The Orville’s 13 episodes are self-contained and standalone - each tells a complete story that can be viewed in any order from the others - and vary widely in tone
Seth MacFarlane finally lives his dream as the ultimate Star Trek fan with The Orville
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then comic prodigy Seth MacFarlane’s new sci-fi series The Orville is more than simply an homage, it’s a passionate visual love letter to all things Star Trek.
As Captain Ed Mercer, he’s glib for sure - in that MacFarlane-banter kind of way we’ve seen in his movies Ted and A Million Ways to Die in the West - but here he’s more than just a Captain Kirk with a funny bone. Mercer is an underachiever who’s still sore about his divorce, a year after he caught his wife in bed with an alien, and his sloppy work habits have kept him from the captain’s chair for years.
In fact, Admiral Halsey (Victor Garber, who also appears in DC’s Legends of Tomorrow) reminds him he’s “nobody’s first choice” in handing out his assignment to the titular USS Orville (ECV-197), a mid-level exploratory vessel 400 years in the future - since the Planetary Union has thousands of starships with nowhere near enough qualified officers.
Despite the dressing-down from the top brass, Mercer is thrilled to finally achieve his cosmic dream, until he finds out his new first officer will be none other than his ex-wife Commander Kelly Grayson, played with both penitence and sass by Adrianne Palicki, previously known for Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Friday Night Lights. Soon their crew, both human and alien, engage the “quantum drive” to warp towards the wonders and dangers of outer space, while dealing with the familiar hassles of everyday life.
For real-life overachiever and series creator MacFarlane, 43 - the animation marvel behind Fox’s billion-dollar franchise Family Guy as well as American Dad! and The Cleveland Show, not to mention a slew of Emmy wins and a Grammy nomination for his big-band-style crooning - the gleaming, bright bridge and spick-and-span sets on his new Fox TV series reflect his own sunny buoyancy and hankering to return to the days when Star Trek depicted hope for the future of humankind.
“I miss the optimism,” he says. “I’m tired of being told that everything is going to be grim and dystopian, people are going to be murdering each other for food. I’ve had enough of that. I miss the hopeful side of science fiction.
“That kind of goes back to the roots of the genre. What can we achieve if we put our minds to it? That flourished in the '90s. Some shows did it in a more cheesy fashion, and others like Star Trek made it a little more legit, but that was the way to do a sci-fi show back then. Now things are very grim.
“[Putting a positive spin on The Orville] was a conscious choice because I miss that flavour of science fiction. It’s a space that’s waiting to be filled, in this day and age when we’re getting a lot of dystopian science fiction, which is great. It can’t all be The Hunger Games, a nightmare scenario.”
Palicki says: “The project as a whole, and the humour, is what drove me to this. It’s just so smart, so brilliant and so original.”
Not everyone shares her opinion, however. While critical opinion is already sharply divided on The Orville - on Rotten Tomatoes it’s scoring a dismal 20 per cent with critics and a glowing 88 per cent with audiences - the comedic stylings of MacFarlane, much like Adam Sandler movies, are an acquired taste, but no doubt his fans will happily beam on board for the voyages to come.
Rounding out Captain Mercer’s eccentric crew are: Chief Medical Officer Dr Claire Finn, an expert in molecular surgery, DNA engineering and psychiatry, played by Penny Johnson Jerald, previously of 24 and The Larry Sanders Show; helmsman, best friend and crude prankster Lieutenant Gordon Malloy, played by Scott Grimes, formerly of ER and Justified; Second Officer, Lt Commander Bortus, a stoic, formal member of the Moclan alien race (a single-gender species that hatches eggs to propagate) played by Peter Macon, formerly of Shameless; Lt Alara Kitan, the superhumanly-strong 23-year-old security chief and Xelayan from a high-gravity planet, played by Halston Sage, previously seen in Neighbors; navigator Lt John LaMarr, a jerk played by J Lee, from Family Guy; and in the “Mr Spock” role as Science and Engineering Officer is Isaac, a member of an artificial, non-biological race from Kaylon-1 that views biological lifeforms, including humans, as inferior, voiced by Mark Jackson, previously of That Royal Today.
Striking a comfortable, entertaining balance between silly and serious is no easy feat, especially in space, where no one can hear you laugh. The Orville’s 13 episodes are self-contained and standalone - each tells a complete story that can be viewed in any order from the others - and vary widely in tone depending on the storyline and its emotional repercussions for the characters.
“It’s totally tricky,” says MacFarlane. “If this were a half-hour, it would be kind of cut and dry what this is. Because we’re an hour-long show, the story has to come first. It can’t just be gag gag gag gag gag. There has to be some reality to where the comedy comes from.
“We really do see The Orville as a sci-fi comedic drama. We allow ourselves room for levity in ways that a traditional hour-long sci-fi doesn’t. We’re trying to break some new ground here. Whether or not we’ve succeeded is up to the viewers.”
The Orville airs at 9pm Tuesdays on OSN Series Comedy HD. Please see listings for more viewing times