RED ALERT! Billed as the spiritual successor to Galaxy Quest, Seth MacFarlane’s new show The Orville copy/pastes the Family Guy creator’s same old jokes and adds millions in effects. Let’s get this out of the way from the start. If you’re looking for this to be something like GQ the TV show, then you will be sorely disappointed. Wait for the Amazon reboot. The Orville is less GQ and more an attempt by MacFarlane to fulfill a childhood dream of being on a Star Trek show, which is great. He even utters a line about a boyhood dream not two minutes into the first episode. More power to him. But this isn’t a Star Trek show, and so the dream should take a form with its own direction and purpose. Instead, it’s Macfarlane’s usual shtick in space.
The Orville stars Seth MacFarlane (he also wrote and created the show) as Captain Ed Mercer, a talented starship officer who falls on hard times when he finds his wife cheating on him with an alien. Cue the first dick joke. Mercer is given one last chance to command a ship of his own, the titular Orville. To make it as contrived as possible, his ex-wife (Adrianne Palicki), also an officer, is assigned as his second-in-command. In the first episode, they’re sent on a uninteresting mission which becomes a battle ground between Mercer and the antagonist aliens known as the Krill.
1Don’t Let Seth MacFarlane Write Episodes
Yes, he created Family Guy and American Dad. And yes, we know MacFarlane has a huge following. MacFarlane is wildly talented. But for many others, he’s hit or miss.
MacFarlane’s biggest issue is that he’s a one-trick pony. It’s dick and fart jokes and pop culture references. In a modern world setting or animated show, it’s great. In a show taking place 400 years into the future, where the dynamics of language should have changed, it’s just dull. It’s proof MacFarlane can’t write anything else but Family Guy-style stuff. So, like Star Trek, the show should use an ace team of writers who can balance out the humor with the drama. MacFarlane clearly can’t contain himself from inserting jokes into every damn scene no matter how out of place or out of character it is. That will ruin Orville quickly.
2Less Humor, More Character And Purpose
The Orville’s first episode just plods along. And while it has to suffer a little with introducing new people to viewers, it doesn’t have to be done in such an uninspired fashion.
All the characters are introduced in a lineup of lazy writing. “You are Character X, you’re species is known for this, <insert joke>” on to the next character. That’s about five minutes of the show as it goes character by character. Director Jon Favreau begins an epic pan around Mercer and Isaac, a crew member from a planet of AI lifeforms who thinks all humanoids are inferior. Isaac is a “racist” robot as Mercer puts it because MacFarlane can’t bring himself to be less doltish. As the camera pans around, the the characters talk about “racism” (which would be “species-ism” if MacFarlane were actually clever). There is an expectation to end the shot with a punchline. Instead, the shot ends, there is no real joke or purpose to it, and we’re on to the next scene.
The show borrows plenty from Star Trek: The Next Generation. However, it completely forgets that in the first episode, which is plenty cringe-worthy, each character is introduced with a bit of patience. And the characters get to SHOW who they are, not just tell us.
3Homage Or Spoof?
Are you sending up sci-fi tropes or are you honoring them with a fresh take on it all your own? MacFarlane can’t seem to decide if he wants the show to be Spaceballs or Galaxy Quest. The former is a brilliant spoof of Star Wars, and the latter is a brilliant homage to Trek. Both are comedies, but one, the homage, also has drama while the other, the spoof, does not. Spaceballs is silly because that’s what spoofs are supposed to be. The Orville bounces between spoof and homage and doesn’t function as either.
It seems as if MacFarlane wanted to make a spoof. But he quickly realized that it wouldn’t hold up well for an hour-long TV series. Particularly one that’s supposed to run for multiple episodes and seasons. Spoofs wear out quickly, and The Orville is proof of that.
4Don’t Undercut Drama Or Action With Jokes
One of the biggest things that plague the first episode of The Orville is a problem persistent throughout A LOT of modern shows and movies. It’s the undercutting of drama with a joke. It happens in basically every Marvel movie, Star Wars, and beyond. A scene plays out that’s supposed to be important for the film. The scene is meant to create a weight and add drama. But then, as if producers are scared of leaving a scene on a serious tone, they add in a one-liner joke. The quip basically makes the entire scene a joke and thereby, erasing all dramatic tension and becoming meaningless.That happens repeatedly here because, again, MacFarlane simply can’t help himself.
5Build The World
The biggest flaw of The Orville is that MacFarlane is just doing his modern day thing. There’s almost no difference between future Earth and our Earth as if culture stopped evolving. Look back 100 years, and words used then are dead now. Look back 200, 300, 400 years and even more words have vanished or evolved. That’s the nature of humans, we change, and language evolves. And just like how we don’t say “top of the morning to you” and instead say “good morning” or even just “morning,” the people in the show should feel like they’re in their world, not ours.
Star Trek has plenty of bad episodes. But it always kept you in the sense of being in a future world. Even when Kirk and Spock were on a planet or in a time that was much like their modern-day Earth, the pair were still clearly aliens. The entirety of Star Trek IV plays up this fish-out-of-water thing. However, MacFarlane’s Mercer could travel back to today and no one would think he’s from the future.
We’re not ruling out The Orville.
MacFarlane always writes like he’s in the now, no matter if it’s western or sci-fi. And for the most part, when it comes to animated works, it’s not a big deal. We expect less of those details from cartoons. But this is a multi-million dollar live-action TV show and it comes off as supremely lazy writing. And the lovely sets and effects make MacFarlane’s weak script and one-trick comedy stand out like a sore thumb.
We’re not ruling out The Orville. There is plenty of potential, such as the positive tone that truly reflects the show’s Star Trek inspiration. Also, the effects are pretty fantastic for a network show. And a we should not judge a show based solely on the first episode. But if the same lack of cleverness continues on, it’s going to be hard to boldly keep going anywhere with this show.