Never thought I'd say this but I have come to recommend (tentatively) a TV show by Seth (Ted, 50 Million Ways to Die in the West) MacFarlane. The Orville is a homage to the Star Trek Universe … but only for mature sensibilities. Soaked in mild adult humor it is a charming combination of Star Trek and Galaxy Quest with just a pinch of Saturday Night Live thrown in for a bit of spice. In the honored footsteps of Gene Roddenbury, MacFarlane uses the setting of a space ship in the future to intelligently examine sensitive cultural issues, but takes this trip with tongue planted firmly in cheek.
I introduced my kids to Star Trek. I have been a Star Trek fan my entire life. The first show came out when I was seven years old and I grew up watching the shows in syndication.
I accepted the fact that Star Trek went off the air after 3 years and was excited by the movies. I was ecstatic when Star Trek: Next Generation appeared and devastated when it was killed at the height of its popularity and in its prime because it became cheaper to syndicate the old shows than create new ones. None of the other Star Trek shows quite hit the bull's eye for me the way STNG did. And the last show to date, Star Trek: Enterprise, ended on the lamest of notes by killing off one of its main characters as a flashback told by an embarrassingly … out of shape Riker. While I enjoy the reboot of Star Trek it has no TV show to back its alternate universe up…. And it's a long time between movies. *sigh*
So when they said there was going to be a new Star Trek TV show – Star Trek: Discovery – no one anticipated its premiere more than me – or was more disappointed to find out it was to be held hostage by CBS's membership "service" – like I need to pay for another subscription on top of Amazon, Netflix, Pureflix and Youtube payments.
Then out of nowhere, like a Galaxy class ship to the rescue, appeared an unlikely contender –The Orville – brain child of Seth MacFarlane – positively infamous for his crude humor, liberal attitudes and atheism. Hesitant is a massive understatement to describe my feelings about this project. But the trailer was funny and desperate for anything even close to a Trek fix, I tuned in through Amazon. Shocklingly, I found it good. NOT for kids – this is not your or your father's Star Trek to be sure.
I've seen all four of the shows they have released so far and I've come to the conclusion that THIS is what was REALLY going on aboard all those impressive star ships while Kirk and company presented us with the sanitized version of the events.
And no, it isn't even really part of the Star Trek universe at all. But it follows so closely in those stellar footsteps that thinking of The Orville as Star Trek's little brother is inevitable.
While not part of the Trek universe, everything in The Orville is a Trek echo, but with a slightly different spin. In The Orville universe the ships are part of the Union (And every time MacFarlane, as Captain Ed Mercer, refers to Union ships, I can't help but wonder if they get overtime. LOL) The aliens are "new" but very familiar. The Orville's Moclus – an all burly-male single-gender planet whose main industry is weapons making
are very much the Orville's version of Trek's Klingons, only without women. And there's Isaac, from Kaylon-1 – an entire planet of artifical lifeforms whose Greek chorus objective view of the human race is obviously a nod to Trek Vulcans and Data. Then there is the caring but tough female chief medical officer, Dr. Penny Johnson Jerald (Claire Finn – Kassidy Yates from Deep Space Nine), counterpart to Trek's Dr. Crusher and Alara (Halston Sage) a tough female security officer like Trek's Yar.
One early sub-plot examined a mainstay topic of our favorite emotionless aliens – humor. Without giving any spoilers, let's just say that there is a more "no holds barred" to their…ahem…Enterprises. The humor is rougher and slightly bawdier but nothing you wouldn't hear in a day to day after hours conversation with close friends. They gossip, they gripe, they insult, they even occasionally threaten each other – and that's just on the bridge.
This is not the cream of the crop. Admiral Halsey (Victor Garber) makes no bones about why Ed has been chosen to captain The Orville – because with a new crop of 3,000 new ships to be manned the fleet was spread thin…and Ed was available.
The crew of the Orville are the guys who do the heavy lifting while crews like the Enterprise in Star Trek go on diplomatic missions and save the universe.
The command crew drink sodas and beer and watch old TV show excerpts while on duty. The First Officer Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki mostly recently Bobbi in Agents of Shield) refers openly to the helmsman Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes – Mystery, Alaska and Crimson Tide) as an idiot – and he will agree. There is an amorphous amorous blob named Yaphit who crassly flirts with the ship's doctor. First Officer Grayson is also the Captain's ex-wife who cheated on him – an event which, while a source of great regret to both Grayson and Mercer, is the source of a lot of needling by and occasionally unfiltered amusement for the crew.
These are not the dress blues we're used to, but the cargo ship-construction crew. Though everything looks spit and polished, there is a realistic familiarity among these guys which strikes a more homespun note than the tunic tugging Picard. Don't get me wrong – I LOVE the proper Star Trek universe. But these guys just SAY the things we KNOW darned well Kirk or Picard or Scotty or Dr. Crusher or even Data were DYING to say but couldn't – like Captain Mercer to a bigoted and cruely rude Moclus: "Dude, you have been a colassal d*** all friggin' day. Shut the H*** up." It wasn't polite or proper etiquette for a STAR TREK captain, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to applaud and laugh when he said it.
And the storylines follow quintessential threads: examination of other cultures in comparison to our own; time travel paradoxes; stifling tyrannical societies which MUST be exposed with the help of our intrepid heroes……maybe not heroes. More like good natured friends who will follow the rules most of the time because they don't want to get their butts kicked. And The Orville crew manages to clever their way out of problems just like the best of Trek – only with the occasional dose of deliberate silliness thrown in to remind us we are here for a good time. Kind of like Firefly only with more resources and a cleaner ship.
While they don't take themselves too seriously, they present the characters and stories with obvious respect and affection for the source concepts. There is humor but fights break out, career making/breaking decisions have to be made, people die and the scenarios have hazard – just like the original ST:TOS – if that was happening at your average family holiday get together.
And yes, MacFarlane has a liberal world view which comes out now and again. But I was pleasantly surprised to find he does not use his platfiorm to villify or unfairly castigate points of view he likely doesn't follow…at least not so far. MacFarlane has already begun to delve into hot button issues such as homosexuality and gender orientation but with tact and civility. For example, the Moclus, the all male planet, has an inevitable male-male couple who procreate by hatching eggs. But because it is another species it is, frankly, not as in your face as the heavy handed presentation of Sulu's "husband" in Star Trek: Beyond.
To be fair Roddenbury founded the Star Trek universe on the examination of the sensitive social issues of his time: racism, class structure, the hazards of interfering in less technologically developed cultures, the definition of life forms, the inherent dangers in protracted automated warfare, the tyranny of nanny states, the constant struggle with our baser natures. So it would be hypocritical of me to complain if The Orville explores the hot button issues of our times. And I was very pleased to find that MacFarlane is following Roddenbury's example. The Orville so far has reviewed these areas wth a certain dignified grace.
One story in particular dealt with the single-gender society in a way that I believe fairly examined the different sides – a rarity when most liberal agendas include screaming over their conservative opponents instead of debating. The issue of gender identity at birth became a leading topic, and was treated with thoughtful clear headed discussion resulting in the crew uniformly taking the conservative side!
All this being said, it is possible Mr. MacFarlane could be luring the mainstream population in to lower the boom and cram yet another politically-correct driven anti-"everything traditional" agenda down the throats of anyone near by. But for the moment Mr. MacFarlane has created an extremely well written show for its genre. Funny, occasionally bawdy, but thoughtful.
And as an added bonus – again no spoilers – but I will note there are a few jaw dropping "A" list guest stars MacFarlane has managed to acquire in just his first 4 shows.
The Orville is a charmingly whimsical combination of Star Trek (mostly, I think, Next Generation era) and Galaxy Quest, with a hint of Dr. Who and a restrained splash of Saturday Night Live. I'll give Seth MacFarlane credit for now and the benefit of the doubt ………… for now. I just hope he doesn't eventually hand us a politically correct disappointment.