The Orville: A Fun and Entertaining Romp for Fans of the Lighter Side of Sci-Fi
If you are a regular reader of this blog (hopefully there are a few), you know that I invest a lot of my almost nonexistent free time to reading. My DVR is half full of shows that I have put on hold until I actually have time to watch, but never seem to find the time for. Well, I have been making time lately to see at least two new shows and thought I would share a few observations on one of them for now, later I will share my thoughts on Star Trek: Discovery as well.
When I first heard about that this show was being done and that Seth MacFarlane was to be the showrunner, I made up my mind that it would probably be far too stupid for me. I had no interest in it whatsoever. It’s not that I don’t like Mr. MacFarlane, On the contrary, I have a lot of respect for him; he is, afterall, responsible for the 2014 remake of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. I admire his respect for science as well as his respect for Science Fiction. On the other hand, his brand of humor is often not mine. So, consequently, I was ready to dismiss The Orville out of hand and not be bothered with it.
I am not sure what possessed me to program the DVR to record the first episode, but I did. I suppose that I decided to give it at least a look so I could discuss with others the reasons I thought I would dislike it. I also have to admit that I decided to give it a look out of sheer curiosity. After all, what could it hurt to just watch the pilot and have my apprehensions confirmed? As of the time I am writing this, the show is six episodes into its first season and I find that it is something I look forward to every week. Yes, I was wrong and am not afraid to admit it.
The show’s premise is set on the titular USS Orville, a somewhat unimportant exploratory starship charged with roaming through the galaxy in service to the Planetary Union. The Planetary Union is much like Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets in that it encompasses Earth and many other worlds. Orville is commanded by Captain Ed Mercer (MacFarlane) who before discovering that his wife, Kelly (Adrianne Palicki) was involved with an alien, was on the fast track to commanding his own heavy cruiser. Unfortunately, after discovering his wife’s affair, he started drinking heavily and became lax in his duties. It is only because of a shortage of command officers that Mercer is given command of the ship. Mercer is joined by Kelly Grayson as his first officer, who also happens to be his ex-wife. Mercer is outraged when he learns that Kelly is appointed to be his on the ship, but they manage to put their differences aside and work together, however not without some considerable tension between them. What Mercer doesn’t know is that Kelly is, in a large part, responsible for Mercer getting his own command.
Other members of the crew include:
- Dr. Claire Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald): The ship’s surgeon and Chief Medical Officer. She is a brilliant doctor who could have been CMO on any ship she chose, but chose Orville because that is where she felt most needed. Star Trek fans will remember her as the love interest of Benjamin Sisco on Deep Space Nine.
- Lt. Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes): Helmsman and Mercer’s best friend. He is considered to be the best helmsman in the fleet, but because of an accident, he is relegated to serve on the Orville.
- Lt. Commander Bortus (Peter Macon): An alien and Second Officer. A member of a single gender species known as the Moclans that seem to be very Klingon like in their sense of honor and duty.
- Lt. Alara Kitan (Halston Sage): A very young Chief of Security who possesses super-strength because of the high gravity environment on her home planet of Xelayan.
- Lt. John LaMarr (J. Lee): Navigator.
- Issac (Mark Jackson): Science and Engineering Officer. A member of an artificial race from Kaylon-1 who views all biological life as inferior.
I am not sure how or why I got hooked on The Orville. All I know is I am enjoying it for a number of reasons. The show does have a definite Star Trek flavor to it I find appealing. Some might even call it a Next Generation ripoff/parody. As I watch, I note several nods to Trek in the show, and MacFarlane himself openly admits that Star Trek is one of his inspirations for The Orville. So far (six episodes into the first season) I would say that the references to Star Trek have been both tasteful and respectful.
The stories themselves, at least following the pilot episode, have been interesting stories with some serious undertones to them. For instance, the episode entitled “About a Girl” goes into some depth about attempting to change a society's views which they have held for their entire existence. Another episode shows what an individual is capable of when they have the support of their friends. Another episode shows how practical jokes can backfire, and yet another deals with a population that is being deceived by a theocratic dictator who knowingly maintains control over his followers by keeping them ignorant of the truth. All of these themes are what make up some of the best episodes of Star Trek, but they are interspersed with varying degrees of humor that makes The Orville feel fresh and fun to watch.
Humor permeates the more serious side of The Orville as one might expect from the mind of Seth MacFarlane. The range of humorous elements include some very subtle remarks between characters to some very ridiculous juvenile stunts. On one episode, the bridge officers minus Mercer and Kelly are enjoying a meal together when Malloy and LaMarr (both self professed “jerks”) learn that Bortas can eat anything after he downs a large amount of wasabi in one gulp. So, the two begin giving Bortas all sorts of things to eat, and the scene comes to an end when the officers are mercifully called to the bridge for an emergency. But not all of the humor is so obvious. One has to really pay attention to the dialog between characters and have a pretty good knowledge of pop culture to get the full appreciation of the more subtle aspects. Sometimes I find myself laughing out loud, and other times I am rolling my eyes, but I do appreciate what I have seen so far.
Along with the stories, and to a lesser degree, the humor, I very much appreciate the attention to supporting aspects of the show. The makeup and prosthetic work on The Orville is top notch and very convincing. The visual effects are state of the art and stunning, but my favorite of all is the music used to punctuate the action taking place on the screen. While it is all original, the music is very much in the tradition what one might expect from a best of Star Trek album collection.
[I was originally very skeptical of whether I could enjoy The Orville only to find it a fun, interesting, and relaxing weekly diversion from the day to day business of being a responsible adult. I will continue to watch and enjoy and hope that the series continues with a full first season and more seasons to follow.
Well, there it is…