The Orville isn’t what most people expected it to be. Despite being the brainchild of Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane it’s almost nothing like Family Guy. Sure, there’s the occasional dick joke, but the show doesn’t rely on crude humour. Instead it relies on plot, story, and character.
Not to say that it doesn’t have issues, I will get into those in a bit, but first – where does it work?
Well, the premise is simple. The main character, Ed Mercer played by Seth McFarlane, isn’t a great captain, but he’s a good one. He’s fallen on some hard times since his divorce, caused by his wife’s infidelity, but he’s a generally good guy. Starfleet (sorry, The Union) gives him command of a medium ship. This isn’t the best or the brightest, but it’s still a command. Ed jumps at the chance. He drags along his best friend, a top notch pilot who happens to be a massive discipline problem, and kind a of an idiot. Once aboard he meets the bridge crew but is lacking a first officer. He is notified that there is a first officer available. Surprise, it’s his ex wife.
So, that’s the setup. It’s a starship, very strongly reminiscent of Star Trek in almost every way right down to the uniforms. The aliens are interesting, and include a blob of goo, a member of an all male species, and a very young woman from a planet with much heavier gravity. Oh, there is also a representative of an all artificial race.
Onto the adventures: The few episodes so far have felt very much like Star Trek premises. In one episode the captain and his first officer are put in an alien zoo. In another episode a female is born to the all male race and the parents are divided over whether or not to give it gender reassignment surgery. Another one is about a multi-generational starship where the inhabitants don’t know it’s a ship, they live in the habitat in a kind of pseudo western society. It’s very good stuff.
The solutions are also very Star Trek, with brains and clever strategies being what works, often as a result of figuring out communication.
Sometimes the crew of the Orville loses. They aren’t perfect, and are mostly fairly rooted in reality. Unlike many previous (or current) Trek series they are all normal people, who might be great at one thing.
Because of timing there’s an elephant in the room. Star Trek: Discovery. I won’t do a full review of discovery here, but the shows need to be compared to each other. Discovery looks like there was a bucket of money poured into every single set. The cinematography is quite good. The makeup and creature effects are top notch. Some money went into this show. Sonequa Martin-Green is a great actress and her intensity and brilliance shine through constantly. Of course they are shining through a pedestrian script with poorly written dialog and a terrible premise. Okay, I promised I wouldn’t talk too much about Discovery. In terms of the ethos, the spirit of Star Trek, there is no comparison. Truth to tell the Discovery writers would probably feel much more at home in the Star Wars universe. This recent attempt to take what was a fairly cerebral science fiction series and turn it into swashbuckling space adventure isn’t ideal. It might have garnered Star Trek more money, but it betrayed Rodenberry’s vision. Discovery is clearly the spiritual child of that continuum, not the one started in TOS and continued in TNG. The Orville is that show, the one that follows in the footsteps of TNG.
If you are an old school Trekkie you will probably like The Orville. If you are a big fan of the JJ Abrams Star Trek, it might not be your thing.
Traverse Davies is a writer and journalist based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. You can read more of his work at http://dreamtime.logic11.com or sign up for his mailing list and possibly win an autographed copy of his book.