U.S.S. Orville itself is fantastic, simple, slick and beautifully sci-fi.
Also, there are a number of guest appearances that I won’t list because it might spoil the surprises, though it’s clear that Seth MacFarlane called in favours from his friends and former colleagues to get huge A-list names to appear, even just briefly. I hadn’t heard about all these before watching the episodes, so when some of these faces appear I was stunned before making the connection between them and the show’s creator and being quietly impressed.
There’s a TV adaptation of ‘Galaxy Quest’ in mid stages of production, though I wonder if the writers are rethinking some of that in the light of how well this does, because for those who don’t know the original film, a ‘Galaxy Quest’ series would likely feel a lot like it’s copying this. This show feels a lot like it’s inspired by the film ‘Galaxy Quest’ though MacFarlane has said that it’s not. Plus, there’s also an episode of ‘Black Mirror’ coming later this month that is styled on ‘Star Trek’ and from the brief glimpses in the trailer is very similar in look, so I think we’ve got to be getting close to saturation point for films and shows in this vein before they all start to seem derivative of each other. I do think though that this may have a few years of life ahead of it, the tone makes it consistently enjoyable to watch, the characters are interesting and actually a pleasure to spend an hour with, so unless the show is changed radically in the next season, I think there will be a solid and loyal audience for it.
I hope the second season doesn’t venture into a more comedic territory, it’s in a bit of a sweet-spot at the moment in which I think it can appeal to those wanting sci-fi and those after some Seth MacFarlane comedy. There’s even some anecdotal evidence that ‘Star Trek’ fans are preferring this to ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ which doesn’t surprise me, it could so easily be part of the ‘Trek’ franchise.