Thursday, 17 January 2019

The Orville ★★★★☆


Seth Macfarlane’s take on Star Trek is sometimes more faithful than the real thing. It’s a great premise on paper, and the show works well despite a few flaws that are easily pushed to the side if you’re a fan of the genre. Having watched The Orville and Star Trek: Discovery in tandem, it was difficult to tell which paid more attention when replicating the original series.

The former relies on comedy and sci-fi tropes, while the latter is more of a modern take on the series as a whole. The “Next Generation” era is widely seen as the best of the bunch, and The Orville stays true to form by focusing on the exploits of the man in charge. Macfarlane’s Captain Mercer is set to take command of his first vessel, although he’s not entirely sure why he was selected in the first place. The Planetary Union is under threat of war, and his ship is designed as an exploration vessel first and foremost.


Problems on the titular ship soon arise when his ex-wife Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki) is assigned as his first officer, with the situation made worse because of their acrimonious breakup. Mercer decides to enlist the help of his best friend Lt. Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes) to fly the ship and keep him sane, while getting to know the various species that make up his crew. Despite being a comedy vehicle first and foremost, there’s a strong emphasis on sci-fi and exploration, with aliens that often wouldn’t look out of place on a B-movie set. 

It looks a lot better than your average Sci-Fi special, and the sets are also worth discussing in-depth. The bridge is bright and clean, and it’s obvious that a lot of time and attention was paid to ensure that nothing looks cheap or out of place. Each of the alien crewmen has their own foibles that take a while to get used to. There’s the Xelayan chief of security Lieutenant Alara Kitan (Halston Sage) who hides ridiculous strength in a tiny package, or a science and engineering officer who happens to be a non-biological lifeform that views humans as a vastly inferior species.

While similar in some respects, The Orville does take steps to ask different questions than TNG. Like what if Data hated humans? Or, how does a ship of flawed individuals manage to function in comparison to the best and brightest in the galaxy? Moral dilemmas abound for the hapless captain and his inept crew, and they do slowly begin to learn from their experiences as the season progresses. For all his bluster and awkwardness, Mercer is a good captain who wants the best for his crew and gets the job done despite their obvious limitations.


Luckily, Mercer manages to snag Chief Medical Officer Claire Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald) for the team, and she’s always on hand to give advice to her fledgeling captain. (While spurning the constant advances of an anthropomorphic blob that refuses to get the message.) Macfarlane can’t help but play himself, leading to obvious comparisons to his previous work. He tells jokes knowingly, and there’s a notable lack of sincerity at times, despite his effort. He doesn’t stop to wink at the camera, but if you’ve seen him in A Million Ways to Die in the West, you’ll know what to expect in terms of performance.

Unlike the majority of his back catalog, you’ll be hard-pressed to find much mainstream attention for The Orville. Nonetheless, it’s a fun show that is sure to improve in future, with season two on the horizon in January 2019. 

★★★★☆
James Millin-Ashmore

The Orville at CeX




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