The Orville, Seth MacFarlane’s not-at-all subtle ode to the Star Trek of the 90s and 2000s, was always a weird sell. Was it going to be a comedy? A straight up Star Trek homage? Something in the middle, akin to the brilliant and beloved Galaxy Quest? The trailers leaned heavily on the humor, and promised a dysfunctional ship with typical Family-Guy-style humor, albeit toned down quite a bit. Early reviews suggested it wasn’t a comedy at all, but MacFarlane taking the opportunity to make his own Star Trek fan fiction reality. The actual truth of the show is…well, all of those things, actually.
MacFarlane plays Ed Mercer, a starship Captain who has fallen on hard times after being cheated on by his wife, Adrian Palicki’s Kelly Grayson. He’s given one last chance at a command on a exploratory vessel, The Orville, being sent on a supposedly routine mission. The pilot episode, “Old Wounds,” is not the knock-out-of-the-park hit that a lot of fans were hoping for. If you’ve seen the trailer for the show, you’ve seen the entire episode condensed into a few minutes. Most of the best jokes and character moments are there, and the rest of the show doesn’t do anything to blow our expectations out of the water. But for all of that, the first episode gives us something that television has been lacking since the last Star Trek TV series went off the air: a competent group of people, working together, and trying to help each other.
That’s not to say there are no interpersonal conflicts amongst the crew, especially given that Grayson becomes the ship’s First Officer. But if you were worried that the show would put the sci-fi on a backburner so that it could focus on MacFarlane and Palicki taking pot shots at each other, you’d be very wrong. And while the first episode is a very simple “protect the MacGuffin from not-Klingons” plot, it does everything it needs to do to get you involved with the world and the characters.
The episode isn’t perfect, by any means. There’s some awkward moments, especially the exposition heavy introduction to the crew, where Mercer looks at each member of the senior staff and recites their name, their alien race, and what their alien race is known for. (“You have super strength!” “Your race is all male!”) The show never reaches past moments like that to soar to brand new heights. MacFarlane, it would seem, was aiming to recreate a mid-90s-2000s era Star Trek TV show, and he has succeeded in that. What he hasn’t done is create anything brand new and exciting, and that may be why the show is taking a beating in the press.
If you like sci-fi and especially if you like Star Trek, you’ll enjoy The Orville. I’d recommend giving it a watch, and I really hope you do. It feels like the sort of show that will take a season to find it’s legs, and then maybe become brilliant. You know, like every season of Star Trek.