On 10Sept2017, The Orville premiered on Fox. Personally, I rather enjoyed it. This post contains spoilers. Spoiler-free tl;dr version at the end of this post.
Now, I do not like Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy, American Dad) himself - I find him to be incredibly transphobic (for example, the Family Guy Episode “Quagmire’s Dad”), sexist (the song “We Saw Your Boobs” during the Oscars), racist (the Family Guy episode “Baby Got Black” - especially the song “Thank The Whites”), homophobic, ableist, anti-semitic, and a litany of other things. Just type into Google “Seth MacFarlane” and add in any one of these modifiers, and you’ll see many, many reasons and references behind why he is such a problematic individual. I cannot like him as a person, and I will never be able to like any of his comedies. Seth MacFarlane is not a great satirist.
There are two things that really twists my ‘locs, however, that made me give The Orville a chance. The first thing is that Gene Roddenberry, the Great Bird of the Galaxy himself, was a highly problematic individual (a topic for a different post). The second thing is that MacFarlane is a huge fan of Star Trek and knows it very, very well. He was in two episodes of Enterprise as Ensign Rivers, frequently has Star Trek cast and crew members on his productions, and has brought in many people from Star Trek to work with him on The Orville, including:
Brannon Braga, Executive Producer - Story Editor, Writer, Producer, Film Performer, Lyrics Writer, Star Trek comic author (TNG, VOY, ENT, Star Trek Generations, and Star Trek: First Contact), and an unnamed nightclub patron (Star Trek: First Contact)
David A. Goodman, Executive Producer - Writer, Producer, Star Trek Author (ENT, Reference Books)
It is because of all of this that I gave The Orville a chance - that, and the advertisements that came across my screen were very good (targeted advertising really works well). They calculated what I find to be interesting, and hit me with the appropriate adverts.
MacFarlane created a science fiction show that felt very realistic while being futuristic. From Lieutenant Alara Kitan’s youthful inexperience and eagerness to show that she can be counted upon, to Captain Ed Mercer’s weak attempts at humor to break the ice with his new senior staff, to Doctor Finn being the experienced physician who goes where she feels she is most needed, the feeling of actual human (or humanoid) interaction felt very natural. And the banter - Lieutenant John LaMarr asking Lieutenant Gordon Malloy if he saw the dog licking itself in the background. “First thing I saw,” he replied; the kind of thing that I imagine starfleet crews doing behind the backs of the captain and XO. It all felt like we were watching the crews of an actual starship, not a hero vessel (the Enterprise or Defiant or Voyager being super serious and bigger-than-life at all times), living their lives.
Also, for the most part, everybody seems capable at their jobs. Kitan carried handcuffs with her (as a security officer, why wouldn’t you have restraints on you while on away missions) and made certain to have her people secure the Krill who was left on the shuttle (granted, they forgot to check the shuttle for any Krill, but I’ll give them a pass as they were in a hurry). Lieutenant Commander Bortus attempts to keep a semblance of formality on the bridge, while at the same time being willing to accept unorthodox methods and encouraging his subordinates when it is best for them and for the ship.
Ultimately, I really enjoyed some of the nods to Star Trek that came up in the course of the episode. Mercer and Malloy’s shuttle ride to the Orville was very reminiscent of James T. Kirk and Montgomery Scott travelling to the Enterprise in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the opening speech that Mercer gave his crew was much like Kirk greeting his new crew (again in ST: TMP), and the Orville leaving Dockyard much like the Enterprise departing Spacedock in The Motion Picture and The Wrath of Khan. Even the Orville being sent on a false supply mission was similar to the Enterprise being diverted to Planet Q under false pretenses in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Conscious of the King." The gathering of the crew was much like the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Encounter at Farpoint” and the crew trying to get a feel for each other felt like first season TNG. Everything was kind of shaky in the way that first season TNG was shaky - everybody and everything was new, and nobody quite knew what they were doing yet, but they were working on getting there.
The opening scene has many futuristic items - flying cars, tall skyscrapers, apartments with single-vehicle parking. The flying cars in particular reminds me very much like The Jetsons, a huge dome with minimal controls that appears to be flying on autopilot. The buildings are a mix of angular and futuristic with blocky and modern, and all of them have green spaces all over them, as if our modern efforts to preserve life on this planet became a part of the future architecture. Even now, we are incorporating green roofs, solar panels, and miniature wind turbines into our cityscapes and homes.
A holodeck by any other name (this name being “Environmental Simulator”) is a holodeck nonetheless. “Justin the Ogre” was a wonderful addition - a program being written, with a giant “YOU WIN” added for when you defeat your enemy. It speaks to how humans have been interested in making things fun and giving themselves a reward, and will continue to do so - taking anarchisms and fantasy and playing with them. Right now we play “Dungeons & Dragons,” read Lord of the Rings, and even Game of Thrones is a hit TV-show. We probably will be doing similar in another 400 years.
The computer that Mercer uses in his office is frosted on the backside. So many futuristic computers use hard light technology, but are totally transparent so that the person on the other side can whatever you are typing - this time, one cannot read what is being written. That is so perfect! A portable computer that emits light that is also one-sided so that you can keep private information private.
The com-scanner appears to combine a tricorder and a communicator. It is something that I have always wanted to see - we in the 21st century have our smartphones that do everything while making calls; why not have a scanning device that also calls the ship and other members of the away team? This is a logical progression from the communicators that we have seen in Star Trek and the communications and scientific technology that we have in real life.
And then there are the more mundane things - deflector screens instead of shields (they are pretty much the same thing, but won’t get the name mixed up with Star Trek) and having restraints in the shuttles (literally seat belts - something that Star Trek keeps neglecting, except for the latest movies).
From the very first trailer, I was able to readily identify the meaning of everybody’s uniforms and accurately figure out almost everybody’s positions at a glance. Purple is Admiralty, Blue is Command, Green is Science/Medical, Red is Tactical/Security, and Orange is Support Services. Gray is most likely enlisted/NCO. The officers ranks on the shoulders clearly indicate what ranks each person is. Also, they have pockets. Star Trek is famous for lacking pockets, but The Orville decided to not go that route and include them anyway (plus, it helps resolve the first episode while keeping in-show continuity). Plus, the uniforms are very clean, very smooth, very much Star Trek like without being a complete ripoff of Star Trek.
Commander Kelly Grayson is the perfect executive officer - knowledgeable, compassionate, and gets people to improve themselves without them even knowing it. Malloy reminds me of certain friends of mine who are flippant about things that others take seriously (like one’s job). “I’m worried about my job! Alright? This is very important to me.” Gordon then proceeds to act like an idiot - I’ve known many people like this (I will not name names), who will put your job at risk for their own amusement. Mercer is very inexperienced but earnest, finally getting what he has dreamed of since he was a child.
MacFarlane leaned way, waaaaay to hard on the ex-wife trope. While Mercer was bringing up the divorce in inappropriate situations, and in the most unhealthy of ways, Grayson handled it like a professional - even the one time he used it as a tactical advantage instead of ignoring his duties, she went ahead and used it as a tactical advantage while making her point. But MacFarlane also fell into the trope of having the female lead being more capable than the male lead, and yet she is the XO while he is the CO.
“You got wood” is not better than “happy Arbor Day” as a catchphrase when you win. Only Mercer, Grayson, and Doctor Aronov knew what Arbor Day was, and that was a minor disappointment. This is just a personal gripe, though - very minor.
TL;DR VERSION - SPOILER FREE
I liked The Orville - it reminded me of first season Star Trek: The Next Generation, from everybody being new and uncertain to the fantastical technology to the going somewhere new and not being sure what will be there. Even down to having to wait for commercials (I watched it on broadcast TV while sitting on a couch with friends), I felt like I was watching TNG again. I am looking forward to seeing more episodes.
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