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 the first season wrapped last year & a second season on the way, 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. This is not to say that Discovery is a bad series in any way, as I have yet to actually watch the series.
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 diving into deep spoilers, there were multiple episodes that perfectly showed why the show is not just the punchline-driven series many assumed it would be.
One of those was the third episode of the show, titled “About A Girl,” 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.
For those that are Next Gen fans, this episode 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.
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 as the series progressed it really mellowed and the jokes many times were more toned down. Often in “About A Girl” the jokes were 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 conversations 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.
What really sealed the deal for many, including MacFarlane and the other writers, was the episode “Into the Fold” where Doctor Claire Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald) along with her children and the artificial being Isaac (Mark Jackson) were stranded on a planet and had to fight off the diseased inhabitants to make their way back to the Orville. It was dramatic and very heavily sci-fi in scale, along with working in some deep character development for all those involved.
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 some 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 awkwardly takes up a lot of real estate in the series (though reaches a satisfying conclusion in the season finale).
Even comments from the characters about some of the issues that are tackled in the series prove that this isn’t the close to the utopia of the older Trek, but is close to many sci-fi shows where things are technologically advanced and things are solved but humans still have issues.
At times the series struggled to decide if it was the comedy it was billed as, or more the drama it wanted to be.
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. Near the end of season one, The Orville leaned more towards the drama and MacFarlane is already on record that the second season will feature much more science-fiction over jokes for the sake of jokes.
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 utopian 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 seems to be working now for many people out there, as the series has been successful and has been renewed as well.
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. It helps that many of the writers and producers and others from the original Trek shows are involved behind the scenes of Orville.
So far season one showed that MacFarlane and crew know the responsibility they are wielding even without this being an actual Star Trek series.
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.