Seth MacFarlane is the creative genius behind Family Guy. My favorite episodes on that show are the ones that see Stewie, voiced my Seth, and Brian the dog, also voiced by Seth, using a time travel device. These are funny, serious, and often a bit profound episodes. This is the bar I was expecting The Orville to hop over. I didn’t expect The Orville to be Star Trek, which is kind of what the ads wanted me to expect. The Orville is neither as funny as Family Guy nor as serious as Star Trek The Next Generation.
The first episode opens with our hapless hero finding his wife in bed with a blue alien. Since we don’t know any of the people involved, we have no reason to care about the wife’s infidelities. In what I assume is the first gag in the show, the blue alien had blue goo squirt out of his head. It wasn’t clear if this was an orgasm, a sneeze, or a stroke. I know it wasn’t funny.
There are a number of bits that I think are meant to be funny. None of them are. There are a number of bits that are meant to be serious space opera, but they don’t quite work either. The main authority figure is played by Victor Garber, best known to sci-fi fans for his brilliant turn in Alias and more recently as half of a superhero on Legends of Tomorrow. Here he is a stiff and mirthless fellow named Admiral Halsey. Wink, wink, nudge nudge. Get it? Reference to an old Paul McCartney song? Several of the gags saw the characters pointing out the funny bits. Hey, did you see that dog licking it’s balls? Yeah. Did you see how that wasn’t funny? Yeah.
A favorite Nitpick of Star Trek is that no one ever used or mentioned a bathroom. So The Orville has a whole scene dedicated to one crewman postponing his visit to the Head to talk with his new First Office. Another scene that didn’t seem to have any reason for existing. The one plot devise they foreshadowed was done in such a heavy handed way it would have been hard not to see it coming. It was also bad science that was more fantasy. Our heroes find a mad scientist with a devise that speeds up time. The science is fine while it rots a banana and murders someone for no reason whatsoever. But then they use it to rapidly grow a tree. This does not work. Where would the tree get water, nutrients, sunlight, darkness, and whatever else a tree needs to grow? Simple answer, it wouldn’t and it would have died while still a seedling, or even while still a seed. Decay needs no outside help. Growth does.
The first episode of Star Trek The Next General was pretty awful. In fact the whole first season pretty much sucked. But over time, there were a lot of great episodes. So I want to give The Orville a shot. One episode isn’t the measure of a series.
So, the writing needs a lot of work. What did they get right? All the other stuff is pretty good. The special effects were perfect. The alien makeup was good. The uniforms could use some work, but they aren’t as bad as the ones from Star Trek Enterprise, which made the crew look like Galactic Garage Collectors. The effects feel like a mix of Star Trek Next Gen and Star Wars. There was no Transporter, but there was a Holodeck.
Everything looks too perfect. And there is waaaay too much open space on The Orville. The bridge looks like you could play field hockey and have room for the fans. The rest of the ship suffers from similar huge open spaces. The overall design of the ship is not that great, but I think I could grow to like it.
Overall I wasn’t impressed with The Orville. One crewman is obsessed with having a coke on the Bridge and the Captain is like, why should I care? This remains the big question for the whole show. Why should I care? There was a battle and untold deaths, which would have lead to Kirk or Picard talking about the possibility of war, but sees Captain Mercer give a boyish grin and take pride in his clever quips. His first office uses the moment to further emasculate him. Captain Mercer is a standard sitcom Loser Dad. He should not be the Captain of a spaceship.
The main problem with The Orville is it can’t decide if it wants to be Red Dwarf or Farscape. The fact that Rick and Morty make sci-fi comedy/drama look easy may be part of the problem. Rick and Morty has an infinite number of characters, but we always know the heroes are our Rick and Morty. I have no idea who the heroes are on The Orville.