Over the past two decades, science fiction shifted from the hopeful ideals of franchises like Star Trek to darker works like Battlestar Galactica. While this approach brought about some fresh takes on the genre, there was one glaring problem that became too difficult to ignore as time went on. The sense of fun and adventure had been sucked out of what we love to watch, read, and play!
With the start of the 2017-2018 television season, Seth MacFarlane is aiming to sidestep the dreary grittiness with the premiere of The Orville. The result is a fresh and silly take on science fiction that may remind audiences of the playground that it once was.
The Cast Is Excellent.
Seth MacFarlane leads a mix of veterans and relative unknowns as Ed Mercer, a Planetary Union officer that is appointed to captain the titular starship. A notable difference between this show and his work on properties like Family Guy is that his sense of humor is far drier than usual here. It is a welcome change because it allows for a balance between serious characterization and some of his signature humor.
Adrianne Palicki brings her A-Game to the show as First Officer Kelly Grayson. Some Agents of SHIELD fans may get a little bit of whiplash, but the semi-comedic bickering in the pilot highlights some of her versatility as an actress. I hope that Seth and the writers give her some fun things to do as the show goes on.
Not to be outdone, Mark Jackson, Halston Sage, Peter Macon, Scott Grimes, Penny Johnson Jerald, and J. Lee round out a competent supporting cast. Some of their characterization is constrained by the writing, but each and every one of them delivers a good performance that makes the show that much more fun to watch. With that said, I predict that Isaac, Alara Kitan, and Gordon Malloy will become fan favorites, partly because of the fact that they fill in the gaps as the crazy robot, the badass alien, and the best friend, respectively.
The Story Mixes Action, Comedy, And Technobabble.
One of the nicest things about The Orville is that it mixes action, comedy, and drama in a way that may remind audiences of Stargate SG-1. In the pilot, MacFarlane sets up the crew and puts them up against the Krill, a lizard-like warrior race. While the true extent of the universe is relatively unknown at this point, the basic premise of hunting for weapons and getting an advantage over galactic rivals has a lot of potential. With that in mind, the audience should not expect too much serialization. This is a galactic playground, so it’ll be fun to see what the writers come up with as the show progresses.
One subplot that audiences might take issue with is the pseudo-romance between Captain Mercer and First Officer Grayson. At the start of the pilot, their marriage is destroyed when Ed walks in on his cheating wife. When Kelly boards the USS Orville, they bicker quite a bit over her failure to keep it in her pants and the associated excuses. However, MacFarlane twists things into knots with the revelation that Kelly pushed for Ed’s appointment to the Orville because it was his big dream.
That plot point makes it seem like Kelly is trying to make up for what she did to Ed, but we’ll have to see what happens.
The Production Design And Effects Are Absolutely Gorgeous.
One of the nicest things about The Orville is the incredible attention to detail. The design team blended the classic staples of sci-fi with a modern feel. For instance, the uniforms are a mix of the bright colors of Star Trek and the structure of a military dress outfit. In the realm of practical effects, the USS Orville appears to mix the saucer of the USS Voyager with the stern of an Ori battleship. These little details might fly by the ordinary viewer, but they are a little treat for long-time fans.
The digital effects are quite stunning to look at as well. Most of the pilot concentrates on firefights with laser weapons, but the space battle at the end of the episode is as impressive as it is zany. The wider shots focus on the damage that is inflicted on the Orville and a Krill Destroyer, which adds an extra bit of urgency to the show. We know that our heroes cannot stay in one place because the ship will actually come apart under fire!
Again, the little things matter in entertainment.
It May Be A Bit Derivative.
Apart from the romantic subplot, one potential issue with The Orville is that it may be a bit too similar to Star Trek. The show differentiates itself with a splash of comedy, but the basic premise of a bold adventure in the great beyond may attract or repel certain segments of the public. After all, why would people watch a “rip-off” when Star Trek: Discovery is coming out?
One advantage that The Orville holds over Star Trek is that it acknowledges the imperfections in human nature. We may inevitably solve grand issues like hunger, war, and climate change, but personal problems, bitterness, regret, and even racism will still exist when we venture out into the final frontier. Your mileage may vary, but I think that these truths can help the audience to empathize with the journey of each character.
They aren’t an evolved, neigh unreachable version of us. They are us.
The Orville is worthy of your time. It may seem a bit too similar to what has come before, but those that look under the surface will find a treasure trove of goodies. The cast is a ton of fun, the plots swash many buckles, and the money is up there on the screen for everyone to enjoy. If you like Seth MacFarlane and science fiction, buckle your seatbelts and come along for the ride!
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