Season 1, Episode 1
Air Date: Sunday, September 10, 2017, 9:00/8:00c on Fox
“You’re nobody’s first choice.” – Admiral Halsey
Four hundred years in the future, Earth’s interstellar fleet finds itself short captains to command its 3,000 ships. Desperate, Admiral Halsey (Victor Garber) offers Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) one last chance to prove himself — by becoming the captain of the U.S.S. Orville, a mid-level exploration starship. The dream assignment quickly turns into a nightmare when Mercer’s ex-wife, Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki), is assigned as his first officer. Together, along with a crew of misfits, The Orville sets off to boldly embark where no show has gone before – well, unless you count Star Trek and about a dozen other shows.
MacFarlane’s work has always been hit or miss for me, often the latter. Films like Ted and A Million Ways to Die in the West have some funny moments but his crude jokes never left a memorable impression. The same applied to MacFarlane’s animation work, including Family Guy and American Dad, which I’ve never been able to tolerate for more than a few minutes at a time. So, when Fox announced MacFarlane would create, executive produce and star in a sci-fi comedy-drama series, the news did little to spark my interest. That is, until I watched several episodes.
After watching the first trailer for The Orville, many compared the series to a cross between a Star Trek spoof and one of my favorite films, Galaxy Quest. During an interview at the Television Critics Association, MacFarlane addressed the comparison. “Star Trek itself sprang from a lot of different sci-fi tropes before it. I miss the optimism; I miss the hopeful side of science fiction. It’s left open a space that’s been relatively unoccupied in the genre.”
The fans’ comments are fair given the look and feel of The Orville. The similarities of the crew to Star Trek The Next Generation are impossible to ignore, including an artificial life form named Isaac (Mark Jackson), who is reminiscent of Data (Brent Spiner). Not to mention, Lieutenant Commander Bortus (Peter Macon), who bears a striking resemblance to Worf (Michael Dorn). The fact that both Worf and Bortus share the same rank indicates how little the writers of The Orville care about hiding any parallels. Time will tell if viewers will judge the series on its own or forever associate it as a spoof. Adding intrigue to the debate, the premiere of Star Trek: Discovery airs on CBS only two weeks after the debut of The Orville.
Rounding out the Orville’s crew is Mercer’s best friend, helmsman Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes), Dr. Claire Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald), John LaMarr (J. Lee), the navigator, and security officer Alara Kitan (Halston Sage). The Orville also features some memorable guest stars, including Jeffrey Tambor and Charlize Theron, as well as a few surprises.
One of the things I really enjoy about The Orville is how the writers explore Mercer’s relationship, or lack thereof, with Grayson. Despite the baggage between the former couple, there’s a surprising amount of heart between them, which comes across in ways that caught me off guard. While their breakup is the subject of many jokes, the writers hint there’s something deeper at play. I’m curious to learn why Grayson is really on the Orville.
The look of The Orville itself is impressive, especially the seamless blend of special and practical effects used throughout the episodes I watched. Given how dark and desolate outer space is often portrayed on television, there’s something refreshing about the tone of The Orville, which feels almost bright and hopeful. The costume designers and makeup artists do an amazing job creating remarkable characters. With all the colors in the various planet landscapes and different creatures, The Orville is invigorating to the eye. I’m excited to see what kind of creatures and inhabitants the creative team behind the series comes up with to populate the various worlds each week.
At its core, the strength of The Orville comes from its characters and story, not the fancy CGI. Even though the series is set in space, you don’t necessarily have to be a fan of science fiction to enjoy the show. In many ways, The Orville is a work place comedy that happens to take place aboard a space ship.
Despite my initial skepticism of MacFarlane’s pilot, which is directed by Jon Favreau, The Orville is surprisingly entertaining. The crude humor and one-dimensional characters I have come to expect from MacFarlane are restrained and the series has a more family friendly vibe than expected. The Orville pilot isn’t perfect but it held my attention enough to want to see how things play out in the future, at least for a few more episodes.
Tune in to the series premiere of The Orville Sunday, September 10, 2017, 9:00/8:00c, only on Fox.
Tweet me @Staffaroadtrip or leave a comment below to let me know what you think about The Orville – “Pilot.”
For more information on The Orville, visit the official website.
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Photos: ©2017 Fox Broadcasting. All Rights Reserved.
© 2017, Greg Staffa. All rights reserved.
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