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.