When it was announced that Seth MacFarlane was going to create a series for Fox that was a science fiction comedy inspired by Star Trek, many wondered if it would be more akin to his animated endeavors or actually be a somewhat return of Star Trek to broadcast television.
With just four episodes having aired, it’s clear that The Orville is definitely the second option.
While there is finally a new Star Trek series, Star Trek: Discovery, after over a decade of being off television, The Orville has multiple advantages over that series.
Being on Fox over the separate paywall streaming service CBS All Access means MacFarlane’s series is readily more available to fans that cannot or will not pay for another streaming service. Secondly it’s feeling is more akin to the beloved Star Trek: The Next Generation opposed to the more serialized and somewhat darker (because of war) Discovery.
The biggest advantage that I would say that The Orville has is that it’s truly the Star Trek that we need in this time of great strife and negativity.
Without spoiling anything, the third and fourth episodes perfectly show why the series is not just the punchline driven series many assumed it would be. For those that are Next Gen fans, the third episode of The Orville heavily reminded me of “Ethics,” which is the episode where Worf’s back is broken and he contemplates suicide. The episode heavily dealt with the differences between cultures and whether one is more right then another just because they approach things differently.
That was on display in the “About A Girl,” the name of the third episode, where a couple from an all-male species has a daughter and the society wants to put her through surgery to make her male because they feel being male is the only way to be. Various crewmembers give different perspectives on the matter and some change their mind through the episode but at no point is it made out that any side or view was any better than another.
And yes, this show is still the comedy as was mentioned before. Episode one had a lot of more sort of lazy run of the mill style jokes but since then the show has really mellowed and the jokes many times are much more toned down. Often in “About A Girl” the jokes are just easily inserted into regular conversation slipping out a bit here or there, not really distracting from the serious nature of what was going on. Basically how most people approach conversation in real life.
Essentially society got better & expanded to the stars, but still enjoys dick jokes from time to time.
Episode four, titled “If the Stars Should Appear,” was even more Next Generation like as the Orville crew comes across a civilization that is stuck in their ways and are under the hand of a firm dictator using fear and lack of education to keep power over his fellow citizens. The crew tries to do the right thing and bring education to the people and help them out, even putting themselves in danger. They stand by their beliefs and try to help others be better and live better lives.
Which brings us all the way back to the idea that this is the Star Trek series we need right now.
As we all know, much of the world sucks right now. There is negativity from all sides, threats of nuclear war, mass shootings, rampant racism, sexism, and homophobia among other hatred. It’s in these darkest times that we tend to reach for the brighter entertainment, especially that which promises us a better future.
That was the beauty of the original Star Trek and most of the shows that followed. This idea that the future, while still dangerous at times, is a much brighter place where humanity has overcome poverty, hunger, hatred, and many other negative things to be better. To spread amongst the stars to explore and expand their knowledge.
Don’t get me wrong though, the series is not perfect. There are still multiple characters that have had little to no development and are distilled down to just bits of their personality and the issues of Captain Ed Mercer (MacFarlane) & Commander Kelly Grayson’s (Adrianne Palicki) failed marriage just randomly comes back in the fourth episode (after being mostly gone in episode three) in an awkward way that just took a bit out of the show.
Even comments from the characters about some of the issues that are tackled in the series prove that this isn’t the close to utopia of the older Trek, but is closer to many sci fi shows where things are technologically advanced and things are solved but humans still have issues.
Right now the series is also struggling to decide if it’s the comedy it was billed as, or more the drama it wants to be. Recently it’s leaned more towards the drama and after some time it very well might just lean that way fully and leave more of the comedy behind and keep it toned down and occasional.
These are growing pains that most shows have in their first seasons, as most fans agree that even Star Trek: The Next Generation really did not fully find it’s footing till season three.
I have yet to watch much of Star Trek: Discovery because of being one of those that cannot and will not pay for another streaming service, but from what I have seen and what the producers have said it’s a series that has the utopia ideals but wants to explore more of the issues of war and humanity not being happy and even lots of conflict between the crew itself.
In the later years of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine the series became more like what Discovery is looking to be, serialized and a bit darker. At the time it worked because it stood out from the other series and what was on television at the time (serialization not being as big as it is currently).
It very well could still work now, and likely will for many that will be able to watch the series.
At the same time, having a series that harkens back to those old days of tackling real world issues but being lighter and more bright about it while telling a few jokes is the kind of Star Trek type show many, myself included, will really be looking for. The Orville could very well at some point lose that and just turn into a joke fest like Family Guy or other MacFarlane shows have done, but with Seth being such a huge fan of those old Star Trek days it doesn’t seem like it will.
So far the second through fourth episodes show that MacFarlane and crew know the responsibility they are wielding even without this being an actual Star Trek series. It’s so good though that it really should be an official show within the canon.
Perhaps if The Orville and Star Trek: Discovery both do well and end their runs around the same time CBS might consider letting MacFarlane and company actually do an official series or Paramount might tap them for whenever the next movie arrives.
One can hope.