I will admit I was torn on whether or not I was going to give this show a chance. While I wouldn’t say I have hated anything Seth MacFarlane has done (and I have seen) I have been iffy on a few of his projects. Not only that but spoof comedies aren’t my cup of tea. I might watch them every once in a while, but for my money, it’s not my go-to sub-genre. Still one night I was watching him answer live questions on Twitter, and some of how he described the show appealed to me, and so I gave the first episode a go, instantly I was hooked.
For starters calling The Orville a spoof comedy is selling it short. It is… to an extent, but it’s actually much more that than. I might be getting ahead of myself though.
The Orville follows Ed Mercer in his role of Captain of The Orville, an exploratory vessel. The spoof part of this comes in as much of the idea behind The Orville, its mission, and the crew is clearly based on Star Trek. It is a ship that explores space doing various missions with an alien and human staff. If you know even the basics about Star Trek, you can clearly see what it is trying to mimic.
A nonbiological crew member wanting to learn about humans and biological species, but unlike Data, he considers them beneath him in every way for instance. Bortus would remind people of Worf, and so on. The missions generally seem simple enough, but along the way something happens, that puts the crew in danger, despite being out in space to just explore. And a main enemy race that makes surprise visits that always end badly. We know what the show is supposed to be like, we know what it’s doing. It is honoring the show it’s inspired by but still finding some tongue in cheek humor about it.
The problem with pigeonholing it into a Star Trek spoof is that it actually stands on it owns. More often than not a lot of the humor comes from clever one-liners instead of just attempting to poke fun at the genre as a whole. Some of the episodes are fairly humorous, but others have a rather serious and dramatic plotline with only a few relief laughs here and there.
By the end of the first season I found myself completely forgetting the idea that it was ever a spoof comedy and realizing, that no, it’s a stand-alone sci-fi show that just tries to tickle the funny bone more than the shows that inspired it. Less Scary Movie and Airplane and more The Next Generation with a few comedy writers on staff.
It doesn’t completely depart from the idea of a Star Trek-like show, but it is not so overwhelming that you get bored and think, “Okay, I could just be watching Star Trek.”
In addition to Star Trek, The Twilight Zone is often cited as an inspirational source, and it shows. Many of the worlds they visit have that sort of ironic feel where you never know exactly what you are getting into. Without spoiling too much, you have one planet where what could essentially be called social media rules everything and the mass judgment and problems that that can cause are evident. Often the episodes have sort of a message with them, much like The Twilight Zone did, but it rarely feels overwrought in delivering that. The episodes standing on their own with a few common threads also serves as an excellent way for the show to explore many different ideas, worlds, and themes.
The cast is also pretty spectacular. I found myself loving most of the characters a great deal, and the dynamics are solid and natural. Everyone plays off of each other well, and once again the dynamic can be used to serve both the comedy and the drama. I was a bit worried that Ed’s second in command was his ex-wife, but stunningly this point is not driven home to such a way that it’s annoying. It is cleverly used at various stages and is rarely “too much.” The show also boasts an impressive guest star list. The great acting chops helps to sell the experience.
By the time I had finished the first season (in an embarrassingly short amount of time) I was pretty bummed at myself for not having given the show a chance from the start. There are times I wish it had just a touch more comedy, especially given it’s sold as one and the comedy that is there is so damn great, but I have little to no complaints with the show. At this point I am happily wading into the second season as well and hopeful that a third season is in the future.
So bottom line? If you don’t like sci-fi, then I highly doubt this would be the thing to change your mind. It’s not entirely unapproachable, but sci-fi as a genre turns off some people. If you like sci-fi, however, then I would highly recommend this show. It is a good show that manages to be humorous but not so much that it fails to deliver as a good sci-fi experience. If you are looking for straight comedy, then you might be disappointed. There is great humor, and a good deal of it, but the show gets serious at times, though I find it to the show’s benefit rather than detriment. It is hands down my favorite thing from Seth MacFarlane. It’s smart, funny, well acted, touching, and just an all around enjoyable experience.