I have never been a big fan of Seth MacFarlane. When I heard about him starring in a Star Trek-like TV show, it was no surprise that I immediately set my phasers to stunned. However, after watching a trailer for the show, my interest was slightly piqued by the possibilities. The visuals looked fairly impressive and the comedic slant could take us where no Star Trek has gone before. My affinity for the multitude of Star Trek series, combined with my cult-like affection for Galaxy Quest, made it nearly impossible to dismiss such a mashup out of hand. Without including any significant spoilers, let’s delve into whether this show has legs and is worth 46 minutes of your time each week, or if it should have a transporter “accident”.
The show makes no effort to mask its Star Trek leanings, specifically towards that of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Practically an homage, the similarities are blatantly in your face from the opening seconds as even the music has stylings reminiscent of The Next Generation’s theme. Beyond that, we are greeted with similar alien species, uniforms which are color-coded for rank, an android, and even a holodeck. In fact, the visual similarities are so profound and numerous that it is utterly pointless to go over any more of them. Look, they copied Star Trek, okay? Next! A better approach would be to discuss the differences between the two, as they are the more… intriguing… ones. ENGAGE!
We are immediately thrust into a scene of infidelity with what–at least in my mind–was actually an alien orgasm. Red alert? Seriously, this should be no surprise considering Seth MacFarlane’s previous efforts, including the animated Family Guy and the R-rated movie Ted, about a living teddy bear. Our senses continue to be infused with references to pornography and sex, as well as penis jokes, and bathroom humor throughout the first episode. I honestly cannot say whether these jokes will be able to hold my grown up attention span for more than a few episodes, but I am willing to give them a fair shake (pun completely intended). The Orville also brings racism into the mix at least once and we are even gifted with a couple of references to alcohol and addiction. Clearly, this is probably not a show for the little ones, just as Seth’s previous endeavours are not, but, for his fans, this may be another winner.
The Orville’s overall plot echoes that of any other Star Trek TV show, using space exploration as its warped core, with crew interactions and conflicts to tide us over between the major storyline of the episode. They were even bold enough to borrow a significant twist from the first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation by leaving the Orville with no XO, or first officer, just as Captain Picard had to go pick up Commander Riker in the pilot episode. Additionally, we are treated to further character introductions to get us acquainted with each one’s personality. Personally, I had no trouble seeing similarities between Firefly’s Hoban ‘Wash’ Washburne and helmsman Gordon Malloy, as he nonchalantly drinks a beer in front of his captain while piloting a shuttle craft–sorry–just shuttle and then proceeds to jokingly fly the craft erratically around the space station, weaving between other small ships, all in order to impress upon his captain that the beer has had no affect on his skills, ultimately culminating in the telegraphed close-call.
Rather than cloning the Star Trek characters directly, they have instead performed a bit of a mix and match. Our tough-looking and deep-voiced “Klingon” is not the security officer; rather, it’s the unassuming, young female character Alara Kitan, strikingly similar to Star Trek: Enterprise’s half Vulcan, T’Pol–only mixed with nearly Kryptonian strength–who gets that job. As they explain, Alara does not actually have superpowers; she simply comes from a planet with a higher than average gravitational pull. Elementary, dear Data! The Orville also gets a token android to ensure The Next Generation’s Data is represented. His practically blank face, combined with the cross stitching or armor on his chest, reminded me of certain robot from the CTRL+ALT+DEL comic. In this character, we get the arrogance normally associated with Klingons and Vulcans, but in the form of an elitist robot on the ship solely to study human behavior. I wonder how long before its race attempts to add the Orville’s biological and technological distinctiveness to their own. After all, resistance is futile.
The pilot episode attempts to showcase the less nuanced humor which has always been missing from Star Trek TV shows of the past. Notably, as the audience, we even get a nod which nearly breaks the third wall when a scientist is being rescued and is instructed to stay behind Alara for safety. His response? “Which one’s Alara? … Sorry, still learning names.” The rest of the comedy fell nearly as flat as the Enterprise D’s saucer section in Generations, however, and it left me wanting to be in stasis because my expectations from the trailer were higher. Much like Hollywood movie trailers, it would appear that The Orville’s trailer showed us nearly all the best scenes from the pilot.
Overall, contrary to my apparent tone throughout this review, I was not as disappointed as I expected to be, so I will beam down for the next two episodes, if only to verify that these ships do not actually have transporter technology. Thus far, while the CG is done quite adequately for a TV show of this nature–possibly even too good for a comedy–the characters seem as bland as Plomeek soup and are not presenting themselves as having a strong rapport, but this could easily change as we get to know them better. One episode isn’t nearly enough time to fully judge the actors or the writing. Still, should the storylines remain as weak as the pilot’s, the only thing The Orville will have going for it is some Star Trek nostalgia, mixed in with… penis jokes. Then again, that could be precisely what Seth and his fanbase desire and who am I to judge? Star Trek fans, on the other hand, may not feel quite at ease with this series, but if you allow the MacFarlane mind-meld to take effect, you just might enjoy the trek.