The Orville: Not so boldly going where many have gone before
I’m a recovering Trekker (ST:TNG) and a Family Guy hater. With that in mind, I was a bit wary but willing to be open-minded when I sat down to watch the premiere of The Orville, Seth McFarland’s new Star-Trek-esque space dramedy that airs on Fox. I had hopes that it would find the sweet spot between parody and reverence.
Those hopes were quickly dashed after watching the pilot, which aired last week. Everything on the Orville looks and sounds like the more recent Star Trek shows – multicultural (and multispecies) cast with plenty of facial prostheses, a sweeping score, pretty ships and spacescapes, a Starfleet-esque command structure. It’s not quite as slick as I would expect from Star Trek, though, and then there are the jokes. With McFarland at the helm (of both the ship and the show), I expected it would be funny and rather irreverent. I was hoping for Galaxy Quest: The Series, but instead we got watered down Star Trek fanfic (actually, that’s insulting a lot of Star Trek fanfic!), but with the requisite McFarland dick jokes.
Some friends (who liked the pilot) pointed out that it’s not supposed to be a parody, more an homage. But, The Orville is too much like Star Trek to be a show on its own, but not clever enough (at least so far) to be an effective parody. So, instead, it comes off as a very generic copy. Separating it from Star Trek is the script, which is full of throwaway lines that as I heard them made me think “that was supposed to be funny” but weren’t actually funny enough to make me laugh, and characters that aren’t developed enough to really encourage any emotional investment on the part of the viewer.
One could argue that a 45-minute pilot isn’t enough to develop much character-wise, but the second episode was only incrementally better. We did get a bit more development of Alara as well as Captain Mercer and Commander Grayson but I can’t say that it made me any more invested in them. I actually liked Alara a lot less by the end – so far her character is a “less is more” type. The jokes were just as dumb (apparently this week’s theme was cannabis) and they still landed to an awkward silence, at least in my house, especially the ones about Lt Bortus’ egg. The only one that elicited a laugh was the final one about reality TV. While the alien zoo concept was interesting (and probably also borrowed from Star Trek), the rest of the episode was very predictable and annoyingly corny. I found myself wanting to scream at the TV that the Captain and the First Officer should never leave the ship at the same time – obviously something bad was going to happen to them – and for Alara to stop being so annoying. I also found myself cringing at all the fake over-the-top ship celebrations when Alara decided to disobey her orders, and when she was presented with the medal from Captain Mercer.
I gave The Orville a chance, but now I’m ready to request a Permanent Change of Station – I am officially disembarking!