The Orville

Not enough gags and inventiveness drag down Seth MacFarlane's sci-fi comedy.

If ever a show needed to be either more funny or more serious, it is The Orville, Seth MacFarlane’s big-budget homage to Star Trek and all who followed in her jetstream.

This one hour series is long overdue on Australian screens (it premiered in the US a year ago) but sadly the wait isn’t really worth the while. There are just too few laughs in this uneven first episode with MacFarlane as creator, writer and leading man seemingly on a boys’ own adventure to go where only a few successful space cadets have gone before.

MacFarlane plays Ed Mercer, a wise-cracking, deadpan star fleet officer given the chance to command his first starship, a mid-level explorer, The Orville. Admiral Halsey (Victor Garber) reminds him this is his last chance to prove himself, appointing him only after there were few other options.

His ragtag team group of crew includes helmsman Lieutenant Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes), navigator Lieutenant John LaMarr (J. Lee), Chief Medical Officer Doctor Claire Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald), Chief of Security the alien Lieutenant Alara Kitan (Halston Sage), and second officer Lieutenant Commander Bortus (Peter Macon) who is almost a dead-ringer for Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s alien Worf.

There’s also a robotic Isaac, whose British accent makes him more than a passing nod to Star Wars‘ very-own C3PO.

Into the mix lands an enforced first officer in the form of Ed’s ex-wife Commander Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki) which throws a space curve-ball at our fearless leader and leads to crew gossip. But such conflict is soon upstaged by more imminent threats when a hostile alien Krill captain (Joel Swetow) attempts to steal an invention that accelerates time, from a nearby planet.

Plot, jeopardy and punchlines ensue, including everything except the crew forced to tilt left and right everytime the bridge is struck by enemy fire.

Through it all Captain Ed endeavours to forge on as either the funny-man or the straight guy, depending on the more urgent dramatic need.

For a comedy series, The Orville has had a lot of production design thrown at it. There are futuristic interiors, Trekkie costumes, CGI and effects that would have a passing shot at housing a sincere and serious sci-fi. So why are the script and direction so indecisive about what they are trying to be?

None of the ensemble are given license to be funnier than the leading man who is awkwardly-charged with driving the narrative and dishing out most of the gags. If only it were peppered with more sitcom casting.

And while we’ve had some wonderfully campy comedies such as Galaxy Quest and Starship Troopers, the problem for The Orville is it arrives as another Star Trek fanboy without offering little more than Easter Eggs for Trekkies. Contrast that with Black Mirror: USS Callister which deftly achieves satire with a dark, social commentary and a narrative that is anything other than straight-forward.

Neither does The Orville qualify as arthouse…. I’m at a loss as to why this is an SBS title.

The Orville premieres 9pm Monday 24 September on SBS VICELAND / SBS on Demand.

13 Responses

  1. The Orville asks questions that no Star Trek has ever been able to ask. The “right” or “wrong” dilemmas are completely missing in all new Star Treks

    It captures the essence of TNG, I honestly can’t see how any Star Trek fan does not like this. It’s like a more realistic (human side) Star Trek. Characters aren’t robots and they joke around. What’s not to like?

    Somebody said it correctly, the real reason why critics don’t like it is because they really can’t fit this into a neat genre box. And I agree. It’s not really a comedy, parody or satire. It’s sci-fi but not really the sci-fi we’re used to.

  2. As neither a fan of the genre or a fan of Seth particularly (can take him or leave it) I through the trailer looked funny and I was disappointed with the first episode. However, I can say that I continued watching the show and I came to absolutely love it. It is not going to win awards, it is not going to make you think about the world and all it’s foibles, but it is entertaining and funny and I would suggest you watch at least the first three episodes before giving up and I think you may change your mind.

    1. I’ve also watched the first three and agree, you can’t judge it based solely on the first episode. Like many I spent most of the first episode trying to work out what it was, I.e. a comedy or sci fi and felt unsure of how I felt about the show. By the second episode I realised I needed to stop trying to figure out what it was and just simply enjoy it for what it is. I now enjoy the fact that it doesn’t really fall into a genre and will keep watching.

  3. Anyone who knows about Seth Macfarlanes genius work of parodying the Start Wars franchise with his own Family Guy cast would have known what to expect, a complex but loving parody of a genre that ends up being a weird love letter and send up of the genre, he does this because he loves doing it and he couldn’t care how high or low the ratings are….

    If you don’t like Seth MacFarlanes brand of comedy then you won’t like this, if you don’t like science fiction then you also won’t like this.

    Apparently the series does improve, and other reviews have also mentioned that the pilot was a bit uneven. I suspect that it will find a small but devoted following, and could even end up with cult status, I think the cult status potential is within SBS’s brief, I would much rather SBS or ABC2 have stuff like Black Mirror and The Orville than it never being aired at all, and the commercial…

    1. > “would have known what to expect, a complex but loving parody of a genre that ends up being a weird love letter and send up of the genre”

      It’s true – that’s what I was expecting.

      What it turned out to be was a likeable enough, but horribly confused mess with no complexity & no real parody – just a parallel setting, a few nods to intertextual fanservice, and genre-formulaic drama interspersed with bodily function/ex-wife/d’head mate jokes.

      In its current form it really misses both MacFarlane’s and the network’s targets.

  4. The shows title probably says it all, it’s hardly inspiring, so one would presume that mostly frustrated Star Trek fans and sci-fi enthusiasts will be attracted to this show. Having the main creator and producer of the show as the leading actor probably was not a good idea as anyone who follows this genre know the type of character actor that will make the grade and Seth MacFarlane is not the one, neither is some of the others in the supporting roles, their style is very like watching an awkward comedy sketch on a late night show.

  5. I agree with everything in this review, yet I still enjoyed the show for what it is. Some episodes are better than others, but I do think it needs to either be a drama with comedic elements, or a full-on comedy with dramatic moments – not something that tries to be halfway but fails to be anything that makes sense. A bit of harmless fun along the way though.

  6. I think it works far better as a serious take-off of a Star Trek style show with the occasional humourous asides – the problem being that it was promoted as a comedy. I think the more sober episodes are the ones that work best and am very intrigued by what a second season will bring.

    Definitely a superior take on Star Trek than the recent official Discovery show.

  7. I tried watching this on the plane recently on the way to Europe, after 20 minutes I gave up on the first episode. I could not work out whether it should have been funny or awkwardly lame. Agree, this doesn’t really fit with SBS, perhaps it should have been on 7mate or 11.

    1. It does improve – a bit – but it never escapes the fundamental problems David points out. It really doesn’t know what it wants to be – not only within any given episode as David notes, but also between episodes – and suffers badly for that.

      I will amend a review/comment of mine from an earlier discussion about ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ though: ‘The Orville’ is a more engaging show, and more Trek than, the first 1/3 or so of ST:D. But ‘Discovery’ hits its stride a few episodes in and becomes a much, much better show. ‘The Orville’ never manages that.

  8. I quite enjoyed it. Understand exactly what you are saying David. I expected it to be more a comedy, especially from the trailers, but there were some deeper issues covered and sometimes it felt like I was watching a drama more than a comedy with the jokes on hold for 15 mins or so. Bring on season 2!

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