Seth MacFarlane is clearly a Star Trek fan and in a lot of ways that’s the problem. THE ORVILLE feels much more like one of his Family Guy Star Wars parodies than an actual world of its own. But what’s even worse is that Seth feels like he needs to remind us what Star Trek is. In depth talks about alien types and the wonders of the universe are met with a genuine concern, which ironically feels disingenuous: kind of like how someone at work thinks they’re funny, but really they’re just a little less polished. Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) is exactly that.
What’s most glaring about The Orville are its omissions. The lack of jokes is bewildering. Every time I find myself waiting for a punchline, I routinely realize that Ed Mercer thinks his cadence is one. And that’s a problem with most Seth MacFarlane projects – the idea that by simply using misplaced vernacular it’s funny is as ridiculous as someone arguing in favor for a laugh track. It doesn’t actually make anything funny, it just makes the audience think it’s OK to laugh in areas that don’t deserve it. Few things really deserve a laugh on this show save for a handful of disjointed scenes. At no point did I find myself enjoying the characters or the world, because the characters had no character and the world is a bad hand-me-down for a much better show.
Star Trek redefined our possibilities. People are always amazed when they find out Star Trek came before automatic doors. Seriously, that’s true, Star Trek inspired someone to make automatic doors. Don’t thank me, thank the random History Channel special I watched. I don’t expect The Orville to be nearly as influential, but in the absence of jokes I would hope that there is at least some novelty. Whereas in truth every character is, in one way or another, completely analogous to Star Trek counterparts. Bortus is like Worf, Dr. Finn is the lovechild of Bones and Crusher, and Alara Kitan is female Spock. In many ways Ed is exactly like Kirk, to the point that you can’t help but ask yourself, “What’s the point of this show then?” What makes Kirk interesting is that he’s unqualified, but talented, and driven by emotion instead of the rule book. Exactly like Ed. In its worst moments, this show feels the community theater version of the original.
On the same note, what’s particularly frustrating is that Seth MacFarlane didn’t even bother to use characters that would best fit our society today. Worf and Spock do not give us the insights into the world we live in like Quark. The logical advancement, or adherence to tradition, deeply pales in comparison to American capitalistic greed. If you can make money, it’s worth it, otherwise, leave it. A twisted Quark, almost like a Donald Trump Jr. type of alien schmuck, would’ve been great. Instead we’re left with poor parodies of a show from 50 years ago, then actual commentary on the world we live in today.
But this has always been Seth MacFarlane’s problem, especially when contrasted with Trey Parker/Matt Stone. Trey and Matt will search for the commentary by any means necessary while Seth is a slave to the pop culture. The irreverent pop references are what brought both the rise, and fall, of Family Guy. The Orville isn’t trying to make any points, or even be funny. What it’s trying to do is get a bunch of people interested in watching (or rewatching) old Star Trek episodes. And I know that might sound mean, but I think it’s true. I remember one-time Zack Snyder said of his movie Watchmen, “If it gets people to read the comic book, then I’ve done my job.” He wasn’t trying to make anything better, he knew he couldn’t, and the lack of creativity or hard jokes in The Orville make me worry that Seth MacFarlane is trying to go for the same thing.
The best part about Star Trek is when it would do something you wouldn’t expect. It’s why, for a lot of people, Next Generation is better than the original run. Next Generation built on the foundation of the previous, and gave us characters like Q that had to power to turn the universe – and the narrative – upside down. For some reason, The Orville is convinced it needs to lay that framework down again, instead of taking a page from Next Generation, or even something like the pilot to Rick and Morty, which assumed at a very base level, that the viewer is familiar with either Dr. Who, sci-fi, or both.
I find myself struggling to figure out who this show is for. The soft jokes, coupled with the shoot’em-up scenes, feel like it’s for little kids, but the subject matter is purely adult. Where Family Guy was a cartoon dedicated to middle schoolers and up, a range Seth MacFarlane finds comfort, The Orville seems to skew much to young at times, without having any heart, wonder, or genuine fun.
Pilots are hard. They’re hard to write, and most of them, even on good shows, are bad. It’s a balance of knowing what to introduce and what to commit to, and The Orville does not do that. I wouldn’t jump in saying that this will be a bad show, as there is a lot of room for growth, and if the show becomes commentary in the same American Dad is, there is a lot to look forward to with The Orville. Until then though, we can do nothing but strap in and wait.
Season 1, Episode 1 (So1E01)
The Orville airs Tuesdays at 9PM on Fox
Arman is a Seattle-based writer who often lives in LA and wants to be in New York. He has worked on Billy on The Street and Black-ish. He also loves sandwiches.
Follow Arman on Twitter: @armanbfar
Keep up with all of Arman’s reviews here.
Arman Mohazzabfar | Contributor