Surprisingly, this is the first new show of the season that I’ve watched. Even more shocking was that it was The Orville, a sci-fi dramedy to the tune of Star Trek: The Next Generation created by and starring Seth MacFarlane. It’s about Ed Mercer (MacFarlane) who is given his first starship command and – surprise! – his ex-wife Kelly (Adrienne Palicki) who cheated on him a year prior is assigned as his first officer.
The episode is formulaic in the ways you’d expect: meet the captain, he’s given the ship, he meets his ragtag crew, there’s aliens who board the ship wanting the thing they’re supposed to deliver, they beat the aliens. If you’ve seen literally anything out of the Star Trek franchise, you know exactly how the episode is going to go.
There’s no hiding that this is a Star Trek… parody? When you call something a “parody”, I immediately think of all the fan-driven inside jokes and highly specific jokes one could make and The Orville didn’t really do any of those. Like I said, you know they’re referencing Star Trek. The whole show screams Star Trek. But there were barely any jokes referencing it. Perhaps the whole joke is, “Oh look, it’s Star Trek but with Seth MacFarlane.” In which case, the joke is on us.
I won’t hide it: I am not a fan of Seth MacFarlane. Family Guy is one of the worst shows I’ve seen in my life. Please do not make me watch American Dad or The Cleveland Show. I watched more episodes of Dads than anyone should have. (Six. I watched six episodes.) I am possibly the furthest thing from being a fan of MacFarlane. So it was understandable that I was going into this show assuming – like everyone else – that it would be Family-Guy-in-space. I was anticipating dick jokes, racist jokes, homophobic/transphobic jokes, sexist jokes, basically any joke that devalues someone who’s not a straight white man. And there were relatively few. There are still some (this is Seth MacFarlane we’re talking about), but not to the frequency I was expecting. I was bracing myself for what I believed to be a gunshot to the face and was merely a Nerf bullet. I actually laughed at a couple jokes. Really! I did! It was as unsettling as you would expect it to be.
While the jokes were generally in good taste, we can’t ignore how underdeveloped nearly every character other than Ed Mercer was. We learn little about his ex-wife Kelly other than she’s his ex-wife because she cheated on him and, in typical groan-worthy fashion, she still deeply cares about him. (You can smell eventual reconciliation from a mile away.) I want to give the show the benefit of the doubt in that it is the pilot and pilots tend to be a little wonky, but you would hope your co-lead would have as much character development as the other, right?
I was quick to say I enjoyed the episode, but I think it’s that I didn’t hate it like I thought I would. There was an unbelievably low bar set for this show and it cleared it. So I would rather say I’m understandably cautious about this show. It is Seth MacFarlane and we know where his humor typically strays. Plus, episode 3 is set to discuss gender identity which does not bode well. However, I believe The Orville could be halfway decent as long as it follows Star Trek‘s legacy of intrinsic faith in humanity. The Orville has a chance at being a good Star Trek knock-off.