Space: the final frontier. And for TV these days, a popular one. With the Star Wars franchise back on track, a new Star Trek up and coming, and an exciting new doctor manning (womaning?) the TARDIS, TV’s space/time continuum is filling up with sci-fi goodies. One of the newest is The Orville, Seth MacFarlane’s foray into the world of space travel and exploration. The Orville’s got a lot going for it: MacFarlane’s love of Trek, actual Trek alumni in both the acting and directing roles, a pretty sweet debut time slot and a lot of press. Even with all that going for it, will it live long and prosper?
The Orville’s debut episode centers around Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) as he takes command of his first starship, the titular USS Orville. He’s not the most likely candidate for the captain’s chair, having just suffered through a divorce and the emotional fallout that ensues from such things. The Planetary Union doesn’t have much faith in him, but he’s all they’ve got.
So, power is thrust upon him and he meets his assembled crew, from Penny Johnson Jerald, a Star Trek alum herself as the doctor, to Scott Grimes’ Malloy, a down on his luck pilot friend Mercer himself adds to the fray. One crew addition Mercer is surprised and dismayed to discover is that of his ex-wife, Kelly Grayson, played by Adrianne Palicki. She’s apparently the only one available to serve as his first officer, and, after a few predictable arguing scenes, he capitulates for now and the crew takes off towards a new, less sitcom-cliché objective.
The USS Orville is instructed to head to Epsilon, an elite scientific research facility, and drop off supplies, but, very-in-the-vein of every iteration of Star Trek, finds that there’s more to worry about than where to drop things off. The Orville, the show, finds its footing some once it’s out of its introductory phase, and starts to be less about quirky intros and jokes to hook you and more about the journey ahead.
Another point of interest: the crew is made up of regular people, instead of the more well-groomed, flagship elite that populate the ships and stations of Star Trek. It makes interactions between Mercer and his ex-wife plausible, and things like the introduction between Malloy and LaMarr, played by J. Lee, a lot more fun. There are inexperienced people, people who just want to drink a soda on the bridge, and people who need a second chance, which gives The Orville room to grow and develop these characters.
Yet, even with a good setup for a story, the show seems sophomoric than intriguing, relying on jokes about drawing dicks on things, urination and dog ball-licking sight gags more than anything else to draw laughs out of its audience. Jokes are often taken too far and go on for too long, and while there’s a place for this type of humor, it’s overused enough to be irritating. Early on, it doesn’t provide much confidence that there’ll be more to it than this. Impressive successes on the part of the crew as a whole are met with, you guessed it, more dick jokes, like “You got wood!” Subsequent episodes, it seems, will have to answer whether MacFarlane’s first show will break new ground or will just be played out Family Guy in space.
That said, The Orville isn’t without its charm or without promise, and judging anything by a pilot can be difficult. There are some genuinely humorous and even touching moments, and an actual plot we could follow and get hooked on. If it relies less on cheap jokes and more on story, character and innate situational humor, we could see this take off. The Orville‘s premiere episode is available to watch for free on Fox now, and the whole crew’s adventures will continue Thursdays at 9/8 Central on Fox.