The Orville

Last week, I watched the first season of Seth MacFarlane’s new series, The Orville, with my daughter who’s home from college. Marketed as a science fiction comedy in the vein of Galaxy Quest, I find that the show is, in many ways, a true successor to Star Trek.

The premise of the show is that Captain Ed Mercer, played by MacFarlane, has just been given command of a mid-size exploratory vessel. To his chagrin, his ex-wife Kelly Grayson played by Adrianne Palicki serves as his first officer. Other members of the crew include Lt. Commander Bortus, the Klingon-like second officer from the Planet Moclan, Lt. Alara Kitan, the hyper-strong but young security chief from the planet Xelaya, and Lt. Gordon Malloy, Ed’s wisecracking friend who serves as the ship’s helmsman.

The first couple of episodes focused more on the humor, but as the show progressed it became decidedly more like classic Star Trek exploring themes of gender, religion, and the role of social media in society. It’s even taken on some interesting science fictional ideas such as what exploring other dimensions would mean, our interactions with life forms both more advanced and more primitive, and time travel.

Overall, the show’s exploration of science fiction themes works. This is perhaps no surprise since there’s a strong overlap of production staff not only with some of the Star Trek series, but with Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos. Although the show keeps its humor low-key, it’s still an integral part of the presentation. It keeps the show light and avoids it taking itself too seriously. That said, my most serious complaint about the show is that its humor is tied very strongly to 21st century pop-culture references. In a show set in the 24th century that is pretty decent at its science fiction, it feels a little jarring. It’s as though me and all my friends were experts in the 1600s and only read books and watched plays from that era. Okay, as an avowed Steampunk there is, perhaps, some feeling of truth in this portrayal, but I think you get what I mean!

I find I don’t always agree with the positions Seth MacFarlane and the producers present in the show, but that’s fine. He presents them in a thoughtful way that doesn’t put me off, which allows me to evaluate my own positions. In fact, he doesn’t always give us easy answers at the end of an episode or imply that what the crew did was the best choice. In this way, The Orville really does what science fiction does best: help us look at our own time with a critical eye.

As it turns out, I don’t have cable. I gave it up as an unneeded luxury back in 2001. I decided to buy the first season of The Orville on iTunes after watching those episodes that were available for free on Fox’s website. I will note that I still haven’t watched Star Trek: Discovery. Here’s the key difference: Fox allowed me to sample some episodes for free (albeit with commercials), and then gave me a means to subscribe to the series for a reasonable cost. CBS All Access, where Discovery runs will only allow me to subscribe to the channel and won’t even let me sample the series without a subscription that includes a whole lot of content I really don’t want. That’s why I gave up cable back in 2001!

I’m currently on Patreon raising funds for my collection of space pirate stories, Firebrandt’s Legacy. Like The Orville, I endeavor to mix some light-hearted humor with good science fiction to provide an entertaining mix. You can read the first story in the collection with absolutely no commitment right here: https://www.patreon.com/posts/chapter-one-for-14391922. If you like what you read, you can subscribe for any amount you like at: https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers. In exchange for your patronage, you get to see each story in the collection as it’s written or reedited. I share behind the scenes information about the stories, and I’ll give you a “thank you” in the finished book.

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9 comments on “The Orville

  1. I was very skeptical when i started watching this. I expected a mindless spoof of Star Trek. Then I realized hey they’re doing some interesting science fiction here. I mean some of the stuff is kind of silly, but it’s a really entertaining show that surprised me.

    As for Discovery–haven’t seen it either. Same reason. I ain’t paying CBS for worthless programming I don’t want.

    As a Fox show isn’t this available over the air in Las Cruces?

    • Fox is available over the air in Cruces (originates in El Paso), but to receive it, I’d have to install an antenna on my roof. Admittedly not the biggest expense or labor item, but honestly, a big point here is that after a few weeks, I just stopped missing broadcast TV and haven’t felt most of it worth even the modest effort, especially since the effort would reward me with a bunch of advertising!. I can generally get those few shows I do watch though other means like streaming, download, or DVD rental.

  2. I wasn’t impressed by the bits I saw of Orville, but maybe now I’ll have to take a longer look.

    • The first episode didn’t do much for me. I was left thinking, “that’s cute” but not much more.

      The ones that won me over were “If the Stars Shall Appear” followed by “Pria.” Because of what was available online, I’d skipped “About a Girl” the first time around which is one that seals the deal for a lot of people. I really enjoyed that one as well once I saw it. My favorite episode of the season was the one called “Firestorm” but it’s good to have watched a few others before that one to get a sense of the characters.

      There were still plenty of groan-worthy moments in other episodes and I’m guessing the show isn’t for everyone, but on balance, I found myself really taken with the show.

  3. Greg Long says:

    I will hunt it down and watch 🙂

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