TV Back In Space with The Orville
It’s been quite a while since mainstream TV has had space themed show. It’s been a decade since the last, often lamented, Scott Bakula lead Star Trek Enterprise left the air, and there hasn’t been much since. Leave it to Seth McFarlane, the zany guy who came up with and voices much of The Family Guy to break us out with his new show on Fox called The Orville.
If you are worried that this cartoon man is out of his league, you only have to go back and enjoy the Family Guy Star Wars episodes. Seth McFarlane, without a doubt, has credibility when it comes to sci-fi, he gets it, understands it, and honestly sometimes even mocks it. The Orville is not a toon, it’s a full show with plenty of actors, actresses, and of course Seth himself in the lead role of Ed Mercer. The show aims directly a the Star Trek universe, side stepping issues by calling it the Planetary Union rather than a federation.
Before I talk specifically about the show, let me say that my expectations for this thing out of the gate were reasonably low. The show is billed a comedy, so I figured there would be plenty of yucks and everything else would be up to the standard only to support the jokes – you know, cheaper sets, cheesy effects, and a solid avoidance of any sort of relevance or weighty concepts that shows like Star Trek The Next Generation would get into. I can honestly say I am shocked (and pleased) to be proven wrong in all counts, this show is top notch, with great special effects, large and engaging sets, and a level of detail that I thought would be seriously lacking.
Now, on the other side, if you thought that Seth McFarlane’s smutty sense of humor and wry cultural references would be wiped out by the material, you only have to go about 2 minutes into the first episode to understand otherwise. Ed Mercer comes home from work to find his wife in bed with a blue alien, thus setting up the later payoff of the post divorce couple having to work together on a star ship. But McFarlane won’t let the opportunity go unspoiled, so of course his wife ends up with blue stuff squirted all over her face. I will leave you to think for a minute to consider what it is. The scene sets the tension for the main characters, but also says “dirty jokes just this side of the censor’s ass coming up”.
Two years and a messy divorce laters, Ed Mercer ends up getting command of a starship. This would normally be an honor, but it’s pretty much couched in the “you are the only guy around, whatever, don’t screw up”. Add in a cast of characters, and away they go on their first mission. Oh, there is a new first officer coming on board, and surprise (not) it’s his ex-wife. There you do, the full set up. So you get the bickering former mates, the crew picking sides or just plain making fun of them, and the show seems headed for comic hell. But then you get to see the special effects and realize that the plot lines are at least good enough for Star Trek Voyager, and you realize that Seth brought the A game and isn’t going to just laugh this one off.
By the third episode, we are already dealing with culture that are not like earth and the conflicts that arise from it. One of the crew is from a binary sex race (all members are male) and they reproduce by eggs, which this large alien tough guy has to sit on to incubate. When the baby is born, it is a girl – which is entirely unacceptable for his race. He asks the doctor to “correct the flaw”, which the doctor does not want to do. While there are some good one liners and jokes in play here, you can see that the show is actually dealing with the relatively topical and current issue of gender, cisgenger, transgender, and others in our own society, and the norms that society expects. It’s a pretty big jump for a comedy.
I will probably come back with another review of the show at some point in the future. I am enjoying it so far, it’s way better than expected, and the ratings appear to be good enough for Fox to keep the show around for a while. Interestingly, the new Star Trek Discovery show will be released this week, although it’s mostly going to be a streaming service deal rather than a network show. It will be interesting to see how these two shows do.